03 September 2007

The party of God

The following is a weird little episode which happened in late 1995 or early 1996, when I was 35 years old and living in Emeryville, California. I actually wrote this description shortly after the fact. The subject happened to come up recently in this thread, and I was inspired to post this here now.

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I had accepted a dinner-party invitation from M-, a Christian woman whom I'd known for several months since she hired me to help her with her English (she was Chinese). I'd known all along of her religious belief, which came up in conversation at the oddest times -- she more than once asserted that "the Lord" had guided me to cross paths with her because he knew she needed help with the language. Still, she'd never been pushy about it. She knew I wasn't a Christian and she accepted that.

Anyway, there was no obvious reason to turn down the invitation; I thought it might make a nice change. M- had implied that only four or five people would be present. In fact, there were at least twenty, many of them teenagers. Spotting a new person in the midst of what was obviously a long-established social group, one of these kids asked me, "Are you a Christian?" It struck me as an odd and none-too-polite question, but I simply said "No." Instant dead silence. A man said, "Not yet." I decided to accept this as a joke and leave it at that. Conversation resumed.

At dinner, I ended up sitting across from an articulate Ethiopian lady who at first made a very positive impression on me due to the great fluency of her English -- a trait which always impresses me in a foreigner, since I've studied several languages and know that such ability takes much effort to acquire. Since everyone else's conversation focused almost entirely on their shared religion, it was hardly possible for me to just avoid the subject. The Ethiopian lady increasingly focused on me, as the sole infidel present, and as time passed her remarks evolved into increasingly agitated, strident preaching. Feeling under attack, I defended myself, explaining the reasons for my disbelief in Christianity, while repeatedly affirming that I had no interest in "converting" anyone present to atheism. Needless to say, this merely turned up the heat on her evangelical fervor. Eventually I got irritated enough to point out that she was being quite rude to preach at me in this fashion in what was supposed to be a relaxed social setting, and that it was making me uncomfortable. I assumed this would at least get her to stop, at the price of some awkwardness (silence, even awkward silence, would have been a relief at this point). No such luck. The preaching continued until the end of dinner afforded me the chance to wander off to another room.

After dinner a number of people, who must have overheard at least parts of the previous exchange, approached me on various pretexts. No matter how determinedly I tried to talk about other topics, Christianity kept coming up. It would be wearisome to describe these conversations verbatim even if I could remember them in detail. One otherwise most appealing-seeming young lady responded to my statement that I wasn't a Christian with "Well, Jesus loves you anyway." I told her a total of three or four times that I didn't feel like hearing any more about religion that day, and each time she refused to change the subject. Finally the original Ethiopian lady tracked me down and started in again. When I told her I didn't want to be preached at any more, she made one of those tired analogies they always make, about having a duty to save a person in a burning building even if the person refuses to believe the building is on fire. I pointed out that while Christians claim to "love" everyone, in reality they did not even seem able to summon up the minimal respect for other human beings which is necessary for normal social interaction -- the minimal respect of showing basic courtesy to others and accepting that their beliefs are their own business. She responded with a story of having prayed for her sick sister even though the sister had specifically told her not to. In the end she dropped all pretense of saying anything other than that Christians have the right and duty to preach at and convert unbelievers whether the latter like it or not.

At this point the time came for the party to end, and M- called everyone together to stand in a circle for a final prayer. Even then, one man had the nerve to invite me to join in! I declined and wandered off to another room, figuring I could wait for a minute or so while they did their praying, after which I'd finally be out of there without having to commit the rudeness to M- of leaving before the party was over.

Fifteen minutes later they were still at it. The chanting, in English and some Mandarin -- so loud that it must have been very clearly audible in adjacent apartments -- took on the quality of something eerie and almost inhuman, a sort of deliberate drowning of human consciousness in the mindless emotionalism of formulaic recital. The content had an aggressive edge to it, as well. "O Lord, how can we deny you! Give us the strength [pause] to evangelize!! Give us America! Give us China!" I'm not exaggerating when I say that the tone of controlled hysteria would not have seemed too out of place at a Nazi rally, or in a lynch mob whipping itself up. After ffiteen minutes of listening to this, I realized that they might well keep it up for another hour for all I knew, and I decided to get out of there, rudeness or not. I returned to the main room, where the Christians were so wrapped up in their pod-people routine as to give no sign of noticing I was there. I grabbed my jacket and left.

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In hindsight it's obvious that this party, or at least the invitation to me to attend it, was nothing but a pretext to get me into the cross-hairs of a high-intensity conversion effort. But even though I had experienced the fanaticism (and rudeness) of hard-core Christians on several occasions before that, I had never been subjected to it in such intense and concentrated form. If faced with a similar situation today, I would simply leave as soon as it became clear what the game was. At the time, I was almost in a state of disbelief that people could actually behave like that.



Blogger Atlas Bergeron said...

pretty funny. I think I would have enjoyed discussion with the fundies more than your, and am better at passing off the uncomftorable feelings associated with direct rebuttals around a dinner table, but still, it would have been pretty awkward. Especially when you were not expecting it.

Here is the argument you use with any fundamentalist (i.e. believes the bible is 100% true).
You: have you heard of evolution
Fundie: yes, it is wrong
You: so you think that the evidence does not point towards the earth being six billion years old
Fundie: yes, the earth is only 6,000 years old.
You: do you know how far other stars are away from our own? Do you know that we have spotted galaxies more than 6 billion light years away?
Fundie: yes (most fundies do, actually, know and recognize this as fact)
You: so if it the stars are 6 billion light years away, that means that it would take 6 billion years to get here right?
Fundie: yes
You: therefore there is other evidence, besides evolution, suggests that the earth is at least 6 billion years old. Your theory is that scientists are lying to us, and yet there is clear evidence that the earth at least 6 billion years old. Therefore you have to accept either that the bible isn't 100% true, or that God made everything to look like it is 6 billion years old. But the theory of evolution is true by all observable evidence.

Sorry for the long post, and have a good day. (BTW, this is Garrett from enterthejabberwock)

12 September, 2007 20:54  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely amazing. I'm always slightly shocked by stories like that, and sad for people who are so gripped by delusion. You handled it well.

15 September, 2007 10:49  

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