An Attempted Drive-By Saving2 April, 2008
I was down in Harrisburg for the last two days at a show for bus group leaders. It was fun (tiring, but fun). Got to sleep in a Hampton (better than sleeping in a tent at a forest fire), have dinner at Lone Star steakhouse (couldn’t have a beer (no gluten-free beer at Lone Star) so I had a margherita), and vegged through the night
At the show, I had an unpleasant theist encounter. Well, not that unpleasant, just amusing and aggravating at the same time. Here’s how it went (this is not verbatim, I did not record the conversation, but have attempted to reconstruct said conversation some hours (and a long drive) later):
Working a bus show, I basically try to convince bus group leaders that the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area is a good destination (and also that they should visit the park at which I work). Hundreds of people flow by, and around 5% or less are actually interested in learning more about any specific area.
During a short slack, I headed on over to the restroom. An older gentleman began to ‘talk me up’ as I walked over. He followed me into the restroom, and I started to wonder. He went his way, I went mine. Phewww.
As we came back out, he asked where I was from, the park at which I work, and then, as I started to relax, he pounced (the “Trust Jesus” pin on his lapel should have clued me in (okay, so I’m slow), but he also had a Darwin Fish on the other lapel).
“Are you saved?” he asked.
“If I was out of uniform, off duty, I’d be glad to answer that,” I replied (standard answer for me when in uniform) (I spaced my wife’s classic answer: “Yes, I’ve been saved. I’m an atheist. I avoid church religiously.” Damn).
“So you’re not saved?” he asked again.
“Sir, I work for the U.S. government. I work for all Americans, all persuasions, all faiths. I’d be glad to . . .” He interrupted me.
“Oh, God preserve us, your not Muslim, are you?” he asked.
By this time, I was getting tired of the conversation. I had tried to deflect him. I had tried to demure. Screw it. “No, I’m an atheist.”
“Oh. Okay. That means there’s still hope for you.”
I stopped cold, my jaw dropped, and I said, “Huh?” (brilliant, right?).
“There’s still hope for you. You may think your an atheist, but Jesus will find you.”
I thought for a moment. I had to ask. “You’re more comfortable with me being an atheist than a Muslim? At least Muslim’s are people of the book, right?” (my wife says if they come up with a scratch and sniff (smells like fire and brimstone) Bible, she’ll go for it (would a Muslim (or a Christian) still consider that to be The Book?))
He looked at me with an expression that was remarkably similar to the one my wife uses when I have been particularly clueless. “If you’re an atheist, then your parents were Christian. That means you are a human. Muslims aren’t even human.”
I thought for a moment. Actually, my mental clutch was slipping as I tried to go from fourth to first. I took a deep breath, and said, “That’s got to be one of the most racist statements I’ve heard in a long time. All humans, of any faith or no faith, are humans.”
“Muslims give up humanity to worship a false god, so they are subhuman.”
Shit, I thought. How do I get myself out of this one. This guy is looney tunes. I began to explain that it’s the same idea of god, the Abrahamic one, that Christians use, but he again interrupted me and said, “I’d love to have the time to save you, but I have to get back to my booth,” and turned away.
I’m not too sure where to go with this one. First, he asks a total stranger if he has been saved. This shows a real disregard for personal space. If I was in his church, the question would be entirely appropriate. If I was his friend, it would be appropriate. How can it be appropriate to approach a person in a public place with a question like that?
Second, when I tried, in a professional manner (explaining why I was not going to answer), he assumed, with a look of terror in his eye, that I was Muslim. He seemed relieved that I was an atheist. Maybe it has something to do with the scarcity of atheist terrorists or suicide bombers.
He told me that I thought I was an atheist. Yes, he’s right. I think (logically and rationally, trusting only replicable evidence) therefore I am an atheist. And Jesus will find me? How can a dead imaginary saviour find me? What’s he gonna use, Google-Earth?
Then came the comment about me being human because my parents were Christian. They are (but I doubt he would consider Unitarians to be Christians), but what’s that have to do with the price of cat chow in Kansas? Also, he makes the assumption that only ex-Christians (or the children of Christians) become atheists. No Jews, Muslims, Sufis, etc., (or their children) have ever become atheists?
The bit about Muslims not being human still blows me away. How many Christians consider Muslims to be subhuman? It explains many of the attitudes extant in American’s approach to the Middle East, though. Suppose a Muslim said that Christians were subhuman: the reaction would be quick, vehement, and, quite possibly, violent.
Then, after his drive-by weirdness, he says he doesn’t have enough time to save me (so, if he keeps talking nonsense, I will become so confused that I get saved?
This whole conversation was so fucking bizarre, so insane, so bewildering, that I began, on the drive home, to question its reality. Unfortunately, it really did happen. I was a victim of an attempted drive-by saving.