Once upon a time two old friends were walking down a city street on a bright and brisk fall afternoon when they came upon the door to a local bar.
Looking through the long shadows of the afternoon sun, the atheist asked his old friend, “Will your Christian principles allow you to have a leisurely drink with an old friend?”
“Of course! There’s nothing wrong with sharing a bit of the ‘fruit of the vine’ with an old friend!” replied the Christian.
Taking the handle in his hand, the atheist opened the door for his friend and he let the heavy wooden door close behind them. The interior was darker than the bright light of day outside, but their eyes soon shook off their temporary blindness. After orienting themselves inside, they made their way to the bar and sat down on two well-worn upholstered bar stools.
The bartender, seeing them enter and amble up to the bar came over and, with a glass in his hand, said, “welcome in. What can I get you two?”
“I’ll have a beer, the hoppier the better,” said the atheist.
“I’ll have the same,” added the Christian.
“No problem,” replied the bartender as he turned and poured the two beers from the taps behind him.
In that moment, the two friends saw a disheveled woman in the far corner of the bar stand up and walk out of the bar. As she opened the door into the bright light of the midday sun the two friends watched her leave.
Shaking his head, the Christian commented, “poor thing.”
“What do you mean?”
“That person was obviously a man, but he thinks he’s a woman. So confused, so in need of help.”
“Poor thing? Why do you say that?”
“Someone so confused needs help to deal with the issues they are most obviously dealing with,” replied the Christian.
“Are you serious?” began the atheist. “SHE identifies as a woman, so SHE IS a woman. She’s living her truth and is happier for it. She was born in the wrong body and now she’s fixing that.”
Chuckling, the Christian replied, “Perhaps you’re right.”
The Christian paused and, looking down at his drink, said, “well at least we agree on one thing.”
Perplexed, the atheist asked, “Oh, and what’s that?”
“Well,” began the Christian, “We both believe we have souls but you don’t.”
“That’s ridiculous,” huffed the atheist. “Trans people don’t believe in souls.”
“Really? Didn’t you say yourself that they think they were born in the wrong body?”
Looking intently at his old friend, the Christian asked, “What exactly do you think they’re referring to?’”
The Christian continued, “As I understand things, your atheist worldview posits that people are merely one more animal in the web of life and, when we die, we cease to exist and nothing of us, our character or our personality persist. When we die, we simply stop being. Do I have that about right?”
“Yes,” began the atheist, “that’s right. When we die, there is nothing more. We simply cease to exist.”
“Well, then?” began the Christian. “Don’t you see it? Even trans people believe that something exists that is separate and distinct from their physical body. When a trans person declares ‘I was born in the wrong body,’ what do you think they’re referring to?”
Taking another gulp of his beer, the atheist responded to his friend, “Look, that may be what they’re saying, but you’re reading way too much into it. You’re taking their statements too literally.”
It was at this point that the Christian began to lose his own patience. Taking a deep breath, the Christian responded, “But isn’t that all anyone wants? To be taken seriously? Should I NOT take seriously someone’s earnest declarations? Why are you so quick to disregard the convictions of a person ‘living their truth?’”
The Christian paused for a moment to take measure of his old friend and the pained expression on his face. Then he continued,
“All we have are the words people say to understand them. They themselves tell me they were ‘born in the wrong body.’ Don’t you see the implications here? Even if they cannot consciously come to terms with their condition, their own language betrays what they know to be true in their deepest thoughts.”
Struggling to follow his friend, the atheist began to speak, but his Christian friend cut him off.
“Friend, please. Don’t react. Think. I can see the confusion on your face. Maybe we should just leave this discussion behind and enjoy our beers. It’s a beautiful day and this air conditioning feels better than the heat outside!”
“I can’t just drop it. You just called an entire section of the population mentally ill! There’s no way I can just ignore that. Those people aren’t mentally ill.”
“Again,” began the Christian, “maybe you’re right. I have a question though.”
“You have a question? You mean you don’t know everything?” the atheist retorted.
“Far from it,” replied the Christian. “It’s much more fun to be in the mystery than in the know.”
“Then what’s your big question?” prodded the atheist.
“Oh, it’s nothing. I just wonder: if it’s our brain that perceives and interprets the world around us, and if that same organ happened to be damaged somehow, would that organ know that itself was damaged?”
“What?” Shaking his head, the atheist responded plaintively, “I lost you.”
The atheist didn’t need to say anything, the look of confusion on his face belied the confusion he felt. And in that moment he remembered why he and his Christian friend had remained close for so many years. They challenged each other.
“Well,” began the Christian, “as thinking beings, we observe the world around us in terms of differences and comparisons. A cat is not an elephant. A car is not a house. A hotel is not a horse. Follow so far?”
“Yes, of course. Don’t patronize me.”
“Sorry, I just wanted to make sure that we agreed on a very basic premise on how we, as humans, perceive the world around us.”
Then the atheist pounced, saying “And now you’re going to say that men aren’t women, right?”
Chuckling, the Christian responded, “well, that is correct, but that’s not where I was going.”
“OK, then. Finish your thought.” The atheist was feeling impatient at his friend now. He knew he was being led down a rhetorical path but was just too curious to cut him off, so he allowed his friend to continue.
“Thank you,” replied the Christian. “My point was that, if it is the brain that discerns differences in the world around it in order to make sense of that world, would the brain be able to discern a difference in itself if it had nothing to compare it to? How could it know that it was damaged if it had ALWAYS been damaged? Stated another way, does a fish perceive the water surrounding it?”
The Christian paused then finished his thought, “My point is that one cannot reliably determine mental illness on one’s own because the organ that would diagnose such an illness is, itself, damaged.”
“So what are you saying?” began the atheist. “That there are literally millions of brain damaged people walking around?”
“No, I’m saying there are millions of undiagnosed people suffering from mental illness that they themselves are powerless to see and society, with good intentions, perpetuates their illness by ignoring the illness, all to no one’s benefit” the Christian responded.
“You’re crazy,” the atheist responded. “And I don’t know if you’re just messing with me now or really believe that BS you just spewed. But we’ve been friends for a long time and I know you respect me as a person. I can definitely say that, despite all that horse shit you just said, I STILL value our friendship.”
Upon hearing this, the Christian threw his head back, laughing and clapping his friend on the back, saying, “I’m crazy? Well I’m glad you’re here to tell me, since, if I were crazy, I would be incapable of knowing myself! Thank you!”
Joining his friend in his laughter, the atheist said, “You may be lost in your crazy, but I love you anyway!”
“Exactly,” replied the Christian. “Exactly.”