What’s the Point

I went to Market Street the other day to grab some groceries. The lady who works behind the coffee counter, the one who is always chatty and smiling, stops me for a bit. Where have I been? How are the kids? Did I know she’s finished with Bible school? (Oh joy.)

Yes, sometimes I listen to her tell me about Bible school. She’s been taking classes now for two years. Did I know, she tells me, that I can be a minister, too? (Is that right?) I don’t need a divinity degree. I can minister to people every day by spreading God’s word and being a good Christian. Any one can. Did I know that?

Of course my husband is staring at me, wondering why the hell I don’t tell her to bug off. I bit my cheek so as not to bust out laughing at the irony. This is a woman who is so excited to be on Team Jesus and so clueless, that I wondered, What’s the point? Why not let her talk? Who is she hurting? She’s just trying to do the best job for Jesus that she can. She’s not a threat to me. I thought about the time I worked in a courtroom, and the DA and judge let a man just rattle on and on because the more he talked, the more he incriminated himself.

I ask myself this question a lot. I mean: A LOT. What’s the point? We’re all going to die. Every one of us. Our species will die off. Our sun will burn out. So what’s the point in anything any of us do? Shakespeare won’t matter. Neither will Newton. I sure as hell won’t.

So it seems to me the point is only what we’re doing in the moment. Am I doing my part to make this a good ride for those around me?

Now. I’ve known this woman for years. Probably five or six, maybe more. I don’t know. Time runs like one, big river. This lady has always been so kind, so sweet. She’s so excited to be around people and to help anyone. She seems simple and means no harm. So I smile and tell her I have to grab some groceries.

But as I’m on my way out of the store, she calls to me again from behind the coffee counter, on a crowded Saturday afternoon, right there by tables of customers drinking their Joe, and she says, “Hey! What church do you go to?” She’s wide-eyed and expectant, ready to show me how the ministering thing works. I hesitate for a bit, wondering if I should even answer. This might change things between us.

“I don’t,” I said. She really starts to get excited because now she knows that I am a free agent.

“You don’t?” And I laugh, “No, I don’t.”

She’s really watching me, and I realize that perhaps I’ve underestimated this woman because she picks up on something and lowers her voice a bit as I’m walking by, “But you’re a believer, right?” I stop, with my back against the door, facing her. Here’s my moment of truth. I always say be honest. I teach my kids this. I tell them, don’t volunteer information, don’t be confrontational, but be honest. So I tell her, “No, I’m not.”

“You’re not a believer? Then what do you believe in?” Several customers have stopped what they are doing and are watching me. I laugh uncomfortably.

“I believe in people. That’s it. I believe in just doing the right thing, and I believe that most people are good.”

“I just can’t believe it. I never knew,” she said. She looks a little confused or surprised or maybe both. “Really? I just never knew,” she repeats.

I thought about telling her, “Well, you never asked, did you?” But that would be cruel. She’s just like so many other Stepford Christians I’ve met along the way, assuming that their way is the only way. Then she says, “Well, you act just like a believer. Did you know that? You really do.”

I’m not sure if she was trying to convince me or herself. Or maybe she was wondering, like I was, if she was giving me a compliment or an insult. Of course, I want to tell her, “Well, you act just like a nonbeliever. Almost. Except for the evangelizing part.”

She follows after me to tell me that a lot of the Christians she knows don’t act like one. “They don’t have Christian behavior.” She gives me examples. I don’t tell her, “Yeah, we (on this side) already know that. It’s old news.” I just listen to her because this lady just came to a realization on her own that is so much more powerful than me telling her: nonbelievers are okay. You cannot differentiate from the outside who believes in God and who doesn’t. Maybe next time she strikes up a conversation with someone, she won’t make the assumption that everyone is a Christian.

She’s been desensitized a bit. She’ll go home and tell her husband and her kids and maybe some of her teammates. Not believing in God isn’t so scary after all.

So that’s the point.


117 responses to “What’s the Point

  1. What’s the point? Probably none.

    We’re all just infinitely small nano-players, on a very small planet in a monstrously huge universe. It really doesn’t make much difference but for this….

    We do the best we can to spread as much goodness within the little microsphere that we get to inhabit for a few years. If we can accomplish that with some success, everybody wins.

  2. I have cast this woman in my head as Toby Walters from Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion… you remember, the really bubbly, cheerful, annoying one who just loves high school so much and can’t possibly imagine that high school has sucked for anyone else? I mean this woman just wanted you to sign her yearbook and she just seems kind of clueless. Like she just now figured out, at this adult age, that both believers and non-believers can be good and bad people. I really can’t blame her because if she has grown up in Texas and lived there her whole life, what else has she been exposed to? I guess I am lucky to have traveled and lived in as many places as I did because I have a pretty broad picture of how many different people there are out there. Being exposed to different beliefs has never changed my faith, but it has certainly allowed me to be more sensitive.

    I also have to somewhat admire her courage (albeit BLIND and ANNOYING courage) to speak so openly about her faith in a public forum. Maybe it is because I am Catholic that I just don’t really have the evangelical gene… that is something that is not as big of a focus in my faith versus some other Xtian faiths (whether that’s good or bad, everyone probably has a different opinion). Although I do wonder, if she had more knowledge or awareness that rejection or protest might meet her bubbly speech, would she still speak so freely??

    • @Molly I didn’t see that movie, but yes, she reminds me of that character.

