“I have a book. I’ve found it very helpful. Would you read it?” I asked him.
“Here you go,” I said, handing it to him. “I’ve found it helpful for folks to see where they fall.”
He took it. I watched his expression when I gave it to him. He seemed to scoff at the idea of learning. It was as if he had it all figured out. Or was it the possibilty that he was unwilling to change his mind even if the evidence demonstrated he was in error? I tried to let it go inside, but my gut told me I’d given him a book that would be tossed aside, perhaps not even perused.
Some time went by. In previous conversations, he had boasted to me that he was quite the reader. He had told me of the strong grades he earned in his high school days, and that he’d been in the advanced classes. So I thought I would ask him if he’d had a chance to read the little book.
“Well, did you have a chance to read that book?”
“I did,” he responded quickly. “It was quite short, so it did not take me long.”
“I see,” I said. “Well, where did you fall?”
“I guess I’m a nihilist,” he said.
“I see.” I let the silence hang for a moment.
Very often over the last few months, when he shared some of his life with me, he spoke of his family, his wife and children, where he grew up, etc. So I thought I’d press him a bit to see if he’d thought his worldview through.
“Nothingness philosophy, eh?” I asked.
“Well, I can undermine any value,” he said.
“Do you think if someone murdered your daughters, would that be wrong?” I asked.
“Well, I wouldn’t like it, but let me ask you a question,” he responded.
“You wouldn’t like it?” I said. “Why? Is that all? Just a preference? The murder of your daughters would not be objectively wrong?” I pressed. So I continued. “Wait. I want to be sure I understand your position. It would not be objectively wrong for someone to murder your children? Or rape them?”
“I would not like it,” he said.
“If someone stole your wallet, would you be upset?” I asked. “Or is everything just preferences?”
“I think that all values are subjective,” he said.
“That’s an interesting position to have for someone who cannot anchor values. You seem certain about that, like it’s objectively true, like it’s good, like it’s a good thing to be right, almost like there is a right, a good, a true,” I said. “Make sense?”
Someone came through the door and our conversation was interrupted.
I have thought about him a lot. He seems unwilling to bend.
One of the things that keeps running through my mind is that I believe he loves his wife and children. I think he would more than just prefer their remaining protected from evil. He lives as if he believes their provision and protection are good values in and of themselves.
Then the lyrics to one of my favorite songs kept running through my head. It’s a song by Paul Simon called “Crazy Love.” And some of the lines reminded me of the scenario described above:
Fat Charlie the Archangel
Sloped into the room
He said, “I have no opinion about this
And I have no opinion about that”
Sad as a lonely little wrinkled balloon
He said, “Well I don’t claim to be happy about this, boys
And I don’t seem to be happy about that”
In the song, the character of Charlie is just awash in nihilism. He’s sad and is soon to file for divorce. He just can’t seem to find the answers. He’s dead sure he has no opinions. But he files for divorce, as if he’s sure about that. Ironic for a nowhere man in his nowhere land.
He gave the book back to me, as if it had been less than useful to him. Seems he has all the answers he needs in his nihilism.
I’m going to listen to “Crazy Love” several times again, because I think Paul Simon was driving at something that can be missed. A little wrinkled balloon is a sad image. It’s almost like balloons were designed, but that would mean there was a designer, right? It would almost make you think that balloons were designed to fly, rather than be sad little wrinkled leavings on the floor, where they’d sure appear to be misplaced.