“Gosh,” I said, glancing around the booth. “You’ve got everything, haven’t you? There’s the Torah, and the Koran, and the Tao Te Ching and the Upanishads! I didn’t realize you carried all those. I thought you’d just stock the King James Version and Good News for Modern Man and maybe the New American Bible—a few things like that.”
“Oh no,” said the handsome clerk. “We’re an international corporation. Our market is worldwide.” He spread his hands over the display case: “You see. Various crucifixes, statues of the Buddha, portraits of saints, thousands of statues of Hindu gods….”
“Well that’s great,” I said. “But I’m really looking for something in a domestic variety.”
“You’ve come to the right place,” he assured me. “We have numerous products of American provenance available right now. I’m sure we can fix you right up.”
“That’s a relief,” I confessed. “It’s so embarrassing to go around without a religion to wear on my sleeve. I feel half-dressed. Whenever I’m out in public, people keep staring at my arm.”
“No problem,” he said with a comforting smile. “I doubt we’ll even have to tailor anything for you. We probably have something that will fit you right off the rack. Let me just get your requirements.” He pulled out a pencil and a notepad.
“You’ve taken me by surprise,” I blurted. “I wasn’t expecting to find something at the first shop I came to.”
He leaned across the counter and, glancing around to be sure he wasn’t overheard, said out of the corner of his mouth, “Look, our holding company has stock in all these places, even the exclusive high-end Christian specialty shops. Don’t feel shy about shopping in a one-stop mart. We carry everything the others have, but we can sell for less with our low overhead.”
The odor of sulphur on his breath was distracting, but his words were convincing. “Great!” I said. “Let me warn you, though, I’m afraid my requirements might be pretty hard to fill.”
“Probably easier than you think,” he countered. “Don’t try to prioritize them; just let ‘er rip.”
“Okay,” I said, and paused for a moment. “I’d like one that preaches loving your enemies to the point of allowing yourself to be killed before doing violence to others, but is comfortable with slaughtering thousands of men, women, and children, most of them innocent of anything except being in a city we’re attacking.”
He made a checkmark on his list. “We have numerous popular models with that feature,” he said. “What else?”
“Uh, I’d like one that preaches simplicity of lifestyle, the danger to your soul of pursuing riches, and the obligation to care for the poor, widows, and orphans, but at the same time glorifies wealth and its trappings, claims huge fortunes are ‘God’s blessing,’ supports political policies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer, and opposes any notion of the common good.”
“Heh heh!” he laughed. “I’ll bet you thought that would be difficult. We’ve got churches all over the country that meet that stipulation—huge churches, thriving churches.”
“Well that’s good news,” I joked. “How about this next item. I’d like one that preaches mercy and the forgiveness of sins, but pushes for longer prison terms and harsher punishments for criminals, eliminates programs aimed at educating and rehabilitating them, and continually expands the list of crimes punishable by death.”
“Can do,” he said. “That’s standard on almost every item we sell. Next?”
I hesitated. “I’d like one that emphasizes the kinship of everyone under the fatherhood of God and asserts that all distinctions of race and class and nation and sex vanish in discipleship …”
“But I’d like to worship in an all-white middle class group of English-speaking native born Christians.”
He gave a deep belly laugh. “If you can’t find one of those,” he said, “you couldn’t find a golf ball in a can of beans. Anything else?”
“Yes, there is one more thing. It’s sort of related to the last one. I’d like one which teaches that we are all created in God’s own image, but advocates discrimination against gays and lesbians in both church and civil society.”
“You’ve got it!” he said proudly.
“Wonderful!” I exclaimed. “What do I owe you?”
“You’re not going to believe it when I tell you...,” he began.
© Tony Russell, 2005