I have seen the fluorescent light

There was shouting from the neighbouring carriage on my Underground train last night and I knew it must either be a drunk or an evangelist. Sure enough, a weedy-looking man with a crazed expression and a beard made his entrance between stations.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to give you a message,” he shouted at the top of his voice. “And that message is: God loves you.”

Is this the Second Coming, I wondered.

And the end of his sermon he offered to shake our hands “with my right hand” to reinforce the message that Jesus died for us. I declined, and wondered if this meant I would go to Hell. It would be a harsh deity who damned you for eternity merely for ignoring a handshake, but it isn’t inconceivable.

My main problem with religion is that you have to be a member of the club to benefit. This might be logical from a material perspective, but philosophically speaking it is odd. Apart from solipsism, I can’t think of any philosophies whose benefits apply only to their adherents rather than universally.

The District Line’s beardie weirdie said “God loves you”, but he omitted the generally held Christian notion that His love is conditional upon my subscription to the basic tenets of a monotheistic belief system. Or perhaps His love is unconditional, but flexible enough for Him to love me from afar while I endure unending discomfort including, but not limited to: fire, brimstone, wailing, gnashing of teeth and stinging from horse-shaped locusts with human heads and scorpions’ tails (Revelations 9:7 to 9:10).

I don’t think Christianity is bad per se. We all seek validation, and it is no more daft to get it from community-based confrontation of your mortality than it is to write a blog or own a cat. But if a man gets onto my train and offers to sell me a cat, I won’t shake his hand either.

(originally posted June 2, 2004)

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