This week and next I am working at a risk management and reinsurance company in Minneapolis through a temp agency. It’s been a bit of an adventure figuring out what exactly I’ll be doing, because at first it seemed that they thought I was an idiot or something. Then they discovered that I had print experience, scanning, proficiency in Microsoft Office, mail room, etc.
Essentially, I’m working with a four-person temp team that the company I’m working for has outsourced a lot of their office support needs to.
Mostly, it’s a lot of waiting around for a project to come up. On my first day, the girl I’m filling in for basically told me to bring a book. Thankfully, today I was doing mail runs (and scoping out cute males around the office–I’ve a crush on the cute guy who sits around the corner), which mostly involves doing a walk-around of both floors to check designated drop trays for any out-going mail.
For my first two days there while I was “training” (i.e., they were figuring out what I was going to be doing), I basically hung out at the front desk with the receptionist. She’s an early-middle-aged Latina with, as I soon discovered, a pretty massive inferiority complex. In the few days I’ve known her, it’s made me wonder how irritating I come across when I give in to negative thinking. She’s also one of those individuals of a certain age where you keep your head down, do your job, watch the clock, and check off the days until retirement.
Let’s call her “Paulita.”
To her credit, Paulita has been working on expanding her mind through reading and exploration of history (she calls it “research”); and she is curious about many things. However, we had a conversation yesterday morning that tested the limits of my tact and incredulity.
Even though it’s technically not allowed, she goes on the Internet to read articles and look things up. For example, yesterday afternoon we were talking about the Civil War and a visit she had to the birthplace of Robert E. Lee. In that conversation, we learned that Lee married the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, George Washington’s wife. The relation is through her son from her first marriage to Daniel Custis, who died in 1757.
Yesterday morning, while Paulita was on break, I found an article from LiveScience.com on Google News: 3,300-Year-Old Tomb with Pyramid Entrance Discovered in Egypt. She’d mentioned a fascination with ancient Egypt the day before, so I showed it to her when she got back. She mentioned something about wondering if the pyramids were built before or after Stonehenge, and I recalled learning that the very earliest of the Egyptian pyramids (c. 2,670 BCE) were built around the same time as construction on the Salisbury plain began. The circular bank and ditch enclosure of Stonehenge were first excavated around 3,100 BCE, whereas the stone rings weren’t erected until around 2,600 BCE. The Pyramids of Giza were built during the Egyptian 4th Dynasty (c. 2613 to 2494 BCE).
(I looked up all these dates just now. Don’t worry, memory usually prevents me from going full-scale nerd most of the time.)
During all this, Paulita mentioned “Biblical times” at several points, most confusingly in reference to Stonehenge. I’m assuming she was using this phrase to mean “ancient,” but at this point my brain started going into damage control mode. When I mentioned that this kind of building was going on all over Europe around this time in the Neolithic period, that it wasn’t just Egypt, she seemed slightly perplexed.
“But, how is that possible?” she asked. “When God confused the languages and spread everyone out to different parts of the world, how could there have been time for them to have built Stonehenge?”
… big eyes.
“Um… what was that?” I asked, trying to sound as if she’d used a Spanish phrase that I hadn’t caught.
“In Genesis,” she replied. “Have you read the Bible? The Tower of Babel? Men wanted to build a tower to reach to the heavens so they could become like God, and God confused their language so that they couldn’t understand each other and finish building it?”
It was at this point that a sort of United Nations general assembly popped up in my mind. On the one hand, I didn’t want to be “that” kind of atheist and tell her outright that the Bible is a book of myths that never actually happened. On the other hand, I totally wanted to be “that” kind of atheist who tells a well-meaning Christian lady that her holy book is a collection of myths that never actually happened.
Finally, I said, “Oh, yes. That. I was raised Christian” (here she made a gesture as if to say, Then you know all about it!) “… but, you know, there’s nothing in the historical record that I know of that mentions anything like that.”
Her eyes widened a little. “Oh,” she said, sounding dubious but intrigued.
I tried to steer the conversation towards some of the reading I’ve been doing lately about human evolution; about evolutionary differences between Europeans and Africans; how one group of Homo sapiens went south and developed darker skin to cope with the sun, and another went north and developed lighter skin to cope with lack of sun. Their languages evolved differently with them, depending on where they went and how cut off they were from other tribes. And during the Neolithic period, humans started settling down, building huge stone monuments like the Pyramids and Stonehenge as community gathering places to mark transitions in life– birth to death.
This is obviously a condensed version of a lightly meandering conversation that was interrupted by co-worker and the phone ringing. But hearing Paulita attempting to cross-reference history with events in the Bible was… jarring.
It was a stark reminder to me that almost half of Americans still believe that the Bible is real history, and actually happened.