21 December 2007

Shoeboxes Full of (bribes) Love

© Patrick LaMontagne, from Pursestrings.ca

It's Christmas time. So in that spirit, I've decided to post something relating to the holiday season. It's a topic I've been torn about for quite some time - two years, in fact.

A couple of years ago, we found out that my wife's church participates in the Operation Christmas Child (OCC) program run by the Christian aid organization Samaritan's Purse. In the OCC program, participants are given shoeboxes which they are to fill with toys, school supplies, toiletries, etc. and return them so they can be sent to children in poor nations for Christmas. I participated along with my wife; even I'm not so heartless and humanity-hating as to deny underprivileged children some good cheer.

However, as I studied up on the organization, I started to have doubts about them. As a Christian organization, I expect some proselytizing from them as they hand out the shoeboxes - who could blame them? - but the extent to which they seem to be balancing the proselytizing vs. the gift-giving seems way out of whack. I'll try to elaborate:

Remember the South Park episode where Starvin' Marvin's village is being "helped" by Christian missionaries? Remember how the missionaries wouldn't give them food until they'd read their bibles ("remember: reading Bible + accepting Jesus = food") and, when Marvin's people tried to escape to the idyllic planet of Marklar in an alien spaceship, the missionaries raised gobs of money to build their own interstellar cruiser to hunt them down and convert the whole of planet Marklar? Well, Samaritan's Purse is a lot like that, but without the spaceship.

Originally, I wanted to research Samaritan's Purse to see how effective of a charity it was. Did they put most of their money into their works or was much of it squandered on bureaucracy? Initial research indicated that, yes, Samaritan's Purse did spend most of their resources at the point of need, so that was good (4-star Charity Navigator rating). However, further research indicated that the money wasn't spent on need; it was spent on religious displays and trying to win converts.

According to an OCC worker named Victor Kulbich, "We shared the Gospel with them and distributed Bibles.... Each time we do a distribution, it begins with a testimony that Jesus loves you and died for you," and, along with the shoeboxes, copies of an evangelical booklet called "The Greatest Gift of All" are given to the children. Excerpts of this booklet can be seen here.

OCC also has an optional "kids colouring page" where the donor's children can colour-in a boat, a plane, a dog, etc, as well as fill in info like "My name is _____," "my favourite drink is ____," and "I love Jesus because _____."

Even in the OCC brochures, the emphasis isn't on the gifts. The only testimonial in this year's brochure is from a child in Nicargua, who wrote:
The gift box that I got touched me a lot because it included a letter and a picture of the child who sent me the gift. I'm now attending Bible classes, and I like them a lot. They teach me great things about God, how to love my enemies, how to study God's Word, and how to be obedient to God and give my whole like to Him.
As an atheist, it's a little disconcerting that this aid organization is as highly focused on proselytizing as it is; however, I can't really complain too loudly. Afterall, I was participating in this as a church activity. On the other hand, these people in public elementary schools in Alberta who were not informed that OCC was an evangelical enterprise have very good reason to be angry. Due to the uproar about this, since about 2003 the situation has been cleared up and OCC does not seem to be a factor in Alberta public schools anymore.

For their parts, the gift recipients in OCC (and their families) don't seem to mind the conversion attempts. They seem to be pretty happy to get whatever aid they can, and are willing to put up with evangelizing to get it. And Samaritan's Purse does provide much needed emergency aid in poor regions. It's not surprising that OCC ends up converting many people.

OCC has continued at the church this year. So as you can see, I'm presented with a dilemma:

Do I support force-fed God squawking or do I look like a total goob for shunning the poor children?

Of course, I chose the support of God: if I make myself the goob, I'd never hear the end of it.

But I can't be happy with this solution; I had to find some way to fight back in some little way. So far, I've tried to send the kids lots of education supplies and toys that will encourage their thinking and imagination. For instance, I gave one kid a toy space shuttle and a space-themed colouring book. Still there is only so much you can do to counteract the missionaries when all you've got to work with is a shoebox of stuff.

