Blasphemy! Yep, that’s what I’m guilty of, if you believe “Santa”, one of several people who wrote about a story in the 23 April 2000 issue. Here’s the story:
I See the Light!
The British Tomato Growers’ Association encouraged its members to try using feng shui, an ancient Chinese practice to create harmonious environments by channeling energy flows, to increase the yields of their gardens. That didn’t sit well with two employees at Arreton Valley Nurseries on the Isle of Wight. “It put me in conflict with my faith,” complains Martin Kelly, who quit the nursery and took his son Paul with him. “I’m not working for a farm that openly claims it relies on a power other than God.” (Reuters) …You mean like the sun?
Yep, I’m going straight to hell for that.
Sandra in Washington (again a raver in Washington? What is it about that state?!) was the first to complain, writing
“I am sorry that I will no longer have this article e-delivered to me anymore. I have just received my first one, and upon reading it; it pokes fun at people with faith in God. I am going to have to inform my friends.”
Oh dear. I made fun of people with faith in God? Of the hundreds of pastors who get True, you know how many complained? Right: none. I mentioned to her that True‘s Official Pastor didn’t object to the story; she immediately retorted that “well it doesn’t hold much ground with me, for all I know it could be Joe down in the basement.” So yes, her immediate Christian assumption is: I’m a liar. For the record, I do have an Official Consulting Pastor, the Rev. Rus Jeffrey, senior pastor of a church in Rochester, New York. (For the other side of the record, I don’t pass stories by him first — he gets his copy of True when you do — but he has agreed to let me know immediately if I ever “step over the line.” And he never has.)
Once this silliness hit my web site, I heard from several ministers who liked the story. My conclusion, then, is of course I didn’t “poke fun at people with faith in God.”
But even she didn’t say I was going to hell. That was “Santa”, who wrote,
“And just who do you think made the sun? I’m not the only one on your THIS IS TRUE list that believes in God. In any event, you should not write blasphemous things when sending out your e-mails. The [story] is grossly irreverent toward what is held to be sacred and there was absolutely no good reason for you to write it in the first place.”
(Sure there is: it’s a lovely smile toward people doing silly things, just like thousands of readers are smiling, and shaking their heads, over you, Santa.) But Santa’s not done:
“God… forgives you, I’m sure. You just know any better [sic*]. Get back to me some time after you’ve had a near-death experience and let me know then whether or not you believe in God.”
Ah, the old, arrogant, “there are no atheists in foxholes” rant — which also presumes what my beliefs are (or aren’t). But I digress; back to Santa:
“God is watching you — I don’t have to.”
Gee, thought it was Santa Claus who is watching me, making sure I’m good! Anyway, like an idiot, I thought Santa might be moved that True‘s Official Pastor not only didn’t object to the story, but told me he “laughed out loud” when he read it. Not a chance:
“Please have your ‘Senior Methodist Pastor’ e-mail me personally on what he said to you.”
(See? There’s that “immediate Christian assumption” again: I must be lying!)
And you know what? Rus did just that: he confirmed that he loved the story. So Santa sneered,
“Dear Rev. Rus, (yea, sure — and I’m Santa Claus), you have to admit is that a grave sin was committed against the First Commandment by inferring that the sun is a god. [HUH? -rc] If you do not know it, you need to go back to the seminary and study some more theology. Why would anyone believe what Randy says when he can so freely can commit a grave sin against God. Just because Randy is a friend of yours, is no reason to side with him and damn your own soul into the pits of hell, which is where you are heading. Jesus is God. And finally to answer Randy’s question ‘did it ever occur to you — you who insist that God made EVERYTHING — that God made feng shui, too?’ Yes, Randy, I did think of that, but feng shui is not God and neither is the sun.”
Uh huh. That clears that up. (If you wonder why I keep calling this raver “Santa”, it’s because that’s her screen name. When I asked her why she hides behind a screen name and won’t sign her name to her opinions, as I do, she refused to answer, but did tell Rus she’s a woman. Of course, I’m sure it’s just some sort of cosmic coincidence that “Santa” is an anagram of “Satan”.)
The funny part of this is the timing: Rus happened to be at my house when this unfolded, because he is indeed in seminary (he already has a Masters in Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky) — his congregation thinks so much of him, they are paying for him to attend the Wagner Leadership Institute in Colorado Springs to get his Doctorate in Ministry. Each semester, when he flies in for classes, I put him up for a couple of days to decompress, get used to the time change, and be rested up so he can focus in class Monday morning. (Gee, “Santa”: have you ever put your pastor up for the weekend?) When he’s here, Rus and I often talk about how some people hide behind selected Biblical passages to condemn, yell, scream, curse, and damn others to hell — thereby driving millions of people away from churches — rather than treat others with the respect that the Bible demands. So it’s ironic to consider Santa’s final question of Rus, after Rus confirmed that he indeed is a minister, and indeed enjoyed the feng shui story: Santa said a “human being should not being saying such things to others, especially a ‘Senior Methodist Pastor’ from THIS is TRUE. That definitely was not very Christian of you!! Was it???” Look in the mirror, Santa, and ask that question again.
I can smile at the foibles of politicians, criminals, school officials, landlords, cops, military officers, students, bus drivers, athletes, farmers, animals, royalty, conservatives, liberals, and everyone else but Christians, because if I dare suggest that they are human too, a few crybabies will stamp their feet and shake their Bibles at me, sputtering with quivering, anonymous voices that I’m going to hell.
