ON THE AVENUES: On a wig and a prayer, or where’s the infidel gardening column?


ON THE AVENUES: On a wig and a prayer, or where’s the infidel gardening column?

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

Lately I’ve been giving the News and Tribune a hard time about the newspaper’s recent doubling of column slots for religious advocacy, from one to two – or, approximately two times as many as needed.

What about an “equal time for pagans” weekly bell ringer, or even better, the long overdue humanist food column, as suggested by the estimable Goliath?

Guys, I’m tanned, rested and ready — and unlike Nancy Kennedy, I actually reside here.

Each week, I’d begin by refuting a theist’s fallacy, end by laughing at an effigy of Ken Ham, and fill space with tips on how to make the perfect Reuben sandwich out of leftover Tex-Mex.

But no. Instead, we get the same dreary inspirational tracts. In the customary absence of newspaper management participation on Twitter in any substantive give and take, one of the reporters offered this:

A large portion of our readers are Christian. If you have specific questions or complaints, I would advise you contact our editors via email.

(Arms folded … me, complain?)

In terms of catering content to pre-existing conditions, probably a large portion of newspaper readers use their kitchen microwaves far more often than a Lynx Sedona 42-Inch Built-In Natural Gas Grill With One Infrared ProSear Burner And Rotisserie L700PSR, now only $3,399 at BBQGuys.com … and yet, there’s a regular barbecuing column, isn’t there?

Besides, why can’t we have the column conversation in public? You know, the new give-and-take, not the old five-and-dime. Amid the secrecy, it’s just frustrating imagining what might be possible with just a dollop of creativity.

Bill Hanson seems intent on transforming his fading newspaper into a vehicle for Christian proselytizing, while I enjoy rebutting proselytizers even as I remind them to #getoffmyporch, using a lighted cigar for emphasis.

You’d think Bill and I could develop a nice Saintly Christian versus Ghastly Atheist shtick, but alas, the publisher’s sense of humor simply doesn’t approach that of Rollen Stewart’s – at least before the voices in Stewart’s head began outnumbering the ones cascading from the heavenly firmament.

“God wants me to block your view of this play.”

Older readers may recall Stewart’s brief, shining career of athletic venue-style religious advocacy. For a decade or more, you couldn’t watch a major sporting event on your rabbit-eared, non-digital television set without seeing the man with the crazy rainbow Afro, always seated somewhere near the middle of the most prominent camera angle (behind home plate, under the basket, in the end zone), always holding a sign touting John 3:16.

For the blessedly uninitiated, this name and number refer to a Bible verse that provides a handily terse defense of Christian doctrine, one designed to encourage all of us to sign on the dotted line and begin Osteen Vision Level tithing.

But the Afro was a mere wig, and Stewart himself proved to be even more of a nut job than most lucre-vangelists. In due time, his fanatical religious fervor regressed to the point of stink bomb attacks on the ungodly, and in 1992 – presumably in celebration of one or the other impending raptures – he was ingloriously arrested after an attempted kidnapping.

Because of this and other less-than-holy offenses, Stewart currently resides in prison, perhaps in California, but more likely on Fantasy Island. As one wag observed, “Jesus saves, but he can’t get Rollen Stewart out of jail.”

Just for old times’ sake, I’m considering an official Rollen Stewart model rainbow Afro for the next city council meeting, along with a placard espousing a random passage selected from the wit and wisdom of Robert’s Rules of Order. I’m serenely confident that the increasingly pious (or is it porous?) Dan Coffey won’t recognize what he’s never so much as once risked reading.

Except the third floor lacks television cameras.

If the meetings were filmed and Coffey’s antics disseminated to the world at large, at least Rollen Stewart’s religious dysfunction would be supplanted by the equally frustrating political variety celebrated within the friendly confines of the Open Air Museum of Ignorance, Superstition and Backwardness.

Meanwhile, for atheists like me, the calendar pages may turn, but the conversation rarely changes.

