Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Believe it... or not

Christian, atheist share faith, non-faith journeys

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When an atheist and a Christian sit to talk about faith, or the lack of it, the conversation quickly turns to the next life.

"What is heaven?" Donna Harris, president of the Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, asks Josef Estabrooks at the beginning of a one-on-one conversation about Christian belief and non-belief.

This dialogue between a Christian believer and an avowed atheist and humanist grew out of earlier story about the growing segment of Canadian society that has "no religion."

In that story last month, Harris, 50, mentioned she'd like to have a serious face-to-face conversation about faith with a believer. "I think one of the things I'd like to do is sit down and talk to a person of faith and see what they believe," she told the Free Press in May.

Nearly two dozen of you took her up on that offer, and that story generated hundreds of comments, the most logged by any faith story in recent memory.

"I know that it would take far more faith for me to NOT believe than it is for me to live out my day-to-day life as a Christ-follower," writes reader Janet Fritsch. "It is a challenging but deeply satisfying life."

Reader Gregory Unger of Dugald welcomes the opportunity to exchange views with a humanist like Harris.

"I'm spiritually thin but convicted of the existence of the Christian God and willing to explain why to the curious," he writes. "I am curious in return."

After introductions -- Harris works in human resources for a provincial agency, Estabrooks sells children's books -- the topic quickly turns to the idea of an afterlife.

"It is my view what religion almost universally offers is 'what happens to us when we die,' " she says of the reason for her first question.

Estabrooks welcomes that type of inquiry because he sees questions as essential to his Christian journey.

"Most of us ask big questions in our lives, but we do it only once, and we get an answer and we stop," explains the father of two young children.

In a wide-ranging conversation over coffee on a restaurant patio, the two Winnipeggers engage in conversation about the nature of faith, the example of Jesus for Christians, the validity of Christian scripture, and the reasons for their own views.

"We're lucky to be here, to be the product of billions of years of evolution," Harris says of how she sees the world.

"What I see in the world is not random or chance, but it's neutral. The universe doesn't care about us either way."

"I kind of see everything as waiting for the potential of God's influence," counters Estabrooks. "God is waiting for us to let go of being in charge."

The hour-long conversation wraps up the same way it began: with a query from Harris about a theological concept.

"Does God answer your prayers?" she asks.

"Yes, especially when I don't specifically ask," he answers.

Although an atheist and a Christian have different perspectives on the big questions, they leave the conversation agreed on one point.

They believe it's important to ask them, and then listen to the answers.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 D15


Updated on Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 9:48 AM CDT: Added colour photo

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