A few months ago I was in an 8 hour flight, and I sat next to a Christian pastor. We started out with small talk, and I soon discovered that he was headed to a Christian youth conference in Illinois somewhere.
I excitedly asked him what he was doing at the conference. He said that he was giving a talk to teenage boys on the potential obstacles that they will face within the next few years, and how to deal with them. We discussed that for a bit. It was fascinating. I secretly hoped that Pathfinders project or my beliefs would come up.
He asked me about my plans for returning to school and I mentioned that I was taking a break from school for a year to participate on Pathfinders Project. I told him the projects we were going to do, that we were going to start the Humanist Service Corps, and that it was sponsored by the Foundation Beyond Belief. It was fairly obvious that I was an atheist. I mentioned it several times.
We avoided discussing our obviously conflicting beliefs and simply accepted the other person’s decisions. He was Christian, and I didn’t try to change his beliefs and he did the same. We respected each other’s decisions.
As we landed we finished up our nice, respectful talk on what we were doing to improve this world based on our beliefs (or lack thereof). I packed up my things and started to leave when I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“I just want to tell you that God sees all” he said to me.
Didn’t we JUST finish a conversation where we respected each others’ beliefs? Didn’t we JUST purposefully spend the past 8 hours dancing around the discussion where we questioned what the other person believed? Then he ended it with “btw, I think your beliefs are wrong, so I will reassert that I think mine are correct. But I think that you are doing good work.” It wasn’t said in a particularly malicious way, but how disrespectful.
Yes, it was said in a polite way. Yes, it was a nice thing to say in his mind. But imagine if I had turned to him and said “I just want to tell you that there is no god” right as he left the plane. It’s an assertion that my beliefs are right and that his are not. It was not done with any sort of malicious intent, but when someone asserts that their beliefs are correct in a directly conflicting argument it ends up that way.
I was so caught off-guard that I didn’t say anything back. I couldn’t say anything back. Any sort of response back would have to be something like “thanks.” Thanks for what? The backhanded compliment? The other more passive-aggressive option is “god doesn’t exist” (or something equal to his statement that asserts my non-beliefs as correct), which would be rude.
Also, why save it for the very last second unless you are actively trying to catch me off-guard?
What do you do in this situation?