      Having been raised a Catholic on the east coast, faith was something we didn’t talk about to strangers. Don’t know if it’s still like that there.

      If you read the websites of some of our local churches, they list as one of their goals, “Bring the unchurched home.” They really see it as their mission to find new recruits.

      Yeah, I admire her commitment and courage to her faith. But mostly, I just think that she doesn’t mean any harm. And she was nice even after I told her….

      • @Deb totally agree it sounds like she didn’t mean any harm. Any insult she may have caused you was out of ignorance, not cruelty. I tend to be like you where if I can avoid conflict, and the person isn’t harming me, why not just rise above it and go with it?

        Re your question, “what is the point?” I think that question is something I would really grapple with as a non-believer. So I’ll let non-believers answer that question in the comments.

    • @Molly The evangelical gene is a deadly negative mutation. Be glad you don’t have it.

      Loved Romy & Michelle. We all sort of make our own little sphere around ourselves, believer and non. It’s easy to do. It would be nice if more people could experience cultures unlike their own and realize that “different” does not equal “wrong”.

      • MichaelB…What’s deadly about it?

        • @Joe K Left unchecked, it kills ones ability to relate to others as human beings instead of projects.

          • So well said, MichaelB. Never thought of it in this particular way, but it’s so true. You can get so wrapped up in ‘converting’ that you never get to ‘relating’.

          • So, would I be right in saying that, you are making the assertion that the repeated practice of evangelization causes human beings to look at others more as objects of use than as human beings? If I am understanding you correctly, are you therefore asserting that treating others as an object of use and not human beings is deadly?

      • @Michael …and I suspect we would learn that we are not as “different” as we think…. Muslims, Christians, non-believers, I suspect most of them want freedom and safety, they want their children to grow up safe, healthy, and happy, and they want to live in a peaceful world. Of course there are a few loonies in every group, but even the zealots probably want these things? They are just blinded by what – or whom- they believe is prohibiting them from those things.

        Re evangelization… I know it is part of the “duty” as Christians – to spread the word of God, but it would be very difficult for me to brazenly go in un-invited and preach. Now if someone where to approach me and ask me about my faith, or be drawn to my faith by my behavior, then of course I would be more than happy to share with them what is a great joy in my life. But otherwise it would be difficult for me. I think, in some way, you have to lack social skills to be a “good” evangelist, and I don’t.

  3. just took flights east and two people i sat by were disposed to talk and after easy discussion of various topics the conversation moved to a point where is made sense to say whether i believed or not and i gently said I don’t believe in god. One person did and we discussed why and why not calmly. The other looked astonished and said after growing up catholic she no longer believed either. Both times really good conversations ensued–confirming my belief that it is good to come out in most situations and that it will help the believers (some at least) to understand nonbelievers are all around, they are normal good people and that they deserve to be respected.

  4. I hate being put on the spot like that. Mainly, because it is really not anyone’s business what I believe in or don’t. Let us know how she acts towards you or what she says the next time you see her. 🙂

  5. While I don’t agree with a lot of Catholic rules and regulations, I will say that I have never once had one try to convert me to their faith. I can get along much more easily with Catholics than Protestants; in fact I have several friends who are Catholic.

    But the Protestants with the constant Get Saved! bit? I’m so glad the lady actually realized that you were okay though you didn’t believe. With me, they usually ask “Don’t you know if you’re not saved you’ll go to Hell? What if you’re in an accident today?” I actually had a woman from church ask me that once – and I was just picking up my tax return. Now I guess many do genuinely believe they’re doing you a service by informing you of hellfire, but it really, really gets on my nerves. This lady looked very smug about it.

    The people that are genuinely sweet are harder. They just don’t get it. Why won’t you just come to church? We’d LOVE you to come! Gush, gush, etc. Were I to tell them the truth, I’m afraid of the repercussions because my kids go there. I’m afraid they’d try to put pressure on them to bring their mother to Jesus or something. And I hate the idea of people feeling sorry for me and praying about me. It creeps me out.

    • @alice glad to hear Catholics are at least a little better in your book ;-). Re the Get Saved bit… I think that just shows that they don’t get it. “Don’t you know if you’re not saved you’ll go to Hell?”. What they don’t get is that you don’t believe in Jesus, you don’t believe in Hell, you don’t believe in Heaven. So I don’t understand why they think that one sentence is going to impact you? Does it impact you? I assume it doesn’t, but maybe I’m wrong?

      The Get Saved bit is irritating even for me as a believer… like all it takes is a belief… your actions are totally irrelevant. Again, where Catholics differ from other Xtians… we believe faith without works is dead. If you’re not going to put it in action and actually DO some good / help those in need, then what good is your belief?

      • I agree with this wholeheartedly. I am a good person and I try to be good to others and help if I can. I think at the end, if there is a God, surely he would see this as okay enough. Because like the woman with the tiny offering that Jesus praised, I gave all I had to give.

    • One evening last week I planned to visit my favorite brew pub to have a pint and finish some work. I got there and the parking lot and pub were more packed than I’d ever seen it. No live music, no tapping of a new keg…I was at a loss and just went home with my head hung low.
      This weekend I asked what was going on last week and the answer was “Catholics…they had their monthly meeting and one of their bishops was here, so more than 200 of them showed up.”

      The Catholics have a monthly meeting at a brew pub? Now THAT’S something I can believe in!

  6. LanceThruster

    Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion.


