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Since I don't drive, I take the bus almost everywhere I go. This is a pain in the butt, though it does offer me the opportunity to meet some extremely interesting characters. In other words, I'm an avid people watcher whenever such watchables have me as their captive audience.
Last month, I headed to a Chinese bar across town to belt out some karaoke. I boarded the bus and noticed a woman handing out pamphlets to everyone on the bus. Now, being a private person, I loathe being approached by anyone with something to sell. I don't care if they have the answer to all life's problems, I just want to be left alone -- unless the person has a specific reason to talk to me in particular. Maybe they're lonely and want someone to talk to, that's okay: I do that myself. But I detest a hustler of any stripe.
I sat down in the front, as I live in constant pain and was lugging a pack laden with more than 400 karaoke CDs. On the seat next to me was another pack; atop that pack was a dog-eared book: "The Prophesy Bible." I get it. This must belong to the woman foisting hype sheets upon the folks in back.
Here's someone not only palming off brochures, but now their subject matter is similarly odious: that brand of Christianity which capitalizes upon people's fear of the future, with horrifying scenarios of blood, angelic trumps, and the hooded horsemen. Been there. Done that. Never again!
Meddling political opportunists and faith healers are truly dangerous to those outside the sect, and thus earn our fierce opposition. Of the more benign Christian movements, my most malignant choler pours out against the leaders of end-times cults. I will not be polite to these locust hucksters: Chuck Smith, Hal Lindsay, and Tim LaHay can kiss my "Left Behind"!
I can think what I want, but I act with humble respect toward any who believe differently. They have their own reasons for seeing things the way they do. Who's to say that "Jesus" isn't keeping some poor fool off drugs? and who am I to topple his security, and possibly his very life? I'm not an atheist who goes out "enlightening" superstitious people. I'll react only after their actions interfere with my life.
Suddenly, a picturesque flyer invaded my field of vision. Cheerfully bedecked with visions of Christian affliction, it hyped a seminar at some suburban mega-church. I glanced at it, looked her in the eye, and gently replied, "No thanks, I'm an atheist."
Her previously cheerful face fell as my fellow passengers smiled and shrugged. She said, "I feel sorry for you," as she sat beside me, slouching her shoulders.
I felt almost unclean, in a way, because this gentle, pleasant-looking woman struck me as someone I'd like to know, as a friend or possibly more. I gathered my wits and asked, "Why do you feel sorry for me?"
With no answer, she looked downward.
I resisted the temptation to ask, "Would you feel sorry for me if I were a Mexican?" Of course not. We've trained ourselves to see such condescending pity as the racism that it is. But how does this attitude differ from the racism of old? Only in that we, as a culture, have yet to recognize it.
Copyright ©2000 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon