Saturday, December 25, 2010

Having too good a day to be annoyed by religion

It's a gorgeous day in Austin today. Cold, but sunny and blue. In a few minutes, I'll throw on the old hoodie, fire up the old iPod, leash up the old dog, and take a walk in the old park. Might even look for that old geocache that eluded me last time. In all, it's simply too awesome a day, and, as the sort of godless person who does his best to make each day count knowing I don't have an eternity of them waiting for me in Candyland, it's entirely conducive to my best of moods.

Which is why I just don't have any incentive to get all riled up by a text I got from a Christian acquaintance of mine this morning which read Merry christmas. Thank god for the gift that keeps on giuing 'jesus (Errors in the original, but most people text without regard to proper spelling, capitalization and punctuation.)

The confrontational nature of communication between believers and atheists is a matter that often takes center stage. Having been involved in AETV since 1999, it's not as if I shy away from such confrontation. I frequently enjoy it. I'm also a firm believer in holding the feet of believers to the fire, so to speak, to force them to argue competently for their beliefs and listen with some degree of actual understanding to atheists' rebuttals.

Still, sometimes I find it fun to sit back, watch a believer do what he does, in situations where no forceful rebuttal is needed because the fail is apparent from the outset. Take Mike (not his real name), this fellow who texted me. Now, he and I get along in person. He knows I'm an atheist. When we talk, we don't argue religion, not because I don't want to, but because I'm perfectly happy to let him make the choice of whether or not to do that, knowing I can pretty well deflect anything his ORU theology degree can throw.

What Mike does is, in a way, more entertaining. He tries very passive-aggressive — often to the point of indifference — forms of proselytizing. You'd think a fellow armed with a bachelor's in theology (which I don't see as being any more relevant to reality than a similar degree in Star Wars Trivia) would have few worries about his game. But instead of taking me on with overwhelming force and shock and awe, he's done things like play soppy Christian pop and R&B on the occasions we carpooled. (There are some good singers on those R&B tracks, I will admit.) So, it's like a challenge. But it's more like throwing down a mitten than a gauntlet.

When it was my turn to drive, I wouldn't play Dimmu Borgir or Scandinavian death metal in retaliation. I wouldn't play music at all — so he could sleep. Did he notice that gesture? Did he notice I was taking the high road? Did he notice, especially, that I was saying to him, "Okay, your approach here? It's so not working." Probably not, I don't know.

It's like this. You'd all agree that as atheists, we live good and happy lives without gods, invisible or otherwise, guiding our days. Christians see this, and it disconcerts them. It doesn't fit the narrative they've been sold all their lives. So here we are, living the positive atheist life, and religion is this thing that people keep wanting to put in our way. It's like the old story (is it one of Sagan's? it might be...) about the two guys admiring a beautiful garden, and one says to the other, "You know, there are fairies tending this garden, that's why it's so beautiful." Huh? Why can't the beautiful garden be admired on its own, without introducing imaginary and superfluous fairies into the picture?

I get the idea Mike has been looking for that opening with me, but not in such a way that I'll be alienated. In its way, this text marks something of an escalation, in that it's the first time he's come right out and directed a Jesusy remark to me. That it's the kind of thing you'd read in a greeting card means the level of conviction he's willing to put behind it still doesn't entail too much risk. But the point is I saw this coming, more or less, and am utterly unruffled by it.

I'd be the last person to deny that many forms of Christian proselytizing are not nearly so harmless and feeble. In fact, just this morning we got an email from a viewer describing a distressing situation a friend of his is facing and asking for advice.

My question is in regards to a friend's situation at work. He was told by his boss that his hours were being cut from 3 twelve hour days to 2 twelve hour days per week and that he needed to use this time to find god. He was also told to email a response to his boss about how he was going to find god. His boss is a fundamentalist Christian and we live is South Carolina. I know that this is illegal and completely asinine but I need some advice on how to encourage him. He needs to keep his job to support his family but he does not want to conform to his boss's demands. He is not an atheist or if he is he is not out yet. His wife is a Christian and even she knows that its wrong. How can I help him?

This is, of course, the most egregious sort of bullying. I hope our correspondent takes my suggestion to have his friend contact the ACLU at once. More often than not, religion is exactly this appalling in its disregard for common decency, and in all such cases it must be smacked down forcefully.

