Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Trump Card

Sometime last year, I found myself deep in conversation with Russ, a 60-year-old citizen of the southern city where I was living who opposed nearly everything I stood for. As one of those things was Christianity (though he made allowances for the beauty it added to the KKK), we often got in theological discussions.

“The way I see it,” he asserted confidently as he worked on consuming another pack of Camels into his puttering lungs, “there are two types of people: those who operate on faith, and those who operate on reason. I will always operate on reason, no matter what anyone says.”

This false dichotomy was not a new concept to me, so I didn’t bat an eye to answer him. I responded with a discussion about various examples of times one used reason to submit to faith (going to the doctor, for example).

Russ listened pensively, and acquiesced most of my argument to me. When he realized he wasn’t going to win on the classic Faith vs. Reason polarization, he seemed almost ready to surrender to me that my allegiance to Christianity might not be as ridiculous as he had originally claimed. For the first time in the conversation, he simply smoked in silence.

Suddenly, Russ straightened confidently as if he had finally remembered his secret weapon, entrusted to him during his most recent stay in prison.

“But if what you say is true,” he triumphantly laid his trump-card, “why did they destroy the records at the Counsel of Trent?!”

I almost choked on my campfire coffee he had brewed over his kerosene stove. Clearly, Russ used his time at the prison library well. When I had recovered from the shock of the derailing of our intellectual conversation, I finally addressed his question in the most fair way it deserved.

“Russ,” I answered, “I don’t think you give a damn about the records of the Counsel of Trent. As a matter of fact, if I had them with me here in my back pocket, I don’t think you would read them.”

I happened to remember that conversation last night when my brother and I were watching the Da Vinci Code. But I am placing myself in Russ’s place now. How many times am I up against the wall, knowing that all my arguments have proved thin and the only thing left for me to do is admit I was wrong, when I suddenly pull out a ridiculous trump-card that had nothing to do with anything.

“Well, if God really does love me, where was he that one time in high school when…”

As I mentioned in an earlier post, perhaps God is often silent to my questions because they are the wrong questions. In fact, maybe half the time they are not even questions, anymore than Russ’s qualm about the Counsel of Trent had been a genuine question.

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