I was standing in line at the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles Thursday afternoon. I was waiting to pick up a visa for a trip I have scheduled for early March. I mind my own business in most situations. I read a book while waiting and did some people watching. As I neared the end of the line, a man stepped in front of me. I would not have noticed except that he stepped into my personal space. I asked politely what he was doing, he responded that he was in a hurry and did not want to wait in the line. As he uttered the phrase, the line erupted in loud Chinese. The line cutter looked sheepish and walked out of the room. I was happy until I realized that I was now exposed to conversation with strangers because of the confrontation. Now, I can talk the weather with the best of them – but I try to avoid politics and religion unless I know a person quite well. I knew I was in trouble when the elderly Chinese man in front of me asked if I knew that China is full of godless atheists. He spoke without waiting for my response. He started lecturing me on the evils of Communism and Atheism. A few other people in line chimed in with their opinions. At one point, the elderly Chinese man gave me his card and said “if you are going to China, I will give you bibles that you can leave in your hotel and other public places. I thought – “well, that’s not going to happen” as he walked to the window ahead of me.
My transaction at the pickup window took just a few minutes. I wanted to leave quickly so I could get out of downtown LA before rush hour. I should have known that the elderly Chinese man would be waiting for me on the street outside the visa office. The thing that killed me, I mean the thing that really just got under my skin, was that I really did not talk to anyone while in the visa office. Yet, my silence was viewed as acceptance by those who talked to me. The elderly Chinese man introduced himself as Pastor Chuck. He actually wanted me to bring bibles to China, he was excited by the idea. I finally told him that I would not do it because I am an atheist myself. His family gasped and moved behind him. Pastor Chuck became angry. He grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in the eye (he got in my personal space too). Pastor Chuck said “You are an American, it is your obligation to spread Christianity and Democracy to other countries.” As happens a lot when confronted with stupidity, I was struck dumb. I had no response, so I walked away. I have a response now though – Obligation my ass.