May 1, 2005

Spreading Superstition Door-to-Door

A Rodin Sculpture titled "door to hell&qu...
A Rodin Sculpture titled "door to hell" inspired by the work of Dante. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the many "joys" of living in the vast region of the United States described as "the bible belt" is that it seems like there are always Christians knocking on the door. Why? They are eager to ask if I have been "saved," tell me about Jesus, and invite me to attend their preferred church. Needless to say, they provide me with many excellent opportunities to practice a variety of anger management techniques.

The doorbell rang yesterday afternoon as I was getting out of the shower. I'm not sure why they always seem to come at the worst possible times, but it does seem that way. Since I didn't feel like running to the door naked and wet, I dried off as quickly as I could and threw on some clothes. By the time I made it to the door, they were long gone. But at least they left some of that wonderful Christian "literature" behind. I always appreciate that, at least right up until I think about it taking up space in the local landfill. This literature, like pretty much all of it, was about how those who didn't accept Jesus as their savior were headed for some sort of hell. I supposed I shouldn't be surprised. After all, many Christians seem to take real joy in the prospect of people who do not share their beliefs being tortured for eternity.

Experiences like this raise many questions for me, but I will limit myself to considering two of them here. First, what is the point in going door-to-door to spread their superstitious beliefs? Do they actually get converts this way? They always want to tell me about their church. What if I already belonged to one? Would the goal then shift to one of convincing me that theirs was better than mine? And what about when I tell them that I'm an atheist? Does that lead them to give up or try harder? I can't help but wonder whether the point of all this is more about making themselves feel like they are doing something positive without actually having to do so. I mean, they could be doing things that would benefit others (e.g., working with the homeless, volunteering in the community) instead of irritating me with this nonsense.

The second question concerns how one should behave when treated to a visit from people who seriously claim to believe in this stuff. I usually try to be polite but firm in the beginning. "No, I'm not interested in discussing religion with you. Thanks anyway, and have a great day." Maybe it is because I have seen too many horror movies or read too many history books, but images of the locals descending on me with pitchforks and torches sometimes pop into my head. I'm not interested in mass prayer sessions being held on my front lawn either.

The problem is that I quickly lose my pleasant demeanor when threatened with hell after disclosing that I have no interest in attending their church. A friend told me that he once answered the inevitable questions about church by explaining that he was Jewish and attends temple nearby. He received the same query about whether it bothers him that he will burn in hell for not accepting Jesus. Clearly, it is not enough to be religious and believe in gods; one must believe in the "right" gods.