This will sound like the opening line to a joke, but this was no joke.
I was sitting in the sauna with a Communist and a Christian on the shortest day of the year.
And I was feeling a bit peeved.
Typically, the sauna at the health club where I do my noon workouts is deserted, and on the rare occasions I’m forced to share it, everyone tends to keep to themselves. It is a place of heat and quiet, a refuge from the demands of work and pernicious personal electronic devices. On this particular day, however, not only did I not have the sauna to myself, the two guys already there were arguing about something completely inane: the meaning of Christmas.
I nearly got up and left.
Not because I think Christmas is unimportant or inane, but because I find most arguments about its meaning incredibly tedious. If you’re a serious Christian, it’s an important religious holiday, but the “religious” aspect has very little interest to anyone else. For them, the emphasis is on “holiday,” an occasion for celebrating with family and friends, enjoying good company, and good food, that has become increasingly co-opted by what C. S. Lewis calls the “commercial racket.” Nowadays, all that make it distinct from any of the other commercial holidays is the types of advertising we’re bombarded with, the decorations and the amount spent on merrymaking and gifts. But how one chooses to celebrate Christmas, and what meaning they decided to assign to it, is entirely up to them. Because I’m a Christian, I view it as more than just an occasion to exchange gifts and eat and drink more than usual, but that’s just me. I don’t expect anyone else to share my beliefs and don’t particularly want to be bothered by their opinions, and I expect they’d rather not be bothered with mine.
Back to my two fellow sauna goers.
The Christian was easy to identify based on his questions. But it was clear he wasn’t making any headway. The other fellow said he enjoyed the holiday and that was as meaningful as it was going to get for him. God. Jesus. Virgin birth. Three wise men. And all the rest of it. Just quaint elements to a story that had no relevance to him.
By the time he was done, I think the Christian realized he wasn’t getting anywhere. So he switched the another inane topic where I assume he thought they might find some areas of agreement: climate change.
Bingo. Remarkably (or not), both thought climate change was a bad thing, and both thought the Toyota Prius (and other hybrid cars) were a step in the right direction.
And that’s when I decided to jump into the fray. I couldn’t help myself.
I’m not climate change skeptic, and I certainly think finding and switching to better ways to produce energy are a really good thing. But Earth’s climate is always changing. It isn’t static. Are humans affecting it? Of course we are. So do farting cows, volcanoes, and sunspots. Are we affecting it in a bad way by increasing temperatures? Sure. But what I find head scratching is the idea that the world can unite and do anything about a problem as complex as the human impact on climate. Our track record is bleak with much easier problems: nuclear weapons proliferation, poverty, the mess in the Middle East, the budget deficit, public schools in Newark, New Jersey, the common cold, and so on. So, I don’t get too worked up about climate change. Other than our fearless leaders and their minions using it to get people riled up and fearful, and then using that fear to manipulate them into behaving and thinking the way they think they should, I don’t think anything of substance will be done from the top down.
In fact, what I’m really worried about is CRISPR technology and for all the reasons that James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, expressed before congress recently. We’re talking about something that allows scientists god-like power to easily tinker with and change those very things that make every living thing with genes and DNA unique and distinct. Proponents tout the benefits. End diseases, fix congenital defects, etc. Critics point to using it as a WMD or worse (Sci-Fi authors have been writing and speculating on this subject for years). And because I’m a firm believer in the power of unintended consequences and our own inability to manage a technology that empowers the very evil and venal in our world, I fear the worse will happen.
But I digress.
So, I interjected myself into the conversation by telling a joke: “What’s more environmentally friendly. . .ordering a brand new Prius from Toyota or buying a used Dodge Dart?
They both looked at me like I was a goofball (I didn’t think it was that obvious).
I smiled at them. “The Dodge Dart Why? Because it is already built. . . you know, the energy to create it has already been expended. . .and it doesn’t contain any rare earth metals. . . ”
They stared blankly at me. The Christian made a couple of comments, gave me a look I couldn’t decipher, excused himself and left.
Now it was just me and the Communist. Of course, I still didn’t know he was a communist, but what was hidden behind door number three was about to be revealed.
He made a comment about a book he’d written a few years ago, interjecting that he was a retired professor from the local state university.
I made appropriate noises in response.
He went on to mention the evils of capitalism, big corporations, and summarized the plot of his book.
“What’s it called?” I asked.
He told me again.
We sweated in silence for a few minutes and then he made a comment about there not being much use for old Communists anymore.
I chuckled out loud. A Christian and a Communist meet in a sauna. . ..
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“Nothing.” I couldn’t help another chuckle.
I wasn’t feeling peeved anymore. There really was nothing to be said. I was just feeling tired and a bit sad. For some strange reason, he reminded me of my dad who died a few years ago. And if he was anything like him, there’s nothing more intractable than an old <fill in the blank>.
So I wished him a good day and headed for the showers on the shortest day of the year. I haven’t seen either of them in the sauna since then.