But there are those who knock on the stoop year round, most particularly salespeople and religious proselytizers. I don’t have sympathy for the sellers of goods I don’t want. They’re lucky if I pretend not to be home while shouting at the dog to prove I am. If we must interact, I snarl at them whether they have invaded the privacy of my home or the privacy of my phone.
But the promulgators of God? To them, I’m nice.
If you know me, you’d expect the opposite. My grandfather once asked, “Are you agnostic or antagonistic?”
But when the Jehovah’s Witnesses or members of the Church of Latter Day Saints come to my door, I open it with a smile.
The first is simple. Viewed up close, both groups suffer from stereotyping, most keenly the unreasonable assumption that the only thing they ever want to discuss is God and that they will only befriend those who share their beliefs. Horseshit. I have friends who belong to both churches. I went to a Latter Day Saints Halloween party this week, and nobody said “God,” “Jesus,” “Joseph Smith,” or “Why in the hell is your son dressed as Wonder Woman?”. Please believe me. There are a couple of Bible Baptists back home (one of whom conducted my sister’s burial service) who spend far more time trying to convert people than anybody I know who might have traveled house to house with a tract. (And Sam’s Halloween costume has gotten praise from all political and religious corners, for the record).
Besides, Jehovah’s Witnesses contributed hugely to the freedom of religion in the United States. If not for the bravery of the Gobitis and Barnette children in the 1940’s, I might have to stand for mandatory pledge salutes today. To them, saluting a flag was a form of idolatry. Because they endured outrageous hazing for refusing to do it, the Supreme Court was forced to reverse itself and permit people to sit the spiel out.
That has saved me a lot of hassle in my life. To me, the words “under God” violate the separation of church and state entirely. (In case you’ve been living under a rock or reside in Canada, where this shit is irrelevant, “Under God” was added to the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. Thank you, Senator Joseph McCarthy and fanatics everywhere.)
The second reason is less concrete. I am kind to the people who come around my neighborhood to say “God’s a Treat” (or something equally cheesy) because I understand that call to proselytize. It’s not a religious compulsion for me, but I exercise it regularly. The ultimate joy for a fiction writer is to draw readers so far into an imaginary world that they want it to be real. I won’t say “believe”, because I’m as agnostic about the “suspension of disbelief” theory as I am about anything. But if I can completely absorb a reader in that way, I’ve accomplished something. I’m not really so different from the ladies and gentlemen handing out copies of The Watchtower.
When they traipse up, I don’t talk long. I don’t want to chat about God, I’m not up for a conversion experience today, and I’m not going to put any missionary in the position of defending the indefensible. (I’m referring to homophobia. Even if I could be persuaded on religious grounds, I wouldn’t join any group that forbade homosexual behavior. For one thing, not all adherents of the faith support that doctrine. For another, I get all high and mighty myself with a gigantic “who the fuck do you think you are?” attitude if I have to deal with anybody who does support that.)
But I thank them. Even if they come at an inopportune time, forcing me to answer the door with Sam in a headlock while clutching the dog’s collar, I thank them. Because by carrying their words, their worlds, from door to door, they have helped expand the freedom of religion to include my freedom from religion.
I don’t have to agree with them to respect them, and living, as I do, in the deep South, that’s something I appreciate more every day. The Amway guy can Am-scray, but the Witnesses are okay. They are among the few strangers who don’t have to say “Trick or Treat” to get me to answer the doorbell.