There is, of course, a story. I write a weekly e-mail magazine called This is True®, which tells true stories about how stupid and weird people can be. It’s pretty popular — online there are tens of thousands of e-mail subscribers.
In April 2000, I wrote a story about feng shui (pronounced “fung schway”), which is the Chinese art of “placement.” Those who truly believe in the practice will tell you it’s about “energy flow” which leads to harmony, health, and prosperity. The way I see it, it’s a common-sense approach to arranging one’s environment so that the people in it are more comfortable. Whatever; here’s the story as I wrote it:
I See the Light!
The British Tomato Growers’ Association encouraged its members to try using feng shui, an ancient Chinese practice to create harmonious environments by channeling energy flows, to increase the yields of their gardens. That didn’t sit well with two employees at Arreton Valley Nurseries on the Isle of Wight. “It put me in conflict with my faith,” complains Martin Kelly, who quit the nursery and took his son Paul with him. “I’m not working for a farm that openly claims it relies on a power other than God.” (Reuters) …You mean like the sun?
The opening page said something about a reader telling me I was going to hell for writing that story. Now, nevermind that feng shui is decidedly not a religion; it certainly isn’t “anti-Christian.” Anyway, there are two groups of professionals that seem to be overrepresented on True’s distribution list: lawyers (now there’s a group that needs GOOHF cards!) and the clergy. Of the hundreds of pastors who get True, do you know how many complained? Right: none. But a few readers wrote to tell me the story was “anti-Christian”. One was a woman who used the screen name “Santa”, who wrote:
And just who do you think made the sun? I’m not the only one on your THIS IS TRUE list that believes in God. In any event, you should not write blasphemous things when sending out your e-mails. The [story] is grossly irreverent toward what is held to be sacred and there was absolutely no good reason for you to write it in the first place.
Sure there is: it’s a lovely smile toward people doing silly things, just like the thousands of other stories in the This is True series.) But Santa’s not done:
God… forgives you, I’m sure. You just know any better [sic]. Get back to me some time after you’ve had a near-death experience and let me know then whether or not you believe in God.
Ah, the old, arrogant, “there are no atheists in foxholes” rant — which also presumes what my beliefs are (or aren’t). But I digress; back to Santa:
God is watching you — I don’t have to.
Gee, thought it was Santa Claus who is watching me, making sure I’m good! Anyway, like an idiot, I thought this woman signing her name as “Santa” might be moved that True’s Official Consulting Pastor, the Rev. Rus Jeffrey, senior pastor of a Methodist church in New York, not only didn’t object to the story, but told me he “laughed out loud” when he read it. Not a chance:
Please have your “Senior Methodist Pastor” e-mail me personally on what he said to you.
Gosh, how “Christian” of her — apparently her immediate assumption is I’m a liar? But Rus did just that: he confirmed that he loved the story. So Santa sneered to him:
Dear Rev. Rus, (yea, sure — and I’m Santa Claus), you have to admit is that a grave sin was committed against the First Commandment by inferring that the sun is a god. [HUH? -rc] If you do not know it, you need to go back to the seminary and study some more theology. Why would anyone believe what Randy says when he can so freely can commit a grave sin against God. Just because Randy is a friend of yours, is no reason to side with him and damn your own soul into the pits of hell, which is where you are heading. Jesus is God. And finally to answer Randy’s question “did it ever occur to you — you who insist that God made EVERYTHING — that God made feng shui, too?” Yes, Randy, I did think of that, but feng shui is not God and neither is the sun.
Clearly “Santa” has been going to church for a long time — she has learned how to talk respectfully to a man of the cloth. (Of course, I’m sure it’s just some sort of cosmic coincidence that “Santa” is an anagram of “Satan”, but I digress.) You read the story; I’m not sure where she got the idea that I said the sun was a god, but you have to remember: she’s a fundamentalist — therefore she is right. Uh huh.
