17. “What purpose do you think you are here for if you do not believe in salvation?”
What’s that, dear? Salvation? No, I’m afraid this is about biology. Maybe you want the soteriology debate next door? No, that’s all right. Easy mistake to make. Run along now.
Obviously, 17 has turned up to the wrong event. She doesn’t give a damn about biology or geology or astrophysics. In other words, any of the subjects which Bill Nye was talking about – or that Ken Ham was supposed to be talking about (and at least had the decency to spend some of his time on, when he wasn’t ranting about atheist conspiracies). 17 isn’t there to listen to any of that evidence, or consider what it entails.
17 really only has one concern, which is made evident by her question. She’s worried that the conclusion to the debate will threaten her deeply cherished belief that human life was designed as a testing platform for souls, and that those which pass are uploaded onto the live server environment, which is highly desirable for some unspecified reason. I don’t know, maybe I’m not the best person to describe “salvation”. But whatever it is, 17 wants it, and is scared that if evolution is true, she can’t have it.
Don’t think of 17’s presence at the debate as being like that of a conference attendee, who’s turned up to learn some new ideas and contribute to the debate. She’s more like a panicking wife, who’s heard that there’s been a big pile-up on the bypass, and can’t get in touch with her husband, so she’s gone to the nearest hospital and is standing paralysed at the entrance to the morgue, terrified that one of the bodies is his, but too much in denial to properly look.
Discarding your most fundamental belief about the purpose of life is a difficult and traumatic experience. You have to go through all the hard work of finding a new one, during which time you feel adrift with nothing to support you at all. You may have to accept that everything you’ve done with your life so far has been a waste, directed at a now meaningless goal. And you’ll probably alienate yourself from all the people around you who share your current values. It’s not surprising that 17 is scared to do it.
There’s hope though. 17 is still young and has the majority of her life ahead of her. If she adopts a new goal now, she won’t have spent too much time on the previous one. And she’ll probably find that less has changed than she might think. Most converts to atheism don’t immediately take up new ethically bankrupt careers as serial killers or investment bankers. They usually find that their core beliefs about the best way to live life and interact with other people remain the same: kindness, compassion, respect and love. And not living in constant fear and denial of science has got to be a more comfortable experience than her current one: that should make up somewhat for the trauma of getting there.
The benefits are clear, but is 17 ever going to recognize them when she’s still sticking her fingers in her ears, la-la-la-ing? Maybe: at least she turned up to the morgue, and though she’s temporarily paralysed, she might go in yet to check the bodies.