Religion, Politics And Chatting Up Strangers-- An Observational Ramble

Though I don't have and don't want much religion in my life, I had a lot of fun chatting up two Christian proselytizers on the street. So why was it ultimately dissatisfying?

So, the other day, I was walking down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley when I was stopped by two women, who asked me if I would answer some questions. I had accomplished what I had set out to do (buying envelopes, mailing letters), so I had nothing but time. It turned out (surprise) they wanted to talk about religion. For starters, did I have one? I said, no, can't say I do. I didn't grow up with one (my parents could be crudely classified as loud athiest and quiet athiest), and well, no.

From there, they asked questions, then patiently listened while I rambled on Jesus Christ (like the basic teaching of compassion, seems unlikely that God happened to drop his son in the middle of the desert 2,000 years ago and expect everyone thereafter to follow his teachings), what happens after death (I'll see (or not) when I get there), sin (I want to give a good, conscientious life, can't say I care what an old book says unless I can relate it to my life here and now), and I openly wondered why a God who is purportedly all about humans bothered with millions of other galaxies.

It was actually a lot of fun, because they were listening attentively to my random thoughts which generally don't make it into conversations. It only got annoying when they tried to tell me their ideas (obey God's rules, go to heaven, otherwise, hell), because really I, like most people who want to talk about religion, was happy to talk, but didn't really care what they had to say. I was pretty sure they were wrong, and they, ultimately, felt the same about me.

And, that, as far as I can tell, is the problem with the religious discourse in America. It's all about declaring that I know what's up, and whoever disagrees is wrong. Yes, I speak in broad strokes, but when was the last time you had a conversation about religion that had the words "maybe" and "probably?"

I actually wouldn't care about this phenomenon so much if it was only in the realm of religion, but it's everywhere. Hands up, who has a strong opinion on whether taxes should go up or down? How about climate change? Cutting defense spending?  And how much do we know about these things? I'm not an economist, climatologist or foreign policy whiz. Ceding the discussion to the "enlightened experts" has its dangers, but so does drowning them out.

"You don't have to make it so complicated, said one of the proselytizers I spoke to, the Bible makes it very simple."

The response that went through my head was, "anything is simple when you stop asking questions." Instead of saying that, I just nodded. I wasn't going to convince them of anything, any more than they were of me.

The next day, I happened to come across this hilariously unwatchable video:

Spoiler alert: it is not a joke, just a creepy Orwellian nightmare. It made me realize what was ultimately dissatisfying about what the religious ladies of Telegraph Ave were offering: everyone's got answers, what I want are good questions.

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