Sowing the Seeds of Faith by Cutting Down the Neighbors’ Plant

It’s late. We had open house for parents at my high school tonight. It was a very long day. I’m exhausted.

But this got me riled up enough to write something…

Russell (an atheist) and Ginny (an agnostic atheist) have lived in their neighborhood for six years. They haven’t spoken to their religious neighbors in about five… until now.

What’s up with that?

Russell says this:

When we first moved in, they were friendly and invited us to church, which we politely declined. We used to host a regular gaming night with our mostly atheist friends. They started asking “Why are there so many cars here on Mondays, and what are all those bumper stickers about?” So my wife told them. And that’s about the time they stopped talking to us. I never felt like it was outright hostility, but she did. In any case, we haven’t had much contact.

The atheist couple also has agave plants on the sidewalk near their driveway, close to the street. Russell adds: “They’re sharp spiky plants, but that’s not so unusual; there are a number of neighbors around the block who have a cactus or two.”

One of those plants was mutilated over the weekend:

Agave

The couple suspected their Christian neighbors were responsible. So Russell went over to their house to ask them about it:

… I had a seat on their couch, they took positions opposite me, and the husband had his arms folded the whole time and a very sullen scowl on his face.

Yes, he cut down the agave. I received a lecture on how dangerous it is to the neighborhood kids, and all sorts of gruesome scenarios about eyes being poked out. But what struck Ginny and me as weird later was when we realized that they hadn’t cut any of the spines facing the sidewalk — only the side on the street. (Again, see the picture.)

I took all this politely and said I understood their concerns, and is there anything else? Then we got into the bumper stickers. The wife said several times that they “make her sick” and she is very angry that we disrespect her religion. That she could never be friends with someone who doesn’t “share her values.” That she is firmly set in her beliefs and would never change them.

Not that anyone asked them to change their beliefs. Even if the bumper stickers are offensive, they’re not personal attacks on the neighbors. And no one is knocking on their door trying to convince them to become atheists.

For the record, though, what did the bumper stickers say?

Ginny tells us:

One sticker says “Freedom From Religion” but you’d think it said “kill kittens” or something equally terrible the way they reacted over it. If it weren’t for people like them, there would be no need for bumper stickers that display a free thinker’s sentiments.

To add insult to injury, the Christians also criticized the “general awful nature of [Russell and Ginny's] yard.” A yard that is mowed weekly, by the way, and seems to be perfectly fine.

Ginny shares her thoughts on the incident:

It wasn’t an act of kindness or neighborly caring that drove this man to mutilate my poor agave, it was an act of a bigot who holds nothing but disdain for us because we believe differently from him. He is a Christian(the kind that gives Christianity a bad name) and we are atheists. In his mind he has all the justification he needs to break the law by not only trespassing, but to vandalize as well, because we don’t matter as far as he is concerned. He views us as the lowest of the low and we don’t deserve to be treated with respect.

The police were called about the trespassing and vandalism.

Here’s Russell again:

… Before I left for work we were visited by a very cheerful and friendly cop, who got to hear all about the history and laughed at the notion that our yard would be an eyesore to anyone.

We didn’t want to file charges. He offered to go over there and talk with them, even give a warning that they could be arrested if they were on our property again. We declined that too. I said I’m still hoping that the husband will come over and work things out amicably.

But I did happen to glance over at the neighbor’s house while the cop car was in our driveway, and I saw the window blinds being pulled up. It was bright outside and I didn’t get to see the expression on her face as she watched us talk to the policeman, clearly discussing our plant. But I have a pretty good imagination and I have to admit, it was kind of satisfying.

Ginny (jokingly) says she is now more tempted to get anti-religious bumper stickers in response.

In all seriousness, she says this:

I think as angry as I am over this, I should turn the other cheek so to speak and show them how nice people behave.

It’s a good move, to show these Christians the type of humanism that they can’t seem to grasp with their religion.

(Thanks to Ben for the link!)


[tags]atheist, atheism, vandalism, Christian, bigotry[/tags]

  • Kate

    BRAVO for the wonderful couple who 1) recognize that not all “Christians” (though I wouldn’t call the neighbors Christians at all) are like that and 2) for turning the other cheek and showing that yes, we are good people. Kudos to them.

