Without even looking up from his computer, Max knew it was church people. They came around trying to sell him a religion now and again. No one sold aluminum siding, encyclopedias, or ice cream door-to-door anymore. Evangelic proselytizers were the last bastion of door-to-door salesmanship. The sect varied; the approach did not. They were the only ones who ever disturbed his peace. Well, the only ones who didn’t use the phone.
He went to the door. It was a zaftig woman and a clean-cut young man–both dressed in funeral-like attire.
“Hello!” the pair said with practiced exuberance.
“Hello,” Max parroted with a decided lack of exuberance. Then he added, “May I help you?”
Max didn’t feel like being helpful, but there was the off-chance that it was a couple of his neighbors who were just looking to borrow a cup of sugar so they could bake cookies for whatever wake they were attending. If so, he’d help them out, but as far as he knew such a request hadn’t happened since 1955. Then he saw their name tags, and not the paper kind. These were black plastic bordered in gold with white letters.
“We’d like to talk to ya ‘bout the Bible,” the woman said.
“Unless it’s the racy bits, I don’t think you’ll hold my interest,” Max said.
“Have you ‘cepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” the woman asked. The young man was silent, apparently just there in case the woman knocked on the door of a Jeffery Dahmer-type.
Max was distracted by the words “personal lord”, and how odd the phrase seemed. Can I get my Messiah in Mocha with a burgundy robe?
After an awkward pause, he said, “No, I’m an atheologist.”
They gave a coordinated grimace as if he’d dropped a deuce at their feet. “You’re an atheist?”
“No. I said atheologist. An atheist is one who does not believe in God. I believe in God. I just don’t believe in religion.”
“You cain’t have Gawd without religion.” The woman said.
“I beg to differ.”
“How’d ya know Gawd, elsewise?” The woman continued.
Max swept his hand outward in a gesture meant to draw the pair’s attention to the flowering dogwood in his front yard and the sky beyond. Their forehead creases indicated that they were both perplexed. The meaning of his gesture was lost on them.
“You cain’t know Gawd without religion,” the woman repeated, as if Max just hadn’t heard her the first time and if she said it more emphatically he would get it.
“You can repeat a gratuitous assertion ad infinitum, and it will remain an assertion,” Max said.
Neither evangelist gave any indication that they understood what Max was saying.
He sighed, stepped out onto the porch with them, and said, “Look. First, let’s ask what God gives us.” He leaned out under the eaves to look at an azure sky feathered by white wisps of cirrus clouds. This time they followed his gesturing arm and looked out with him at the bounty of nature. “Now, let’s consider what religion offers us. May I?” He said as he reached for the thin little magazine that they had prepared to leave with him.
Max was taking a risk. He couldn’t know exactly what it the magazine would contain, but he’d seen enough of them to make an educated guess. There it was, right on the cover. He didn’t even have to flip through in search of it. The cover artwork was a dark sketch of a treeless city with brooding clouds drifting at the tops of buildings. The buildings were in ruins, and there were human-shaped lumps on the ground –meant to be either corpses or homeless people. It was a story about the fall of man or the coming apocalypse or some doom upon whose cusp humanity sits.
“Here we have it. Religion doesn’t show us beauty. It wants me to be afraid. It wants to scare me. It wants carnage and chaos to be my lodestar. It shows me horrors so that it can be my life-preserver. It wants to be my life-preserver so that I’ll substitute its will and wisdom for my own. It wants me to believe its leaders are infallible so that I’ll feel good about giving up control. It wants me to behave as its people behave. Most insidiously, it wants me to hate the people who it hates… This is why I don’t believe in religion. Thank you for your time,” Max said as he handed the Doomsday Gazette back to the woman and walked back into his house, leaving the two slack-jawed proselytizers in his wake.