There’s a saying I like: “You have a right to be offended, but you have no right not to be offended.”
So, when I drive past those church signs with perky little sayings that take not-so-subtle pot-shots at we non-believers, I tend to just clutch the steering wheel a little tighter, clench my teeth and mutter, “Fuckwits” under my breath.
Generally, the moment passes and the next day I’d be hard-pressed to remember what the sign actually said. Life goes on and church signs are the least of my worries.
But, recently, I drove past a sign that riled me more than usual. I’ve tried to ignore it, but it’s been bubbling around in my brain for a few weeks now and I think it’s time to let rip.
The sign was on the Glass House Country Uniting Church and visible from the Steve Irwin Way in SE Queensland. It read:
As I continued down the highway, I could feel my blood boiling and spitting like a billy, left too long on the fire.
No point? No fucking point?
My grandfather was an atheist. When he married my grandmother, he didn’t just take on his new bride – he also housed her widowed mother, her sister and her daughter and the baby left motherless when another sister died in childbirth. And did he moan and bitch about having all these family strays in his home? No! He accepted it with astounding generosity and an abundance of good humour.
He was not a well man. He fought and was gassed in the First World War and ultimately died prematurely from the damage caused to his lungs.
He was the first young man in his district to sign up. In recognition of his courage, the locals banded together and bought him a pocket watch – which my cousin, Doug, carries in his pocket with pride, to this day.
Jack kept his family afloat during the depression. He was a good husband and father. He was a hard worker – helping to establish the iconic Barnes Auto in Brisbane during the 1920s.
He had a wicked sense of humour which has been passed on, genetically, to my cousin and me.
And, having come from a ‘good family’ he instilled in his son and daughter (my mother) the manners and values of a more genteel age; a commitment to living with integrity and finesse which has been passed down through succeeding generations.
But, according to the supercilious sign on the highway, Jack Webster’s life had ‘no point’ because while his family trotted off to church on a Sunday, he stayed at home to mow the lawn. The legacy he left – the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren – all law-abiding, contributing members of society whose happy lives, happy marriages and ingrained values are inevitably influenced by his – count for nothing to the smarmy shallow-thinking churchman or woman who thought displaying this sign was a good idea.
And I’d like to say, it was not a good idea. It was rude. It was insensitive. It was offensive. It was inaccurate. It was pompous. It was hurtful. It was, in the very worst sense, uncharitable and un-Christian.
How dare this nameless minister boast publicly that my grandfather’s life – lived with courage, generosity, integrity and humour – had no point.
How dare they suggest that my father’s life – also an atheist as well as a veteran, a selfless giver, and a formidable family man – had no point?
How dare they suggest that my life and my mother’s life have no point?
I would defend to the death their right to display that mindless, offensive piece of religious pap. But, I will call it out for what it is – religious imperialism, cultural vandalism and blatant disrespect for the lives and beliefs of other Australians and their families.