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An atheist, an agnostic, a seeker & me

Yesterday on the Delta flight from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta as we waited to taxi, the flight attendant wanted to know if the three of us in exit row seats knew how to open the emergency door. She offered a free drink if we knew where the sliding ramp was stowed. “In the compartment in the …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Yesterday on the Delta flight from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta as we waited to taxi, the flight attendant wanted to know if the three of us in exit row seats knew how to open the emergency door. She offered a free drink if we knew where the sliding ramp was stowed.
“In the compartment in the door right there,” I offered and continued, “Pulling that out would be a piece of cake compared to what my sister experienced when on her flight to Kenya. A crazy man attacked the pilot and sent their 747 into a power dive. If two pro athletes sitting in first class hadn’t pulled him off, the plane would have crashed.”
“Was he a terrorist?” Asked the agnostic guy next to me.
“No, just crazy,” I answered. And we launched into a discussion about terrorists, Iraq, Iran, and religion.
The atheist woman next to him said, “I was raised by parents who were Catholic and Protestant in Northern Ireland. I saw what religion can do.”
“Religion is at the center of all wars,” said the agnostic. “I was raised by nuns who once beat me in front of my parents. And we know the Pope protects child-abusing priests.’
By now the flight attendant was in the jump seat opposite us as we hurtled down the runway for takeoff. “I was raised Catholic. I recently visited a nondenominational church where they serve coffee instead of wine,” she offered.
“Those people are just interested in converting you. They haven’t got a clue. I’m a cynic.” said the agnostic.
Of course I was interested in converting all three of them, but I could see I needed to join them in their objections if I was going to have any credibility. “Yeah, I think if Jesus were to come back, he’d probably be turning over tables in a lot of the churches he might go to,” I said.
“I read the book The Shack, and that was helpful,” said the flight attendant. “God was portrayed as a black woman. Not at all what I expected.”
“People make up stuff about God because they have to be able to explain things,” countered the agnostic.
“They can’t explain things. God doesn’t exist,” said the atheist.
“How do you explain people who die and see God and then come back?” I asked.
“I died and came back and didn’t see God,” she responded.
“They aren’t technically dead,” said the agnostic, who it turns out, practices medicine.
“Have you watched that TV show about the people who’ve had those kinds of experiences?” Asked the flight attendant.
“There’s no scientific basis for God,” said the agnostic. “The Bible is a bunch of contradictory opinions of people written long after Jesus died.”
“Actually, John wrote his gospel about 90 AD.” I countered. “There is far more textual and archeological proof for the Bible than any ancient manuscript. Have you heard of Lee Strobel’s book? He was an investigative reporter who came to faith by looking at the facts.”
Nobody had heard of him.
I continued, “The irony is that we discount questions about God because of our experience with people who claim to represent him. People use religion to meet their own needs for control.”
By now the flight attendant was up and serving drinks. The conversation continued for most of the flight. Once we landed, I gave the agnostic my card. Maybe he’ll read this blog and we’ll continue the conversation one day.
I left the plane thinking, “We Christians have too many conversations with ourselves. We need more conversations like that one.”
When was the last time you had a conversation that challenged you to really think?

Comments (12)

  • Almost every day at work, as I work with mainly non-believers who like to antagonize me. It gets interesting for sure, especially with the one who was raised Catholic and the one who was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. Very challenging.

  • This is the basis for why I read Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. They are many disenfranchised who have been criticized by the Church for their line of thinking. There experiences have been less than inviting and some feel that it is their duty to expose the flaws. Honestly, conversations are due and they should be inviting, but as you stated, “they should be challenging.” Thanks for the insight, Seth.

  • Actually, I have these conversations on a regular basis, and have become a much better listener seeking to find common ground with the objections of those who don’t yet share our beliefs. I have come to the place where I hope to make simple yet probing questions. And blast some paradigms.


  • I do spirituality groups with women who are addicts a few times a week. They really struggle with the concept of God mostly because they are ashamed and afraid of judgement. What is interesting though, they have no problem believing in evil perhaps because it is easier to believe something is out to get them and it shifts blame for their actions. One girl said “at least evil won’t judge me for what I have done”. Interesting…

  • “We Christians have too many conversations with ourselves. We need more conversations like that one.”

    I agree.

    Reminds me of the time I was at a night market in Thailand and I got to talk to “seeker” Carmen from Germany about faith and God. It really opened my eyes and my heart to see that people do believe differently than I do and it have me the courage to be bold in having ‘those’ kind of conversations.

    Conversations with people who aren’t the same as me are good things to embrace, not destructive situations to avoid.

  • I find talking with non-believers to be a reality check, helping me to not glibly speak “christian-eese” as I’m wont to do.

    Just had a conversation with an Englishman about whether humans are basically good, or basically evil. He believes humans to be basically good, yet corrputed by the values of Capitalistic based societies.

    After a long conversation, it became clear the heart of the matter in this Englishman’s thinking was the matter of his heart! (as is always the case)

    For folks like him who are very to truth (and acknowledgin a personal God exists), I think it is best to show them something real. For instance, “God is real in my life because he answered my prayer about X.” Or, “My life used to be like this, but then I realized my sinfulness and repented before God – he changed me and now I am different in this way.”

    Talking with non-believers forces me to ask the question, “Is God really real in my life, or am I just playing ‘friend of God’”?

    Those are my thoughts on your post, Seth.

  • I realize that this is coming over two years after this article was written, but I would enjoy a challenging discussion on Christian faith versus agnosticism/atheism. My arguments would center on (1) the proliferation of organized religion in the world, and (2) the lack of empirical evidence for a God that interacts with us, and (3) the lack of evidence that distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. There are N religions in the world. Christians view N-1 religions as being false, so you are disbelievers to a certain degree yourselves. Muslims also believe N-1 religions are false, too. It’s not hard to dismiss all religions as inventions of man if one has a science background and values empirical evidence.

  • I suspect they will all think about their conversations with you if for no other reason than you didn’t meet their preconceived notions of Christians regardless of their perspectives.You very well might have fractured their paradigms. I love it. (BTW, knowing you as I do, you probably remained calm and matter-of-fact throughout. I need to practice that!)

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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