Revelations: Religion talks are everywhere

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Aug. 17, 2012 at 3:17 a.m.

I wish I could be one of those women who giggles and changes the subject when a man I don't know that well says something idiotic.

Don't get me wrong, I'm can pull off the giggle-redirect with incredible charm when I need to. But most of the time, I'd rather counter idiocy with sarcasm and a wink.

Often this changes the subject, lightens the mood, and the idiotic comments cease.

But the giggle-redirect almost never works on men who are incapable of having a conversation. You know, where two people offer thoughts and finish sentences before the other person rebuts you mid-sentence.

These men are rare and difficult to spot in public, but are quickly identified once their lips start moving and they begin railroading conversations and manipulating dialogue. They tend to be openly patronizing and will never admit they're wrong - especially to a woman.

It's similar to the exchange you might expect between a chief political analyst for the Democratic Party and Bill O'Reilly on the conservative FOX news show, "The Factor."

Last weekend, I encountered one of these men. And somehow the subject of religion was at the forefront of our conversation. (I'm not sure it was truly a conversation since my sentences were often cut off, and what little I did say was transformed into intellectual mush before my very eyes.)

I'm not usually one to go around igniting conversational exchanges on religion (in my personal life) because I recognize it can be a controversial topic with strangers, especially with people who aren't yet familiar with my approach to religious discourse.

I enjoy discussing religion with people outside of work, but only when they approach me with a question or subject. I almost never spark religious conversations on my own, certainly not with people I don't know that well.

But this man felt comfortable opening that can of worms after listening to me tell a friend that I couldn't make a Sunday brunch event because of an 11 a.m. assignment.

"What's the assignment?" Just like that. Can open. Worms everywhere.

The assignment was about an African-American pastor who was recently appointed to lead a historically Anglo church. I found out later in the week, he's the first African American to lead the church.

"I don't really see how that's newsworthy," the guy said. I explained its newsworthy value based on the argument that churches are overwhelmingly segregated in American culture. Fewer than 10 percent of churches are multiracial, and churches are one of the last few areas of our society where people choose to be segregated. So this pastor choosing to lead a congregation of white folks bucks the tradition of racial norms in the church.

The man, an attorney who graduated from a prominent law school, somehow turned my explanation and my article into a story on racism in Victoria. He then backed up his argument with evidence that his church, which is Catholic, is multiracial.

Catholic churches are three times more likely to be multiracial according to statistics, I explained.

He wasn't convinced, and said I was using too many exceptions to prove the data. He then went on to argue the statistics I planned to use in my research are published by liberal social scientists with a political agenda to highlight problems in society and prove racism, for example, still exists.

He would not believe churches are segregated, either intentionally or by accident, because his church congregation seemed diverse.

Meanwhile, his friend chimed in with the comment that racism is no longer prevalent in our society.

You might be wondering why I didn't exit this conversation. After all, he and his friend managed to insult my job, my ability to do my job, and religion journalism as a whole in a span of 30 minutes. It was impressive, really. My eyebrows were consistently raised in amazement every time this man spoke. But I couldn't ignore the idiocy.

I was entranced and intrigued by this man's blatant disconnection with reality, especially as someone who openly claimed to practice Catholicism and regularly attend church.

If I were smarter, I would have attempted to leave our match of intellectual gymnastics with the "I can see your point" line earlier in the conversation. But I failed to use the rule. The man kept pushing, defaulting to a vocational explanation of, "I'm sorry, I'm a lawyer. I like to argue."

It seemed we were nearing a conversation fizzle, and I was planning to accept this man was unable to properly converse with strangers. But then he asked my religion.

Ordinarily, I'm comfortable discussing my religious identity when prompted: I'm a non-denominational trinitarian-believing Protestant Christian, who aligns primarily with Calvinistic theology.

I'm deliberate about remaining denominationally undefined and deliberate about challenging the "changables" in religious life, or cultural Christian traditions and rituals that are historically manmade and have nothing to do scripture. I'm not a nominal believer, and I didn't grow up with a religious identity making me a late-in-life convert to the faith.

But I told him I didn't want to get into it. I knew he was looking to argue. And I knew "I'm a Christian" could easily entrap me in another long conversation.

And then, I managed to entrap myself after the man's friend incorrectly identified himself as agnostic. We lightly bantered the definition of agnosticism for what seemed like eternity.

Exhausted with these men, I attempted to help them understand their definition was incomplete and inaccurate - the more rightly fits the identity of an atheist, or at best, an agnostic atheist. But neither would relent, and the lawyer announced I was wrong.

Though I write about religion for a living, and I'm eight years invested in its study, he wouldn't budge on his opinion. I felt like I was arguing with someone who was trying to convince me that dogs and cats are the same species.

The night ended, and I was finally free to exit the conversation. On the drive home, slightly annoyed I used the last part of my evening lawyering with a lawyer rather than enjoying the time with my friends, I realized how passionate people will always be about religion. If they have no religion, or hate religion, claim a faith, or loosely affiliate with a denomination or worldview, religion will always be part of our discourse.

And it will always share a role in organizing our social makeup.

For that reason alone, it should be reported in the news, and the stories should be told well. It should be analyzed and studied by social scientists and taught in schools and churches.

Politicians and lawmakers shouldn't ignore it is part of our society and everyone should take an active interest in learning about how it affects our daily culture.

If you look around, you'll find religion everywhere. But as we're learning and studying, we have to be able to discuss it in a non-aggressive format that allows both parties to agree to disagree. I recognize that I, too, can do a better job at this, and probably should have with the lawyer. I can accept that I don't know everything, and I have to be more open to listening to ideas I don't agree with.

If for no other reason, I can at least say I'm familiar with their point of view. So, fine, the lawyer doesn't see the validity of religion journalism and isn't familiar with religious trends in society. He incorrectly uses the term agnosticism and will fight to the death to defend his understanding of everything.

But my job isn't to convince everyone I'm right. My job is to convince people to think.

And most women know how hard it can be to convince some people to think (insert giggle-redirect here).

Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or or on Twitter @jenniferpreyss



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