Tony Woodlief | Author

On the virtue of getting over being offended

The AP headline is certainly startling:


My goodness, the reader is invited to think. What’s going on in Colorado Springs? Are little bands of dogmatists policing the halls like a pro-Jesus Taliban, seeking out bearers of Christopher Hitchens books and wearers of Linkin Park t-shirts to press against the wall for impromptu exorcisms? Are instructors using time that should be spent on the physics of jet propulsion to give testimonies about their personal relationships with the Messiah? Are hundreds of cadets sneaking from shadow to shadow in order to avoid rabid proselytes?

Well, no. Thirteen self-described non-Christian students, out of a total enrollment over 4,600, report enduring unwanted proselytizing at the Air Force Academy often or very often. Forty-one report it has happened “sometimes,” or “once or twice.” The report doesn’t provide numbers for those who assign themselves no religious designation, except to say that their reported rates of unwanted proselytization are lower.

So basically, out of a very small number of non-Christians, a minority report instances of unwanted proselytization, and a majority report none at all.

Now, here’s the thing. So long as we live in a pluralistic society, where people are allowed to speak their minds, folks are going to get proselytized. In just the past month I’ve been proselytized by Obama supporters, Palin supporters, Mormons, Marxists, Droid phone users, Snooki haters, teetotalers, Jagermeister devotees, and a very aggressive Nook salesman.

Was it unwanted? Well almost by definition, proselytization is unwanted, right up to the point where you decide Sarah Palin really does know what she’s talking about, or that listening to Kenny G reflects poor taste, or that the salvation of your immortal soul demands you accept Jesus into your heart. What matters to me as a citizen who can do without harassment is this: has anyone kept pushing his views on me after I’ve told him to drop it? And other than the Nook salesman and my children every time we pass the cereal aisle in Wal-Mart, I can gladly say No.

This is, in other words, what we ought to be asking the students: Did anyone keep pestering you to love Jesus after you told him you don’t want to love Jesus?

And let’s be blunt. We’ve all met the super-sensitive atheist, the one who is convinced, every time he reads “In God We Trust” on the dollar bill, that his right to sleep in on a Sunday morning is in jeopardy, the one who sees complete strangers pray over their meal at Applebee’s and concludes he’ll soon be shipped to a non-believer’s re-education center, the one who is vigilant to ensure that not even one plastic heel of one plastic donkey in one plastic creche is placed on public property.

To be sure, there are plenty of super-sensitive Christians out there as well, feeling oppressed because their geology teacher says the earth is a billion years old, or because Bill Maher or Richard Dawkins or some other sneering intellectual says something mean about them on the television. Nineteen self-reported Christians in the Air Force Academy survey, in fact, report unwanted proselytization that in their view happens often or very often. I’ll bet dollars to donuts it was either an atheist telling them the Trinity is a fabrication, or a Reformer telling them Arminianism is darn near close to the other abominations of liberal society: Free Love and Astroturf.

To both aggrieved groups I’ll suggest this course of action: get over yourselves. People have a right to tell you what they think you ought to believe, and you have a right to tell them to get lost, and if that’s too much pressure for your sensitive spirits, then perhaps you ought reconsider living in Western civilization, not to mention joining a branch of the U.S. armed forces.

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