“Do you believe in God?”
He came on the train at Sunshine and sat next to me, the elderly gentleman. He was polite, thanking me for removing my bag from the seat next to me so he could sit. I was just tucking into a meaty dialogue on Holocaust denialism in April’s Standpoint when he asked what I was reading. I flipped to the cover with a caricature of Pope Benedict the Sixteenth and gave the gentleman a brief rundown on the rag: Cultural and political magazine. UK publication. Monthly circulation. Conservative bias. Pithy writing. Pretty pictures.
Just as I was about to elaborate on the various ways the rag edified me, he popped the question.
It was the picture of the Pope that did it, I’m sure. I answered, “No.” He countered, “Why not?” I riposted, “Not enough evidence.” And that must have been the signal he was waiting for. With that brassy remark, I had touched upon his raison d'être and thus given him cause to enlighten me with Biblical and so-called ‘scientific’ evidence that God exists, and that his son Jesus the Christ had died for our (read my) sins so that we may have eternal life. Or at least have an expedient ‘get-out-of-jail’ card to play should we ever transgress against the Almighty.
I listened attentively, silent, aware of that strange mixture of patience and condescension in flux within me. Here was someone who genuinely believed in the words – true, false and every shade in between – coming from his lips. His conviction was palpable. His desire to share the gospel of salvation with me stemmed from an altruistic motive to rescue me from whatever horrible fate was playing out in his mind’s theatre as he vividly described the fiery Hell awaiting the unrepentant, deep in the guts of the earth over which we were clattering at a hundred kilometres per hour.
For a brief moment I considered rebutting his claims with incisive questions meant to expose the flaws in his rhetoric. There was a flash of desire in me to utterly smash this gullible, ignorant, self-righteous Biblical pedant with the intellectual equivalent of a sledgehammer. But that heat dissipated instantly; I realized that I was just as susceptible to gullibility, ignorance, self-righteousness and pedantry as the man next to me. He was as much a product of circumstantial factors and memetic chance as I. There but for the grace of God...
So I smiled at the right times and nodded at the right places as the old man spoke of miracles being performed and ancient prophecies being fulfilled. The train reached our destination and after a cursory farewell with him wishing God’s blessing upon my presumably undeserving wayward self, both he and I disembarked and went our separate ways.
As I opened my front door about 10 minutes later, a female voice called out to me from behind. Turning around, there standing at the head of the path leading to my door were two young ladies; in their twenties, one Asian and petite, the other taller, fuller-figured, dark-skinned, both rather comely. They wore long skirts. And black plastic badges. That had their names engraved in white, along with that of a certain deity whose magnificence I had been proselytized to about not 20 minutes ago.
When it rains, it pours.
“Hi, have you got a moment to talk?”
Now, if I hadn’t known better, I’d have suspected the old man of being in cahoots with these two young women. I’d have fancied myself the target of a conspiracy to save my soul from eternal damnation, and if hoary wisdom delivered by a distinguished elder citizen didn’t cut the mustard, then perhaps the sensual allure of young femininity in fresh bloom would demolish my rational defenses. I imagined the old man on a cellphone to his co-conspirators: “Hawk Two, this is Hawk One. The rabbit has escaped me. I repeat, the rabbit has escaped me. Target should be approaching your position in 15 minutes. Use all necessary force to inflict spiritual salvation. It’s up to you girls now. Hawk One out.”
But this couldn’t have been the case, for the gentleman on the train was from an AOG (Assemblies of God) church in Richmond, while the two ladies introduced themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses from the local Kingdom Hall. Still, like American capitalists allying with Russian communists to fight a common foe in German fascists, perhaps there was a conspiracy here after all. Pentecostals were joining forces with Witnesses to convert the filthy humanist heathen.
I was in a particularly generous mood that day. As with the old man, I refrained from smashing the girls. What good would it do anyway, to pretend that I had even an iota of a chance convincing them of the inconsistencies, contradictions and magical thinking of a belief system that, while claiming divine perfection, bears all too clearly the mark of human fallibility? They were impervious to reasoned argument. And I was going to Hell. Best to leave it at that.
Yet I wonder, surely it is a sick, twisted God who sends pretty girls to win warm-blooded, heterosexual males to a cause that, as far as the sexual sphere of the human condition is concerned, preaches abstinence, praises repression and promotes shame. Or could there be a more mundane explanation? Perhaps after posting record lows for the fifth ‘soul-saving’ quarter in a row, the directors of the international Jehovah’s Witnesses Inc. decided to spice up their recruitment campaign; middle-aged matrons and starchy schoolboys were out, prim yet sweet lasses were in.
Watch out heathens, salvation just got sexier.