  7. I often have to work late hours because my primary customers are many timezones away from me. So, I’ve gotten to know the lady that cleans our office. She’s a very nice Korean and we exchange pleasantries, talk about Korea, the weather, etc.

    She has a very heavy accent, so last Thursday when she asked if I go to church, I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly. After a few back and forths, I learned she was asking me to go to her church because “you are very nice” and apparently I remind her of her pastor who is also “young” (he…she has no idea about my age or religious feelings!) and “very nice.”

    I just politely told her I don’t go to church and thanked her for the compliment. She’s not pushing me and I’m okay with people evangelizing, but not proselytizing. It’s fine to share your beliefs, but don’t push them…and that rule goes both ways.

    • @JR – versus the Mormons who think even drinking coffee is a sin. I always wondered though… is coffee cake okay? What about coffee-flavored ice cream? What about a coffee-scented candle? Where does the slippery slope slide into “I just love the smell of a good roast” to “I’ll roast for eternity in Hell” ?

      And yeah I’m really effing bored at work today, I need to go find an online game or something because I’m starting to be a bit obnoxious with all the comments. I think I’ve got Lance Thruster beat on # of comments and that’s never a place you want to be. 😉

      • LanceThruster

        @Molly – I think I’ve got Lance Thruster beat on # of comments and that’s never a place you want to be. 😉

        Hey! I resemble that remark!


        • @LT sorry for throwing shade your way…. 😉

          • LanceThruster

            Well at least now I know what “throwing shade” is.

            throw shade v. phr. to take a superior attitude; to criticize, demean, or insult; to diss or derogate. Editorial Note: This term has is most often associated with Black English, but it is also said to be used among gay and cross-dressing performers and club-goers. Etymological Note: Probably related to shade, v., which means “to defeat, to outdo” and dates to at least as early as 1925 and also to the far more common put in/throw in the shade with the same meaning. A mild form of the term was popularized during the late 1980s and early 1990s when the much-hyped dance and peformance style of “voguing” came to widespread attention. (source: Double-Tongued Dictionary)

  8. Hmmm. Great story. But, you know she’s going to be praying for you. And although she has now seen that a non-believer is okay, she also believes that you’re going to go to hell.

    • Lisa, it doesn’t matter that she’s praying for me or thinks I’m going to hell…that doesn’t affect me and if it helps her feel better then so be it. The irony of a non-believer giving a believer a sense of purpose and worth is worth reflection there.

      Both my parents are ardent believers and my dad is a retired Baptist pastor. My mom knows I don’t believe and still prays for me and even recently thanked God on Facebook when my house sold quickly. Never mind the hard work my family put into making it a nice house…

      I’ve seen the transformation to irrational fanatical and know that some people, much like addicts, need blind faith to give them a purpose. As long as they aren’t blowing themselves up in a crowded cafe or forcing their beliefs on me, it doesn’t matter. My parents are good people (just incredibly gullible), so what’s the harm? If I were able to take their beliefs away “cold turkey” then their lives would be empty with no purpose and that’s more harmful than letting them be.

      • No, I get it, I do. I was being just a smidge facetious in my original response. But what you wrote here brings to mind a good point that was illustrated for me a few days ago. You know those three girls who were kidnapped and held captive in a house of horrors for ten years in Cleveland? I was reading the latest issue of People magazine about them, about how they made a public statement of gratitude recently and posted it on YouTube, so of course I had to go to YouTube and look for it. It’s obvious that these women have been deeply traumatized – it’s a wonder they’re all still standing. Anyway, one of them, especially – the one who was held the longest, the one who the kidnapper allegedly impregnated several times and then starved and beat to induce miscarriages – it was just chilling watching her speak on this video. She has been harmed so horribly – you can see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice. But she kept talking about God, and how God has a purpose for her, and she’s thankful to God, and on and on. And I’m sitting there thinking, “Yeah? If this is God’s purpose for you, sister, then he’s a First Class Dick.” But I also realized that she is someone who really, really needs god. She has nobody else. She has no family, she’s been through unspeakable hell. If she didn’t have god, what would she have? To disabuse someone like that of her beliefs would be just cruel.

        Different situation than what you’re talking about, but yeah, I get it, that some people really do need god.

    • @Lisa Yes, I know your sense of humor! But you are also correct–she DOES believe that I’m going to hell. That’s what she’s been taught. That’s The Truth.

      I’d rather be in hell with all my smart-assed friends than bored and homogenized in heaven!

  9. I have had this scenario occur more times than I can count over the past 20 years. I live in Mesa, Az which is predominately Mormon with a heavy splash of Catholic….after we had children and 8 started to participate in Mommy/child classes this topic seemed to “magically” arise.
    It always started with the “what church do you attend question?” As soon as I said we didn’t attend, it was always followed by the “oh, I see” comment. Only a few of the very brave actually would ask the “but you still believe on God, right?” We did loose some “friends” when my response was no, although I was pleasantly surprised by others that realized I really was just like them and I hadn’t sprouted a second head.

