Conversation in a Sports Bar

Flyers win!  I don’t get TSN (the channel the hockey game was on), so I headed to a sports bar to watch the third period of Game 6 between the Flyers and the Bruins.  At the bar I ran into a guy who started talking to me about religion.  It turned out he wanted to get his daughter baptized and wasn’t sure what church he wanted her to be baptized in.  He asked what my church taught about homosexuality, and I told him we thought it was wrong but that it wasn’t the biggest issue in the church.

We got into a discussion about it, and neither one of us shifted our views too much (he seemed to be pretty convinced it was purely biological, I’m not convinced it is, and I see no reason to say that homosexuality is purely biological whereas other sexual attractions / disorders are purely cultural – it doesn’t make sense to me to make that kind of sharp distinction).  I told him that my religion teaches that people are not condemned for anything that’s beyond their control, because God is just and merciful, and he said he didn’t believe me, since all religions claim their God is just and merciful, and most of them are not telling the truth.  I hope he googles Swedenborg.

The last question he asked was what I thought about psychology.  I didn’t know quite what he was asking – was he wondering if were like Christian scientists Scientologists and rejected psychology? – so I told him I didn’t know much about it, but thought of it as a tool – that psychologists do not tell people what to believe, but try to help people be more in integrity with what they believe.  Definitely not a very good summary of what psychology is, but I was trying to answer the question of how psychology and faith should interact, since I still wasn’t sure what he was asking.

That was the end of the conversation.  He thanked me and politely (really) told me that I had a pretty naïve way of looking at the world, that I didn’t really seem to understand that people have really messed up childhoods and that everyone comes from a different background, and that’s what psychology tries to address.  He said there was more that he didn’t really want to say since it would seem condescending.  And that was that.  Ah well.  Lesson learned.

What lesson?  I tend to drift into pie-in-the-sky, idealistic enthusiasm when I’m talking to people about religion.  The problem isn’t that I didn’t know much about psychology – it’s that in what I was saying, it didn’t sound like I was talking about real life.  Drifting away into idealism, smiling too much, etc., is what I do to deal with the nervousness I feel about having those conversations.  I try too hard to make what I’m saying sound appealing, instead of just saying it straight, dealing with the here and now.  Lesson learned, and all-in-all a positive experience.

Anyway, Flyers win!


About Coleman Glenn

I'm a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister and Patheos blogger (
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5 Responses to Conversation in a Sports Bar

  1. pierce says:

    Great post, and inspiring reflection. We also cannot discount what the other person invests in the exchange, and how little we can control it.

  2. Brian Smith says:

    Good for the Flyers? Yay?

    Thanks for sharing this anectdote. I’m glad to hear any honest account of this type of conversation. I don’t think that hearing and experiencing enough of these conversations will give me the right answers but instead they may help me be in the conversation with the right attitudes.

    I have no idea how much he was purposefully trying to drill you, but I’ve seen some people do a good job making sure that the other person is doing most of the talking. I don’t know if this is good “sales” but it seems to me that it gives you the best chance of figuring out where they are and what they are actually asking.


  3. Alaina says:

    God may be “just and merciful” – but people certainly aren’t. So any and every church can preach a just and merciful God, but every church will always have harmful human baggage which will hurt some members. Even if the dude does Google Swedenborg, he’s bound to find at least one thing that jars him (there’s at least one passage from the Writings which makes me want to tear my hair out, torch my Bible stand and go live in the jungle), and no, it’s nothing in “The Conjugial Culture”), whatever good and mercy the New Church espouses on God’s behalf. Maybe the problem is that all religions believe God is “just”, but, in many cases, it seems to me that they don’t think God is “merciful” – and what do you know, the things they think God is not merciful about are the things that they personally disagree with. Perhaps our personal concept of God (and church) can only ever be as just and merciful as we are ourselves…

    Coleman, as I read this blog I realize again that there are things I would argue intensely with you about. But we’ve been good friends for so long anyway. We are in very different worlds! But the world needs different worlds.

  4. Coleman Glenn says:

    Hi Alaina,

    True enough about some things in the Writings not seeming very merciful and being hard to read. Looking back over my blog post I realize I left out a whole chunk of the story that explains why I wanted him to Google Swedenborg. The actual conversation went something like this:

    Me: “We believe that a person is only accountable for what he knows and is in control of. No one’s condemned for ignorance or something beyond their control.”
    Him: “But people still have to be Swedenborgian to be saved.”
    Me: “No. It would be unjust and unmerciful for God to condemn people for ignorance, and we believe that anyone who lives by their religion can be saved.”
    Him: “OK, well that’s what you believe, maybe, but does your religion actually teach that?”
    Me: “Yes.”
    Him: “I don’t believe you.” (Yep, he flat out said it)
    Me: “I could show you passages in Swedenborg that say exactly that! People of other religions can be saved! It would be unjust and unmerciful to condemn anyone for ignorance, and God is justice and mercy itself!”
    Him: “I still don’t believe you. All religions claim their God is just and merciful, but when you actually look at what they teach it’s not true.”

    Googling Swedenborg probably wouldn’t result in finding those passages that are really hard to read – he’d get the Wikipedia article, and find out that Swedenborgians really do believe that people of other religions are saved if they live according to their own understanding of what God asks of them.

  5. I’ve got many issues with both New Church doctrine (as I understand it) and New Church organizations, which will probably prevent me from ever becoming an official member, but this topic of people from all faiths getting to heaven is my absolute favorite. One of the things about many faiths which is most repugnant to me is the idea that everyone on the outside is condemned.

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