Friday, September 23, 2005

Close Encounters of the Fundamentalist Kind

I live in a pretty religious place. There's a church on every other corner and four Christian radio stations in my listening area. When we go out on Sunday mornings we practically have the town to ourselves. It's kinda nice.

And yet people here are pretty low key about it. I used to have an office down the hall from the Christian radio studios, and the guys who worked there were the nicest people I've ever met. (I miss those guys.) When we first moved here from California, the locals would ask "Have you found a church yet?" I'd quell the temptation to say something snarky like "Actually, we're devil worshippers, and we're looking to sacrifice a goat. Do you know where I can find one?" Instead I'd mumble "we're still looking." Invariably they invited us to try out their church and come over to their house afterwards for supper. They weren't proselytizing, they were being polite.

So only recently have I had my first encounter with a hellfire-and-damnation fundamentalist, and it happened on email. It was in response to my Gadget Freak column in PC World. I was writing about why Google's video search service sucks hard, because of the method it uses to index videos. Here's what I said:
"Google's beta video search ( indexes clips based on their closed-captioned text. So a search for The Simpsons turns up any clip that mentions "The Simpsons" (many featuring morally righteous types trashing the show on C-SPAN)."
Shortly after the column appeared I got an email from someone who said he'd unsubscribed from the electronic version of Gadget Freak for the following reasons:
"You have lost touch with your mission. You are supposed to report on new gadgets, not search the web for videos. And your (im)morality input is over the top."
OK, fine. He doesn't like me writing about online stuff. But the last line had me flummoxed, so I sent back a response:
"Thanks for writing. Sorry to hear you didn't like the column on online video (actually my editor's idea, not mine). But what in god's name do you mean by 'your (im)morality input is over the top'?"
It turns out 'in god's name' was an apt way to put the question. Here's what I got back in response:
"You had written this: "(many featuring morally righteous types trashing the program on C-SPAN)" which is disrepectful to moral types and to the leaders of our country.

That is why i unsubscribed.

Now in checking the internet i see a completely blasphemous piece:
[note: this piece is titled "The 10 Commandments of PC Security" ]

Please repent and accept Jesus Christ as your Saviour.

Let's meet in heaven :)"

At this point, I'm not sure if he's just having me on. And if he's not, well... normally I'd just back away slowly and let the email string die, because a) these guys are nutjobs, and b) they never give up. But the election last November changed how I think about these things. Being polite to people like this, or just ignoring them, is what gave us George Bush. I decided back then the only way to keep them from taking over completely is to get in their faces and not back down. So I fired back this response:
"Hi, thanks for answering my question.

FYI, "moral" and "morally righteous" aren't equivalents. In fact, they're usually opposites -- especially when it comes to the 'leaders of our country.' Hypocrisy appears to be a prerequisite for the job these days. And if these are the people who end up in heaven, I'll gladly spend eternity in hell."
A day later I got this back in return:
"Yes sir, you are correct about moral and morally righteous not being equivalents. We should be exhorting them to follow the truth no matter what cost to themselves, as the truth will make us free :)

While we should be asking our leaders to reform, i question the propriety of using a computer related piece to poke fun at (my take on it), and show disrespect for our leaders. If you wish to publish an article calling for reform among our leaders in an appropriate venue, i would gladly support you sir :)

Only those who follow Jesus wherever he leads, at no matter what cost to themselves, will be in heaven. Hell will burn up all the wicked, and then the same fire will re-create this earth into a beautiful place where there will never be any more sin or death or pain. I hope we can both be there!!"
Nobody is this good at satire, so I'm figuring this guy is the real deal. But only people who are paying me get to tell me what I can and can't write about, and this guy hasn't coughed up a dime. So I wrote back:

"I'd like to respond to your last note, if I may.

First, my point about "morally righteous types trashing The Simpsons on C-Span" was really about how Google Video search finds stuff you don't want, while not finding what you do want. I was searching for Simpsons episodes, and instead I got video of the Morality Mafia bloviating about the show--precisely what I didn't want. That's because of the way Google Video searches transcripts of shows.

However... I don't believe the first amendment actually says anything about context. For example, it doesn't forbid a columnist in a computer magazine from expressing opinions about politics merely because he writes a column in a computer magazine. Just as it doesn't forbid a fundamentalist preacher from making political comments in a show that's ostensibly about religion, even if he's calling for things that violate God's law -- such as the assassination of another country's leader.

As for showing disrepect for leaders, that's what the first amendment is all about. If it were only legal to show respect for leaders, we wouldn't need a first amendment. Everyone is free to praise the people in power. As it is, I have no respect for this country's leaders. They have done a pitiful job in every measure, spouting pieties while picking our pockets. They don't deserve respect.

Maybe you're right and they'll burn up with all the other wicked folks. Here's hoping it happens real soon."
You'd think maybe that would shut him up, but noooooo.

"The people of the United States of America (of which i'm a proud citizen), will soon be clamoring for religious laws - more specifically - a national day of rest which will be Sunday. God wrote with his finger in stone that we are to keep the 7th day Sabbath, not doing any work on his day (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday). So the lines will be drawn, will we follow God, or follow man?

The leaders will of course bow to the demands of the people, and this world will be plunged into chaos, redeemed only when Jesus comes in the clouds to take his children home.

May we follow God whatever the costs to our personal jobs or lives

PS: I do certainly understand what you write about the 1st amendment, and your freedom to express it. You are very welcome to continue expressing yourself as you see best :) "

Gee, now I have his permission to enjoy my First Amendment rights. Isn't that special? And before long, I'll be forced by law to take Sundays off, thanks to the clamor of the people. Here's what I said in response:
"I think we live in two different countries. Perhaps the country you live in is clamoring for declaring Sunday a "day of rest." (Though isn't it already? Isn't that why most NFL games are on Sundays, because nearly everyone is at home, resting?). The country where I live has people who believe that Saturday is a day of rest (they're called Jews) and some that believe Friday is the day of rest (they're called Muslims).

God may well have written in stone that the 7th day is the sabbath, but there's no real consensus on what day He started Creation. Are you sure it was a Monday? Technically, our calendar starts the week on Sunday, which would mean the Jews got it right.

The 1st Amendment is also partly about freedom of religion. That means people are free to choose their own day of worship, as well as who and what they worship or whether they worship at all. If you were really a proud citizen of the US, and a supporter of the 1st Amendment, you'd agree.

As for living in a country clamoring for more religious laws, I don't think so. Maybe you're confusing the US with Iraq? Many folks over there are clamoring for a fundamentalist state, and at this point it looks like they might get their wish."
So far it's been two days and no response. But I doubt this guy has given up. He has the relentless cheeriness of someone who's certain he's going to Heaven while the rest of us heathens roast for all eternity, and those type don't discourage easily. Then again, maybe God decided He'd heard enough and that my correspondent had earned his Final Reward.

When George Bush talks about his base (at least, the base that makes less than 7 figures a year), this is who he's talking about. These are the people running the country, by proxy, through Monkey Boy.

Maybe the day of judgment arrived and we missed it. Maybe we're already in Hell, and we just haven't realized it yet.


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