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Witnessed in a Virginia Restroom...

So, I promised a post that would make people unfriend me in droves, didn't I?

Well, I hinted, anyway.

(Note:  This post is about religion, but I'm not interested in debate right now, this is just me musing aloud.  If you are simply going to explode with the need to correct me on my terrible wrongness, understand that I will not be replying, but I don't mind if you rant.  Thanks!)

I have always been fascinated by the religious pamphlet phenomenon - I believe in some circles it's called "Silent Witnessing", though it is often thought of by other people as "leaving trash for us to clean up", "attempting to fulfill your fundamentalist church's demands to witness, while at the same time avoiding becoming a punching bag for irate Catholics", or even "substituting for tips in restaurants even though Jesus was into sharing money with the less fortunate".

(That last one is a perennial complaint on customers_suck.  Church groups?  You're not helping anyone to "see the light", you're being cheap.  FYI.)

But I am always drawn to these strange little tracts - I tend to avoid the Jack Chick variety, because really, after you've seen one, you've seen them all, and they're all poisonous and hateful.  No, it's the independent ones that really draw me in (though not, perhaps, in the way the anonymous person who left them intended).  Such as the one I found in a small restaurant bathroom while stopped for lunch on I-81 in Virginia last January:  "God's Simple Plan of Salvation".  

Actually, I found a bunch of them; not content with leaving one in each stall, the bestower of "God's Simple Plan" had left one every two inches on every horizontal surface in the restroom.  Some were a little waterlogged, being by the sinks, but the one I picked up (after washing my hands) was pristine.  I tucked it into my purse, since there's always a wait for the food to come, and I like to amuse myself by courting Satan at every opportunity.

(I get bored easily, what can I say?)

The cover of the one-fold tract has a nice red white and black print on glossy paper of a star beaming down some sort of death rays on some shepherds in the desert.  The sheep don't seem particularly impressed, but it definitely has a "Bethlehem-ish" feel, borne out by the message "to wish you a blessed Christmas and a new year filled with happiness".  Except that every word is capitalized, so it's a bit forceful.

Inside, and continuing to the back of the fold, there's a series of quotes from the Bible (both new and old Testament) about how Jesus died for you, and if you accept him as your saviour, blah, blah, blah, saved!

All the pamphlets say this - it's how they say it that is so interesting.  This pamphlet, produced by Lifegate Inc. (who have a website that you can Google, if you really care), is so earnest.  It starts "My Friend, I am asking you the most important question of life [not your life, mind you, but all life]. Your joy or your sorrow for all eternity depends upon your answer.  The question is:  Are you saved?" [Bolding original.  They mean it.]

And then we get partial quote after partial quote, basically arranged to prove that God thinks you suck, but in the most inexplicable deal (for him) of all eternity, Jesus took on all your evil, died horribly, and you owe him big time.  But the partial quoting gets pretty zany after a while - we've got Leviticus mixed with Hebrews to make one sentence at one point ("For the life of the flesh is in the blood...without shedding of blood is no remission").  I particularly like the bit where it says "Although we cannot understand how, God said my sins and your sins were laid upon Jesus and He died in our place.  He became our substitute.  It is true.  God cannot lie".

I thought we did understand how.  God is everything, God gets to do what he wants, Jesus gets blamed for everything, blah, blah, Christcakes.  Is this so hard to understand?  God is magical.  The entire foundation of Christianity is based on the most super magic trick of all time.  No offense (I am a Catholic myself, and you bet I believe), but if Christ had not risen from the dead, he would have been simply another minor Jewish prophet with a small following and an unfortunate ending.  If I believe that God is all powerful, it really isn't that big a leap to see God with a big yucky ball of sin in his hands, saying to Jesus "Look, if you swallow this, I'll make sure people remember you for over 2000 years.  Whaddaya say?  And remember, I'm your father".

(Hear that click?  Just lost someone.  Or twenty.)

What I'm saying is, if the pamphlet is asking me to take things on faith, then a sentence like that is silly.  

Speaking of silly:

"Surely, you realize you are a sinner.  Right now, wherever you are, repenting..."  I am?  I mean, yes, yes, I should.  Of course.  I am a sinner.  I've been told this ten times in this pamphlet alone, just in case I forgot in between reading out-of-context quotes.

God may not lie, but Man can come up with some fascinating variations on God's truth.  One of Man's ways of bullying us into believing is not to emphasize that God loves us all (John 3:16, though marginally quoted, is not actually quoted or cited), but to beat us over the head again and again with how evil we are.  "You are a sinner.  Therefore, unless you believe on Jesus Who died in your place, you will spend eternity in Hell".

(See?  "Who died in your place"?  You so owe him.)

God's truth may be out there, but I find it hard to trust what comes from the mouths of people who presume too much when they say they preach the word of God.  Too many of them have all sorts of criteria to exclude anyone they disapprove of, and too many of them preach hatred and violence.

