Here’s the scenario. I was travelling on a subway carriage in Japan with a group of friends, one of whom iwas soon to return to Australia, another of whom is a (I presume) born-again Christian. For weeks I had been raving about Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale, boring my girlfriend to tears with a panoply of zoological “Did you knows” (e.g. did you know that the cicada produces its distinctive and loud song not by the rubbing together of wings/limbs that is associated with crickets and grasshoppers, but by buckling parts of its thorax as one would an aluminium can?). It was my girlfriend who dropped The Ancestor’s Tale into the conversation. “What’s it about?” asked a member of our group. “It’s about evolution,” she replied.
This elicited a roll of the eyes and a derisive “Oh, evolution,” from my Christian friend, at which point I panicked, and immediately changed the subject. My intentions were honourable: we had gathered together that night to have a good time and to give the girl returning to Australia a good send-off. I didn’t want the occasion soured by a religious debate, nor did I want my Christian friend to feel uncomfortable.
In hindsight, however, I wonder how my intervention must have seemed to her. Would she have appreciated what I was trying to do, or would she have felt as if I was simply dismissing her views, patronisingly attempting to rescue the night from her embarrassing Christian otherness? (She’s not the stereotypical born-again Christian: she’ll cuss and drink with the best of us, and doesn’t seem comfortable being “out” about her beliefs around her secular friends. Indeed, I wasn’t aware of her religious affiliation until I came across her blog.)
Or, did I perhaps miss an opportunity to take one for the team, as it were, by engaging her in frank debate and discussion on the topic of evolution? Would this in fact have been the more respectful thing to do?