  10. Bravo, bravo!!! So wonderfully handled and delightfully written (as usual!) Many years ago I was still enthralled with New Age fantasies (after leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses). As a feature writer, I had the privilege of interviewing people from many different walks of life. One week I wrote a story about a woman who was so into God/meditation/church that she was referred to as ‘Serenity’ – she seemed to truly live what she preached. The next week I met an atheist couple who were the nicest, non-egotistical, most community minded ‘do good now’ folks I had ever met. Meeting these people who were so good and kind and yet had diametrically opposing idealogies was one of my first wake up calls……

  11. I remember years ago when a co-worker told me I was a “good Christian girl” and I just smiled and didn’t say anything. I just remember thinking to myself that I didn’t need church to make me into a good person. On another occasion, I had a friend ask me how it was possible to not believe. She was genuinely stunned that I didn’t believe in her god. I just found her response very interesting, she just couldn’t understand how a person doesn’t believe. I enjoyed your story. I think you did the right thing by being open and honest, more people should do the same! Hopefully she walked away from this experience with a lot of respect for you 🙂

  12. Great article

  13. “I believe in people. That’s it. I believe in just doing the right thing, and I believe that most people are good.”

    Sad that it can’t be said that is enough, isn’t it? I am older and more bitter and cynical than I once was; I don’t find proselytizing of her sort “innocent” any more….after all, if I was to go about asking people if they had “heard of my Lady Athena”, they sure wouldn’t find it innocent would they? Not even if I explained the metaphorical wealth of a pagan mind view…

    So, I would have thwacked that Stepford Christian. But I am a meanie poo poo head…

    • @syrbal LOL. I doubt you’re a meanie poo poo head. You’ve just probably had more than enough!

      • Having had more than enough = Meanie poo poo head.

        Or so I am told whenever I crush little fluffies of any spiritual trad that have fluff-nuttered reasoning.

    • @syrbal You jest, but sadly some Greeks are back onto the ancient gods again: http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22972610

      • I don’t jest entirely about the Hellenic gods…I am a rather skeptical experimental pagan and frustrated would-be atheist. I have no faith…I believe in nothing less than experience; so when I say I have experienced a Presence, I mean it. However, I feel no missionary zeal….if you aren’t called, be happy without that apparent call!

        • @syrbal Speaking of experiencing presences….I was just talking with my older son about the random number generator experiment. Have you heard of it? http://www.damninteresting.com/random-event-generators-predict-the-future/

          • I had read about those, somewhere. I think I first encountered that phenomenon reading a book about ESP and other iffy prospects. I admit, I don’t know what to make of such data…does it fall into that strange joke-worthy category of “enough chimpanzees with typewriters will produce Shakespeare”? LOL…oh, wow, especially modern computer terminals with spell check and grammar-nazi software?

            I don’t know what to make of it; perhaps I have a personal random generator in my head though, I’ve had seriously sleepless anxiety-ridden nights and days, sometimes complete with physical symptoms around the times of major events. Not 9-11, however, just for the record.

            • @syrbal The brain gives off waves and energy, so who knows…. I’m not very much of a mystic myself, but there’s so much I/we don’t understand about how our brain(s) work and possibly work together.

              • Tell me about it…and I can’t even adequately describe the frustration engendered by the fact that we can’t figure out how to research THAT topic.

                I’d like a little less mysticism, myself, thanks. But, that option button apparently is unlit and inoperable.

      • @MichaelB Interesting article on the Greeks who have fallen in love with ancient religions….They even want to build their own places of worship now, but need approval, ironically, from orthodox xtians. You wonder how much of their vision has been shaped by the media and by romanticized visions….

        • They should just take the old ones that are still standing back. That is, as long as they don’t kick out the tourists….before I’ve had a chance to go photograph the Parthenon.

          For a look at what happens when a belief in ancient Greek gods meets sci fi and the resulting struggle between the mono- and polytheists, check out the remake of Battlestar Galatica. It also has elements of a few other religions thrown in. Plus….explosions.

  14. You “handled” the situation to perfection, Ms. Deborah! Thank you for not giving the rest of us non-believers a bad rap. 🙂 I think that most of us have wonderful, kind people in our lives who mean well and have good intentions, just as this woman is to you. What’s the point? There is no point in hurting her. Obviously, she’s invested her life into what she believes in, as so many of us have. In such a classy way, you told her your truth…. and you ended up telling all those other customers witnessing the event lol. Let her, and the others, wonder about how such a poised lady could possibly be a non-believer. Allow them to question their beliefs on their own.

  15. Greg LeMunyan

    Deborah, I really appreciate you going out of your way to grant another dignity. Being an atheist is merely a starting point for me. For me being on the right side of history, evaluating evidence and being open to change seems to be the best strategy. What we the non-believers do have in common with religious people (besides all being human) is we are out to live a good life. How we live is important, how we treat ourselves and others is part of that, especially knowing our life is short, our sun will one day turn Earth into a cinder etcetrera. I appreciate the writing, depth and struggle you are engaged in.

  16. I love her shock and awe! LOL Poor thing. She really had no idea it’s okay to be an atheist. It never dawned on her that we wouldn’t be biting off the heads of bats and trying to tuck our tail and pitchfork under our cloaks, I guess. 🙂 I actually love this story. And it’s why I usually just let people say their piece as long as they’re not forcing me to agree.

    I saw this gem today and thought it was pretty appropriate here: I believe wholeheartedly that the single most effective way to lead somebody to the cross is simply by love.

    It’s almost sweet. But it’s also so very creepy.

    I am a very loving soul. And the only cross I’m hoping to lead anyone to, is across the street to a better bar. Or possibly a very nice Cross pen. I’ve done cross stitch before, but I don’t think my love will bring anyone to that…

    • @Oatmellow LOL. Very funny! You can lead me across the street to a better bar….

