Kinshasa, 2013. It is a day like many. I leave work a bit late. I see few Congolese colleagues waiting for someone to pick them up. I stop by with my car and offer a lift in my direction and a colleague took advantage of the offer: lady, mother of 4, very nice and well respected by all colleagues.
The ride was short, less than 10 minutes. In those ten minutes, after a quick small talk, my colleague asks me point-blank : “Are you saved?”. The question was not really connected with the preceding sentences.
I think for a second. Trying not to offend the sensitivity of my colleague I start: “You know, in Italy we all grow in a context permeated by a very religious culture…”. “Oh, yes, in Italy there is the Pope!” she responds with an outburst of excitement. “Yes, every Sunday he preaches in St. Peter’s Square overlooking the mass of the faithful from his balcony. He is shown on TV” I say. ” Oooh : have you ever been there? “. Moment of silence . “Well, not really. You know, the Vatican is not really close to where I live…” . I can hear her thoughts even before she comes again: “So, are you saved?”.
I realize that I can not really avoid the subject and take a few more seconds to structure my answer: “Let’s say that I do not have very strong religious beliefs. I do not deny spirituality, but the creation, as described, is a bit…”.
“Are you telling me that you believe in the big explosion? that we descend from apes? Oh Lord!” she interrupts. (Ironically, in the Congo, not far from Kinshasa, there is a reserve where the famous “Bonobos” live, the breed of apes genetically more alike to humans. Scientists from all over the world fly to Congo to observe them…).
“Well… I feel it is more likely…”.
” Aha! Aha! Aha ! ” the lady outbursts in a big, loud laugh.
I then try to rephrase: “What I am trying to say is that, assuming that a god exists, the story in the Bible should be contextualized. It was written thousands of years ago, it reflects the knowledge, myths and beliefs of the time, when science was not there yet, and our ancestor did not know much about the world, the universe, biology and so on. Clearly you cannot believe that God took a rib from a man and created a woman…”.
“Do you know how many ribs you have?” She interrupts me: “Ask your doctor! See: you have to put into question your certainties. You have to challenge your doctor. You will find out that on one side you have a missing rib!”.