His paper was followed by an interesting experience on the plane ride home:
I sat next to a woman who self identified as 'agnostic, daughter of hippies who rejected God.' She expressed, not antipathy towards spirituality, but rather apathy. She claimed to have no real concern for even the questions raised by spiritual experience, and to have never had a spiritual experience.
We had quite a lengthy, and cordial, conversation that included the gentleman on the other side of her. He was an elder (?) in a local Baptist Church.
At one point early in the conversation she made a point of communicating her belief that religion offered no real answers, and that she had no personal need for it. She even went so far as to say she was a fundamentally good person who had done no wrong. In short, she had no personal experience of guilt.
With Steve Burnhope's paper ringing in my ears I suggested an alternative to the problem of personal guilt: I described the brokenness in our world, broken families, broken marriages (she was in the middle of a divorce), broken social structures, unjust political and economic structures, environmental pollution that is embedded in our way of life.
She began to nod her head with vigor.
It was at this point that my Baptist friend introduced a Chesterton quote that went something like this, "The real problem with the world is me."
My hippie friend refused to acknowledge this. She spent almost the whole rest of the plane ride communicating her own personal goodness, and trying to convince the both of us that we were good people as well, despite our good, Christian protests to the contrary...
I didn't have the presence of mind to move away from the language of personal guilt and back to the language of cosmological and relational brokenness until we were ready to disembark...