Just for starters: this has NOTHING to do with faith vs. science. That’s another topic entirely, for another post.
This is about credibility and respect. This is about how both of these things can be absolutely ruined by even the tiniest of mishaps.
This is the story of Bill Nye talking down to my mom.
I was just a kid. I never really watched “the science guy” and his many adventures, I preferred the slightly goofier science show “Beakman’s World” because it involved neon green lab coats and a guy dressed as a giant mouse. I was a simple child, with simple pleasures.
My mom used to go to teacher’s conventions with a friend from church every once in a while, to help him sell those giant pencils you see some teachers use as name plates. It was a pretty neat setup–she got to travel, her friend got an extra pair of hands at his booth, and sometimes mom would bring back toys for me. Simple child, like I said. I always loved hearing her stories about the conventions when she came back. In a way, these experiences might have planted the con bug in me long before I knew what C2E2 or SDCC even were.
Anyway, it was at one of these conventions that my mother encountered the Science Guy himself. She was on her break, meandering the con floor, and happened to find Bill Nye in a rare free moment. Because my mom is the coolest mom EVER, her first thought was to get a photo with him for me. She knew I would be excited–hey, he wasn’t my favorite TV scientist, but I understood enough about what “famous” meant to be pretty thrilled that my mom would bring home a picture with a TV star. Waiting until his conversation died down, my mom approached Bill Nye and asked for the photo.
His response? Not quite as gracious as your childhood dreams might have anticipated.
“I don’t do photos,” Nye told my mom, in a tone that apparently was neither gracious nor understanding. “If you get in line at my stall you can pay for an autograph.”
And that was it. He walked away.
No “thank you for your interest,” no “sorry to disappoint you,” nothing. He shut her down and left.
Now, I understand that celebrities at conventions are busy people who don’t necessarily want to be mobbed by admirers. I understand that there are appropriate boundaries and these people are under no obligation to be nice to you if you violate those boundaries. But, from all I gathered from my mom’s story and my knowledge of her character, this was not the case. My mom was being as polite as possible, requesting an autograph for her child. It would have been very simple for Mr. Nye to say “I’m sorry, but I am not doing photos at this convention. I am taking autographs at my stall later, though.” Just phrasing it more politely would have worked wonders. But no–he felt the need to be brusque and condescending.
I literally do not remember how long ago it was that my mom came home with that story. It’s been at least fifteen years. And for at least fifteen years, whenever I see a picture of Bill Nye or hear him discussed in any context, you know what I think?
“Oh hey, that’s the guy who was a jerk to my mom.”
I literally cannot get past that childhood offense. He could form the most eloquent, convincing argument in the world and it would not matter to me. He could cure cancer and, while I’d be grateful, I’d still have trouble having any respect for him as a person, because Bill Nye was a jerk to my mom on one day over fifteen years ago. It doesn’t even matter the context–he could have been having a really bad day. He might have been sick. He might have had no sleep the night before. But it doesn’t matter in my mind, because my mother was my childhood hero and Bill Nye did not treat her with respect.
Why do I bring up this weird, kind of depressing story?
because this is what happens to people of faith who attempt aggressive apologetics in the place of loving service.
We live in a world that seems to be driven by facts and figures. Christians are often ridiculed for being anti-intellectual. And so our first response, far too often, is to go on the offensive. We fill our arsenal with Scriptural defenses and conservative interpretations of science and history, and we bludgeon our opponents until they will acknowledge that we are just as well-studied and intelligent as everybody else.
That’s not how we’re remembered, though. When people look back on our “victories,” you know what they tend to think?
“Wow, what a bunch of stubborn jerks.”
And that’s it–we’ve lost. By shutting somebody out one time, it is likely that you have colored their opinion on the church for days, weeks, maybe even years to come. I have heard countless stories of people who have been out of the church for years, people who have never been in the church at all, and almost all of them begin with a cold-hearted parishioner or minister acting hatefully towards them or their loved ones. That’s all it takes for the Christian faith to be written off as antagonistic and close-minded.
Now don’t get me wrong–sometimes healthy debate is important and desirable. It is certainly important for people of faith to explore all kinds of intellectual endeavors–math and science and literature and art and everything else. There is nothing wrong with being a learned people. Quite the contrary–it is essential for us to be a learned people, so that we can demonstrate that a life of faith is not incompatible with a life of understanding. But it is not enough for us to be intelligent.
A beloved professor of mine recently uttered these words: “We have to out-love them.” It’s a well-known sentiment but a vital one. No matter where we are or who we come into contact with, our call is to be people of love–the kind of love that gave up everything for people who didn’t deserve it. Because the one time we aren’t is the time they’ll remember for years to come.