April 24th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

Second Hand Religion, or, Thank You for Not Shoving Christianity Down My Throat

I just spent about ten minutes yelling at a friend of mine, a good friend, someone who's stood by me when few people did. I'm not proud of that. I feel like a heel. But he asked the wrong question, at the wrong time. And to my answer, which was clearly not the answer he wanted or expected, everything he had to say from then on enraged me even further. I started out yelling about other people, in front of him, but the gods forgive me, by the end of it I was yelling at him.

I'd just gone with him and his wife to see Thank You for Smoking (again, in my case). On the way home in the car, one of the things she remarked on was how odd it seemed to her that The Captain, the fictional CEO of the thinly disguised R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company, was so obviously loved by the people of his home town, even the waiters at his private club. I explained to them, in passing, something I observed in my own brief stay in Lexington, Kentucky, and that is that you do not bad-mouth the tobacco companies in tobacco country. From one end of Dixie to the other, there are people down there who know that tobacco is for all practical purposes the last economically viable crop of the small family farmer, that tobacco will stay in Dixie and pay the bills in Dixie long after everybody else has written them off for no good, that even people who don't smoke and don't work for the tobacco companies or on tobacco farms know which side their home town's bread is buttered on.

But anyway, among the things this reminded one of them of was how little luck he's had getting people to bad-mouth tobacco in science fiction fandom, nationally, either. It's pet peeve of his; he is the second-rudest smoke-nazi I've ever met in my entire life. Completely past rational on the subject. No, it seemed to him, the only thing that science fiction fans could be persuaded to be intolerant of was his religion, Christianity. (Another pet peeve of his.) And having just come out of Thank You for Smoking, I thought I'd finally thought of the perfect metaphor that would finally explain to him why that was. I told him that science fiction fandom, being a hot-bed of atheism and of non-Christian religion, is as sick of Christianity and as angry about constant exposure to Christianity as he is about frequent exposure to cigarette smoke, and for exactly the same reason. We don't get to pick whether or not somebody else shoves their Christianity into our space and down our throats. And like the people who ask smokers to put their cigarettes out, we're treated with great hostility by anybody around us when we object to it, like we're the intolerant ones. I told him that second-hand Christianity and second-hand smoking are, in fact, the exact same issue. And, I confessed, while I'm not the banning personal behaviors kind of guy? If I had to choose? If one of the two was going to disappear from this earth and never have existed, I'd choose to keep tobacco and excise Christianity. Christianity's more obnoxious, done more harm, killed more people, and Christians are much less considerate about involuntary and unwelcome exposure to their religion than any smoker I know is about his or her smoke.

And the part that enraged me was the overt denial of reality that came next: both of them, bright people who really do respect their non-Christian friends, seemed to have never heard of the idea that anybody was involuntarily exposed to or inconvenienced by Christianity. It seems to them that anybody in America is hardly ever exposed to Christianity, and certainly not in any kind of unpleasant or pernicious way. And by sheer irony, they said this just as we were approaching my least favorite billboard on Interstate 170 -- a particularly weaselly, misleading billboard for Birthright, one of many "pregnancy counseling service centers" that the anti-abortion movement run that pretends to be a clinic long enough to get your name, address, and personal information so they can use it to blackmail you by threatening to use that information to ruin your life. Why? Because protecting the "life" of a sixteen-cell growth the shape of a soccer ball on the inside of a woman's uterine lining is so important, the majority religion in America assures us, that any malevolent, disgusting, or even illegal (if anybody else did it) tactic must be countenanced and openly tolerated, and if you object, it makes you the bigot against their religious rights. And that was just the example that came most readily to hand. Had it not been after dark, we couldn't have driven a mile on any stretch of interstate highway without seeing some random business with the Christian Fish logo in their advertising signage, either on the building or on their company vehicle. And what message is that fish meant to send? "You can trust us, because we're Christians. Don't trust the people who don't have the fish, they're not." I opined that nobody in America who works for a living can go half an hour of any workday without at least one reminder that non-Christians in general and atheists in particular (as we were freshly reminded last week by a University of Minnesota survey, the only minority in America more hated than the Islamist fundamentalists that we're actually at war with) are second-class citizens, not full Americans, not even really people. And we get even less choice whether or not to be exposed to their religious sentiments than he and his wife get over whether or not to be exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke, and thus have at least as much right to be cranky about Christianity as the right he claims to be cranky about tobacco smoke.

And what caused me to lose my cool altogether, was that even as I sat there rattling off example after example, from the vast number of political positions institutionalized in American law only because they're uniquely Christian doctrines to the substantial barriers to entry in politics for non-Christians to one-sided proselytizing (what do you think would happen to an atheist who went door-to-door inviting people to an anti-Bible study?) to businesses who only give Christian holidays off to businesses that refuse to hire or sell to or buy from non-Christians to athletic teams, schools, courts, and government bodies that open all meetings with Christian-specific prayers to ubiquitous billboards and bumper stickers aimed at reminding us of Christians' privileged status to citizens everywhere from our stores to our own families who take it for granted that everybody in America is Christian and react with such disappointment to each counter example, they still kept insisting that it never happens. I suggested to them that if some atheist went through their work week with some kind of digital voice recorder and kept a discrete record of every time that they were involuntarily exposed to Christian snubs against them, that it would exceed twice per hour. I'm retired, I don't get out enough to get meaningful results. Is anybody out there willing to at least carry one of those supermarket click-counters and keep a running count for me for a week of how many times they were exposed to toxic second-hand Christianity?