Thursday, July 16, 2009

Missionaries have it rough

The director of Michigan Atheists reports on the group's very first foray into the Wyandotte Street Fair. Many people were friendly and reacted favorably to their presence. Others ... not so much:

Stalkers visited us frequently or stood close at hand watching and waiting for an opportunity to catch us off guard. One woman seized the moment and rushed to our table, gathered up every book on our table (new books donated by two authors) and tossed them into a filthy trash can. A few hours later she returned and kept reaching over our table attempting to provoke us into physical (hand) contact. Several other taunting visitors, when asked to leave, got seriously in our faces saying, “make me,” while still others would pick up a book or literature, look us straight in the eye and tear it up while laughing and jeering.

If you grew up in an evangelical church, as I did, you have heard these stories many many many times. Except, in those versions, it's always the Christian missionary patiently suffering persecution from the crude, hateful, fearful agents of Satan. We were supposed to take home the message that disbelief in God leads to fearful, hateful, obnoxious behavior like this; it's God's power can allow you to suffer patiently.

Funny thing, but patience** turns out to be available to all sorts of people, if they believe they'll score more points by looking cool and controlled. And, when the tables are turned, a certain type of Christian can be exactly the same sort of crude, hateful, fearful bully that I was taught was the hallmark of the non-believer.

* I might point to these folks, who probably tell tales of the abuse they receive from the godless. However, I was an eyewitness to this event and I can testify that, while the evangelists were good at ignoring the hostile reaction, they very much provoked it with verbal attacks on pretty much everyone they saw.

** Taking the account at face value, as I wasn't there. It's easy to overestimate one's own patience, but I'm ready to believe the booth attendants displayed less anger than they received. The point is, neither religion nor lack of religion automatically instills this kind of control - it takes a situation where a person believes they win by displaying this kind of control.

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