      And MichaelB’s: I’ve always liked this mis-quote from Ben Franklin: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

  17. “… nonbelievers are okay. You cannot differentiate from the outside … ” Kinda like gays. Reminds me of the Andy Butler quote:

    “Being an atheist is like being gay. You don’t choose it, it tends to make you unpopular, nobody knows unless you tell them—and it’s not something to be ashamed of!”

  18. I too have had those sort of “but you’re not evil!” moments with believers.

  19. Reading this makes me want to share some of my similar experiences, but that would be, not like “preaching to the choir” but rather like singing with the choir, the choir that sings about believing in people.

    Thank you for providing that choir with a place to come together.

    Additionally, it seems that as we hope for respect from those of theist faith, we must also be willing to offer it. I believe that how you handled yourself with this woman was to do just that: to recognize her as well-meaning, and to respect her with truth while not demeaning her in the process. From my vantage point, I’d say that was very nicely done. Cheers!

    • @DSC That’s a nice analogy. I like the idea of us “singing with the choir” about humanity rather than the proverbial “preaching to the choir” about man’s inhumanity!

  20. Well handled. It proves your point that she had to ask what you believed in since your behavior as an atheist is otherwise indistinguishable from that of a rank and file Christian. Being asked “what you do believe in” is just too much. How much of the bible has our current generation ended up discarding on the basis of it being too barbaric for modern society, yet none of that prevents millions from calling themselves “Christian”.

    I’d love to sit a few of them down with a highlighter and tell them to mark up what they follow. I suspect it won’t be much.

    What’s the point? We’re all going to die. Every one of us. Our species will die off. Our sun will burn out. So what’s the point in anything any of us do? Shakespeare won’t matter. Neither will Newton. I sure as hell won’t.

    That’s why we have to leave the cradle and go to the stars ;-).

    • LanceThruster

      “Is it perhaps in order,” she demanded, “to inquire what you’ve been doing all these months then? You and that other interloper have been missing since the day we arrived.”

      “We’ve been on a journey,” said Ford, “We went to try and find out something about this planet.”

      “Oh,” said the girl archly, “doesn’t sound very productive to me.”

      “No? Well have I got news for you, my love. We have discovered this planet’s future.”

      Ford waited for this statement to have its effect. It didn’t have any. They didn’t know what he was talking about.

      He continued.

      “It doesn’t matter a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys what you all choose to do from now on. Burn down the forests, anything, it won’t make a scrap of difference. Your future history has already happened. Two million years you’ve got and that’s it. At the end of that time your race will be dead, gone and good riddance to you. Remember that, two million years!”

      The crowd muttered to itself in annoyance. People as rich as they had suddenly become shouldn’t be obliged to listen to this sort of gibberish. Perhaps they could tip the fellow a leaf or two and he would go away.

      • @LT I need to read the hitch-hikers guide….But, really, in a “perfect world,” or a world from nature’s perspective, there would be no organisms fighting for control and dominance of each other. What’s kind of cool, which I bet nature didn’t plan for is that, rather than growing bigger, faster and/or stronger, we grew smarter. We are adapting to this planet to be its dominator….but not looking forward to life on another planet and the challenges of a different atmosphere and ecosystem. We’re only looking at domination, power, control here. I bet Bernie might say that we’re going to kill ourselves off not just because we’re smart, but because we have egos.

    • @Senator Jason Yes: “How much of the bible has our current generation ended up discarding on the basis of it being too barbaric for modern society, yet none of that prevents millions from calling themselves “Christian”.

      And how much of the Bible do people ignore when it suits them–not even the barbaric parts–but just things that are too inconvenient? Even those screaming the loudest about abortion…I wish I had the numbers on how many actually had one. The folks who don’t want to extend healthcare coverage to the poor? How many of those Christians have used some sort of gov’t subsidy?

      • Remember, the only moral abortion is my own. As for the social safety net, I think a lot of these people feel that as long as the system works for them, there’s no need for anything more. It’s simple human selfishness.

  21. This is, for me, the best post of yours that I ever read. It is exactly what I do all the time. I listen. I’m friendly. I smile. I’m supportive. Then, people assume. You behave the best that you can, morally and intelligently. If the subject ever comes up, it is SUCH a surprise. I think this is very telling how important people are and as you said, believing in people. When I was a freshman in high school, my French teacher decided to go around the room and ask each student what church we went to. Can you imagine? Why didn’t I turn her in? Anyway, when they got to me and I said, “I don’t go to church”, another student said, “But you’re smart!” So absurd how all those “Christian qualities” or “Christian behaviors” (I wouldn’t necessarily call being smart one of those though) can be viewed as what makes someone good. Thanks.

    • @Sarah I love to hear these types of stories. Thanks for sharing. If we want people to keep their religion to themselves, we have to show them how to do it….

      By the way….My son (actually, both of my kids have now experienced this) had a teacher do the same thing as your French teacher. Only, when she found out we didn’t go to church, she asked if one of the other kids would come to our house on Sunday and take my son to church. It’s funny now. Not funny then!

  22. I was reading this with bated breath, picturing myself standing next to you. “Wait, she said what?…so what did you say?…you actually said that to her?…high five!” My wife gets this all the time. I get it some. People around here just assume.

    And she’s wrong. You don’t act like a believer at all. If you did I wouldn’t follow this blog. Thank Zoroaster for that.