It still surprises me when my theistic friends respond with annoyance whenever an atheist has the unmitigated gall to come out of the closet and seek equality in discourse. That’s just a bit hypocritical, isn’t it?

Think of every religious adherent who has ever come knocking at your door while you’re busy eating, drinking, sleeping or fornicating in the privacy of our home.

Think of the transformational zeal of generations of ravenous Christians, traveling overseas for the sanctified purpose of subduing decadent native cultures, and conveniently spreading Western diseases even as they blamed the dying natives for falling sick, and urged them to immediately find God as the cure.

Think of how so much of the history of organized western religion is one of evangelical outreach, and by its very nature, how evangelism is invasive and intrusive with regard to the physical and intellectual space of non-believers.

Not only that, but in the ever widening search for market share, evangelists from one sect freely target those who ascribe to differing versions of ostensibly the same supernatural. You’d think that believing in any God would do, and yet it’s never enough for them.

Either way, if an atheist dares to attempt an explanation of why he or she doesn’t believe in any of it, out comes the fear-mongering rhetoric – and sometimes worse.

Granted, in some senses I spent many years evangelizing for good beer. If my pal Fred in Michigan hadn’t already taken the name, I’d probably call myself a beervangelist, though whether non-believer or beervangelist, it isn’t like I’ve ever gone door to door creating a public nuisance.

Not once have I posted myself at the entrance of a Christian church on Sunday morning in protest the worship therein, or flashed a team pennant at a devout John 3:16-er.

Never have I sneaked up into the cathedral balcony and menacingly waved my portrait of Bertrand Russell at the minister, demanding that he repent from sin — or whatever Nancy Kennedy and Tom May insist on calling it.

That’s why, in the final reckoning, it would be somewhat hard to write an “atheism column,” because atheists offer no positive claims with respect to knowledge derived from outside the realm of human experience and perception. We’ve got nothing to sell, and that’s the whole point.

In the absence of verifiable evidence, atheism is a negation. It is the theist who is obliged to prove that God exists – not the other way around.

Perhaps it’s true that some atheists go a step further and proselytize in the manner of the religionist, but the percentage surely is small.

During the past two thousand years, far more people have been asked to convert to religion at the point of a bayonet, routinely dying as a result of their refusal, than have been forcibly “converted” to atheism.

In my experience, atheists generally just want to be left alone, and prefer that religious belief remain a matter of private conscience and not a public policy lever.

They respect a separation of church and state precisely because history makes it abundantly clear against whom this public policy stick is wielded, generally resulting in a sad continuation of war, violence and strife accompanying organized religion throughout human history.

It’s too bad, albeit perfectly in keeping with past practices, that Hanson isn’t interested in his readers hearing another side of the story. It’s a shame he doesn’t grasp the interests of the smaller portion whose viewpoints differ. Have the portions even been counted?

These readers pay, right? If so, shouldn’t their needs be considered?

In closing, here’s the gospel truth: that $30 George Foreman Grill in our kitchen does a damned fine job, and the $3,369 we saved is more than enough to enjoy a nice, humanistic European holiday.

(Portions of this column were previously published in 2009 and 2012)

Recent columns:

August 26: ON THE AVENUES SATURDAY SPECIAL: One-ways on the way out, because with downtown at a crossroads, they simply had to be exterminated.

August 24: ON THE AVENUES: PourGate (the Great Beer Pour War of 2013) and Dr. Tom’s prescription: “Kneel and Kiss My Ring, You Degraded Alcoholic.”

August 17: ON THE AVENUES: Love in the time of choleric Coffey, though it’s nice of Deaf Gahan to support the K of C’s political agenda.

August 10: ON THE AVENUES: Super Tuesday shrapnel – or, tiptoeing through the tulips with Dan Coffey, now THE face of historic preservation in New Albany.

August 3: ON THE AVENUES: On the importance of being ancient.