As one last "screw you" to the organizers of OCC, on the form that accompanies the shoebox submission, there's a checkbox that says "I will be praying for the success of Operation Christmas Child." I left that checkbox very much unchecked. Suck on that, OCC!

Seriously, though, I think a good response to evangelical efforts such as OCC is simply to do your part and give to secular aid organizations and charities. There are plenty that are similar to OCC listed here. For my part, the next day I bought a bunch of those Canadian Cancer Society lottery tickets (I consider it charity because I fully expect to win not one damn cent).

So, does anyone have any suggestions as to how I should handle this in the future?


Websites critical of OCC include Pursestrings.ca and Operation Christmas Child Alert, from which I found some of this information.

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20 December 2007

Go tell it on a mountain that this song sucks

To get into the Christmas mood, we've been listening to a lot of Christmas songs on internet radio recently. I've been listening to a lot of songs, some religious, some secular. Most are fun, or bring back fond memories of Christmases past, or otherwise have some musical value. One song I really can't stand, though, is Go Tell it on a Mountain. Stuff a stocking up my ass, this song really sucks. It's very repetitive and getting on my nerves.

So, to summarize, this song and the occasional John Tesh (who seems to be everywhere when it comes to Christmas music) is ruining the season for me.


My wife and I were up until 2:30 last night cooking and baking for various potlucks and get-togethers that are coming up soon. My wife especially was baking butter tarts from scratch for about eight hours straight. This holiday crap is exhausting.

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19 December 2007

Up, down, up, down

How did conversation of a religious nature get introduced at a Christmas party, anyway?

My wife and I went to the year end/Christmas party for a sports club we're part of. We had a great, fattening time, though we did talk about religion stuff for a bit. Not heavy religion stuff - more along the lines of Catholic highschool memories.

We were talking with a few other guys. One guy just got back from his godson's christening. Missed most of the food, too. Poor guy. We had ribs. He's not Catholic (probably some protestant thing, and not too reverant at that). And he really wanted to talk to us about all the crazy up, down, up, down, up, down nonsense that goes on during Catholic ceremonies. As a non Catholic, this calesthenics routine was news to him, and struck him as being exceptionally odd and annoying. Though he felt he got a good workout.

Me and a large asian guy at the party both went to Catholic highschools so this guy complaining gave us a lot to talk about. Asian dude's school had a uniform but it didn't have a tie. WTF? I wish! I had that damn noose around my neck for 5 years. Him? Nothing. He loved the school uniform because it meant he didn't have to think about what to wear in the morning. Also, instead of buying the official itchy grey flannel dress pants from the school, he just went to Moore's and got real grey dress pants. Then he laughed at me for being strangled and itchy for 5 years. Bastard.

We also talked about those funny hand gestures that Catholics do in response to certain verbal cues (where I take the opportunity to scratch my nose, since I have no idea what the hell everyone else is doing).

Back to the up, down, up, down crap at mass - asian dude was smart. He became the AV techie guy for the masses. Everyone else was doing their Mexican jumping bean impersonations while he just chilled at the computer terminal. I wish I'd thought of that.

Ending on a good note: After 5 years avoiding the jack-in-the-box routine and being unreasonably comfy in his uniform, the asian dude is now an atheist.


17 December 2007

The War on Christmas ... Parties?

This year, my company spent a goodly amount of money on a holiday party for the staff. We booked a large banquet facility, they gave us a few free drinks, and all was good. Except...

Why do some people feel the need to angrily yell "Christmas!" whenever someone mentions "Holiday?" Seriously: the company president makes a speech and says the terms "Holiday Party" and "Holiday Season" a few times and each time there are a few people who scream "Christmas!" in retaliation. Seriously, wtf? In any other situation if you yell something in retaliation to the company president, you'd be on the express train to unemploymentville.

Personally, I really don't mind if people say "Christmas" when referring to the holiday season or their parties or whatever. That said, for a lot of people out there, it isn't Christmas. We're a big company, and we have hundreds of employees, many of whom are Middle Eastern, Indian, Asian, or whatever who are not Christian. What's the company to do? Alienate a sizeable portion of their employees for the sake of some stubbornly backward thumpers?