    • @MichaelB Love this: “And she’s wrong. You don’t act like a believer at all. If you did I wouldn’t follow this blog. Thank Zoroaster for that. ”

      Guess that’s why we’re all here.

  23. I am surrounded in my neighborhood by JesusBots just like your little old lady behind the coffee counter. Your observations of, and reactions to her, are spot on. Thanks again for your thoughtful and humorous posts.

  24. LanceThruster

    I was in the train depot lav in the late afternoon and an indigent was washing up at the sink and said “Good morning. God bless you.” I just smiled and nodded (couldn’t remember any of my stock rejoinders and the “good morning” in the afternoon threw me).

    I usually figure that they’re working the faithful for a handout as making the god connection might open up the purse strings.

  25. Greetings once again from the CINO — Catholic In Name Only — country of France.

    Sharing one’s religious feelings in France is very different from the situation in the USA. (But that doesn’t mean that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t go door to door, because a couple dropped by the other day 😉

    It’s funny, too, because we’ve decided to put our children in Catholic schools while we’re over here. Then again, so has a friend of ours who’s recently returned to France, and she too is a committed atheist.

    Our basic reason is that Catholic schools are smaller, more intimate settings than larger public schools. Participation in religious activities is strictly voluntary — including religious instruction — since Catholic schools receive money from the government. Moreover, and it’s a bit sad, that since we’re paying — far less, mind you than in the USA — we feel like our concerns and input will be heard.

    Anyyyyyyywaaaaaaay… the subject did come up at our son’s school the other day. The assistant director and one of the teachers with whom we were meeting sort of floated the idea of us participating in religious activities. After all, they reasoned, given our obviously Celtic origins, it may well be that we might be inclined in that direction. My wife and I smiled (our kids’ French is still a bit murky) and said something like, yeah, that’s understandable.

    *ever-so-brief silence*

    And then we moved on.

    No pressure. No disappointment. After all, over 40% of French children attend Catholic school but fewer than 5% of French nationals attend church. So we really didn’t present much of a surprise to them.

    • @deosullivan3 So you guys have moved to France? How long do you plan to stay? You will have an interesting perspective. Saab93f lives in Finland and says there is a similar attitude towards religion there….

      • France is a truly secular country with predominantly catholic people. They have taken the separation of state and church to a level the US really only talks about – to the mindset of people.
        I’d say that in many regards we and French are quite dissimilar but evidently there are common elements – could they then be labelled as European.

  26. My late brother was an atheist, and yet he and his wife chose to put their kids in a private Catholic school. The schools in their Georgia county aren’t the best, and the local Catholic school is.

    Ten years ago I had a beautiful home custom built, directly across the street from my then Pentacostal pastor and his family. The inevitable judgments imposed upon me about my skills as a single parent became too much for me after only six months of us being neighbors…. and then they zeroed on my oldest son, who was around 14 at the time. They would take him to church several times a week. They were using my son in every possible way, they were preying upon him. They got him to help them physically do all kinds of work for them. They guilted him into it. And they were constantly on his back about bringing all his friends from school to their church. It finally got to the point where I had to put my foot down. I told my son that I would take him to any church he wanted to go to, anytime anywhere, but that he couldn’t go to “their” church anymore.

    Many people think I was out of line, that my son was old enough to make his own decision about where he wanted to attend church. They don’t know the gory details of the whole experience, though. My former pastor had been fired from his position at our “then” church. He and his wife had been trying for several years to start a new church in our community. They were completely taking advantage of my son’s generosity and compassion, and the fact that my son had grown up with their six boys, those kids were like brothers to my son. There were many other “good” churches in our small Alabama town that my son could attend if he chose to, I had nothing against that. He ultimately chose to not attend any of them and he’s now 22 years old, about to graduate from college, and he often talks about how he and his brother were made to go to that “crazy church,” the Pentacostal one we were members of for several years. My son says to me, “Mom that place was nuts!!!”

    It’s kinda funny that after I wouldn’t let my neighbors take advantage of my son any longer…. they refused to even wave back at him when he drove by to pull into our driveway… Yeah real “Christian” of them…

    • @Shelley I looked at putting my kids into Catholic school because, in many ways, they offer a much better education than the public schools here. I figured I’d fill in the blanks.

      Of course, you know I think you did the right thing with your son. At 14, he still needed your guidance and protection. There’s a lot of pressure on kids to conform and to not make waves. Why shouldn’t you put your foot down when you see what’s going on? Hell, he couldn’t enter into any kind of contract. If the church really wanted to help your kid and to be kind to him, they wouldn’t have attached strings–as you said.

  27. Thank you Deborah for supporting that decision I made, as my son’s mom!!! We all make mistakes constantly with our kids, even though we try soooo hard not to cause any emotional damage to them. Even so, they are our responsibility until they become adults. And sometimes, whether we like it or not, it’s our duty as their parent to step in and take control of some situations, especially when we see our kids being so blatantly and completely taken advantage of. At the time, it had nothing to do with any kind of church, that wasn’t the principle, I just couldn’t allow those people to continue to exploit my son.

    Stepping in like that is one of the most difficult things there is about being a parent. Thankfully for me and my son, in this particular case, it all turned out for the better… not because my son has declared himself to be an atheist now, or that he chose at the time to not be a part of any other church…. It turned out for the better because he saw his mom stand up for him as a person, an individual human being who mattered, with a mom who wasn’t going to sit back and allow him to be controlled by anyone.

