Saturday, April 5, 2008

Faith at the Park

This morning as I arrived at the park for my Weekly Big Long Run, I saw that a group of seven middle-age men were just leaving the running/walking course. As they left the track and started into the parking lot, one of them lagged behind and then doubled over in evident pain. He tried to make light of the situation but it was clear he could not walk, and that staying on his feet was a strain. The rest of the group circled back and surrounded him, but there was no surprise or alarm in their reactions, so it seemed they knew of their friend's underlying condition. They offered support by placing their hands on him, helping to support him, at one point helping to ease him down to an all-fours position. Judging from their clothing and overall appearance, I inferred that these men were from the same church.

I took all this in over the course of maybe 15 seconds. I intentionally left my headphones in and playing because I thought they had the situation well in hand and, more, because I didn't want my pet theories and prejudices about religion to interfere with the moment. I thought one of them might be praying but I didn't want to know. It's possible the man was actually in the throes of some kind of "born again" epiphany rather than physical pain, but again, I didn't want to know.

As appropriate, useful, and entertaining I find the bluster of Christopher Hitchens when he claims that religion poisons everything, this is a moment that reminds me that it is, after all, bluster. It doesn't poison everything in all times and places and circumstances. If a common faith brought these men together on an April morning, and inspired them to mutual support and understanding, surely there is no poisoning afoot.

As an atheistic humanist, I choose to label this interaction as human solidarity and friendly succor, whatever the supernatural precepts the men brought to it. But as a realist and a fair-minded observer, I can't deny that those precepts made the scene possible.

And then I ran twenty miles and by the end of that I was ever more certain there is no god.

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