A German man told me recently that after moving to the U.S.A. he has developed a “zero tolerance for religion.”

“Every other day,” he said “there’s someone at the door wanting to change me. And the fanatics… the fanatics get the power. Just look at the American government. On est tous dans la merde.”

This was a casual conversation put forth in good humor, and at his last comment I began to laugh shamefacedly. Last year these were things I had head to describe America, indeed, nearly every other day. People were quick to assure me in such instances that their horror did not extend to me because, happily “you are not a normal American.” How many Americans do you actually know? I wondered, for Americans largely make up the constellation of my landscape. I am not supposed to be overly affected by other people, whether they be the ones insulting me or the ones I miss… but then, if I have not love, I am nothing. You’re insulting everyone I love over there, and those who love me, too; without knowledge.

This, on the other hand, is not without knowledge. I find it discouraging. I can defend religion or my moral position or my countrymen and point out the theoretical benefits of a stringent lifestyle until I’m blue in the face, but of any of this it is difficult to convince anyone. The best modern indication I can offer on a broad scale is the lingering Judeo-Christian tradition of helping a stranger and taking responsibility for your actions. But what else can I say in defense of America, under God, this rabid, puritanical nation of violence and guilty indulgence?

I don’t, of course, have to defend America. I don’t even have to be irritated that someone has developed a “zero tolerance for religion” while living within her borders. But I do feel the obligation to point out that on a personal level “religion” is not an indication of senility. There are beautiful and terrible people doing good in its name, living unhypocritically after hours. But why is this most important; is this arrogance, mere defense of my credibility? I know he is mostly right. In any case, if one is convincing, one runs the risk of being admonished of one’s singularity: “Yes, but you’re not a normal American.” As if that helps matters.