Religion in the Copy Center

I was in Staples at 34th and Broadway today, waiting for some copies to be made, and I overheard a conversation between a man in his early 20s and a woman in her late 40s about God and biblical literalism. It had been going on for some time by the time I got there.

He was standing at the paper cutter cutting 8.5 x 11 copies into eighths. Some kind of cards to hand out advertising an event of some sort. He wore a too-long moustache, an oily ponytail and rollerblades.

She stood next to him at the counter doing something with lamination. She had unbound salt and pepper hair down past her shoulders, she wore too much eye makeup, and loose, shabby clothing.

I couldn’t tell if they knew each other before this episode at Staples. At first I thought they were arguing. They were disagreeing slightly. That I could tell for sure. But it was cordial enough. Essentially, his point of view was ecumenical and secular and logical, but ultimately respectful and deferrential. He didn’t want ana rgument; he was just curious. Her point of view was very rigid and literal and of strong conviction. He was being heroically fair to her with statements like, “I really appreciate your point of view. I’m just saying …”and “I’m not a scholar, so I can’t be absolutely certain, but …”

At one point he explained that he always had a problem with the Book of Leviticus and its harsh prescriptions against immoral heterosexual behavior and homosexuality.

She leaned in. “Well, you know why homosexuality is bad,” she said, lowering her voice to a discreet whisper. “It’s because it’s unclean. It spreads disease. It’s unholy.” She went on, though I had lost interest in the particulars.

He gamely pointed out that plenty of heterosexual behavior also spreads disease. They discussed it a bit further. He also drew a distinction between the conviction that adultery being bad because it’s against God’s word and the opinion that adultery being bad because it breaks down bonds of human trust, his opinion being the latter. Eventually they agreed that it was ultimately best to live a life of peace and forgiveness.

Then she closed her part of the discussion with a neat and tidy “Listen, I don’t judge. That’s not my job. Only god can judge us.”

Bravo. I agreed with her — partially — on something: It was not her place to judge people. But what caught my attention was her hypocrisy. She was passing judgment.

I can accept that whoever wrote what is in the Bible is passing judgment. Or, rather, if the words in the Bible are to be taken as the word of God, then what is in the Bible is a representation of God passing judgment. We’re taught that only God can do so and that we must not. OK. I can take that as an axiom of Christianity.

But if she says something like “Homosexuality is unclean,” instead of “The Bible says homosexuality is unclean” or “We are taught that homosexuality is unclean” — if she is stating the biblical fact with her own conviction and not attributing the judgment to God, then she’s not expressing an original thought at all — she’s just taking credit for someone else’s work. She’s plagiarising God. And how do you think he would fancy that?


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