    • @Shelley That’s really nice: “It turned out for the better because he saw his mom stand up for him as a person, an individual human being who mattered, with a mom who wasn’t going to sit back and allow him to be controlled by anyone.”

      Every parent makes mistakes. I make tons. And I don’t always learn from my mistakes, unfortunately. As my grandmother used to say–it doesn’t matter the mistakes so much as long as kids know they are loved….That’s the most important.

      • @Deb I like that – I read somewhere “if there is love in the home, and the kids feel it, that makes up for a lot”. That gives me a lot of comfort when I am feeling like I am failing. And sometimes I kick myself in the pants for all the guilt – my kids are fed, clean, and safe… they have a bed to sleep in and a full tummy every night. They are pretty darn lucky. Luckier than a lot of kids in this world.

        • @ Molly You’re so right–our kids are SO much more fortunate than other kids across the world. @Shelley Thank you for sharing your story and your struggles. I imagine, being without family or other support, separating from the only “family” you knew must have been painful in some ways. Though–as you said, when it comes to protecting the kids, that is always our priority as parents. I hear about so many priests, pastors and preachers who’ve had substance abuse problems….

    • @Shelley I think the most annoying thing about this story is that you felt they judged you for being a single mom. As if it isn’t hard enough, why not have someone randomly heap guilt on you? I worked with a Mormon at my previous location, and when he found out I was having a baby his first question was “you won’t keep working, will you?!” (with tremendous shock in his voice). Well… yes… I will… but thanks for making me feel like a terrible mom, I mean that’s really what working or single or hell ANY mother needs, more guilt. We don’t come by enough naturally, go ahead and heap it on. And the annoying thing is these are supposedly devout religious people?

  28. Thank you Deborah and Molly. I’ve been a single mom for 20 years, both my boys are now away at college, they’re 20 and 22. I wasn’t “blessed” in that I never had any immediate family living in my state, neither has their dad ever lived here. Us parents are filled with tremendous guilt, about everything… and sometimes I think we deserve to pat ourselves on the back too….

    After several years of looking back on that whole situation, in hindsight, I can now see how my pastor and his whole family controlled my boys and me. When I built my home directly across the street from where they lived, a really sweet older lady I went to church with, she was almost like a surrogate mom to me… She was helping me move into my brand new home, and she said, “You’re going to see things going on that you wished you never knew about….” She was talking about my pastor and his family. And how right she was! Turned out my loving pastor was a severe alcoholic who abused his wife and kids constantly, both physically and emotionally. He ad his wife abused me too, until I wouldn’t let them anymore. When it started happening to my kids, that’s when I put my foot down and ended all of it.

    Sometimes, we can so easily allow others to abuse us with their religion… and when we see it happening to our kids we stand up and say NO!!! Our kids sure can teach us a lot about living life..!!!! 🙂

  29. LanceThruster

    FYI – Vatican will nix your time in purgatory if you follow Pope on Twitter

    see: http://americablog.com/2013/07/twitter-purgatory-plenary-indulgence-te.html

    • @LT No way. Isn’t this proof that the god scheme is man-made?? The Vatican is playing god. I think this is what pissed Martin Luther off, isn’t it?!!

      I wonder how Catholics feel about this….Hey, Molly and JoeK??

      • @Deb – I saw an article similar to this on MSN. On a side note, this report almost implies that World Youth Day is obligatory, and if that is the case, I didn’t realize that… I have never attended a World or National Youth Day, although I know lots of people who have and I’ve heard good things.

        As for the attendance – either in person or via the internet – eliminating purgatory time? I don’t know if I believe its THAT easy. “The Vatican announced that Catholics wipe out their entire expected time in purgatory by following the Pope on Twitter, among other “social media” ways of expunging their sinful souls.” Hmmm… like I said, not sure I believe its that easy. And I am also somewhat questioning the legitimacy of this report. I mean if that statement were read to the Vatican spokesperson, would they say “yep, you got it!” or would they say “woah, woah, woah, this all got misconstrued and/or mis-translated somewhere along the way…”. I don’t know. So a) I’m skeptical of the accuracy of conclusions made in this report and b) even if it IS spot-on accurate I’m skeptical that following WYD on twitter will eliminate all of my purgatory time. So yeah, one way or the other, I’m skeptical.

  30. I knew our Molly wouldn’t agree with it. 🙂 And I don’t blame her at all for being skeptical. Skeptism is what brought us all here to Deb’s blog. Thank you, Molly, for giving us all your view of Catholicism! It helps to educate me.

  31. @Deb yeah…. I thought the whole indulgences things was sort of in the past. I can say in my entire Catholic upbringing / education / Mass attendance / retreat attendance / etc. I’ve never heard the word “indulgences” mentioned except when talking about how the Church used to sell them BEFORE the Reformation (and the consensus was always, this was corruption and error on part of the Church).. So, maybe that is why I am skeptical. I don’t like to believe EVERYTHING I read. But yes, I agree, if this is true, not sure I’m on board.

    • @Molly No worries. As Shelley said, I (and I think “we”) appreciate your perspective. I, too, thought indulgences were in the past.

      I’m now following the Pope on Twitter. I have to say that I was impressed by his selling off of all the expensive cars the church owns. He’s donating the money to the poor.

