I went shopping online for reading material and got more than I bargained for.
Excited to snag a book on atheism by one of the well-known authors and experts in the field, I eagerly awaited its arrival in my mailbox. I felt this particular book would really help me explore and understand this topic, as well as add to my library of texts on religion, philosophy, cultural studies and science.
As a non-religious person, I've always believed in the concept of "live and let live". My feeling was, and is, one of acceptance; if it makes you happy, then it's a good thing. If it's religion, then more power to you. And if religion doesn't sit right with you, then you are completely entitled to the way you feel, because it really isn't anyone's business anyway.
Finally, my package arrived. I couldn't wait to rip open the media envelope and dig in. Certainly, whatever information might be found within this book was there to enrich my life on some level. I looked forward to the intellectual challenge and the chance to see what life was about, from an atheist's perspective.
I flipped through the pages, and tucked neatly beneath the front cover was a handwritten note, addressed to me. It was not a receipt, nor was it a thank you note from the seller. It was a long letter, scribbled in pencil, telling me all about the seller's deeply personal relationship with the Son of God.
She began her letter by stating that the book I just purchased from her contained within its pages a philosophy that she adamantly disapproved of. She then proceeded to regale me with the story of how, one blessed day, she received a personal visit from her Lord and Savior.
Apparently, she was given some very specific instructions: Save the sinners from eternal damnation. Just. Do. It.
This woman -- a seller of books on atheism -- felt it was her duty to warn me about the consequences of my wicked, wicked ways, which were obvious to her by virtue of the fact that I'd just purchased a book on a subject she could not abide by. She told me that she was compelled to write me, and that she'd never written a customer before.
Why -- compelled? Sometimes I think that being compelled simply means thinking one has the right to butt into another's business, while blaming the intrusion on a higher authority.
And then, it occurred to me: maybe there's a bunch of crazy religious fanatics out there, who buy and sell books on atheism or whatever other subjects they can't tolerate, just so they can slip little persuasive notes inside to unsuspecting buyers. Very enterprising.
In her letter, she repeatedly stressed that I needed to keep an open mind, and that even though I was clearly speeding towards a hellish destiny, her Lord loved me in spite of my wanton purchase. Over and over, like some kind of Shakespearean hag on a "fire burn, and cauldron bubble" rant, she force fed me the concept that I would pay severely for not "opening my mind" to her personal savior.
Assuming that I was miserable, she judged that I was in need of a good old fashioned saving. Never was it taken into consideration that I might already have a spiritual path, or that perhaps I was just in the market for an interesting read. Even if I were an atheist -- would it be so bad to just let me read the book without the feverish need to convert me?
As for open-mindedness -- wasn't the real point of her message about me seeing things her way, as opposed to me being open-minded? She might have reworded her brimstone warning -- something more along the lines of: "You have bought a book on something I don't understand. This book is wrong. I see things the right way. You need to change. You need to see things my way."
In conclusion, I bought a book that bound together 500 pages of intelligent and scholarly research. Along with that book came a freebie: one singular letter. I did not buy this letter, nor did I buy its message. However, I will keep that letter tucked into my new book for as long as I own it, because it will always remind me just how important it is to read books on things we don't understand.