Answering emails about dark alleys.

I got this email the other day (name changed for the anonymity of the author).


I’m a student at Rose-Hulman, and I’d like to say first that I loved your talk this past Saturday. It was super-comprehensive and it has spurred a lot of discussion here on campus.

During the Q&A, I was to timid to ask about the following argument my step-dad often makes:
“Imagine you are walking home one night. You encounter a group of ten men in a dark alley. Wouldn’t you be relieved to know they are just coming from a Bible study?”

How can I respond to this?


Thanks for the email, Frodo.

I guess part of it would be situational.  You might fire back “Am I an openly gay person in a rural community?”  In that circumstance, you’d likely feel much less comfortable than if they were coming from a chess club.

I suspect you’d feel better to know they came from a bible study because that would mean they left the house to do something else that wasn’t mugging you.  You’d likely feel the same relief knowing they came from a strip club or an atheist meetup.  Knowing the strangers in the alley are on their way home from almost anything reduces the probably that stealing your things is their reason for being in the alley.

I’d also point out that my worry that they were about to hassle me would go up exponentially if I knew they were coming from a bible study.  People coming from an astronomy meet up, for instance, are not likely to stop some random stranger in an alley to convince them of the wonders of the universe.  However, people who have been huffing Jesus at a bible study for the last hour are far more likely to stop you and ask you if you’re a sinner and to scrutinize the things you do for fun when all you wanted was to get home so you could watch porn.

What’s more, even if I granted that Christianity somehow made people more likely to be honest or non-violent (it doesn’t), so what?  I could invent a religion right now that says if you steal things from people, or otherwise harm someone with your own personal gain in mind, that the mighty Spahorfin will flog you and make you sing praises to him non-stop for all eternity in hell.  If believed, this might keep someone from stealing, but that would say nothing about whether or not the Spahorfin actually exists.

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