One more, somewhat longer excerpt from The Former Things, my upcoming Christian fiction novel told from the perspective of an atheist - coming late this year or early 2022 from Ambassador International.
This portion is in the present and the main character, Sean Winter, is facing a tornado during his first day on a new job. Fun times, right?
There’s a new roaring noise outside. It’s incredibly loud, like metal being torn apart and glass shattering, a nightmarish freight train barreling through the city. People start screaming and hiding under their desks. I already know it’s a tornado!
I’m locked in combat with my anxiety now….and I’m losing! I’m afraid that this building will start shaking. And if it does, I know that’s the beginning of the end. I imagine the ceiling or walls suddenly ripping away and that’s it — we’ll all get sucked up and killed by the twister.
I shake off that painful thought and look at Keith. He appears concerned but he’s calmer than me. He’s closed his eyes and his mouth is moving. Is — is he praying? I can’t tell. I listen closer and a moment later, I can understand his final words: “...in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
My mouth hangs open and anger seethes in my heart. I can’t help but feel betrayed. I thought he was a good person. But I was wrong. He’s a Christian!
Keith looks up and sees me. He seems genuinely perplexed.
“What is it, Sean? What’s wrong?”
It takes all of my will to keep my voice low. The tumult outside has started to move away, but my nerves are strained to their limit. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I want to hit something, but I can’t move.
“You,” I almost growl. “I thought you were normal. I was — really starting to respect you. But you’re one of them.” I see his brow furrow in confusion, and I spit the words at him: “A Christian.”
Keith’s only visible reaction is to blink in stunned silence. He puts his hands in his lap, lowers his head, and takes a deep breath. It’s a few seconds before he looks up and says anything.
“Yes, I am a Christian,” Keith replies slowly. “What about it? Why does that bother you so much?”
I release the armrest of my chair and clench my fist in my lap.
“It bothers me because it's a placebo! There is no god and religion doesn't solve anything.”
Keith waits to respond again. In a way, I’m grateful. It gives me a chance to calm down a little. The tornado sounds are gone now. All I can hear is the rain lashing against the sides of the building and occasional thunder. Most of our coworkers are out of sight, probably still under their desks. I can hear some of them whispering now and then. I don’t see or hear Jessica. She must be out of the Call Center, probably trying to see who can get the power back on.
Just then, Keith slowly leans forward in his chair. He’s actually pretty calm.
“You’re an atheist then?” he finally says.
“If you don’t believe in God, that’s your choice,” Keith continues. “And I respect that.”
That’s surprising to hear.
“But let me ask you something, Sean: Why does it matter to you if someone else does believe in God?”
What? Did he really just ask that? Is he stupid? This is making me madder.
“It matters to me if I see someone is choosing to be a mean, selfish hypocrite, yeah.”
“So, all Christians are mean, selfish hypocrites to you?”
I stare at him, my irritation simmering. I take a deep breath.
“There is no evidence of any supreme being ever existing,” I tell Keith. “But there is plenty of evidence to support rational and scientific explanations for what used to be attributed to superstition, gods, and other silly belief systems.”
“Science has helped us understand a lot of things,” Keith acknowledges. He’s serious at first. Then he smiles, amused. “We know the Earth isn’t flat, for example.”
I sigh. “We know a lot more than that.”
“Do we know everything about everything?” he asks.
If the power ever comes back on, I’m asking Jessica to sit me with someone else.
“No, of course not,” I reply. “But we’re learning more all the time.”
“Granted. Will that be enough?”
What is he talking about? “Enough for what?”
“Enough to satisfy human knowledge and curiosity. Will we ever know it all?”
He’s carried this debate further than I thought he would. Maybe this isn’t such a bad way to pass the time.
“No, I doubt we’ll ever know it all,” I suggest. “Humans will always have questions and seek knowledge.”
“I agree,” Keith adds. “But is intellectual knowledge enough to satisfy us humans? Can we live off of knowledge alone? Or do we need more?”
That’s an interesting question, I have to admit.
“I suppose we need emotional satisfaction also,” I answer.
“How do we attain that?” Keith inquires.
I give that some thought.
“By accomplishing goals we set for ourselves.”
“Like what — school, work, marriage, and family? Things like that?”
“I guess. I mean, not everyone wants to get married or have kids. But there are all kinds of goals people can set for themselves.”
He looks as intrigued by this discussion as me. It’s also relieving to hear the rain finally dying down outside.
“And what if a person fails to achieve their goals?” he asks me. “Are they a failure and doomed to be miserable for the rest of their life?”
“Obviously not,” I counter. “If one goal doesn’t work out, a person can always make up new dreams to follow.”
“New dreams,” Keith repeats, nodding. “What’s your dream, Sean?”
About the author
Allen Steadham is a nondenominational Christian. Happily interracially married since 1995 and the proud father of two sons and a daughter. He and his wife have been in the same Christian band since 1997. He plays electric bass, she plays strings, they both sing. It's all good.
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