I love used book stores. In fact, I love book stores of all kinds. So it was with some sadness and frustration that I walked into a used book store in Chicago yesterday. I was smitten with the retro post cards on offer and loved the variety of books and categories – until, that is, I came to the religion section, where in dusty aisles somewhere in Chicago, I met up with the cause of my sadness and frustration.
There were sections on Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, but none on Christianity.
I forget how, in some circles, it’s ‘popular’ not only to not believe, but to act as if Christianity in fact does not exist.
Next to these stacks was a section entitled ‘theology’. That’s where the Christian stuff was.
Fair enough, you might say.
But it was also the stack where the books on atheism were.
Christianity and atheism (should I capitalize that? I really don’t know) side by side as differing ‘theologies’.
Book store owners should know better: after all, books – the cataloguing and organizing as well as the selling – are their business.
And atheism is not a theology – a ‘word about God’ – it is, if you will, a ‘word about not-God’ – hardly the same thing at all.
I guess I would have put the books on atheism in the adjacent philosophy category.
And isn’t it interesting that of all the faiths represented by the books in that store that Christianity would be present, but not by name?
We are a culture of many experts.
With our freedoms comes the belief that all opinions are equal.
Well, from where I’m standing, they’re not.
I am not, for example, an expert on atheism.
I have some opinions about the non-belief in a deity, but they aren’t particularly well-informed ones. After all, it’s a view to which I do not subscribe, so there’s only so much I can know about it.
The not-so-veiled commentary on Christianity that the refusal to name it constitutes in that book store strikes me as an uninformed opinion, as does the inclusion of the atheist works among the Christian works. After all, atheism books were not included among the Buddhist, Islam and Judaism works.
I argued a bit with myself, but ultimately, I put back the post cards and left the shop empty handed. It just didn’t feel as if the owner and I should be doing business, even the anonymous business of buying a post card, together. The fact was that I was just too sad to want to anymore, leaving a little of my love on the floor as I walked out.
All opinions are not created equal.
And neither are all book stores.
SIDE NOTE TO THE ATHEISTS AMONG YOU I am not one of those Christians who believe ‘Happy holidays’ greetings mean you’re trying to murder Jesus. And when I consider the marginalization of Christianity within the American culture, I ponder it from the point of view of where I stand, as in ‘what are we doing wrong’ rather than in blaming others. Moreover, the pastor in me took a walk yesterday in front of that store while waiting for my friends to conclude their business, during which I pondered on the failure of my own particular brand of faith to have much to offer others and wondered why. I know there are a number of answers, all of which sadden me greatly, particularly because it (this faith I call my own) has been such a source of comfort and goodness, rescue and safe haven, for me. But I daily accept that may not be true for you. And I cringe probably as often as you do at the statements and behaviors of some of my brethren in the faith. But even more, I suspect, to the secular humanists among you, truth and facts matter greatly. And while it is a fact that Christianity has done great harm, it is also true that it has done great good. Please don’t do the same history rewriting you see among some Christians to try to write out that faith from our shared past. Please don’t confuse the facts with your opinions. It’s neither attractive nor accurate on either side of that proverbial fence. An example: in doing peace work among folk of no faith, MLK’s contributions are characterized entirely as a social (as opposed to a religious or faith) movement. Omitting the faith element from that period in history creates a false narrative whereby Christian slave owners oppressed those they enslaved without the counter- (and also true) narrative of those oppressed claiming the same faith as their own and resurrecting its own peace, justice and freedom narratives. If you don’t tell of the faith of many who participated in the Civil Rights movement, you recreate it into your own image, making it something it wasn’t. Sorry to preach – occupational hazard, I guess.