I write the software for Geneffects and tend bar at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

I Have to Wash My Hair, Jesus

Being an agnostic is not an easy thing. After a while you feel like the one gay son in a conservative-but-trying-their-hardest-to-understand family. "We've just met this really nice girl for you and she would like for you to take her out... maybe hold her hand for a little while, who knows? Just give it a try. You can always go back to being gay if you don't like it. We love you, son."

Agnostics often mistaken as atheists, but to an agnostic an atheist is just about the worst thing you could be. Agnostics base their entire faith (if you can call it that) on, if there is a God, not pissing it off too much. Openly denying the existence of God, as atheists do, seems like not a great idea. No, an agnostic is one who admits complete and utter ignorance of any sort of divine truth. The word was coined by 19th Century British scientist Thomas H. Huxley and is based on the greek word "gnosis" meaning "knowledge" and the prefix "a" meaning "without." Agnostics are blissfully ignorant and many prefer to keep it that way. They will say that they know enough to admit that they really know nothing.

At its heart, agnosticism is a spineless, yellow-bellied take on the divine (e.g. they will capitalize "God" because - who knows? - a lowercase ‘g' may be that final straw to earn them a spot in the hot place). The hope is that if there exists an afterlife then St. Peter, Muhammad, Zeus, Jimi Hendrix, or The Thousand-Armed, Seven-Faced All-Seeing God-Head - whoever turns out to be in charge - will see that our poor, misguided agnostic was really doing the best that they could given the myriad of religions and philosophies. "How could you not have known the purpose of life was to eat as much ice-cream as possible," TTASFASGH will ask. "I put four places you can buy it on Franklin St. alone. What more obvious of a sign did you need?"

Before I go on, I should mention that I am one of these gutless, misguided souls. I am an agnostic.

Before I go on, I should also mention that for several months I worked at the now-defunct Mayberry Creamery as a scoop jockey. You meet an interesting array of people in food service, and this job was no exception. One person, TTASFASGH bless him, gave me a twenty-dollar tip while another thought he was being a philanthropist by dumping the sparse contents of the "leave a penny" cup in my Andy Griffith "gone fishin'" tip jar.

David, the owner, had the idea to reach out to the community and started "The Mayberry Meetings" - a once-a-week meeting at the Creamery where - theoretically - anyone could stop by and take part in the religious or existential topic of the day. Theoretically. Often it was the same four people - David, Chris (youth pastor at David's church), Harley (David's longtime friend), and me (!) - but I was the only one getting paid to be there.

The sessions were a welcome diversion for me from the often brain-freezingly slow pace of the Monday evening shift. An added bonus was that when the conversation got a little heavy on the "Brian-is-hellbound" topic, a customer would miraculously materialize and deliver me from the flames and sulfur.

The customer looks around and then finally asks for a sample of the coconut ice cream. I hand it to her.

"This has coconut in it!"

"Yes, that's the coconut ice cream you asked for."

"But you didn't tell me it would have coconut in it!"

One Monday it was my last week at the Creamery, and it was pretty obvious the likeliness of my attending future sessions would significantly decrease after that day. The topic was, "does anybody deserve anything?" The Christian front maintained that Jesus has given us better than we deserve. The lone agnostic felt that we - humans, animals, trees, Republicans, etc. - don't really deserve anything. Take a look around you. What makes us as Americans so special that we deserve all that we have? We have it really well here, and we're really not entitled to any of it.

All during the meeting Chris, the youth pastor, seemed edgy. Finally, toward the end of the meeting (and my shift) he came out with it - he wanted me to cast aside my willful ignorance and come to the side of Jesus. "There were many better things I could be doing with my Monday evenings," he said, "than driving out from Durham to take part in a religious sausage party" (I paraphrase a bit). "But," he continued, "I do it for one person, one lost soul. There is a reason you came to work here, Brian. God is trying to tell you something."

"Perhaps, Chris, rather than you teaching me, my purpose here is that God wants for you to learn something from me," I offered, though I knew he would not consider the possibility.

"You've come a long way, Brian. When we first started having these things you would say, ‘I don't know if God exists,' and now you're talking about him like he's real."

What I didn't have the heart to tell him was that it gets tiring for all parties involved to hear an agnostic begin every thought with the Agnostic Declaration of Ignorance. The ADI is quite long, and I will not repeat it here. Still, I recognize that many people have different ideas for the embodiment of God - nature, math, love, sex, money, Jesus, Dean Smith, etc., so sometimes when I am in their presence I will adopt their vernacular purely for the expedition of conveying ideas - not because I believe in their particular framework.

"Brian, I don't get ‘points' for this. If someone comes to Jesus as a result of my testimony, I don't say, ‘all right, Lord, put another mark on my tote board!' I believe - I know - that the Gospel is truth and I would not be a good Christian if I did not try to help you understand and accept that truth."

"That voice you said I had in me five paragraphs ago - the voice of God - I do have that, but it is not telling me I am misaligned. I feel in my heart that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing."

Gentle reader, I was not a particularly popular kid in school. I would ask girls out and be handed the "lets be friends" speech time and again. "What's the beef, man? I mean, I'm a cool guy," I would say to myself after hanging up the phone and maybe crying a little bit. For whatever reason these girls had - maybe it was because I said things like, "what's the beef?" - they had no problems with telling me I wasn't dating material. I could never figure them out, but here I was, years later, finally understanding how they must have felt. Here I was, shamelessly telling this young child of God that I would rather wash my hair than go out with Jesus.


diz said...

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3:23 AM  

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