And that was all it took. For the next two hours, the following exchange covered topics from where I would fit in best ("New York is probably the place for you, or maybe Boston. Dallas doesn't fit you. You're absolutely too sane for California.") to his favorite places in the U.S., to my career path, to cultural differences throughout the world, to politics to mathematics to physics to the cosmos, religion, outer space and the origin of life.
His introduced himself as Kass (though I glanced at his namebadge and noticed in his introduction he shortened his name considerably to help me out). He is originally from Iran and he's worked as a professor and scholar, though he's now an engineer to pay the bills. He values prestige, status, open-mindedness, and intellect. He left breadcrumb-clues about his opinions on religion the way he had earlier left his personal information lying around, and I knew he wanted me to take the bait. After a fairly evenly matched discussion about everything under the sun, he mentioned that if anyone does find life on other planets, it will fly in the face of Christianity. Because I doubted he'd read the Bible, I asked him why he thought this was the case. He didn't have much of an answer. At this point, I could tell that he valued my opinion even when I disagreed with him by the way he sought my response to topics he had already brought up, so I decided to go for it. I started to pack up my things, and he acknowledged that he knew I needed to leave. "I do, but before I go, just grant me this:" I started with confidence and continued with finality, "You are a student of logic and philosophy, and so you must know that the faith that I have to exercise to believe there is a God is identical to the faith that you exercise to believe there isn't one." He nodded, thinking this over. "That's a good way to put it," he mused. "But tell me this, before you go, I know you're leaving, but I want to know. Why is it that you believe in Christianity? What makes you think that you're right?" I told him that following Christ is the only thing I've found to lend meaning to life, and that though it has not always been the case, I now firmly believe that even if I am wrong, and even if there is no God, I still believe that Christianity is the best way to live. I have a purpose for my life and a guidebook in the Bible, and I'd rather leave a legacy on earth than waste my time. He acted very impressed with this "intelligent" answer. I decided to go out on a limb and violate his tolerant values by saying, "I do believe that Jesus is the only God, and that Christianity is the only way to heaven, and that is a closed-minded stance I'm willing to hold-"
"No!" He cut me off vehemently, but I insisted,
"No, it is closed-minded, but that's the way it has to be. If there is Absolute Truth, then it is exclusive; and that's what I hold to."
He said that he didn't find me closed-minded, and that he appreciated my bearing on the issue of Christianity all the more because I had been willing to talk through other social and philosophical matters with him. He brought up his issue with Christians portraying Jesus as caucasian, to which I was openly indignant - to my surprise and his amusement - ("Kass, don't tell me you'd reject Christianity over what you find in children's books! I know that you're smarter than that!")
He offered a few other thoughts on the church, and then, deep in thought, remarked, "I'm glad you've found fulfillment in your life. Keep ahold of that. I'm not tortured or anything, don't get me wrong, but if there's one thing I've never found in my life, it's a sense of meaning. "
"Kass," I responded, "I believe that's a part of the human condition: a yearning for more than we can find. I think you're among the many who have never sensed a true purpose for their lives. It's built into the fabric of our being: I think it's the biggest problem that all of us face."
And that was that. He thanked me for my time, and I thanked him for the conversation. We went our separate ways.
I can only hope and pray that my confidence in faith has left this man with a renewed hunger for purpose, and a quest for the hope of what is really True. Finally, an opportunity to be salt in the world again, and all it took was a step out of my front door.
Praise God for days like today, and for people like Kass. I won't soon forget him.