When the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons came knocking on our door, my mother was always ready. A quietly religious but deeply unassuming woman, she must have appeared an easy mark for the well-dressed missionaries at the door. Within minutes of listening attentively to their discourse, however, she would reappear with her own annotated Bible and soon be in earnest debate. Discomfited and unable to sustain any telling hits on her my mother’s own gentle but unshakeable faith, the Jehovahs were soon beating a platitudinous but nonetheless humiliating retreat for the front gate.
Although she always denied it, I am sure it was my mother’s sport, the only wilful form of sin in which she indulged and one I’m sure her God forgave her.
Later, I moved to the big smoke and, far from the prying eyes of my small town, set about on the seduction of a friend of my sister who was staying for a week from the East. Each night I would prepare a sumptuous feast, replete with wine and candles. And each night, perhaps alerted by my mother, the Mormons would arrive. They insisted it was to say grace but somehow they lingered long enough for leftovers. It started as a bit of a joke but it soon wore thin. One night they asked me to say a little prayer; I prayed they would never return. When they went outside, someone had stolen their bikes. They never came back. So, you see, God does move in mysterious ways – and sometimes on a bike.
Anyway, I am much more relaxed about God’s door-to-door salesmen these days. I realise now that they think I am going to Hell and they are trying to save me. And they do it in the sure knowledge of hostility, rejection and abuse. That’s more than I have ever done for people in my street.
One thing you can say about atheism, it sure is easy, sure is short on sacrifice.