This evening, I was browsing in a used bookstore. The man standing at the cash register was talking with two women. He had a ponytail and a beatific smile. I noticed one of the women wore a bright orange t-shirt. They were having a long conversation, and I didn’t pay much attention to what they were saying.
But then I happened to be browsing through the used sheet music, idly hoping to find Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” when I heard the woman with the orange t-shirt say, “Do you have any Bibles?”
“Right over here,” said the man, and walked over to show her the Bibles, which happened to be right behind me.
“Have you ever read the Bible?” she said.
“Oh, yes,” said the man. “Several times, in fact. But I don’t believe in it. I guess I’m more of a Hindu.”
“How come you don’t believe in the Bible?” said the woman innocently.
The man proceeded to rehash some of the old arguments of the Higher Criticism, getting one or two of them wrong. I made it a point to wander away to different part of the store. I felt tempted to involve myself in the discussion and make corrections, but I also felt that perhaps they were flirting a little bit and I didn’t want to interrupt them.
The man had to go back to the cash register to take care of a customer. When the customer had gone, the woman in the orange t-shirt went over and continued the discussion: “How come you don’t believe in the Bible? Don’t you worry about what will happen after you die? Because life is short, but what happens afterwards lasts much longer.”
“Well,” said the man, still smiling, “I can’t be a Christian because I can’t believe in a God that would damn people to hell. Either everyone goes to heaven after they die, or I can’t believe in God.”
He continued at great length, and I restrained myself from bursting into their conversation and saying, Ah ha, you are stating the case for classic Universalism as set forth by Hosea Ballou…. — as I say, I restrained myself, because by now I could sense that the woman was not as innocent as she appeared at first. She was determined to save this poor man’s soul, to bring him to Christ, or whatever phraseology might be used by her particular sect or denomination. I couldn’t see her face, but I could see from her body language how intent she was. I could also see from her body language that she was still flirting with him.
At last I couldn’t wait any longer; I wanted to buy a few books and move on. “Excuse me,” I said, walking up to the cash register. “I hate to interrupt your conversation, but…”
The man, still smiling beatifically, cheerfully took my money. The woman stood there, intent, silent. Her t-shirt was very orange.
I picked up my books, saying, “And now I’ll let you get back to your theological discussion.” By the time I had turned away, they were at it again.
I walked back out onto Telegraph Avenue, dodged the drunks, the addicts, and the homeless, wove my way through the well-dressed college students, the hippies, and a few middle-aged suburbanites, until I got to the next used bookstore.