I go to the gymÂ everyday at lunchÂ forÂ an hour’s worth ofÂ cardio work. It’s a great break in the day, and I returnÂ to the office alert and energized.
There’s an older, retiredÂ gentleman who’s on the same workout schedule I am, and he and I chat frequently. He’s a friendly guy, in his late 70s, and I like his company well enough. Usually the conversation is light and not too specific, but today, somehow we started talking about religion.
The good news is, the conversation was civil and pleasant, even though it was evident that he and I are on opposite sides of the issue. He’s a religious man, and has apparently been that way his entire life, and I am not.
But he’s great to talk to. HeÂ speaks when it’sÂ appropriate, but he also listens when others are speaking. So when I mentioned that I wasn’t religious, he listened intently to what I was saying, and he asked me to clarifyÂ when he found something I said vague or unclear. He seemedÂ genuinely curious about my thoughts.
He wanted to know what it was like not to believe in anything, and when IÂ recited a long list of things I actually do believe in, he seemed pleased, if not surprised. He wanted to knowÂ whyÂ anyone wouldÂ live a moral lifeÂ unless there was aÂ god to reward it, and when I said “because it’s the right thing to do, and it is a reward in itself”, he got it. And when I further explainedÂ that what we recognize as moral behavior is simply evolutionarily advantageous, thatÂ declaring it a gift or mandate from an unseen being is needlessly complicating the matter, and thatÂ moral behaviorÂ easily pre-dates organized religion, he was very interested. He wanted to know how I could be happy if this life is all there is, and when I told him my happiness is no more difficult (nor any easier)Â to attain than his, that it’sÂ indeed dauntingÂ knowing that death is the end, but it’s liberating as well, and it makes one’s time so much more precious, he was speechless.
And eventually I left, having enjoyed the conversation, thinking we both got something from it.
But then IÂ balked. Not that I thoughtÂ I necessarilyÂ “converted” the guy, but IÂ began to think, “He was happy in his delusions, and he probably doesn’t have a lotÂ of time left to get comfortableÂ with a new worldview.Â Did I give him too muchÂ to think about at a time in his life when he should be ridingÂ the wave of what makes him happy to the grave?” So I wondered:Â Â
If it makes them happy and they are not being hurt, is it appropriate toÂ dismantle the delusions (psychics, superstitions, glucosamine, god, etc.) of a person of advanced age?Â HowÂ would youÂ discuss these issues withÂ someone who might not haveÂ a great deal of time? Would you discuss them at all?
The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.