My cab driver tried to convert me to Islam the other day, on the way from Oak Park to O’Hare.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that if my own mother couldn’t convert me back to Catholicism, the religion into which I was born and raised, that a non-relative had little chance of converting me to a religion that I know very little about—a conversion that I suspect, also, would piss off my Catholic family and Hindu in-laws equally.
Not that I’m against Islam. If I had to rank the religions of the world (a noncontroversial pass-time we can all enjoy) Islam would be right up there; way past Mormonism, for example, or Scientology, the one religion we can all laugh at without fear of offending anybody who’s not already insane.
The driver started out with, “Did you hear that NASA discovered a line on the moon?”
This is before I knew he had any particular religious proclivities. I entered the conversation warily, thinking maybe it was a set-up to a joke (“No, why DID NASA discover a line on the moon?”).
Yes, he said. My brother read it the other day, in a magazine, that NASA discovered a line going all the way around the moon.
Really? Wow, I said. A line going all the way around the moon is a general interest story. Or at least a nerd interest story. Either way, I was listening.
NASA had the pictures in 1969, he said, but they hid them. Now they’ve come out.
A conspiracy! I thought. But why? Why hide pictures of a line on the moon? The cab driver seemed very excited about this. I knew there was something else going on, a significance to this story, but I didn’t know what it was.
Until he told me. He said Muhammad, in the Koran, split the moon in half. Some skeptics said, show us a sign—proof that you’re really talking to God. Oh yeah? Muhammad said. And then he cut the moon in half.
That, I have to say, is pretty hard-core. I mean Jesus’ miracles, walking on water, multiplying the bread and fishes, turning water into wine, that’s fine. Not bad at all. Coming back from the dead is pretty impressive. But even that one, even hopping back onto your feet after a serious case of death, still pales I think to cutting the fucking moon in half.
So now I was getting the picture. The driver was telling me the story of Muhammad and the moon, and how NASA’s picture of the line on the moon proves that the story was real. Proves that it happened. For him, this was proof that Islam was the one true religion.
He would have liked it to be proof for me as well.
He went on to talk about how people just don’t want to believe, even when the truth is right in front of them; and about the bible of Barnabas, where Jesus says, “I’m not God, just a prophet, and Muhhamad is coming;” and how Jesus wasn’t really crucified, and how basically it’s OK to be a Christian if you don’t know any better, but now, with the line on the moon and all, everyone should come to God’s truth . . .
If my Mom had succeeded in winning me back over to the Catholic fold—if I was Christian, rather than a 70/30 atheist-agnostic split—I would have had something to say.
“I don’t think so, buddy,” I would have said. “Muhammad could never have convinced God to cut the moon in half for him. Jesus all the way!”
Or at least: “As a Christian, I feel that I have already come to God’s truth. We probably won’t ever see eye-to-eye on religious issues, but thanks for sharing your interesting perspective.”
But as me, my only honest option would have been: “There’s probably not any personofiable higher power in the universe. And I don’t know what empirical evidence you think you have, but the general concensus of astronomers is that the moon has never—not once—been halved.”
I think it would have been more than a little mean to just cry: “Bullshit!”
So I said “Interesting,” and “I hadn’t heard that.” Eventually he dropped the subject and we talked about traffic.
The line on the moon pic, by the way, can be found here. Unfortunately for the cab driver, although it extends hundreds of kilometers, it’s nowhere near all the way around, and doesn’t indicate any moon splitting. The Gospel of Barnabas is a real thing, but is considered to most likely have been written in 1634.
But those could just be the protestations of someone who doesn’t want to believe, even when the truth is right in front of him.