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A Trip To The Bank

By Malcom Lagauche (Jeff Archer)
February 27-28, 2004

While growing up in New England, I had little experience or public exposure to religion. The only problem was with the obligatory morning prayer in school. The Protestant prayer and the Catholic prayer differed. Because the overwhelming majority of students and teachers were Roman Catholic, the few students who went on with an extra line after the Catholics were given dirty looks by their peers and instructors. I did not know any prayer, but in first grade, I memorized the daily ritual so I could go along with my comrades. I used the Protestant version. I had no religion, but I thought if I did not say a prayer, I would be thrown out of school. This all ended in my junior year in high school when, one morning, the home room teacher made the announcement that there would be no further praying at the beginning of the school day. Little did I know that the Supreme Court had righted an injustice. Virtually all my classmates were relieved because they were uncomfortable saying a daily prayer, even though some professed a religion.

I moved to Europe in 1975 and, during eight years there, I only was asked about religion once. The treasurer of the baseball club I managed in Holland asked me, "What religion are you?" I said, "I am an atheist." He then said, "Well, I'm a Catholic." I was curious why he asked, but he did not do so in a provocative manner. He must have taken his religion seriously because he had 12 kids.

Times change and, after I returned to the U.S. in 1983, I noticed that the public had become more pious. However, most people kept it to themselves.

With the appointment of Bush as president, the rules have been re-written. Religion is all around us in government. As I predicted a couple of months ago, a main issue for the upcoming campaign will be the validity of same-sex marriages. A couple of years ago, the country was torn apart by the ruling that the words "under God" were unconstitutional. All this furor over religious issues while we suffer a government that is the most devastating and devious in the history of this country.

Let's look at current statistics of the religiosity of the American public. According to a 2003 Gallup poll, six out of 10 Americans state that religion is "very important" in their lives. In Canada, a society similar to that of the U.S., only 28% make this claim, while in England, the percentage is 17.

An ABC poll conducted this month found that approximately 60% of Americans believe that the Genesis creation account, Noah's Ark and a global flood, and Moses' parting of the Red Sea are literally true.

There have been many conclusions in recent polls and one may say, "So what? Many Americans are religious." However, one finding is dangerous for those of us who do not believe. In January of this year, according to an ICM poll, 82% of the American public think "belief in a God/higher power makes you a better human being." This thought process is not only dangerous because people who know nothing about an atheist immediately consider the non-believer to be lower than a believer in status, but it can create many uncomfortable instances for the non-believer.

In the past three years, I have been confronted on numerous occasions about my atheism and have had all sorts of theories thrown at me by believers. Most want to "save" me.

I will discuss a few instances that create frustration for non-believers in scenarios where religion should not be a part of the discussion.

A couple of years ago, an Australian friend visited me and gave me a T-shirt as a gift. On it was the words "Hard Croc Café," in a design similar to that of the popular "Hard Rock Café." The shirt was designed by a restaurant in Darwin, Australia and the word "Darwin" was at the bottom.

A few days after I received the shirt, I wore it. That morning, I went to my bank to make a deposit. The teller then said, "I like your shirt. I thought it was something else at first." I responded, "Oh, you thought it was the Hard `Rock' Café." She countered, "No, I saw the word `Darwin' and thought it was about that evolution junk." I was taken aback and before I could say anything, she continued, "You don't believe in that junk, do you?" I told her that I indeed believed in science and evolution and that she was out of hand even talking to me about this and that she should not discuss these items with customers whom she does not know. Then, I told her that I was the president of the Atheist Coalition of San Diego and her words were inappropriate. She just gave me a curious look and then gave me my receipt. No apology. No saying she made a mistake in judgement.

The following week, I went to another branch of the same bank. When I made my deposit and the clerk gave me my receipt, she said, "Have a blessed day." I thought my hearing was playing tricks and I said, "Please repeat that." She smiled and said, "Have a blessed day." I told he she had just insulted me and asked to see the manager. When I told her what happened, she looked at me and walked away. My voice became louder as I asked her to return and she said she saw no reason for me to be upset.

The following day, I spoke to the president of the bank. He was aghast that such actions were taken by his employees. He then sent an e-mail message to all the bank's workers and mentioned my experiences and told them never to talk religion or to make religious statements to the public. He sent me a letter of apology.

I have had believers ask me, "What was the big deal? Why didn't you just let it slide?" Then, I asked if they would "let it slide" if a bank teller said, "Have a white day" to a black person," or if a teller asked, without solicitation, "You don't believe in that Christian junk, do you?"

Since then, I have been told I have no morals by a Congressional aspirant on FOX TV because I do not believe in God. He also came close to calling me a traitor against the U.S. because I agreed with the court decision to take out the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Just last week, on a radio debate, one Christian activist told me that I would be going to hell because of my non-belief, and a 19-year-old follower of his told me I had no morals because I did not use the Bible to live by.

And, yesterday, my gardener, an amiable and competent man, tried to explain to me that the Earth is between 6,000 and 7,000 years old. I listened and tried not to laugh at his conclusions. When I asked, "Well, are the thousands of scientists worldwide who discuss and research astronomy, physics and chemistry all wrong?" he, without hesitation said, "Yes."

For the past few years, believers have not been shy in discussing religion at any time. They seem to care little about whether one wants to listen or not. After all, they are always right. Just ask them.

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