The scene: April 25, 6:00 pm – Walmart on Broadway, Columbia, MO
I entered Walmart to visit the pharmacy on this wonderful spring evening and I could not help but notice an attractive woman, dark hair, about 5’8” plus her heels, wearing a teal colored dress, walking towards the exit. As we passed she said, “Nice shirt.”
I thanked her, to which she replied, “I was being sarcastic.”
I said, “I wasn’t,” smiled and continued on my way.
Six hours earlier…
The University of Missouri is a wonderful and large campus, complete with thousands of students, fancy buildings, expanses of grass and sport fields, labs, classrooms and everything else it needs to be a world-class university. Oh yes, they also have their own golf course and nuclear reactor.
In one corner of the campus sits “The Speaker’s Circle;” a spot open to anyone and everyone who wants to speak their mind regardless of the topic. On this warm and cloudless day, that included an anti-bullying group, women against violence, what seemed to be an impromptu fashion show and a hand full of atheists protesting the Bangladeshi arrest of atheist bloggers who criticized the government and Islam.
This was to be a worldwide protest, circulated on the Internet, The Washington Post provided the background.
The four men — all bloggers — staged a sit-in at a public square demanding a ban on the country’s largest Islamic political party; Islam is the official state religion in Bangladesh.
The four were jailed under an 1860 blasphemy law and could spend up to 10-years in jail.
Pretty heady stuff. I have deep solidarity with the four brave souls. I am a blasphemous, a heretic and an atheist. I am blogger and a journalist – OK, citizen journalist, but I do write for a “big city” newspaper, which counts. Showing up at Speaker’s circle with other atheists to support these four men was a no brainer.
Of course, I was on a college campus, so proper attire was jeans and a black t-shirt declaring that I am a proud member of the Columbia Atheists.
I like this shirt. It relatively new, comfortable and clean, so wearing it the rest of the day was also a no brainer. My afternoon chores were simple, including a trip to Walmart to pick up my meds. I did not think about the shirt.
Columbia, Missouri is a middle of the road small city in the middle of Middle America. It is a bastion of moderate liberalism in a sea of the religious-right, ultra-conservatives and tea party activists. Columbia also has its share of churches, a mosque and a temple, ranging from very liberal to the fundamentalists. From Antioch Baptists to Zionists (including Christian Zionists).
My readers, here and in the Missourian, know I am an atheist, a liberal, and an advocate of First Amendment’s separation of church and state. I have never received an email, note, letter or phone call upset because of my atheist based positions. I had my life threatened once when I wrote in support of the city’s smoking ban. Silly smokers.
OK, back to Walmart and the attractive woman who was being , dare I say, very unchristian. This was my first personal encounter with a stranger who was angered by my faith statement, even if it was written on a t-shirt. I wonder if she has made similar remarks to Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews who wear their religion on their… well, heads in most cases.
Rosman Rule #3 – Never take such remarks personally. She really was not upset with me as a person, a human, fellow traveler on this pea of a planet in the great universe of life. She was upset by her own perception of the statement. I am a Columbia Atheist. At least that was my perception.
Was her imprudent comment caused by her being upset that I was announcing my atheism up front and prominently on my chest? Was it a comment concerning a belief that her religion was superior to all others and atheist represented the “enemy?” Did she see me as a great threat to her personal or community’s well being?
I am afraid I will never know. I decided to continue on my task and she disappeared into the greatness of the Walmart parking lot. The difference, I think, is that I would have welcomed the conversation and, I believe, she would have avoided it at all cost.
Maybe that is the biggest difference between “us” and “them.” Heretics, skeptics, atheists, freethinkers, and alike rather ask questions, seeking answers and conversation than not. Fundamentalists of all faiths and political persuasions just don’t and that makes me very sad.
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