Late last night Ashley and I made a run to Wal-Mart. We stopped off at Sheetz for coffee on the way home. One entrance was blocked by two men who stood talking, one leaning into the door like he was planning on walking through any second now. First he just had to finish his testimony — the evangelical colloquialism for “sales pitch.” I overheard him assuring his counterpart that all is right in one’s life so long as one puts Him first.
“Him” being God, of course. Who else is presumptuous enough to insist on the capitalization of the personal pronoun — and get it, even in the United States? According to the apostle at the door (whom, to avoid confusion, I will call Reverend Dumbass from now on) it really was that simple. Just put God first, and you can spend the rest of your life as King Shit of Fuck Mountain.
Rev. Dumbass and his companion entered Sheetz a few seconds after we did, and continued their conversation. The reverend’s friend claimed that someone (possibly his former wife, but I can’t be sure; I was trying not to eavesdrop, though I doubt those two would have minded) had tried to kill him three times, but God had protected him. That made me think of the hilarious story John Hagee tells occasionally about a lunatic who burst into the sanctuary one Sunday morning brandishing a .44 Magnum. As he tells is, Hagee stepped out from behind his lectern, pointed to his would-be assassin and shouted “No weapon formed against me shall prosper!” The gunman fired, but missed his mark and was wrestled to the ground by members of the congregation.
My favorite part of this story is that the heroic members of Hagee’s church who subdued the nut with the gun were evidently content to wait until he had emptied his cylinder in the direction of their pastor. Are we supposed to infer that these men of faith knew God would protect Hagee, and wanted to prove a point to the guy who broke into their church with a .44 before disarming and dragging him away?
Rev. Dumbass and his buddy poured themselves some coffee while Ashley and I ordered from the drink menu. (You didn’t know we were high falutin’?) I wanted to grab a bottle of Coke, too, so we passed through the aisle behind the reverend and his friend. It was at this point that I confided to Ashley my wish to, as I put it then, “beat the fuck out of” Reverend Dumbass.
He was a big galoot, black t-shirt stretched over a bulging belly, and a tangled mat of black hair that sat so far forward he hardly had any forehead at all. It wasn’t his Christianity that bothered me. It wasn’t even his obnoxious insistence on carrying on a personal conversation at that volume in public. There are rude assholes of all faiths. It was his confidence that pissed me off — in two ways.
First, like every preacher (one of the crudest and least useful forms of human life to be found), he claimed to be certain of things that are unknowable. How does he know that “putting God first” is the way to a good and prosperous life? How does he know God is even there to start with? He doesn’t — worse than that, he can’t. Yet he talks as though the existence, nature and specific thoughts and desires of God are matters of inarguable fact.
(What does it mean to “put God first,” anyway? I’ve heard I don’t know how many people of faith say that, but what does that entail? How does one put God first? Set a place for him at the head of the table and let him have first pick from the fried chicken plate? Leave him alone while he’s watching the football game? Though I’ve never had this question answered directly with any clarity, putting God first seems to require nothing more than joining a church and handing over to that church no less than 10% of your gross annual income. I’m reminded of George Carlin when he wondered what the fuck God, all-powerful creator of Heaven and Earth, needed with so much money.)
Second, Rev. Dumbass was proceeding on the assumption that he would not be challenged. He was a Christian loudmouth in Washington County, Maryland, where his is a common breed. He knew he could carry on his conversation outside and inside Sheetz, at an impolite volume, and get away with it. No one would ask him to keep his voice down, or keep clear of the entrances. No one would question his metaphysical claims or argue his theology. Even those who thought he was a sanctimonious prick would grumble and tolerate him — which is exactly what we did.
But imagine if I, as an atheist, began holding court like that. What would the reaction be if I struck up a loud conversation with someone, insisting there was no God and that anyone who tells you there is — and better still they know this infinitely powerful God well enough to speak on his behalf — is either an ignoramus or a liar? At the very least I’d expect a few takers to engage me in a not-so-friendly debate.
Imagine a Muslim entering a public establishment in this and many other parts of the United States and declaring the truth of the final revelation to Mohammad in the holy Qur’an in the same way. He might be taken away in an ambulance, unless he had the foresight to bring along friends.
By the time we returned to my truck with our coffee, Reverend Dumbass and his friend had parted company. I saw him seated at the metal table on the far end of the sidewalk. He nursed a cup of coffee alone, looking around as people came and went.
A wolf spider, I thought, waiting at the mouth of his burrow.