God Bless America. And God bless the United States Postal Service (USPS). But, as for shipments of hipster shoes from a Berlin outfit called Atheist, USPS says, a pox on you and the supple, hand-tooled leather footwear you rode in on.
It turns out that the USPS practices selective handling when it comes to branding they don’t much care for. Atheist Shoes, which is based in Berlin but ships to customers throughout Europe and the U.S., received complaints from its American customers that packages took too long to arrive or didn’t show up at all. So the folks at Atheist conducted a little experiment with their U.S.-bound shipments. They sent out 178 packages to 89 customers in 49 states. Each customer was sent two packages: one was wrapped in Atheist-branded tape while the other was unbranded. The branded packages spent at least 3 days longer in transit (one was 37 days late) while 9 packages went missing altogether. Atheist Shoes alleges that USPS uses a different handling method based on religious intolerance. Or, to put it less politely, USPS tampers with the post—a Federal offence.
Atheist Shoes has asked USPS to review their handling processes but the service has not responded to the request. Elsewhere, however, the response has been explosive. A professor at a leading U.S. university has offered to assist Atheist Shoes with funding and research to conduct a second experiment and the company plans to publish the results in a peer-reviewed social psychology journal.
That America is a deeply religious country is not news. What is less well known is how ignorant many Americans are about any religion, including their own. Unlike their understanding, their fervour knows no bounds. A Pew Forum study on religion and public life interviewed 3,400 Americans on basic religious facts such as “What religion was Mother Teresa?” and “Where was Jesus born?” On average, respondents gave incorrect answers half the time. (Or, in other words, no better than a gamble.) Guess who scored the highest? Jews, Mormons, agnostics and—wait for it—atheists!
Like gays, agnostics and atheists are finally coming out of the closet in America. In a recent study on religious affiliation, those who answered ‘no religion’ were the the fastest growing group in all 50 states over the past 18 years. Indeed, polls conducted last year show that – for the first time in history – more than 50% of Americans would vote for an openly atheist presidential candidate. Certainly the hysterical antics of the religious right have not helped lure the undecided to the cause. This has got to make true believers a little bit twitchy. And, it’s not a stretch to think that some of them work for the USPS and don’t take kindly to what they see as anti-religious propaganda.
Bad news for believers means good news for Atheist Shoes as their potential customer base is growing at, you might say, a miraculous rate. Perhaps one day soon American atheists will be able to come out of the closet without fear of getting fired from jobs or ostracised in communities where the first question upon meeting someone is, “Which Church do you attend?”
Sing it loud. Wear it proud. Now, where are those damn shoes?
Image credit: Cory Doctorow via Flickr.com