But then there are situations like Mike and his text message, that put a little grin on my face because they reveal just how weak the whole enterprise really is. Did Mike think hearing CD after CD of silly Christian songs might woo me to the Lord? Mostly, I couldn't help noticing how the lyrics of every single one of these songs had the same trite message: "My invisible friend is totally awesome!" And then all I could think was, "Dude, you went to college and got a degree in a discipline designed to do nothing more than slap a veneer of intellectual respectability on the inane sentiments of these lyrics? Yeah, 'heaven' forbid you'd actually want to be a doctor or scientist."

I mean, when it's all shown in this light, proselytizing is simply funny. I look at the sort of half-hearted evangelism reflected in this text message, and I find myself playing the role (okay, work with me here, people) of an attractive woman in a bar who's just heard Lame Line #563 from the fifteenth clueless beta-male who's tried to approach her all evening. What do these women do in situations like this? Sure, they could laugh in the guy's face, berate him in front of his and her friends until he dissolves into a puddle of ectoplasmic humiliation on the floor. But what these women usually do is simply walk away. Lameness of such lameitude barely merits notice, let alone an impassioned retort.

I'm sure some atheists would get a text like I got, and fire back with everything they've got. Dude, fuck u! I'm an ATHEIST and Christmas is bullshit ripped off from Saturnalia anyway. So stick ur Bible up ur ass sideways!!! Again, I saw this coming, and I don't rise to the bait quite so easily. I did finally text Mike back: Hope you're having a great Christmas! And I'll just leave him scratching his head over that.

Like I said, I'm having a lovely day.


  1. I guess your friend is lucky in a way, he only went on to receive his bachelors. My friend and neighbor is in a PhD program. Yet our discussions do not go past arguments from ignorance or emotional pleading. In a world that seems to be turning away from organized religion ever faster (thought not fast enough for me) I almost fear for his future...

    Happy Holidays!


  2. A degree in theology is like a degree in "cheerleading literature". Having an education in saying how wonderful someone is, imaginary or not, isn't an education in anything useful at all.

    Also, as far as the driving stuff goes... my car, my stereo, my rules. And since I tend to be lulled to sleep by engine and road noises, loud and aggressive popular metal music is the rule. Not to be aggressive to other people, but just to keep me awake!

    I'm not sure how well a Christian would tolerate Slipknot, Disturbed, and Mudvayne would go over, but that's sort of sedate compared to what the hardcore folks prefer.

  3. It was Douglas Adams who said "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

  4. Over the years, I've learned not to rise to the bait. The people who I care about know I don't believe, and they also know I don't mind saying "Merry Christmas". But I'm not six years old any more, and the day doesn't mean what it used to.

    The way you expressed your viewpoint is hilarious. From now on, I'll have to think of the song as "Our Imaginary Friend Is An Awesome Imaginary Friend", and look at it for what it is: cheerleading.

  5. Darn it, I could have used this yesterday (I'm in a GMT+1200 timezone), when I got pretty much the exact same passive aggressive text message from otherwise normally non-pushy theist friend. As it is, I just ignored it.

  6. Sometimes not rising to the bait is more disconcerting than engaging. Your friend does not sound as if he will change his position any time soon, so you might as well not spoil a perfectly good day.

    I personally am an atheist who is still a cultural Christian. I enjoy the pagan traditions of celebrating this time of year and don't get too hung up on the word "Christmas". Using other terms just smacks of a phony political correctness. Anyone who thinks that decorating trees and exchanging gifts is about Jebus has not read the book that carefully. I celebrate the solstice and the return of longer days and I don't need an imaginary friend to enjoy these things.

  7. Well, that's just great.

    Every time I see a hottie at the bar, I'm going to think of Martin. Worse yet, I'm going to think of Martin ignoring me.

    Damn you Martin, may the zombie Jesus tear your face off and eat your brains.

  8. Dude. That's weird.

    Then again, it's amazing to think I have powers of long-distance cockblocking.

  9. You listen to Scandinavian death metal? My respect for you has just multiplied many orders of magnitude.

    I also relate to the experience. For a few years after I became open about my atheism, my parents would buy me apologetics books or give me soft references to the value of faith. It never took, of course, so now they just leave me alone.

  10. Advice for the guy being discriminated against at work: try to keep your head on, get in touch with the ACLU, make a Google docs account or something , and fastidiously save every single piece of correspondence you have with your boss.

