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.