    And shame on those neighbors for giving good Christians a nasty name. Morons – freedom from religion is something many religious people care about too.

  • Maria

    this bigotry is ridiculous. It’s a freakin plant-how immature is that? Let me guess-this is in the bible belt? I applaud the atheist couple for handling this with civility, common sense, and manners.

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    I say kill em with kindness.

    Bake em a “no hard feelings” cake. Invite em to game night. Have the kids wash the car and ask them if they need theirs washed too.

    Host the bloodmobile in the neighborhood. Knock on their door saturday morning and let them know that they’re going down to the habitat for humanity build or the Special Olympics track meet and have a couple of extra volunteer badges to spare!

  • Richard Wade

    The old fart is probably trying to make tequila with the agave.
    Cut the ugly thing down and plant pansies, the symbol of freethought. He’ll think he “won” while he’s actually being shown a big middle finger.

  • Jen

    How strange. Who does that kind of stuff? I know sometimes I read bumper stickers that annoy me, but I can’t imagine attacking someone or their things over a silly slogan.

    As for how Kate is defining Christians, and for anyone else with an opinion: how should we define “Christianity”? The obvious answer involves believing in Jesus a la John 3:16- The blood o Jesus washes away your sins, etc. Does it necessarily involve behaving in a certain way? Because I know of no Christians who are perfect, so what sins make a person not Christian? This particular set of neighbors didn’t commit a mortal sin (which, if I remember my Catholicism correctly, were the sins like rape and murder). In fact, I am sure most self-identified Christians have done worsh things than cutting a plant just this week.

    Is Christianity about belief or behavior?

  • http://thinktoomuch.net/ Hugo

    It’s a good move, to show these Christians the type of humanism that they can’t seem to grasp with their religion.

    Hear hear! I decided to carefully but publically come out of the closet today, to hopefully contribute another example that atheists/humanists can be good people too. Lately a large part of my journey has blogs like these to thank, the latest inspiration came from the Friendly Humanist. (Which I found thanks to you.)

    Say, nice comment formatting and previewing – what plugins should I be looking for?

  • Colin

    Not a mortal sin? Seems to me that this breaks at least one or two of the Commandments; either “Neither shall you steal” or “Neither shall you covet… anything that belongs to your neighbour.”

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    I wonder what they would do if they lived next door to a Muslim instead of an Atheist. Would they have acted any differently, I wonder?

    I would have pressed charges and made their bigotry a very public affair. Then again I’m not as patient or understanding as Russell and Ginny.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Jesus just said that if they wouldn’t listen to preaching you were supposed to wipe the dust off your feet as you left, he didn’t mention cutting down your neighbors’ ornamentals.

    I’d press charges, myself. This is mid-level discrimination on the basis of religious orientation and it’s a serious matter. I don’t know what an agave that big costs but perhaps small claims court as well.

  • Colin

    I disagree with the folks who say that charges should be pressed… much better to teach them a lesson about turning the other cheek. :)

  • Vincent

    I’m puzzled by the fact that only the part of the plant that extended into the street was cut.
    First off, it’s not trespassing if they cut the part of the plant that wasn’t on the owner’s land.
    Second, my first thought was that they didn’t want to get their car scratched.
    I suspect that’s the real reason, but the confrontation lead them to argue the more acceptable “it’s for the children” position. Then it just escalated into unrelated issues they had over religion.
    I doubt it was religiously motivated at all.

  • stogoe

    much better to teach them a lesson about turning the other cheek.

    That would only be a better option if there were the possibility of them learning that lesson.

    But I’m pretty low-key, myself, so I probably wouldn’t have filed charges, either.

  • http://blog.infeasible.net/ Godless Geek

    Let me guess-this is in the bible belt?

    It’s in Austin, TX. Russell is a former co-host of Austin based shows The Atheist Experience and Non-Prophets Radio, both of which he’s taken a sabbatical from so that he can finish his thesis.

  • PrimateIR

    hoverfrog said

    I would have pressed charges and made their bigotry a very public affair. Then again I’m not as patient or understanding as Russell and Ginny.