  11. Mike D: Well, er, actually, Opeth is about as close as I get to that genre. Sorry to disappoint. I am rather fond of a lot of the darkwave and industrial stuff from Cold Meat Industry, though, in case that counts.

  12. A good friend of mine (who is a muslim) simply texted me to say "Happy thing that I do not celebrate" :-)

  13. What I find is worse are the back handed comments made directed at you but in a conversation with another person. For example, my brother in-law (another theology degree major) back handed this comment towards me on facebook (below in quotes) instead of directly commenting on any of the post I made in facebook.

    "There are some out there who through ignorance or intolerance would simply liken Christmas to other midwinter/solstice celebrations. Such assertions indicate one of two things: either how little these people know about Christmas, or the low regard they hold for the beliefs of those who hold Christmas as a sacred event."

    It is annoying because he does not like to argue directly with me because his current arguments so far rely on ignorance or emotional pleading which I beat down every time (though I doubt he sees it that way). However, if I go on the offensive and comment on that post it would seem like I am trolling.

  14. I have a born-again evangelical christian creationist co-worker (weird thing since I'm in the middle of Europe) who of course wished me "Merry Christmas" on Thursday, to which I just replied "And to you too" 'cause it's simply not worth it.

    But what I did find weird was the nice lady from the 4th floor (I live on the 3rd) wishing me "Merry Christmas" when I know she's Jewish and not celebrating anything, because I was just talking to her husband an hour earlier. People just assume, and that's what irks me.

  15. Well next time you are on the car play this song and when he asks the name just say it its from a video game where the protagonist is a demon.

  16. Enjoyed this post quite a bit Martin. My wife and I got a Baptist religious tract in a Christmas card from a family member this year, so we were just discussing "passive-aggressive proselytizing".

    It really does seem to be fear-based on their part. My mother is quite religious, and although she almost never mentions God or Church in front of me, she frequently brings it up when she's alone with my wife. I suspect it's because she knows I'm very well prepared to counter her arguments, while my wife (until recently) was not.

    Your "hot-chick" analogy is a good one that I'll have to share with her. Thanks again!

  17. But, Martin, didn't you get the memo? You're supposed to be angry and hateful because your godless heart in incapable of feeling love and the meaninglessness of your existence is dragging you down into depressed nihilism.

    Get with the program, dude.

  18. Lukas, how dare you suggest such a thing!?

    The REAL reason us atheists are so bitter is because secretly we DO believe in Jeebus and we wish we could join in all the Who-ville fun at Christmas time...but since we're such stubborn evil naturalists, by golly we stick to our guns and be miserable anyway.

  19. LOL@Lukas. I never thought of the evil grinch as being the atheist and the who-villian's as being Christian's(sheeple) but it's a good metaphor that makes some sense. Who-villian's do get all merry,bouncy and stoned just like christian's do over Jesus. Also, atheist's like myself would probably enjoy taking away their pride, parade and joy if we could.

  20. Oops, last post was @ Sparrow. This post is at Lucas. The basic purpose of life without a god is to: Survive, Evolve, Adapt and Reproduce. As to say in the T-800 voice, "HAPPINESS IS IRRELEVANT."

  21. The REAL reason us atheists are so bitter is because secretly we DO believe in Jeebus

    Hush! We're not supposed to admit that. If we do, we'll just have to stop sinning.

  22. My mom is not happy I'm atheist but she still bought me a Dawkins book for Christmas (The Greatest Show on Earth). She rules. :)

    (I get so annoyed by people giving me shit for celebrating Christmas. When I was a kid in CCD I was told we were FORGETTING the "reason for the season" with all the gifts and stuff, and now I'm told that I shouldn't celebrate b/c I don't believe in the "reason for the season." Can't have it both ways. Gifts and decorations and family & friends gatherings, yay! Jeses, nay!)

  23. PS I gave all my co-workers in my department Chick tracks in their little gifts bags I made for them. They all passed them around and laughed, it was great (the Dinosaur one is my all-time favourite). The best part was that one of my co-workers had no idea people really thought this way. I totally opened his eyes to creationists. (It really is a different world in New York City, we have the crazies right in front of us on the street but we don't always see how many "hidden" crazies there are all over.)

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  25. i'm going to point out that "mike" probably sent a mass-text to everyone in his contact list all at once. people do this, specially on occasions like holidays.

    so it's a good thing you didn't bite the bait.

    loving these old blogs =]


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