Pretty Is (In Public) As Pretty Does (In Private) by Catherine Fahringer (September 1995)

If someone in a restaurant whipped out a comb from pocket or purse and began vigorously combing his or her hair, would you as an observer think with delight, “Oh, what a well-groomed person!”? Hardly.

If a man in a crowded, overheated meeting room removed his coat, tie and shirt and began spraying his armpits with deodorant, would you say to yourself, “Oh, what a considerate, sensitive fellow!” I doubt it.

If a woman were to floss her teeth after a formal dinner party, while her companion leaned over his finger bowl to brush his, would all the other guests and the host and hostess be favorably impressed and think, “Oh, what a charming hygienic couple!”?

What if at a graduation ceremony the person next to you took off his shoes and socks and started cutting his toenails? Would this indicate to you that you were sitting next to a person who was truly dedicated to personal grooming? Not likely.

People who gather in groups, for whatever purpose or occasion, certainly appreciate it when fellow attendees are clean and well-groomed. It is a pleasure to mingle with people who are meticulous about their hygiene and grooming for it indicates that they are well-bred and sensitive to their personal needs and to the impression that they make on others by the attentions they give their bodies in PRIVATE. They know (or should) that acts of grooming and hygiene should not be performed in public.

And so it is with religion. Bringing one’s personal religion to the courts, the workplace, the business or council meeting, the graduation, the luncheon, the schoolroom or any other public place is certainly appropriate and welcome when it comes expressed as kindness, honesty, fairness, consideration, integrity and all the other good qualities that Christians claim to possess because of their religious beliefs. That these qualities would be less acceptable without ritual only arouses suspicion that they are merely feigned. Public displays, whether of grooming or religious rituals, cancel out what would have been the good results of private acts.

If neat appearance and admirable characteristics are not thought publicly acceptable unless accompanied by the tools, or postures and incantations to bring them about, it could be construed by those of us who are forced to watch, that these people are not sincerely religious. It is the act of religion, not the results of being religious, that matters to them. Thus they must perform in public; it helps convince them that they are religious. And when this behavior is encouraged and endorsed by school principals, teachers, mayors, governors, members of Congress, and even the nation’s president himself, it is reinforcing the repetition of this serious breach of etiquette. Like actors who when hearing thunderous applause take curtain call after curtain call, the Christian feels a similar rush that comes with manipulating the emotions of others. During the performance the actor has turned make-believe into reality for the audience; the prayer fanatic has turned his tremulous faith to momentary bedrock by going public with God-worship.

In my childhood there was an expression, “Is that for show or blow?” That meant, was an object just for public display, or was it to serve a utilitarian purpose. I rather presume it was taken from the practice in those days of men sporting a handsome expensive handkerchief in the breast pocket of their suitcoats, and hiding the older unironed serviceable one in the back pocket of their trousers for private nose-blowing.

In the ever-increasing tastelessness in our society, it would be pleasant to revive some of yesterday’s delicate customs. There’s far too much show-and-tell everywhere. Sensitive, thoughtful people respect the dignity of privacy. They value and appreciate it and cling to the right to it for performing intimate and meaningful actions

I wish someday, somehow, somebody could get that message across to all of our public officials and their tedious, boorish, exhibitionist Christian constituents. They all need to understand that they really should stop blowing their noses on their breast pocket handkerchiefs. It just isn’t nice.

Catherine Fahringer is a Foundation officer and activist from Texas.

Freedom From Religion Foundation