I'll be honest. I was hoping they were JWs or Mormons. I believe that members of those groups are required, on pain of excommunication (OK, I exaggerate), to do the door-to-door thing. As a result, they tend to be reasonably easy to send away. With JW's, I'll usually say something like "I'm a Buddhist and am very unlikely to read The Watchtower, but please feel free to leave a copy with me."
What? Perusing their psychedelically-coloured illustrations of lions and koalas playing table tennis is the closest I get to dropping acid these days. Anyway, the JWs usually seem content to move on to the next house once they're a Watchtower lighter, and we part amicably. Happy days.
These two were different. I can't recall every step of the conversation, but it went something like this, only longer. This is definitely a truncated version. It felt like about three hours.
Chap: Hello. Can we come in and pray with you for two minutes?
Whoa! Straight to the point!
Me: Erm, I don't really feel comfortable with that. I'm happy to take a leaflet, though I probably won't read it. Anyway, it's a lovely day for you to be out. So bless you.
I am hoping they'll take this as their cue to leave.
Chap: You said "Bless you": are you a born-again Christian?
Me: No, but many of my blood relatives are.
Lady: Awww, why aren't you?
Me: I just don't believe.
I decide not to mention my Buddhism, for fear this will open up another line of conversation.
Chap: I'm a soldier by profession.
Me: Thank you for your service.
Lady: [smiles approvingly]
Chap: I work for the NHS.
Chap: I meet many patients who get to the end of their lives and all they want to do is give themselves to Christ, but sometimes it's too late. Every day is precious. Nobody knows when they are going to die. You mustn't leave it too late.
I am beginning to feel awkward.
Chap: Why don't you let us in to pray with you?
Me: No, I really don't feel comfortable with that.
Lady: [retrieves card from bag and points to URL printed on it] These are our church's details. Look this up and come and join us on Sunday.
I take the card.
Me: I'll look up the website but it's very unlikely that I'll come to church.
Chap: You should. Your Christian family are not stupid, you know.
Me: No, I know. They're very intelligent: I just think they're wrong about this.
Chap: [takes pen from his jacket pocket and holds out his hand for the card - I give it to him] Here, this is my name and phone number. Give me a call.
Lady: Yes, promise you will call.
Me: Thank you. I can't promise to call you, because I don't want to make a promise that I can't be sure I'll keep.
Lady: That's good. You are a good person! You should come to church.
Me: I don't believe...
Chap: You'll see I am Mr [name redacted]. Not "Doctor". Surgeons are "Mister".
A surgeon! He said 'surgeon'! Oh well, I'm still thankful for his service.
Me: I've met some surgeons. I've had a fair few operations.
Chap: And God has kept you alive through all those operations. Don't throw away the chance he has given you. Here, let me take your details.
Me: I really don't feel comfortable with that...
You may notice a pattern emerging here.
Chap: Just your telephone number.
Me: No, as I say, I dont feel comfortable with that.
Chap: Then ask God to reveal himself to you. Pray: "God, show yourself to me." Don't believe beause a religion tells you, because a preacher tells you. Ask God to come to you directly.
I sense that telling them about the Atheist Prayer Experiment would be a bad tactic. I smile and nod non-commitally.
Me: Well, thank you for coming by. I hope you have a good day.
Lady: You too. We will be expecting your call!
Me: [apologetically] Please don't.
And with that, I was finally able to shut the door.
I felt quite shaken after this encounter. Not that it was hostile, but I felt they were so focused on delivering their message, they failed to take any notice of the effect their persistence was having on me. They were oblivious to the fact that they were constantly pushing the boundaries that I'd tried to set, in a friendly manner, from the beginning of the conversation.
I don't like being put in a position where I have to stand my ground.
Next time, I'll be retreating to the living room and hiding behind the sofa. Bugger my pride.