I'm currently enrolled in Early American Literature. As it happens, a lot of the work from this time was composed by Puritans - ministers and leaders like John Winthrop and William Bradford, and poets like Anne Bradstreet and Phyllis Wheatley.
Ironically, this class, heavy with Christian writings full of Biblical insight, is taught by a strict atheist. Bob. Bob is seventy years old, intimidating, and so incredibly intelligent that it takes five minutes of contemplation and looking up words in the dictionary to understand the question he's posing before I'm able to answer it.
I just received an email from the president of the university. Last night Bob passed away.
I don't know why I'm crying right now. I had complicated feelings toward Bob. His class was difficult; he required actual thought and attention from his students. If I tried to show up to class unprepared, I'd leave embarrassed because he often put students on the spot with his incessant questions. He stretched us, challenged us, and made us actually think. For a lazy student like me, this was a nightmare.
I was also often offended by the way he talked about people who believed in God. Early in the class it became obvious that I was a Christian. (I don't know what gave me away...probably saying things like, "Winthrop reminds me of Paul in his letter to the Corinthians," or "Bradstreet is probably referring to the passage about the sparrow...") But once Bob figured it out, another girl and I were referred to as the "sisters," the theologians of the class. Bob called on us when he wanted to know what the Bible said about slavery. He looked to us for clarification on the Biblical stance on various issues. And I often rolled my eyes when he offered up another common misconception about Christians, frustrated that he had such a warped view of what Christianity really is.
What's sad is that Bob's atheism seems to have stemmed from a lot of pain. He openly spoke about a fanatically religious family member who pushed him further and further away from God. I wondered what he really thought of God. I knew he disliked religion and those who practiced it in a way that was exclusive and hurtful to others. But it seemed like it was the hurt caused by others that gave him such anger, and rather than be angry with them he seemed angry with God. I wonder how many self-described atheists there are who really do believe in God but are just incredibly mad at Him.
Toward the beginning of the semester, I didn't like Bob's style of teaching. I decided early on I'd never make the mistake of taking a class taught by him ever again. But in the past few weeks I found myself compelled to sign up for another one of his classes next semester. Something in me wondered how many actual experiences he had with Christians, and I guess I thought I could show him something about God's love. I hope this doesn't come across as egotistical as it sounds - I didn't think I could save Bob, or that he needed me to point him in the right direction. I guess I just started to like him, and was really sad that his experiences had driven him so far from the God who really does love him. He knew I was a Christian, and maybe, maybe, he would see a difference in me.
I think that's why I'm so sad tonight. It might seem a little silly, since he was my professor and I really didn't know him very well. But I knew what he showed of his heart, and it makes me sad that he apparently died with so much pain. It makes me wonder if there was anything I could have done. It makes me wonder what he really believed. It makes me wonder if, when faced with his mortality, he did surrender his life to God. I don't know. All I know is that I'm sad - sad I won't learn any more from Bob, sad because I was really excited to go to his office hours tomorrow morning and tell him how excited I was by this paper I'm writing, and sad because I know he had a loving wife and young children who are now without their father.
Sorry for the depressing post tonight. This is just one of those times when I just need to write, because it's the only thing I know to do. It just makes me want to love people. To be open and welcoming instead of judgmental or hateful. To see them as God sees them. To really just love others.
I guess I'm still learning from Bob after all.