Not having fully recovered from a cough-cold combination this past week, I decided to repair at a known coffee shop chain to have some tea before a yoga class. Mint tea has always worked wonders when I am in this state, and I certainly needed to be delivered from my suffering, if only for a brief moment.
Little did I know that my "deliverance" would take an entirely different form. The fact that it comes in the most unexpected fashion serves to only up the incredulity factor.
As circumstance/luck would have it (depending on what you believe), the barista regretfully informed me that they have run out of the particular tea variant I wanted. So I settled for a good old Americano, anything that would keep my throat warm.
Downloaded e-books, ready for devouring? Check.
Cozy seat at a slightly secluded area? Check.
Appropriately cool temperature from an artificial source? Check.
Barely delving into my copy of Sex, Bombs and Burgers - an excellent read, by the way - I was jolted when someone pounded on the table, and exclaimed: "That is why God is our salvation!"
I look up from my reading and see three men seated two tables away from me, with Bibles open, and instantly, I am whisked into a religious sermon I have no wish to be part of.
One of the men is obviously a "convertee", the one being preached to. Reading the body language, it is clear that the "sermoner" thinks of himself as the alpha dog in this scenario: an overbearing position even when seated, forceful voice, showy gestures. The listener was seated in a calmer fashion, head tilted in an inquisitive manner, trying to digest the "sermon".
There goes my quiet time to read and sip my cup of coffee.
"You cannot have any other gods, and any other means of salvation!" bellowed Preacher.
Listener responds: "In my religion...(he utters something a little muffled as he turns to his book of reference)...and we are responsible for that."
"The way is clear!" responds Preacher. And then he looks around the room, eyes ablaze with the fire of his intent to proselytize, looks just for a brief moment at Listener, then addresses the "congregation" (read: the clueless customers of the coffeeshop):
"You, or anyone else (gesturing to all of us) will not be saved by your own merits! You are damned, damned, I tell you! Know Him! Know God! Only He can deliver you from eternal damnation!"
To the credit of Listener, he isn't backing down that easily. But because he is hunched over, speaks with a softer voice, and his back turned away from me, I could barely hear his response.
I immediately get my earphones and turn on my iTunes library, lest I be subjected to more "damnation".
Why is this man using a coffeeshop as his personal pulpit? Is it to "attract" more followers? Basic commandment in interpersonal relationships: Starting off a conversation with "You're wrong, I'm right!" tends to be seen as offensive and an affront. Not to mention rude.
But I gather that all religions have that same stance: A predilection to tell anyone outside their own fold that they cannot be happy/saved/fulfilled unless they follow "their" way. After all, religious leaders fancy themselves as arbiters of absolute morality and therefore have to be thoroughly convinced of their own self-righteousness. And followers are always told that "you will suffer for your faith, you will be ridiculed, maligned and tested!"
The only maligning I saw was from the Preacher telling us of our "uncleanliness", sitting on his moral high horse, content in being judgemental.
Freedom of religion also means the right to be free from religion.
I respect your right to have your own faith, wear whatever religious iconography you deem makes you feel "closer" to your chosen deity, say your own prayers, read your own religious books. You can conduct a seance or dance naked in your garden, I don't really care.
Why do people like Preacher have such a hard time returning that same courtesy?
I went to a coffeeshop to have my caffeine buzz, to read and to be relaxed. I did not go there to have someone make ill pronouncements on my character or the state of my being in an afterlife scenario. I have made my disdain for organized religion abundantly clear. I loathe anyone exhibiting intolerance - which I cannot tolerate at any level.
It is not a personal attack on you if someone doesn't subcribe to your faith. It merely means I am living my own life, on my terms. Deal with it.
And as for the third person in that hallowed table? It was an acolyte of Preacher, who kept nodding at every pronouncement made or every text read. Someone whose purpose was merely to say "Yes" at every turn.
It's your choice to turn off your mind.