Worse, they say nothing good we do counts for anything without Jesus, even though God supposedly loves us so much - much as the pamphlet says:  "No Church, no lodge, no good works can save you".  

(I guess the Elks are out of luck, then.)

I do actually have a deep antipathy for this version of God's word - my ex-husband claimed he was born-again, and said that nothing he did afterwards mattered, because he was born again, and was guaranteed a place in heaven.  Basically, he felt he could be an absolute asshole, and it didn't count against him (Jack Chick says the same thing in Flight 144 - as good an example of his twisted view as any of his hate-filled tracts).  I cannot express how repugnant this idea is to me.  C.S. Lewis spoke more to my feelings on the matter when he said that anything good you do, you do in God's name, whether you invoke Him or not, and any evil you do in God's name is really done for the Devil.  It is the work you do to improve the lives of others that counts, not magical thinking.

This "Quick!  Believe in Jesus!!" method of salvation always seemed to me a bit of a get-rich-quick scheme; no work, no effort, just a quick "hey, Jesus, I believe in you!", and go on your merry way.  Jesus' teachings were a bit more complicated than that, and a lot less easy, but in these days of quick weight-loss pills and instant gratification, the old-fashioned way of doing good works all your life, and trying to live by the religious teachings you believe in seems so... hard.

I just can't shake this feeling that at the end of it all, like the weight-loss pills and the "enhancing" supplements, the quick-and-easy way will turn out to be a scam, and there are going to be a lot of pissed-off people demanding their money back.  

(Tucked in the tract was a fortune cookie fortune that said "You have inexhaustible wisdom and power".  I appreciate God's sense of irony.)

(and if you want to play the blessed lottery numbers that appeared to me Lo! on the back, they are 11, 9, 45, 26, 46, and 5.)


( 107 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
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Apr. 10th, 2008 01:47 pm (UTC)
Maybe we should print up religious tolerance and Christian love tracts and pass those out. We'll include a little pocket in them for the waitresses' tip.

(Just kidding, of course.)

People leave these instead of tips? As far as I'm concerned, that's stealing. This person labored and provided services, and instead of wages, you provide a sermon.
Apr. 10th, 2008 01:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes, the Sunday crowd for a lot of servers is a nightmare - they demand everything, and never tip, just thhose dreadful tracts. And yes, in this country, it really is stealing, since the waitstaff payment system is so weird.
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Apr. 10th, 2008 01:49 pm (UTC)
This "Quick! Believe in Jesus!!" method of salvation always seemed to me a bit of a get-rich-quick scheme.

Amen! *ahem* I mean, I've always felt the same on this subject. When pressed, Jesus said the most important commandment was to be nice to each other. If we all followed this simple injunction -- whether or not we believe in Jesus or God or anything spiritual -- poverty and greed and war and all sin would simply disappear from the earth. And then, we would have the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, wouldn't we.

But Churches don't make money on people being happy. Churches make money on people being guilty and paying them for their salvation. Churches have to wield their weapon of guilt because it's the only weapon they have. They need submission of the masses. Independent thought doesn't pay the rent.

(Can you tell I hate Churches?)
Apr. 10th, 2008 02:11 pm (UTC)
I think more and more people are gravitating towards the idea that we need to fix the here and now, and not simply cover our asses for our (hopeful) entry into heaven.

So the really hateful sects are getting more and more fierce as they feel their power slipping away.
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Apr. 10th, 2008 01:50 pm (UTC)

And "(I guess the Elks are out of luck, then.)" nearly made me choke on my breakfast :) Teehee

I really am of the opinion that most of the SCA body of members are Catholic, Episcopalian or Pagan. We are big on ritual and vestments.
Apr. 10th, 2008 03:12 pm (UTC)
I'm a protestant. :D

The thing that makes me sad when it comes to my experience with religion in the SCA, people have talked about how oppressed they've been and then turn around and talk mucho trash about Christianity in the same breath. Not caring who they're offending.

Being offensive is not cool period, regardless of the intended recipient.
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Apr. 10th, 2008 01:51 pm (UTC)
*le sigh* Pamphlets like that can be fun... especially with a book of matches.

Really though, I have a hard time with people who 'preach' this way. I mean really, not everyone is Christian. Does that mean the rest of the world is doomed? What if you don't believe in either entity? My favorite quote, and I can't remember where it's from is: "It's not important which path you are on, only that you are on one."
Apr. 10th, 2008 02:02 pm (UTC)
That is always a good point. My mother used to say "Am I really to believe that our loving God would damn the people in the rainforests, and in remote parts of the world that have not had the missionaries at for generations?"
Apr. 10th, 2008 01:52 pm (UTC)
Whenever I see pictures of shepherds with their flock, in the *desert*, all I can think is, "you're doing it wrong."

