As I was leaving work the other day, I saw I guy carrying gas can and walking down the interstate entrance ramp. I pulled over and offered him a ride to his car. He said, “Hey thanks! You must be a Christian man!” If you’ve read any of my posts you already know that isn’t true, but he didn’t.
I replied, without even thinking about it, “Nope. I’m not. I just thought you might need a ride.” He got in the car and we spoke a bit during the brief ride to his car on the side of the interstate. He was a Navy man on his way from North Carolina to his last duty station in Pensacola. He wanted to show me his ID to prove that he was active duty, but I said I didn’t need it. That I believed him.
In less than 5 minutes from picking him up we were at his car, and this encounter came to an end. It was only after I drove off by myself that I began thinking about the implications of this meeting.
I saw a guy on the side of the road in the heat of August in Georgia clearly heading back to a car that had run out of gas. That last hour or more for him had to have been uncomfortable. Having been in that position myself more than once, I empathized with his situation and helped him out. That’s all there was to it. Just empathy for another person. I had no religious command to help, no expectation of reward, and no anticipation of celestial favor. I’m no hero – no “good Samaritan”. I even hesitated to say anything about this event.
Except for the first thing this young man said to me, “You must be a Christian man.”
That one statement bothered me – a lot. It indicated the he thinks only Christians (or theists) can or will do good. It also was an assumption that anyone who helped was a Christian. My dismissing his assumption wasn’t calculated. It was an honest reply to an incorrect assumption.
Then I started thinking about the other implications. If, as the polls indicate, less than 5% of Americans identify as “atheist”, that means that 95% of the people who drove past hime were not atheists. In fact, those same polls indicate that 71% of Americans identify as Christian. So 71% of the drivers of the cars that passed him were Christian, and did not stop to help him. Those people are commanded by their faith to help their neighbors, to love their neighbors as themselves. Yet those people did not exhibit the simple kindness of offering a young man walking in the hot Georgia summer sun a ride.
(There are some unmentioned factors that may have played into the reason others didn’t offer him a ride, but I would be making unfounded and prejudice assumptions about them.)
Look, I’m not saying I’m better than Christians. I’m not saying that Christians are less moral or neighborly than atheists. All I’m saying is that it is fallacious to think that only Christians can do good, and if you are an atheist it would be a Good Thing™ to reach out your hand when you can. And if the opportunity arises for you to dispel the notion that you are motivated by religious belief, take it. You don’t have to be a dick, just be good for goodness’s sake.1