  32. @Deb and I don’t WANT to believe its true b/c so far I’ve been pretty impressed with this Pope and his commitment to a more humble Church (plus kudos to him for embracing twitter!). Of course like most Catholics I think JP2 was incredible, but Benedict was a step backwards. Here is hoping Francis is more like the former.

  33. @Molly – I agree with you about JP2, he was adored by most of the world, Catholic or not. And I also think that Pope Francis is refreshing to us all. It’s very nice to see a leader in the public eye who seems genuinely humbled. Showing humbleness is a positive example for all of us.

  34. @Deb @Shelley thanks. I obviously like the non-believer perspective too. I think most hatred comes from fear of the unknown. If we can break down the barriers of what is “unknown” about certain groups (Catholics, Mormons, Atheists, Muslims…) we can remove a lot of fear and hatred too.

  35. I think that’s what Deb’s blog is all about, Molly. Breaking down the barriers of religion and non-religion. BTW, I was born into the Mormon religion, seventh generation, and I married into the Catholic religion… but that’s another story LOL. 🙂 Thank you for your input, and for being a part of us non-believers… 🙂

  36. Deborah,

    Regarding the, “Pope wiping out all time in purgatory for following WYD on Twitter” article.

    Has Pope Francis granted an indulgence for participation in WYD? Yes. See here

    But, the understanding and explanation of indulgences in the article is trivial, inaccurate and incorrect. It’s not as simple as “follow WYD on twitter” and you will be freed from your attachment to sin. There’s a lot more the statement above calls for then just sitting in boxers in front of a computer screen, drinking red bull, munching pork rinds and corn nuts.

    I can go into more detail if someone wants but I’ll limit it to a few clarifying statements,

    The Church does not teach that…
    Indulgenses will … “expung[e] their sinful souls”
    Indulgences “…earn years off of [someone’s] time in purgatory”

    The word indulgence comes from the latin root, “indulgentia” which means kindness, tenderness and mercy.

    The actual teaching on indulgences is here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_P4G.HTM

    As to the history….

    The church has never ditched the concept of indulgences.

    The church had, for a while, stopped promoting them because some unscrupulous clergy were abusing them, basically using them for fundraising carrots. If I understand correctly Martin Luther didn’t have a problem with indulgences themselves just the way they were being dishonestly used.

    • @JoeK Thank you for the links.

      The indulgence announcement sounds like an admission ticket, ending with, “The present Decree is valid for this event. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary.”

      Re the definition of indulgence, it’s basically man saying what he thinks will appease god. Do this and god will have mercy. Well, for one, how would the church know what god would or would not show mercy for?

    • @Joe K, you had a lot more knowledge of this topic than I did. I should have just deferred to you. 🙂 Thanks for your comments.

  37. Re your comments about man saying what he thinks and having certainty…

    I acknowledge this doesn’t make it valid in your eyes, just as Calculus would be invalid to someone who doesn’t believe in addition but you asked so…

    Scripture records that Christ stated to the Apostles, “That which you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and that which you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”. Because of that Catholics (going back to the earliest records of Christianity) have always interpreted that “proclamation” as Christ granting that authority to the Apostles and their successors.

    If you don’t believe the historical evidence that Christ existed, if you don’t believe that he said he was God, if you don’t believe in the primacy of scripture and if you don’t believe in Apostolic authority, then you would obviously perceive that indulgences are just man saying what he thinks and he would have no certainty. But if you are making logical conclusions under differing premises then indulgences are something completely different.

    The point is that it really comes down to whether or not one believes that Christ gave that authority to the Apostles and their successors and if he did then one would have that certainty.

    • @JoeK I really wish you would stop comparing the argument of religion to Calculus. You’ve got to know that’s not an apples to apples comparison but an apples to tree.

      You are correct in the latter half of your comment. This is where you and I and others who think like you do and I do get off track. You assume your scripture is “The Truth” while it is simply your truth. You assume that Christ is “divine” when we don’t even believe in the divinity. Christ may have “given authority to the Apostles and their successors” but, for me (us), Christ’s words were the same as any other person’s word. They don’t hold any special significance. And we’re not even getting into the whole topic of the accuracy of the Bible.

      So, of course, as you noted, you and I are not going to come to the same conclusion.

  38. Not sure I follow you on the Calculus thing. The way I see it is, if you don’t believe God exists, then the claims of Catholicism would be logically invalid. Much like if you don’t believe that 2+2 = 4, Calculus would be logically invalid. My point in using that analogy is that there is little to no point in discussing any specific religious belief or specific moral belief when two people are proceeding to logical conclusions from different entering premises. But in deference to you as the owner of your blog I will no longer use the Calculus to Catholicism analogy. I’m am curuious though if you are bothered by it because you see it as somehow relating something you hold to be objectivly true to something you percieve to be a myth and that annoys the snot out of you.

    • @Joe Maybe the difference in the two is that 2 + 2 = 4 no matter if you believe it or not. It’s a fact. It can be proven. Religion, catholicism, etc are not facts. They’re beliefs. They rely on faith and hope. I’m not speaking for Deb on this, I’m just noting that’s why the calculus analogy doesn’t work for me.

      • LanceThruster

        Since maths came up I thought I’d offer this —

        Anyone who can worship a trinity and insist that his religion is a monotheism can believe anything. – Robert A Heinlein

  39. @oatmellow & @LT Exactly!

  40. I love when you write about personal experiences like this. Just beautiful.

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