What a sad example of Christianity indeed. To be sure, in the grand scheme of things complaints from just a few people now and then are not a big deal; what gets me is that they’re not a thoughtful “I disagree with you, and here’s why,” but rather “our merciful God is going to condemn you to suffer in hell for eternity because you do not believe the exact same way that I do.” Santa is of course right about one thing: a lot of my readers do believe in God. Luckily, most use their beliefs to enhance their own lives, rather than use them as a weapon to try to condemn or control others. Feng shui is not “God”, nor is it a religion (and no one — except maybe “Santa” — ever argued it was); it’s an ancient practice of assuring that the “energy” in spaces flows harmoniously through the environment. It is sad indeed to see that some Christians cannot stand the concept of harmony. Luckily, most people who believe in God also believe that He has a sense of humor, and know their personal beliefs are not the only way to think.
*(I normally don’t “sic” reader letters anymore, but add it if I think it’s necessary to make clear that I didn’t change certain direct quotes.)
A few other letters on the story….
Tom, somewhere in the South:
I generally love the entire “This Is True” mailing. However, I was disappointed to see you take a cheap shot at people of faith this week. A frequent accusation against christians in chat is that we try to impose our faith on others. Some believe this so deeply that they fear a theocracy in the US if candidates supported by some groups are elected. (In fact, most of the noise comes from cults that take the forms but not the substance of christianity, but that’s difficult for outsiders to see.) In the case you cited, the individuals are dealing not just with words, but with having the actual forms of another faith imposed on their work place. Why is their reaction worthy of scorn?
There was no “shot” at people of faith, Tom, and you are so afraid of anything that might be contrary to your narrow view of the world that you just assume that feng shui is “the actual form of another faith” and run away afraid for your eternal soul, rather than even begin to understand that it has nothing to do with religion. That is precisely why the story subjects’ over-the-top reaction is “worthy of scorn”. But even so, I didn’t heap “scorn” on them, I rolled my eyes over them. Why could you not smile with me, and simply move on to the next story?
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Letters in Reaction to Santa, Sandra, et al., have, of course, been streaming in — to be sure, the “anti” letters above were a very small minority (more on that at the end). Here are just a few of the most entertaining:
Oh how I love your e-mail, it always brings a side-splitting chuckle to my life! If not from the excellent columns, then from the response from the weirdos. What is it about some people that causes them to judge something entirely by fear that they are being poked fun at? Why can they not laugh at themselves? Why are they so thin-skinned that people can see them for only one thing — whiners? Oh well, can’t please everyone, and I hope you never try to. –Alex in Wisconsin
I’ve wandered to and from Christianity throughout my life… the from because of closeminded thinking and selective scripture-thumping, the to for the message of all accepting love and forgiveness of *everyone*. I don’t know if ‘Christians’ such as Santa are the majority or not, but I certainly know plenty of Christians who are embarrassed (myself included!) by her lot. We have danger of losing our hold on reality if we take anything, including religion, too seriously. Please, keep up your fabulous work, and keep me laughing (and crying sometimes, with HeroicStories) every week. –Denise in Hawaii
I am a born-again Christian, I attend church, and I try to live by the tenets of a moral life as God defined for me in the Bible. I wanted to stand up for the majority of Christians who *do* have a sense of humor and *won’t* condemn people to hell because they disagree with them, or because another person is “living in sin”. Jesus came to save, not to condemn. Although I can’t save, I can lead people to the Savior if they want. But I would never condemn. I’ve talked to people here and there (the fringe types) who have told me they’re surprised by my “liberal” reaction to their lifestyles. They know I don’t agree with certain moral or lifestyle choices they’ve made, but they seem surprised that I would even be near them, let alone not beat them to death with a Bible. Thank you for keeping your conversation with this woman in an arena of logic and wit. Obviously, she is only able to live in the arena of condemnation, anger, frustration, and knee-jerk reactionism. I’m sorry for her and I pray God will change her attitude. Because she does present a terrible image of a Christian. –Aaron in Washington (There are sane voices in Washington! -rc)
And, to be sure, I agree with you: most Christians are pretty cool people, and it distresses me when people think I’m “anti-Christian” when I point out just how stupid some Christians can be. They don’t call me “anti-white” when I point out how stupid white people can be, or “anti-cop” when a police officer in a story does something stupid. I’m not sure why some Christians are so very touchy, but I’m glad that “Santa” represents such a small minority of my readers.
John in North Carolina:
People of faith need a sene of humor too. Being a person of faith AND possessing a sense of humor is not mutually exclusive. I happen to think your “Peeved” and your “sun” commentaries were hilarious. I happen to be a member of the largest order in the Roman Catholic faith (The Franciscans). I say don’t let it get to you. Illigitmi non carborundum! (Don’t let the bastards wear you down.) I have no doubt in my mind that Christ would have, and probably, did laugh at a LOT of things. St. Francis of Assisi was documented as having been quite joyful and having a sense of humor.
Of course! Without laughter, where is the joy in life? We have a choice, too: laugh at ourselves, or laugh at others. Both are fun, but the former is more fun!
I just have to tell you that I really don’t need to see either the long or short version of idiotic conversations with idiots, e.g., ‘Santa’. It’s your decision whether or not to pursue such correspondence. But what’s the point of publishing the whole thing? To let your readers know there are crazy people out there? That’s not really news. To let people know someone got your goat? –Christine in Colorado
No: to entertain my readers! It happens every time there’s a “controversy” — thousands of people go to the page on my site when I announce it to read the letters and my answers to them, and hundreds write to say how amused they are by it all. That’s what True is in the first place: entertainment, and I enjoy showing the entertainment I get from the thought processes — or lack thereof — of some of my readers. The “idiots” are far from “getting my goat”. They are, indeed, proving that there is no shortage of ignorance and stupidity in the world, and that my job is safe for many, many years to come. (Not to mention that I’ll have an audience, since the reaction shows the intelligence and erudition of my readers!)