BART Karma?

March 17th, 2006

As I got on BART the other day to go to the City, a teenager slipped in and plopped down across from me, slouching into his hooded sweatshirt. A moment later an authoritative voice announced over the loudspeaker that our train would be holding in the station for a bit. And shortly after that, a sizeable BART cop strode into our car, pointed at the kid, and said, "You! Come with me." The young man's expression was a mixture of resignation and something else -- something not totally negative, as if being busted was at least making his day interesting.

As the youthful offender was joining the cop on the subway platform, a well-dressed woman ran into our car through the still-open doors. The doors shut, and the train departed. The woman looked stunned, as if she had just had a religious experience. "I can't believe I made this train -- I was so late, and I had to make this appointment!" she announced, to no one in particular. Someone explained to her how we'd been delayed by the police action, and the woman just kept shaking her head in amazed gratitude.

I wondered whether there was some sort of great, unknowable karmic circle among all of us BART riders: the boy giveth, the woman taketh, the cop busteth ...

Religion was on my mind, as I was just beginning to read a fascinating book that a viewer had sent me: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by Stanford grad Sam Harris (not, by the way, the same "Sam Harris" as the belter who once won Star Search). It's a full-on attack against organized religion, mustering more fire and brimstone than you might expect from such a debunker.

Gripped by Harris's argument, I kept my nose in the book as we all BARTed under the Bay, vaguely aware that at a station in Oakland a woman had sat down across from me, in the exact spot where the youthful scofflaw had once slouched. As we pulled in to Embarcadero Station, I happened to look up, and noticed that this woman was also reading a book: Historical Drift: Must My Church Die?

I was struck by the image of our two books silently arguing with each other across the train car. Perhaps if we kept reading there, a consensus might be reached?

Sadly, there was no time to find out, as I had to get off at Montgomery. The woman with the very important appointment was getting off there, too. As the doors opened, I was seized with a blind hope that a rebellious teen, or a surly cop, or both, would take our places on the train car, somehow closing the circle -- but alas, this was apparently too much for a secular guy like me to pray for.

Entry Filed under: let's digress


  • 1. Julie Bernstein  |  March 17th, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    Good stuff, Josh. Though BART has nothing on the NYC subway where, as I’m sure you experienced while growing up there, religious propagandists routinely provide free entertainment to the passengers. (Or at least to the tourists, who are not yet as weary of their antics.)

  • 2. Wise Fred  |  March 20th, 2006 at 2:46 pm

    What a charming piece. i have occasionally experienced the fighting books, but more often the pushy books: my book is more intellectual than yours, so there!

  • 3. Josh Kornbluth  |  April 15th, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    Thanks, Julie & Fred!!

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