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Alex Beam

The socially unacceptable Christians

Bags of Chick-fil-A sandwiches in New York.
Bags of Chick-fil-A sandwiches in New York.(Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times/file 2015)

The HBO series "Silicon Valley," a trenchant satire of the rich and digital, devoted a recent episode to Christianity. The story took a strange turn.

An entrepreneur named DD was pitching his gay dating website, and fretted to Richard Hendricks, the show's protagonist, that it might be perceived as exclusionary. That won't be a problem, Hendricks replied: "Exclude all the straight people you want."

But a larger concern heaved into view. The entrepreneur was inconveniently "outed" as a . . . Christian. In the Valley, a colleague explained, that is a problem: "Here, you can be openly polyamorous and people will call you brave. You can put microdoses of LSD in your cereal and people will call you a pioneer. But the one thing you cannot be is a Christian."

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DD grew up in Palo Alto, and explains: "My dad says my lifestyle makes him sick. He just wants his gay son back."

The creators of "Silicon Valley" are TV comedy veterans, in effect tipping their hats to the famous 1993 "Seinfeld" episode, "The Outing." In that program, close friends Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza volubly asserted that they weren't gay, insisting all the while — "not that there is anything wrong with that."

Remember when gay people were outsiders? The "Silicon Valley" writers are asking. That's the way cultural sophisticates treat Christians now.

In places like New York City, for instance. Last month, The New Yorker published an article headlined, "Chick-fil-A's Creepy Infiltration of New York." The writer noted that his fellow city dwellers seem to like the food, in fact they were lining up to eat it. "Yet the brand's arrival here feels like an infiltration," he wrote, "in no small part because of its pervasive Christian traditionalism."

Chick-fil-A's owners are conservative Christians who have voiced opposition to same-sex marriage, but The New Yorker doesn't mention any crosses or gay conversion therapies being foisted on unsuspecting chicken-eaters.

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I had a meal at a Chick-fil-A last week and you will never guess what happened: They served me food, and I paid for it. There was no Jesus-mongering, no hidden baptismal pools awaiting unwary customers who might be christened against their will. Unlike my favorite fast-food chain, In-N-Out Burger, they don't print tiny Bible citations on the bottoms of their soft drink cups.

The super-secular Cambridge Public Library, which still displays the Ten Commandments in its original, 1899 building at the request of a 19th-century benefactor, has more religion going on than any Chick-fil-A I've ever been in.

Nonetheless, The New Yorker informs us, "[Chick-fil-A's] arrival in the city augurs worse than a load of manure on the F train." The writer notes that, like many restaurant chains, Chick-fil-A donates thousands of pounds of food to New York Common Pantry. "Still," he writes, "there's something especially distasteful about Chick-fil-A. . . ."

Yeah, OK, we get the point.

If only the great poet, writer, playwright, and aphorist Oscar Wilde were alive to savor our unexpected cultural inversion. Prosecutors of the nominally Christian Queen Victoria tossed Wilde in jail for two years in 1895 for the crime of being gay. Prison broke him, and he died three years later.

A century or so later, Gay is OK, as the famous T-shirt proclaims. Now Christianity, to paraphrase the Victorians' euphemism for homosexuality, is The Religion That Dares Not Speak Its Name.

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We have come a long way — or have we?


Alex Beam's column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.