I was dumbstruck for a moment. The true answer is neither yes nor no, depending on what you mean by "God." My mind raced, trying to come up with a one-sentence, accessible exposition of non-dual spirituality. Not quickly enough -- before I stammered halfway through the next sentence (something like, "Well it depends on what you mean...") he said, "I mean, do you believe Jesus Christ, the one and only son of God, died on the cross for our sins? Because I know exactly what I mean -- it says it right in the Bible."
Then we shifted to politics. He told me about his Republican views, how he resented the welfare cheats who sit around watching TV getting paid to have children. I said, "Maybe from within their world it isn't like that. We don't know for sure unless we interact with them, learn what their lives are like and what it's like to be them." He said, "Hey, the facts are the facts. California alone has X million receiving Y million dollars." He said he is a hard-working small business owner. I said, both the Republicans and Democrats say they support small business, but it is big business that runs the government. "If you go bankrupt the government isn't going to bail you out. It's Socialism for the rich," I said.
I didn't debate any of his points, knowing that wouldn't change his mind, but my efforts to reframe them in the boarding line were fruitless as well. I got to my seat with an uncomfortable feeling of not having stood my ground. After all, it is not the logical arguments that might affect someone like that, it is the energy behind them. In this conversation, I think my energy was of a smart-ass intellectual who has a lot of complicated thoughts but no real convictions. Now, I am not describing myself in that way, but at that moment I was being that. Why? I think it was out of aversion to conflict, perhaps a habit left over from being the smallest kid on the playground.
Let me rewrite the incident.
"Do you believe in God?"
"Why yes. I believe God is in everything and that everything is God. I believe the whole universe and everything in it is sacred."
"Do you believe in Jesus Christ?"
"Yes. Although, his message has been turned into its opposite. His logic was, "I am a man. I am God. You are a man (or woman). Therefore, you are God as well." We've flipped it around, though, to mean, "Jesus is God and you are not," robbing us of our divine birthright."
This would have been more fun. I would have been standing in my truth, and saying things he has probably never heard before, thereby puncturing his story and eluding any easy categorization into "atheist," "liberal" or whatever. Plus I know a little scripture to back up my interpretation. He would quote other scripture at me, John 3:16 perhaps. On it would go. I would avoid debate, avoid the attempt to prevail by force of logic. I would rather him go home thinking he had won, yet open somehow in a way he hadn't been before.
To state that as a goal feels a bit presumptuous, a bit patronizing. I am not here to play spiritual doctor. I am here to stand strongly in the story that I serve, to speak from it skillfully, and to trust whatever process it launches. Because, at bottom, I do believe in God, in my atheistic way, and I want to serve more trustingly as the instrument of the divine intelligence unfolding in all beings.