ELMORE, Ohio — All his life Gary Oltz had considered himself a Christian. As a child he went to a Lutheran church every Sunday with his parents and siblings; as an adult, with his wife Carol, he attended weekly Mass at a Catholic church for nearly 34 years.
But the whole charade ended in early March when Oltz was lying awake in bed one morning, pondering Jesus Christ’s commandment to “love your neighbor.” After four decades of denial, Oltz finally admitted to himself that he had never loved his neighbors, did not want to love them, could not love them, would not love them even if he could, and, if forced to love them, would find some clever way of not actually loving them while pretending and saying he did.
“I realized I was not a Christian,” said Oltz, a digital greeting card designer who lives in this nondescript town 21 miles southeast of Toledo. “And from that point on I decided to accept the fact that the most I’m willing to do for my neighbors is to nod hello to them. I guess I’m comfortable with that kind of commitment.”
But Oltz, 58, didn’t like the idea of not having a religion, so he turned the practice of nodding hello into a kind of faith, with rituals such as nodding up on some days and nodding down on others. On Sundays and other holy days, he makes a special effort to say hi or hello when nodding.
Two weeks ago, Oltz went down to the county courthouse and registered his new faith as an official religion, whose members — thus far Oltz is the only one — are referred to as “nodders.”
“I’m thinking I’ll need to attract a few converts before we can really call this thing a religion like Christianity or Hinduism,” said Oltz. “But that shouldn’t be too hard. Look around, you see a lot of people nodding to each other; it’s so easy and natural, unlike loving. For the life of me, I don’t know what Jesus was thinking when he told us to love one another. My guess is that he was in his hippie phase and was smoking something pretty strong.”