#052–How do you deal with “preaching” strangers in public when you’re not religious?

Or, if you hate being preached at, how do you deal if you ARE religious?

This is something that’s cropped up quite a bit, and I’d be surprised if the next one actually looked like Dana Carvey’s Church Lady. At least an elderly lady wouldn’t creep me out so much.

I’ve had a handful of encounters with women I’ve come to call the “busybody church ladies.” The last one was a few days ago and I couldn’t get over it, because they all were about the same. I hate to stereotype, but they had this weird tendency to give the same vibe. This last one was just more blatant than others.

On this day, it was a client I’d never seen before and had to help with a background check application. She had that look I’ve rarely seen except with these busybody church ladies. One might call it a quiet serenity, but I think I’ve seen plastic surgery addicts that had more facial expressions. I guess that’s why I call it the “plastic smile,” one you put on your face that’s meant to look real to everyone but is just off, perhaps because there’s nothing to constantly smile about unless your facial muscles just don’t move that way.

She also asked about what we do at the center besides background applications. I told her about test proctoring, SAT prep, tutoring, communicating with public schools, things like that. She said she home-schooled her kids and thought that was the most important thing she could do. Okay, some prefer it, some don’t, and I wasn’t gonna make a fuss–I had other clients waiting, after all, and wasn’t about to try and convert anyone to using our tutorial services…not her, anyway.

She also said it in this serene yet unemotional tone that made me think of The Stepford Wives for a moment.

OMG, that WAS the smile I saw…just smaller eyes and straighter hair. And the smile never stopped…wow.

Even after that plastic smile, her one-word quiet responses (okay, so I’m not the best comedian after a long morning), the homeschool thing, the Stepford thing… I shouldn’t have been taken aback by what came next.

Out of the blue, she’s about to leave and asks me if I believe Jesus Christ is the son of God.

I don’t remember what I said, but I was probably vague as hell, clipped short to get her out the door, like “dunno, still thinking about it” while looking at the clipboard and trying to get the next client in the door ASAP.

I don’t remember her responses either, but she probably¬†said a short prayer over me to find the light or something and then walked out.

I had 3 people in the waiting room looking at us. I barely noticed them. I barely noticed her leave. I focused on the names on the clipboard as best I could.

All I could think was “What the hell was that?”

Seriously, what did I say to make her ask me that? Did she see some book I had in my bag that made her wonder about me? I’m pretty sure I didn’t have any of the philosophy stuff lying around recently. Did I make a dumb comment that made her think I was going to hell? I doubt it–applications don’t give much fodder in their wording for eternal damnation-worthy jokes, anyway.

I was just floored. Too weirded out to be offended, really.

Too annoyed to be absolutely pleasant and lie.

Too bad a liar (and too fond of my job) to reply with a plastic smile of my own, beaming at her in fake joy over the Lord’s grace in my life…or whatever.

What was she expecting me to say? And why the hell would she?

Why would she ask that? That’s a belief, and a personal one at that. Nobody’s business but my own.

That’s what drives me batty about this whole thing. A small part of me nearly snapped like a rubber band and replied. Jury’s still out on whether my response would’ve been “I consider that a private issue and will not respond” or “none of your damn business”.

I felt like either one. I just mumbled and called out the next client as fast as I could. But it bothered the hell out of me. Still does, obviously, if I’m chucking this out to the Ether to get a response.

This has happened probably half a dozen times, and always by complete strangers. Why the hell do some strangers feel they can just go up to you and ask you that question?

Now, if we’d gotten into a discussion about religion, I can see that question coming up and being relevant. But we weren’t. It was simple small talk and a sense of humor during a rather boring application process. That’s it. I said nothing about God, heaven, divinity, anything.

So why do some people ask complete strangers “Do you believe our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God?” What the hell response are they expecting?

Maybe I should start throwing a copy of The Essential Koran or Buddhism for Dummies on the desk just to mess with people if I want to be passive aggressive about it. Or a picture of this guy on my desktop just to blaspheme a bit:

I’m judged often enough by people every day. I don’t need you condemning me to hell on a pretext, busybody church lady.

Hell, sometimes my kiddos in tutoring will ask similar questions and I have a hard enough time telling them they need to respect that religion and politics aren’t up for public discussion because they don’t know who they’ll offend. I’d get the blankest looks from kids who’ve gone to some Christian schools, like they’re totally baffled that not everybody may believe something as obvious as what they believe. I just say it’s practice for being polite and leave it at that. I feel uneasy because a lot of these kiddos are too young to question anything (especially politics) and I’m certain they’re just parroting what their parents have been saying.