The funny part of this is the timing: Rus happened to be at my house when this unfolded, because at the time he was back in seminary. He already had a Masters degree in Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, at that point, but his congregation thought so much of him they paid for him to attend the Wagner Leadership Institute in Colorado Springs to get his Doctorate in Ministry. Each semester, when he flew in for classes, I put him up for a couple of days to decompress, get used to the time change, and be rested up so he can focus in class Monday morning. (Gee, “Santa”: have you ever put your pastor up for the weekend?) When he was here, Rus and I would often talk about how some people hide behind selected Biblical passages to condemn, yell, scream, curse, and damn others to hell — thereby driving millions of people away from churches — rather than treat others with the respect that the Bible demands. So it’s ironic to consider Santa’s final question of Rus, after Rus confirmed that he indeed is a minister, and indeed enjoyed the feng shui story:
A human being should not being saying such things to others, especially a “Senior Methodist Pastor” from THIS is TRUE. That definitely was not very Christian of you!! Was it???
Look in the mirror, Santa, and ask that question again.
In This is True, I can smile at the foibles of politicians, criminals, school officials, landlords, cops, military officers, students, bus drivers, athletes, farmers, animals, royalty, conservatives, liberals, and everyone else but Christians, because if I dare suggest that they are human too, a few crybabies will stamp their feet and shake their Bibles at me, sputtering with quivering, anonymous voices that I’m going to hell. What a sad example of Christianity indeed.
To be sure, in the grand scheme of things complaints from just a few people now and then is not a big deal; what gets me is that they’re not a thoughtful “I disagree with you, and here’s why,” but rather “our merciful God is going to condemn you to suffer in hell for eternity because you do not believe the exact same way that I do.” Santa is of course right about one thing: a lot of my readers do believe in God. Luckily, most use their beliefs to enhance their own lives, rather than use them as a weapon to try to condemn or control others. Luckily, most people who believe in God also believe that He has a sense of humor, and know their personal beliefs are not the only way to think.
Wait! Stop! What Does This Have to Do with the Cards?
Patience, dear reader! A good story takes time. But don’t worry, I’m just getting to that.
A couple of years before this all happened, I was talking with Cathie Walker, creator of the now-defunct Centre for the Easily Amused site, when she mentioned some evil scheme she was working on. I said to her “Ooooh: you’re going straight to hell for that one!” Cathie quickly joked back, “But wait, I have a Get Out of Hell card here in my purse!” A light went on over my head. What a brilliant concept! I immediately set out to design just a card to save her soul, and had a handful printed up — but they were never made available to the public.
So when “Santa” lost it in a fit of fundamentalist fervor and told me I was going to hell, I of course remembered those cards I had made for Cathie. I found the graphics file on my computer, touched it up, and had 2,000 of them printed. I then told my readers this whole story and said if they wanted some, send in a dollar and I’d send them 10 cards — the idea being to cover the cost of printing and postage.
My readers went wild for them. I figured those 2,000 cards would last for months. They were gone in three days — and that was a time when people had to mail their order in! I had 2,000 more cards printed — and they were gone in four more days — 4,000 cards just in the first week. I boosted the print order to 5,000 cards, then later 10,000, and then 20,000 at a time. The printer thought I was nuts, but the cards were going out the door that fast. It was insane, but Santa hit a nerve in my readers, and the card was the perfect antidote. I realized that people are absolutely sick and tired of being told what to believe, and how to think. Most people are extremely comfortable with their religious beliefs and are terribly offended by someone getting in their face and saying they have “the truth”, which really means “I think you are wrong to believe that way, because only I know the truth.” What disgusting disrespect such people have for what you believe! (I expand on why I think the cards are so popular here.)
The cards have gone out to every U.S. state and Canadian province, as well as Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Croatia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, Scotland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and Turkey — that I know of.
“Santa” wasn’t the only one to write letters, either — I’ve received hundreds. Dropping a card on someone is incredibly fun, and the stories the givers have to tell are hilarious — and many times very touching.
As time went on, we’ve come out with several more GOOHF products, which you can see on the front page of this site. They include sheets of stickers of mini “cards” (perfect for your mail), attention-getting t-shirts, a terrific coffee/tea travel mug, and our latest goodie: beautifully printed plastic cards. You can get it all via our shopping cart, which accepts major credit/debit cards, Paypal, or will format your order for printing so you can mail it with a check or money order.