For months now I have allowed a prosperity gospel type cheap imitation megachurch to get my goat by sending out large-size postal cards in garish colors with pandering messages for their corporation, something they call the Bay Area Fellowship. It's run by a Barbee and Ken duo who post their mugs on every one of these sleazy solicitations, and when I finally saw them on one that inspired me to action, I thought, Now I have them! It was an almost all black card with neon red colors inviting me to attend a series of events at their "church" called: SEX IN THE CITY!.

Never mind the sophomoric cleverness of the none-too-subtle modification of the title of a popular TV sitcom, a program that used endless titillation and occasional bits of serious discussion of the subject at hand, even if these provincial megachurch programs could be cast as marital advice, the advertising was redolent of 42nd Street before Giuliani ran out all the porno stores. No, there was no actual XXX mind you, but my nostalgia for religion had me objecting to the post card as "obscene" in the sense that it was an affront to my own recalled Christian upbringing. If you take The Atlantic you probably read the article about mortgage companies using prosperity gospel pastors to sell subprime notes, thus making Christianity a player in the Great Recession.

A letter to the editor in the next month's issue objected to use of "Christianity" as a group culprit in the melt-down, pointing out that the prosperity gospel is not what Jesus stood for, and that in any case there are other more responsible Christians who do not follow such an odd interpretation of the Prophet's beliefs. (Here, it might be pointed out that when Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan engaged in online debate on this very proposition, Harris ended up the clear victor, simply by pointing out that "good" Christians enable "bad" ones. And in any case, the problem is not interpretation of scripture, it is belief in the first place.)

It is because I take issue with the prosperity gospel that I wrote to the Fellowship previously. After receiving several of their giant postcards, I told them in somewhat stentorian terms that I thought they were false spokespeople for their supposed Prophet and that they actually made a mockery of what he stood for. I challenged Ken to a debate anywhere anytime on the existence of his "God" and said I knew I would win the argument since I have science and reason on my side and all he has is superstition and belief. I received no reply and assumed they'd taken my name and address out of their computer program, but lo and behold I received more of the cards.

Being an attorney, I researched possible causes of action or theories of recovery I might have in a suit against the Fellowship to halt their sending the cards. I found that I could ask for nominal damages in a suit for invasion of privacy, but there might be problems with the definition of a "reasonable person" entitled to maintain such a suit: as all of us know, the minute a Christian hears we are atheists, we are immediately assigned to the garbage heap of lunatics and Satan worshipers. I also researched the Postal Code for some sign I could simply put a stop order on the Fellowship but was discouraged to learn that one can only contact a no-junk mail organization online and stop all bulk mail to your address. I happen to like bulk mail and was wont to do this.

The obscenity provisions in the Code are -- surprise! -- nebulous. If one objects to a mailing as "obscene," one must urge the USPS to see that it is sexually provocative and thus constitutes "pandering." Now, admittedly, aside from my nostalgic objections to Fellowship mailings, there was nothing really sexually provocative about the card in mention -- if by sexually provocative did it make me horny? (I am smiling.) But as a Supreme Court justice explained, "I can't define obscenity but I know it when I see it." The masses make the mistake of thinking that because they don't find something provicative, no one else could. I can certainly imagine other people finding Ken and Barbee or either of them provocative since they are young and attractive people with coiffed and made-up images suggesting hours in beauty parlors and cosmetic expenses that would make John Edwards' haircut budget look like a bus receipt.

But that is not the point. The point is that, with reference to the USPS standard, I place emphasis on the word "pandering," and it is with this in mind that, to me, the post card is extremely obscene. The obstacles to success in a civil suit should be obvious since a presumably Christian judge would have trouble finding it "reasonable" that I would object to a relatively innocuous post card, and if questioned in court, I would have to explain that its presence in my mail box invades my privacy by my having to look at it when I examine my mail each day.

But how much of a problem could it be for the Bay Area Fellowship simply to take my address off their computer? In any suit, I would be asking for nominal damages. Isn't that "reasonable"? I would settle for their paying my court costs and signing a consent decree.

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Comment by James M. Martin on January 29, 2010 at 5:30pm
It worked! I got a notice from the USPS saying they had sent a prohibition order to the "church" requiring removal of my name and address from their mailing list. And the order is good for five years.
Comment by danwest on January 28, 2010 at 2:33pm
If you can't achieve immortality in any other way, you can do it by getting on a mailing list.
Comment by Jim DePaulo on January 16, 2010 at 5:52pm
The funny thing is this is something that I and my fundamentalist relatives in S. Carolina and Lousiana can agree on. They aren't the Christians that I recall (dim though those memories may be). One cousin refers to them as con men for Jesus.

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