"I hear they’ll hang you upside down
Stretched across two boards
For hearing distant voices
And crossing to the Lord"Far Far Away (2001) by Five Iron Frenzy
It's my favourite song from the only Christian band I ever liked.
That's because their lyrics aren't unimaginative, repetitive declarations of undying man-love for Jesus.
Being one of the few openly irreligious and unrepentant members of my immediate and narrow social circle, I frequently received (note past tense) invitations to participate in the bizarre rituals of my friends' faith in their houses of worship and to attend the holy soirees of their god-blessed communities. I have always maintained a respectful comportment and a constant smile on these occasions. The human smile is universally hardwired into the brainworks of our species. It transcends cultures and epochs. If you smile at a two months old baby, the little mannikin would smile back at you without ever needing to be told how to do it or what it means. By smiling, I try to non-verbally convey that I, the atheist who walk amongst you, have come in peace.
Hold tongue and hold smile; those are the same watchwords I observed when I was invited to a pastor's house party this one time by my Christian friends and colleagues. I surmised that the two essential ingredients for a good party - alcohol and good music - would not be on the table, and I was right. There were great food though. My memory's a little fuzzy but I think I originally joined them for a dinner outing but hey, surprise free dinner is even better! It's meeting a whole church-load of new people I had objections to. And don't get me wrong, I find it uncomfortable to meet more than one stranger at a time, regardless of circumstances. It doesn't matter whether it's a cell group or an atheist conference.
Prayer would most certainly be on the itinerary and sure enough, there were some. When they clasp their hands together and close their eyes in prayer or grace, I close my eyes too. I don't pray, of course. It's just that I find it really disconcerting to watch everyone around me whisper to some invisible sky person I can't see. All at the same time.
After I was fed and watered, I was expected to participate in some ice-breaking games. Without going into the details, it involved socking people with a rolled-up newspaper club and learning the names of every other guest in the premises. Fat lot of good it did because I can't recall a single name or face a couple of hours afterward. There was a general atmosphere of warm acceptance which some people find magnetic. I believe that one of the biggest draws of religion is a sense of belonging and community, and I've heard of atheists who attend church functions for the social aspects exclusively. I, on the other hand, am usually wooed by the vittles.
As the god-sanctioned festivities winded down, the pastor handed xeroxed copies of a survey to everybody. I like participating in surveys. I read one question and it asked: "What is your goal in life?"
I sneaked peeks at the answers of several persons nearby to see if I could use any of theirs. The few I saw were,
"My dream in life is to be a missionary and spread the love and joy of the gospels of Jes..."
"All I want to accomplish is to fulfill the special purpose He lovingly created me for..."
"I want to serve and love Jesus Christ more and more with every passing second of my lif..."
Wow. Their minds work so differently from mine on such a fundamentally alien level that I felt like I had dropped through a wormhole into another dimension. There's no way I can un-see that brief glimpse into the eldritch
Anyway to return to my story, I wrote a pretty generic, Jesus-less answer which I'm certain would stick out like a herpetic rash when the pastor reads it later. Onward to the next question!
"When you finally meet God in heaven, what's the one question you would ask him?"
Oh-kay. I don't think this survey was designed with people like me in mind at all.
I eventually settled on "How are you, sir?" Seems like a polite thing to ask the first time you meet someone, right? At that, I handed in my piece (there were only two questions) and left with my friends.
I have not been invited back since.
P.S. On hindsight, I should have written, "Ho ho ho, wouldn't you like to know how I, an avowed ATHEIST, bypassed your security and got into heaven, Mr God?"
Thinks that wool itches,
k0k s3n w4i