It’s your party and you can preach if you want to

Dear (name removed),

I thought it was a really cool idea when your new wife decided to throw you a surprise party for your 50th birthday. Dude, I thought that it would be great to see you again after so many years and reminisce about the glory days of boozing and the card games you so loved.

I had no idea that Jesus was going to be the star attraction at the event. To be fair, I don’t suppose you knew either, it being a surprise and all. But I guess you would have had no objections, as I learned that day that you had been busy over the years…. becoming a pastor.

When I walked into the hall with a few other friends and glanced at the tables and people already sitting there, I noticed a few vaguely familiar faces; faces that I’d not seen for many years. With the band at the front warming up or something, it appeared [at that instant] that my Saturday evening was going to be fun and entertaining. I was so looking forward to doing some catching up…

Still standing at the hall entrance, I was looked around, trying to spot the bar or some such facility when you walked in, dressed in a suit; I don’t ever remember seeing you in a suit before. When the cries of “surprise” died down, I reached over to shake your hand; it was good seeing you again after so many years.

Failing to spot the bar, we walked over to an empty table right at the front of the hall and sat down. Having being seated for barely a minute, we were asked to rise for an opening prayer. “No sweat,” I thought, “let’s get the obligatory waste-of-time out of the way.”

The opening prayer was followed by a couple of gospel tunes from the band and then a couple of songs of praise for Jesus. We were still standing. I grimaced through it all; at least the band was good, the singing not too bad. And then came another pastor with another prayer.

We were still standing. It was becoming mildly annoying. I glanced over to my companions, and they appeared to be in the same frame of mind.

Thankfully the pastor asked us to sit down, but the party that had degenerated into a crusade for Jesus, continued. The pastor launched into a sermon about family, occasionally reading passages from the bible. The pastor’s patronising, and patriarchal diatribe about how the father was the boss-dude of the family was starting to turn my mild annoyance into anger.

[During this sermon from Proverbs, I was surprised to learn that god hates six things, but positively abhors or detests a 7th thing, namely, sowing discord among brethren; although the pastor adapted it for his particular use. I guess the next time a see a Christian fundamentalist waving a banner that “God hates fags,” I will ask him or her ” but does God really detest/abhor homosexuals?”]

It was now nearly an hour later.

After that ghastly sermon, a teenager came up to pray and besmirch Jesus some more, in a sort of lilting, but disconcerting tone. That’s when my companions and I decided to leave.

Dude, I really appreciate that your wife cared enough to want you to celebrate a key milestone in your life with friends you had got to know over the years. And I would have been glad to be there, but I should not have had to compete with Jesus for your attention.

For me a party is a party, is a party, preferably with booze – lots of it. Dude, I just have to say it –  proselytizing is a party-killer… for me at least.

I hope you had a good evening and 50th birthday nonetheless. I’m sorry I couldn’t stay to celebrate it with you. Perhaps we’ll get together again, without Jesus this time.

Your secular friend,


Religion can make you happy, and prayer is not infectious after all

Earlier this evening, I came across a discussion about how religion makes people happy too, started by a fellow atheist on a social utility website and it somehow reminded me of an incident that occurred yesterday.

I may have committed a cardinal atheist sin on Sunday – I joined in a prayer circle, holding hands with a policewoman from De Deur Police Station on the left and an HIV-positive kid on the right.

Yeah, that’s right; but I couldn’t help myself as I was caught up in the moment of gratitude and happiness being expressed by a group of AIDS orphans and their adult minders. And in case you think I’m intimating that holding hands with an HIV-positive person or a police officer for that matter, as being an atheist cardinal sin; I’m not. I’m referring to the prayer circle. The prayer meant nothing to me; but it felt good to feel good together with others, who usually don’t have much to feel good about.

And how did I come to be in this strange position? You see, I, together with a few friends, were helping some police officers from the local Police Station feed these abandoned kids at an AIDS orphanage. The police usually find them abandoned and then bring them over to these “safe” houses (or places of safety) where they can get treatment and care, until they are more permanently taken care of by the social welfare system.

While we were standing around in the kitchen, the visiting pastor and the rest of the group spontaneously grabbed hands to form a prayer circle and I was caught in the middle of it. I’m still alive and well (for those who think that it is deadly to hold hands with an HIV-positive person or a police officer for that matter), and the intense prayer hasn’t convinced me to accept Jesus; so no harm done.

One thing though: I did feel a tinge of envy, when I later saw the pastor get behind the wheel of that shiny new Nissan Navarra pick-up truck, with a full house of extras, parked outside…