    I’m afraid I agree with you. These are not people who’s bigotry will be altered via acts of kindness. They simply aren’t bright enough for introspection. The best you can hope for is fear of retaliation to prevent further acts of hostility.

  • ash

    if the threat of hell can keep a christian christian, maybe the threat of the law can keep a neighbour neighbourly…

    Neighbor Update…
    So this morning my neighbor comes over and the short story is he apologized…

  • ash

  • valhar2000

    That was a good conclusion to the story; much better than I expected.

  • http://atheisthomeschool.blogspot.com/ Ute

    As much as I can now smile about fundamentalist christians in general, this leaves me speechless and a little sad. I really don’t care if he didn’t want his car scratched or if he wanted to protect the children… or if he simply wanted to be mean. How can you preach love and practice hate? I just don’t get it.

  • Newt Hellbender

    I would have emailed you, but… it looks as though… aside from yards, wikipedia is being vandalized as well. The funny thing is, why any person who wants to ‘prove’ god’s existence would vandalize this article and not one that would be more likely to be seen by the godless target audience.

  • Newt Hellbender

    Oops, just click on this to see the vandalized article:
    http://i74.photobucket.com/albums/i273/elljayed/loonyhardly.jpg

  • Siamang

    Hmmm… I actually don’t think it’s that big a deal.

    “what bigotry and hatred”, but really all a guy did was cut back a plant. Big deal.

    It’s not like they keyed his car or threw a brick through his window.

    Neighbors need to learn to get along. That also means knowing when not to escalate an already prickly situation. Some peacemaking is in order.

    Hindsight 20/20 and all, and tempers flying… but really what he should have done is say, “I would have been very happy to cut back the plant if you had asked. We’re neighbors, and I want you to be as happy in our neighborhood as I am. I’m not upset by your cutting back the plant… it’s just a plant after all. I’m just upset that you felt you didn’t feel confortable to ask me… and I’ve got to take responsibility for fixing that.”

  • me

    They did some bad pruning. Let it go.

  • PrimateIR

    Hooray for the police. Wow, it turned out great. Its always nice when you are spared the cost of a suit.

  • Fred

    The agave owners should separate the trimming of the plant from the religious conflict. The agave next to the sidewalk like that IS dangerous. Sure the neighbors have cactus but they probably don’t hang over the sidewalk like the agave spikes eventually will. The christian probably only cut the street side because he was upset and really didn’t want to be trimming the plant in the first place. I bet he would have asked the owner nicely to trim it if they had any sort of normal neighbor relationship. Relax. Why assume something like this was done out of spite? It’s important to keep the plants, trees, construction, whatever, in front of your property safe for kids and animals. If someone gets an eye poked out, the plant owners can easily be held liable.

  • P

    WWJD?

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    P said:

    WWJD?

    12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was thirsty: 13 And seeing an agave afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but thorns; for the time of tequila was not yet. 14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man drink tequila of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.

  • PrimateIR

    LOL! Siamang

    I think Jesus would send in the bears.

    As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. 2 Kings 2:23-24

  • Robert Thomson

    I am an atheist also. The biggest “Christian” in my neighbourhood 30 years or so ago went to church every Sunday, and preached the word. He was also an auto dealer. One day I went up to his house and found his son (my age 10 or so) using a drill to set back speedometers on cars. When I inquired about this I was told ” God would guarantee the cars”.

    Fast forward 30 years. I had my first house built by a “christian” who constantly praised the lord and tried to convert people. Found out later he was not reporting income from building houses and was eventually hung out to dry by the tax people here in Canada. Now he has a name around town “The crooked christian’.

    I probably have better morals as an atheist than many christians. They are self rightous.

  • http://paxnortona.notfrisco2.com Joel Sax

    Sounds like a real holy war there. Bet they voted for Bush, too, and believe the elections were conducted fairly and, if they weren’t, it was God’s will.

    Yes, overt Christianity is often a cover for crooked affairs. And there are more than a few who will act in this fashion thinking that they are acting Christlike. They’ll jump on people like Russell and Ginny and say nothing about the minister’s big new Hummer.


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