Recently, I was at a local Metro Park hiking with my kids. Another hiker came along from the opposite direction with two small dogs. My boys asked for permission to pet his dogs and he said yes, so they started petting them. And then...
Perfect Stranger: So, do you go to church around here?
Perfect Stranger: Aww, why don't you take these little guys to church?
Me: Um... it's not our thing.
Perfect Stranger: ...
Me (sensing that he was working on coming up with another persuasive statement): No, thanks!
And we continued our separate ways down the path. I know I shouldn't let it get to me, but I have been stewing about this. It really rubbed me the wrong way. Let's examine that one little statement again.
Aww, why don't you take these little guys to church?
I know the guy meant well and he thought he was being friendly. He thought he was doing what he was supposed to do by trying to share the message or bring someone new into his church or whatever. From his perspective, it's like he has a great big plate of cookies, and he just wants to share them with everybody, right? But asking me why I don't take my kids to church, implies that I should. And if I'm not doing something that I should be doing, that implies that I'm failing in some way as a parent and should feel concerned or even... guilty about that, right?
No. No, no, no, no, no.
First of all, these are pretty personal questions to be asking a complete stranger. And last time I checked, implying that a total stranger is somehow parenting their children incorrectly is A) just plain rude, and B) not a good strategy to win someone over. I would never have the audacity to walk up to someone, ask if they take their kids to church, and then ask "WHY?" if they replied "Yes". That would be rude, correct? So why is it socially acceptable for it to happen the other way around? It shouldn't be.
I turned the conversation around in my head for a long time, wondering if I should have said something else or if I should have given him a piece of my mind, but I'm glad I didn't. I'm sure that would have just given him fuel to take back to church with him, "Oh, I met this angry atheist in the park the other day [shudder]..." No, I'm glad I gave him exactly as much of my time as he deserved.
I fully respect everyone's right to believe and live as they wish - even if I do not share those beliefs - and I would just like to receive the same consideration and respect. I should be able to go for a walk in the woods with my kids without a stranger needlessly shoving his religion down my throat and rudely implying that I'm doing parenting wrong. Making judgemental/opinionated statements about religion is not appropriate when engaging in small talk with random strangers whose belief systems you know nothing about. There are millions of other things to talk about. If you really cannot think of any other topic to discuss in a small talk situation, you need to work on your social skills.
Thanks, internet, I feel better now.