Actually, in the past, that's exactly what my company did: the Holiday party was called a Christmas party, a senior executive lead us in saying grace, it was held in a freakin' Shriner's club. And it was 99% old people. Hardly any non-Christians showed up.

This year, they were striving to make improvements. And, to a certain extent, it worked. The venue was better, more younger employees showed up, and they tried to be more inclusive. Still, sadly, very few non-Christians were there.

Hopefully, the reason for the no-shows is that the non-Christians (who are predominently non-Westerners) just aren't party people. However, I doubt it would help that there are still insensitive people vocally letting them know that they are an inconsequential minority.

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06 December 2007

Too Many Bibles

Wow, I haven't posted in a long, long time. I better get off my ass here.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), my wife dragged me to a Christian bookstore the other day, so I have something to talk about. My wife has a new Christian friend whose birthday is coming up. My wife wants to get her a bible with study guide as a gift; therefore, I had to go too.

I would like to give some observations on the bible-shopping experience:

1) There is a multitude of bibles you can buy.

For instance:

Bibles in so many translations I couldn't count them all, some of which I had never heard of before (see menu on left)
Bibles for new christians
Bibles with prayer guidance
Bibles with study guides
Bibles with archaeology guides
Bibles done textbook-style
Bibles with self-help notes
Bibles divided into 15 minute chunks read daily called One Year Bibles
Bibles presented chronologically
Bibles for people recovering from addiction
Bibles for athletes
Bibles for couples
Bibles for women (many different ones of these)
Bibles for "women of colour" (wtf?)
Bibles for men
Bibles for children - heavily illustrated
Bibles for teen girls
Bibles for teen boys

I actually have something to say about that last set of bibles aimed at teens, though it's really not just for bibles, but for all books written by uninspired adults aimed at teenagers. When you try to get teens interested in the book by using bright, fancy colours, funky fonts, hep language daddy-o!, lightning bolts, cars, and pop culture references, you come across as being incredibly lame. Highschool guidance counsellor lame. Marge Simpson lame.

Not that it isn't effective: First, other lame adults will think it's a great idea and buy it for their teenagers (who will in turn think it's lame, but the book's already been bought). Second, while teens think it's lame, preteens may very well think it's actually something cool that real teens like.

(Holy crap, I just found a bible aimed at teens that is illustrated by manga artists.)

One more thing: in the clearance annex, I was very impressed to find a tattered old bible in (what I presume) was Cyrillic. I couldn't read a damn word of it other than the publisher's email address (it's from Russia). They had bibles in a few other languages as well.

2) They are damned expensive.

Most cheaper bibles were ~$25, but the bigger, nicer, or special edition ones (with study guides, historical info, etc) were at least $35, and many were over $60. The really expensive ones were over $100.

I guess if you're the type of person who only owns one book, then it makes sense to spend a lot of money on it.

3) They are often expensive for a reason.

Christians appear to enjoy making their bibles really fancy if they can. Lots of leather/fake leather covers, fancy hard covers, fancy trim, full colour pages. Gone are the days when most bibles were small things with whispy-thin onion-skin paper like you'd steal from hotels.

Not only that, but publishers will produce several versions of the same bible but with wildly differing cover materials and colours. (I'd like a NIV Bible, with black leather, metallic red paint, nav system, 6-disc CD changer, and spoiler please.)

4) Chritstians love to buy protective carrying cases for their fancy, expensive bibles.

No joke. Many were sold in clear plastic protective cases. Some other hard plastic cases were of very high quality with a variety of fasteners, which would protect your bible in near-mint condition. You also have colourful vinyl cases, canvas cases, fake suede cases, and nylon cases, with buckles and zippers and all sorts of pewter ornaments like Jesus fish and crosses. Moving higher upscale, you can get really fancy leather carrying cases with metal crosses and logos and freakin' combination locks (my wife has one). It's crazy.

That said, I'll bet Carlo is interested in getting one of these carrying cases (if he doesn't have one already).

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