I’m sure we all did the same thing growing up til we learned to read and think for ourselves…usually in our late teens somewhere, because we weren’t prepared to in 2nd or 3rd grade.

I might live in the Bible Belt, but I thought the “belief in Jesus” question counted as one of those things under the religion umbrella of non-disclosure in mixed company. Guess I was kidding myself.

So, what response do you or would you give to someone if they asked that question, or one similar to that? What could someone say to make them drop the subject or maybe think twice about asking that question of complete strangers again?

I get that some people are big believers and want to share, but that’s damned personal to ask somebody out of the blue. I can’t lie and pretend I believe (I’ve mentioned that craziness before), and I won’t for the sake of somebody else’s feelings or vindication of them.

This won’t stop nagging at me. I just want to have some good ideas because I feel I’m not far from snapping the next time around. I don’t want the defensive, sarcastic demon to come out and give ammo to how horrible a person I must be if I don’t believe (grumble, grumble).

9 thoughts on “#052–How do you deal with “preaching” strangers in public when you’re not religious?

  1. Suze says:

    when total strangers (and you are right, it is ALWAYS total strangers) ask me if Jesus is my lord and savior, I look at them with an expression of total disbelief and say “now why would you even ask me that?” it shuts them up every single time. My religion, or lack thereof, is between me and God (should I believe in God) that isn’t their business either. Do not be afraid to shut them down. They are trying in an insincere way to make you feel bad. They don’t really give a damn if you know Jesus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheChattyIntrovert says:

      If I was in public I probably would’ve tried that tack (I’ll keep it in mind). When I’m on the job, though, and there are kids and other clients around…that’s the hard part.

      What bugs me is the belief by some people that you can’t possibly be a decent human being unless you’re a Christian. I’ve read a blog from The Closet Atheist talking about her struggles with telling people. She reminded me of that, and it felt like this is what this lady was trying to do. I’m chatty on the job to keep things interesting, so maybe she thought my chattiness was overcompensating for an empty life that needed Jesus in it. Dunno.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. bobcabkings says:

    As best I can tell, not being a believer and having been spared such indoctrination in childhood, they ask that question because it is the most important question in their lives. What’s odd to me in the incident you describe is that she asked it on the way out the door, when there would be no opportunity to stop and take the time to try to “save” you, or at least invite you to her church or Bible study. It is as if she simply could not not ask.

    My answer would have to depend on the context. As a therapist, I did have to deal with clients’ religious beliefs and work with them in their own metaphors while not inserting my own. So, if the question came up (rarely), I could redirect and, if need be, refer to professional ethics of not preaching to them. In more social situations, I will try to change the subject (“Oh, look at that!” sort of thing). If someone is really persistent, I might just have to say, “No.” in a way that should indicate the subject is closed, or try to ignore it. One thing I know is mostly useless is to get into any sort of debate on the subject.

    Many years ago, a friend of mine found a way to deal with the door-to-door missionaries, at least two types. For the Jehovah’s Witnesses he would just open the door and say, “LDS”, and they would go away. He thought it might work well the other way around too. We speculated that starting to talk about LSD would discourage some also.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Casey Elizabeth Dennis says:

    I honestly don’t know what I’d say if I were asked in my work place. Generally I’m a pretty outspoken atheist. I get into religious debates. I respect others beliefs but it’s when they preach, tell me I’m wrong or a bad person, tell me they’re going to “pray for me” in a condescending way, or some other nonsense I start to piss them off by pointing out valid facts & passages on how evil the Bible truly is, deep in it’s core. “It’s how you interpret it”. Nope, it states right here, in exact words…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. PiedType says:

    I’ve never encountered someone like that in public. Fortunately. Because it would tick me off in a hurry. People should keep their religious beliefs to themselves. As a retiree now, I only have to deal with the door-to-door types. Only my upbringing as a lady keeps me from strangling anyone who rings my doorbell despite the eye-level “No Soliciting” sign. For some people, apparently, the sign needs to say “No soliciting, no literature, no proselytizing — GO AWAY, DO NOT DISTURB!” And I betcha there would still be some people ringing the bell.

    Liked by 2 people

    • TheChattyIntrovert says:

      Of course there would. When I get to work in the a.m. to open the place, I’m always pretty early. I have a small hand-written sign I tape up near the door handle telling people when we open for appointments (they kept changing the times, so we never put them up permanently on the glass). I’ll have people go up to the door, look at the sign, see that it’s dark inside, and STILL bang on the glass door or rattle it to make sure it’s locked…sometimes half an hour before opening. People think the rules don’t apply to them in those circumstances. Wish I could rig up a shock charge every time somebody grabs the handle to shake the door–that’d teach ’em!


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