Maybe I should print out some Spaghetti Monster or LOLCat tracts and leave them about...
Apr. 10th, 2008 05:35 pm (UTC)
"Maybe I should print out some Spaghetti Monster or LOLCat tracts and leave them about..."

That would be fun! Especially if they had a little pocket/slit for the tip. Hmmmm... our group is having their meeting tonight and then going to our 'regular' restaurant afterwards - one that is heavily populated by Church Groups. I believe my printer is about to get a work order. :)
Apr. 10th, 2008 01:53 pm (UTC)
Wha? Wait a minute? 'click', 'click', 'clickclickclick',
Damn. Still here.
I do kinda admire people who can take their faith so blindly, and leave all the heavy thinking to others. But it doesn't work for me. Your quote of CS Lewis is one of my favorites.
Apr. 10th, 2008 01:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Apr. 10th, 2008 01:58 pm (UTC)
blah, blah, Christcakes

I think you mean Christwafers.
Apr. 10th, 2008 01:59 pm (UTC)
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Apr. 10th, 2008 01:59 pm (UTC)
Jack Chick *shudder*

I think you hit the nail on the head that these things are written like "Get Rich Quick" schemes. My older sister went through a born again, conversion phase, and started getting... oh god... letters from "Reverend Al and the Prayer Family". THOSE were a hoot! We intercepted these epistles for her sake, lest she believe the drivel. Most every week there was some bizarre cartoonification of a homily, followed by a plea for money (always in weird random numbers, to coincide with bible verses, but around $20). And CHECK LIST. The Check list was my favorite. It was there every time, of course. "I want Reverend Al to pray for me: A. Against the People Who Work Against Me B. For My Health C. To Increase My Wealth D. To Protect Those Dear to Me E. Other Please Fill In"

Once they even had a paper voodoo doll you were supposed to write the name of things or people plaguing you on and send back to Rev. Al. Rev. Al seemed to cater to the paranoid. We Wrote "Rev Al" on the doll and had a ritual burning.
Apr. 10th, 2008 02:00 pm (UTC)
Every time I see one of those pamphlets I am instantly transported back to Grad School, and I want to write a paper doing a deconstructive reading...

Thank you! You just made my day :)
Apr. 10th, 2008 02:00 pm (UTC)
One of my biggest gripes with the pamphlets is that they leave them EVERYWHERE! A neat stack left in a bathroom wouldn't bug me but strewn about like trash? What a waste of paper. The ones left on my door step just end up in the yard then I have trash to pick up out of my yard. We are going to save your soul but to hell with the environment.

Of course this is extra amusing to me since I'm reading Lamb right now http://www.chrismoore.com/lamb.html. If you haven't you should check out Chris Moore's stuff, I think you would enjoy it.
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Apr. 10th, 2008 02:03 pm (UTC)
Mormons came to our apartment building last night.

At 8:44 PM. That's in the evening.

They picked our doorbell to ring.

Poor little Mormons!

We have a 'tract' from an Odin-based religion that I love, based on those same Christian-type tracts. It's a real hoot! (Hmmm...maybe sillyviking should have given that to the Mormons last night!...)
Apr. 10th, 2008 02:14 pm (UTC)
I used to have regular Mormon visitors years ago (it's not really their fault, it's a requirement of their church), but they stopped after I answered the door in a towel one day, since they had gotten me out of the bath with their persistent knocking.
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Apr. 10th, 2008 02:08 pm (UTC)
Oh dear, I appear not to be in a drove. Or at least not the right one.

I'm a lapsed Anglican (and it's pretty difficult the lapsed from the unlapsed except on Sunday mornings in England). I've got no problem with God, or his whipping boy only begotten Son. It's their fan club that terrifies me.

I figure that if I live as decent a life as I can; taking care of my family, earning an honest living, appreciating the beauties of this little blue ball, and being kind to kittens and small children, then that will have to be good enough for God. Because no way am I going to buy into all that mumbo jumbo magical thinking saved stuff.
Apr. 10th, 2008 03:52 pm (UTC)
I'm with you. I'd be a Christian if not for the church! I was raised in an incredibly intellectual methodist church. I loved the sermons because they really made you think.
But I saw too much plain evil and cruelty done under the umbrella of Christianity and that was it. I also worked at a company where I was the *only* employee who wasn't part of a particularly weird fundamentalist "church".
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Apr. 10th, 2008 02:11 pm (UTC)
Well spoken! What I love is how most of these people seem to forget that Jesus hung out with the dregs of humanity, and said "love they neighbor". And what about that golden rule? "Do unto others..." I think that's a bit more important.

The Chick tracts scare me...and the JW pamphlets are just as bad.
Apr. 10th, 2008 02:25 pm (UTC)
My father, on his death bed, seriously, after seeing one of those 'Jesus loves you' kind of add on the TV turns and says "You know, If Jesus died to save me, he really over reacted."

I think there is something in that for all of us.
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