Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Death and Christian Extremists

What is it about death and funerals that brings the arrogant, holier-than-thou Christian fringe out of the woodwork? It's not just the public wackos like Pastor Phelps, but family members as well. I believe these people have a right to their opinions, as bizarre or closed-minded as they may be, but it's when and where they choose to express them that I find so frustrating and disrespectful.

Phelps chooses to air his outrageous views about god, gays, and the military at funerals for U.S. soldiers. He and his followers have absolutely no compassion or respect for the families that these brave men and women have left behind. I don't believe in god, but if god exists and if he/she truly feels the way Phelps says, then he/she is no "God" worthy of respect or worship. I believe that Phelps' views are so extreme that it's fair to say that he is truly "touched" - a rare aberration.

But then there are those that are less extreme, but just as exasperating. There goal is conversion, not punishment. They don't promote a vengeful god bent on punishing us for the so-called "degenerate" lifestyle of gay individuals. They want to convert all of us to Christianity. Not just Christianity, but their particular view of Christianity as observed at their church. I have been approached by such conversion-bent Christians twice in the past few years. Both incidents involved family members and both in conjunction with funerals.

The first was at home after the funeral for my mother-in-law. One of my nephews approached me with a casual enough conversation about death and religion. It soon turned to a discussion of how I was wrong in my views (I'm an atheist) and how I should accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I don't mind discussions of religion with those with an open mind. In fact, I quite enjoy them. However, I didn't think that this was quite the appropriate time for the discussion. Although my nephew was nice enough during the conversation - in fact, we carried it on over several months of phone and email discussions - it was clear that he was not open minded despite his claims to be. His main goal was to convert me. He sent me a book to review, which I did, and said he would review a couple of books that I wanted to send to him. After several months, he has not read the books. Why? Because his goal was not a dialogue between those of different religions, it was to convert me to Christianity.

The second time was just a few weeks ago and was much more insulting and disrespectful. This time I was accosted by my uncle at my mother's (his sister) funeral. It started out with the typical backdoor way of talking about one subject (in this case music) and sliding the conversation over to religion. He has relatively recently become a "born-again" Christian (similar to my nephew) and largely through the influence of his 2nd wife. He started by assuming that my wife and I do not attend church even though he has so little contact he wouldn't know one way or another. In fact, my wife is Catholic, as are our kids, and does regularly attend church. Of course the fact that my wife is Christian was not sufficient. He had several slightly-veiled derogatory comments about Catholicism which he said freely to my wife. Then when he found out that I was an atheist, he was totally shocked that anyone could think that way. I felt that it was inappropriate to have such a discussion in the funeral home and let him know that he did not want to pursue this conversation with me. You would think that a follower of Jesus would have enough compassion to stop the conversation there. But NO!

My uncle proceeded to follow me up to my mother's casket and continue the conversation. After a few more attempts to show me the error of my ways, he then went to start the whole process over with my brother. When I rejoined the group in the back of the funeral home, he started again. I warned him that he was on very dangerous ground with me, but he continued. If not for another nephew, my uncle may have required stitches that night. I was furious. He was totally oblivious to how disrespectful he had been and was so arrogant in his view of the absolute truth of his religious views. He had no regard for anyone else's views. A few days after the funeral, I sent him a get well card and a letter wishing him a swift recovery from the disease of Religious Arrogance from which he was suffering. I haven't heard from him since.

I just don't understand why these individuals choose the times when people are the most stressed to start their crusades. I can only assume that they recognize our vulnerability at that time and are heartless enough to try and capitalize on it. If these people are accurate representatives of Christians, I am even more grateful than ever that I am not one of them.

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