I don’t know if it’s the warm weather here in New York that’s bringing out the crazies, but these past two weeks, I’ve encountered more than the usual number of street preachers handing out loony religious literature. Because I know you wicked, godless atheists need to hear the word of the Lord, I thought I’d share some of the best examples with you.
This first one is my favorite. Last week, I was out on my lunch break when I saw a teenager standing on the street corner handing out fliers. He looked like an average high-schooler – baseball cap, T-shirt, baggy jean shorts, and a perpetual surly scowl – but when I took one of his pamphlets and glanced at the first page, I realized he was far more of a fanatic than I’d guessed:
You may remember that I wrote about Tony Alamo and his bizarre, greedy cult in 2009. When we last checked in with Mr. Alamo, he had just been sentenced to 175 years in prison for taking underage girls across state lines for sex. But apparently, being incarcerated hasn’t dampened his high spirits. His ministry is still spewing its ultra-right-wing, frankly racist screeds, mixed in with a generous helping of loony Jack Chick-esque conspiracy theories (read the last column carefully and you’ll notice it claims that the Vatican is behind Muslim suicide bombers).
But as you might expect of a man in Alamo’s position, it’s his current living arrangements that concern him the most. That’s why the majority of this pamphlet – eight single-spaced pages – is a rant about how Mr. Alamo is a holy, selfless man whose only thought is of serving the poor, how he’s been viciously persecuted by the government for no good reason, and how all his accusers are hateful, wicked people on a vendetta against him. Because, of course, Christians are such an oppressed and powerless minority in the U.S.A. The irony of titling his newsletter “The Alamo Christian Nation” while simultaneously claiming that the government unjustly persecutes Christians clearly hasn’t occurred to him. (The awkward subject of Alamo’s teaching that God approves of polygamous marriage to preteen girls, which is what he’s actually in jail for, is politely ignored.)
Do you need more proof of Tony Alamo’s pure and noble spirit? Just look at how the last page of the pamphlet describes him:
So, when I was handed this flier by Alamo’s surly teenage follower, I couldn’t help myself; I burst into laughter. “Isn’t this guy in jail?” I said.
I’m guessing this was a sore point for him. “Yeah, on false charges!” he snapped.
Still laughing, I walked away. “Look into it!” he shouted after me. “I will,” I called back jauntily.
I was passing through Penn Station when I saw a stout black gentleman wearing glasses and headphones, leaning against a pillar with two handfuls of pamphlets which he was offering to every passerby. I took one, and noticed that the first page was familiar – it was a pamphlet I’d already gotten and written about once before – but there were others tucked inside of it which were new to me, though they all concerned the same general theme:
This is the handiwork of Family Radio, a network of Christian radio stations run by the evangelist Harold Camping, who’s slowly been getting crazier over the decades and who’s best known for his certainty that the Rapture will come in May 2011 (after his previous certainty that it would come in 1994). In case you’re curious how he arrived at that conclusion, I’ve scanned one page of the interior. I recommend not operating heavy machinery after reading this brilliant work of exegesis.
The mindset of people who believe this sort of thing genuinely intrigues me, so I stopped for a brief chat with the fellow.
“May 2011,” I observed. “That’s soon.”
“Uh-huh,” he said noncommittally, clearly not sure whether I was making fun of him.
“What happens on that day?” I asked.
“The universe will cease to exist,” he explained. He said it as calmly as if it was a weather forecast. (I have to admit, I was hoping for something a little more dramatic: boiling oceans, gouts of fire, that sort of thing.)
“What happens if that date comes and you’re still here?” I persisted.
“I’ll be in big trouble,” he said calmly.
I wanted to correspond with him, if for no other reason than to see his reaction on May 22 (and maybe to give him some gentle guidance toward atheism, if he was reconsidering his faith at that point). I asked him for his e-mail address, but he claimed he didn’t have one. “This is just the way I live now,” he said. I don’t know whether that meant he’s divested himself of worldly possessions like computers to prepare for the Rapture, or if he just spends 24 hours a day handing out literature in the subways and so doesn’t have time for e-mail.
I’m still looking for a devotee of Camping who’s willing to speak with me. I think it’d make for an interesting conversation. If I can find one who’s willing to go on the record, I’ll be sure to let you all know!