Where Mill Avenue gets a visit from The Door and I speak to one of their parishioners
Upon arriving on the Ave, Arienne and I noticed a group out in front of the Post Office singing and carrying about signs. The signs contained mostly Christian propaganda messages that included references to “Jesus” and “blood” and other common metaphorical elements of the Christian doctrine. They had amplification and seemed to have an almost-band set up. I didn’t recognize them, so I wanted to go over and check them out.
It took us about ten minutes to make it from our parking spot back to the Ave.
After reaching them, I broke out my voice recorder and my anthropology journal and started taking notes, positioning myself on the other side of the newspaper kiosk wall.
A woman approached Arienne to offer her some literature and speak with her. The woman immediately after handing over a few tracts started speaking about the Christian religion and asking if we (mostly Arienne, as I was engrossed in my notes) knew about Jesus Christ and his activities—insert the usual Christian religious doctrinal spiel here. What I didn’t know at the time was that the woman had handed Arienne a tract identifying her as being part of The Door.
The Door is a cultish Christian group with a community church not far from Mill Ave who have been indicted in numerous bad behaviors on the Ave. They have in the past created violent outbursts during Halloween, interfered with the Mill Avenue Resistance’s amplification equipment (pulling Kazz’s microphone cord and holding it), and lied to the police about their activity after calling them on the Resistance after ostensively committing simple assault.
As a result, Arienne turtled and didn’t speak to the woman except to nod her head and smile; absorbed in my work, I didn’t realize she didn’t speak to the woman at all and the woman probably felt somewhat ignored. I probably should have had a talk with her instead, but I needed to get my notes down. Of the literature I received, one is a glossy, two-sided color advertisement for The Door Christian Fellowship Church on Broadway; the other two are Chick tracts: “HI THERE!” and “THIS WAS YOUR LIFE!”
Questioning Arienne about the events and why she didn’t speak to anyone, she confided that she didn’t want to speak to anyone from The Door because of their reputation of bringing violence and tension to the Ave. She also expressed that even though she’s a Christian, she belongs to an enemy faction to The Door and didn’t want to accidentally give that information away (once again noting fear of their bad reputation.)
A gender switch and a different parishioner decides to come talk to us
After the woman left, she was quickly replaced by a male, who immediately asked me about why I was taking notes.
(I believe he introduced himself as Tim, but I didn’t catch his name; neither did Arienne.)
I told him that I take notes about Mill and that preachers feature in the notes because they appear on Mill. He asked, “What’s wrong with that?” referring the preaching. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the preaching per se. I explained that I study Mill Avenue as an anthropologist and I write fiction—I gave him a card for Mill Avenue Vexations—and forgot that I’m even wearing my Mill Ave T-shirt.
At first he asked questions about my religious experience and attitudes and I attempted to explain Celtic paganism to him. He elaborated that he, “Teaches other people about other religions and it helps if he understands them so that he can explain them.” Tim must be a terrible teacher because instead of listening to what other people have to say, he projects his own biases onto them and constructs entire scarecrow populations of strawmen in reply.
He asked about afterlife beliefs, I tried to explain the Otherworld.
He asked about morality and code of conduct and I explained the social construct of moral codes, harm, entitlement, and social contracts. He eventually went on to ask me about what pagans felt about “killing children…and other sins and immorality like abortion, homosexuality, sex before marriage…” I don’t know why he started out by asking about where pagans stand on “killing children” it made absolutely no sense and he quickly distanced himself from it.
We had a very brief exchange that sin is meaningless to people outside of his culture who don’t accept the concept of a divine command or divine law. Since “sex outside of marriage” came up last in his list I noted that pagans don’t care. Marriage is not a social construct that most pagans believe has any necessity with sexuality; furthermore, sexuality is something that we as a culture have developed numerous technologies to make safe and good for everyone and it’s proper that we educated ourselves and used that technology.
Tim tried to point out that nobody listens and I noted that’s because proponents of the “abstinence only” and “no sex before marriage” are deliberately miseducating and not educating people. I likened it to gun-control proponents giving out guns then deliberately not educating anyone or miseducating them; and then pointing out how dangerous guns are in the hands of neophytes as a reason to ban them (actual advocates don’t want people miseducated.) Since I don’t find “divine command” to be more important than actual harm I pointed out that his assertions would have to be backed up with more than just an argument from irresponsibility.
Noting that I kept dismissing anything that happened to be a divine command and asked for evidence of harm, Tim decided to switch to a witnessing propaganda tactic where he started to talk about how he used to be very much like a pagan: “I used to be shooting up all the time and engaging in carnality of the flesh.”
I’d repeatedly had to tell him that I didn’t say anything about pagans encouraging debauchery and unsafe behavior, which he kept intimating I meant by saying that pagans couldn’t care less that YHVH commanded people to get married first. This had already been an ongoing problem in his replies. Every time I mentioned that pagans didn’t accept some restriction placed by his deity and/or culture, he would immediately reply as if I had said there were no limits altogether. I pointed out that he didn’t care what Zeus or Odin had to say on the subject either because he’s not Ancient Greek or Asatru; but that didn’t mean that simply because he didn’t accept one of their restrictions he was reckless on all matters.
Finally, he started to make bald statements about how he had the absolute truth and that I would have to submit to my creator. To which I replied, “My creator would be a female goddess; not your male YHVH like you keep claiming.”
He kept trying to tell me, “I’m just telling you what I believe, like you told me what you believe.” Except that he wasn’t telling me what he believed; he had skipped directly to telling me what I should believe. And he did so by advocating this divine authority that he kept attempting to place on me. This isn’t an exchange of beliefs. There wasn’t any “I believe” in his statements it had all become: “You will” and “you must.”
I explained to him that his propaganda isn’t convincing and that he had started using a technique called the mere messenger stratagem. This is where the propagandist claims to be a mere messenger for a greater authority to which the recipient has no way of corroborating or access to.
He went on that he didn’t intend to convince me.
I tried to explain that when a person starts telling me what I should believe that in fact they are trying to convince me, so why was he doing that if he didn’t want to convince me.
He followed that up with some statement that Jesus told them to “compel” people…
At which point I think he lost the plot, since compelling people is by its nature by force and good luck forcing anyone to believe anything. Belief doesn’t work that way unless it involve traumatic brain injury. Here I thought he’d just wanted to fall back on, “I’m just having a conversation, an exchange of beliefs,” but no, he either misunderstands the word “compel” or he’s actually out there to attempt to force people to convert.
At this point, Tim noticed that the parishioner group of The Door had vacated the Post Office about ten minutes earlier.
He hastily excused himself.
The Door and their bad reputation
The Door’s well-deserved bad reputation for their intimidating and brutish behavior on Mill Ave has really made an impact on some of the people who visit. The fact that another Christian, Arienne, finds to cause grave concern deeply worries me. While I would like her to be able to speak to anyone who comes to Mill, I am not sure I am not about to press people into interacting with them.
She has rightfully pointed out that she doesn’t want to encourage them. They have, after all, made themselves a dangerous influence on the Ave and if they should wonder why people are treating them like wild animals don’t need to go far to discover that they’ve done it to themselves.