Friday, July 15, 2011

Viewpoints . . . Other

So two bright and shiny young men, dressed identically—dark pants, white shirts, dark ties, shiny faces—showed up at our front door and rang the doorbell. I answered. “Yes, may I help you?”
“I’ll bet you never saw missionaries like us.”
I thought, “hmmm, what is different about them? Oh, one is white and one is black.”
“Um, well, yes I have, thanks.”
“But I should tell you that I find missionaries profoundly disrespectful, and we don’t engage with them.”
“Oh, and we don’t play church.”
They looked at me baffled, the smiles frozen on their faces. The taller young man asked, “may I give you a card?”
“Well, no, I don’t need or want one. Thanks. Bye.”
Now what I didn’t tell them was why I found missionaries profoundly disrespectful. Around here, in the Concord region, many people refer casually and with great enthusiasm, to the whole notion of missions. Whenever someone discovers that we lived in India, the first question asked is, “Oh, did you go on a mission?”  When I say no, their relative interest quietly disappears.  But back to missionaries. Think of the concept. First, I only know of Christians going on missions. I have never heard of or encountered a Buddhist missionary, or  Jewish missionary, or a Muslim missionary. Think about that. What would their reception be, were a Buddhist or Hindu missionary to wander about Concord, NC , knock on doors randomly and inquire whether they would like to talk and could they pray for the person living therein? I’m thinking . . . borderline hostility.
So, why do Christians believe it to be useful or necessary to traipse around the world trying to convert other non-Christian souls? Aren’t they really saying, “Look I know you’re not a Christian, and that’s why I’m here. You are profoundly lost and I will save you if you let me.”
Now, isn’t that the definition of disrespectful?
Well, I find it so.
Oh, and we were interviewed by a reporter for the local Independent Tribune on the subject of my agnosticism.  The resulting article ( was entitled, “Can Faith and Uncertainty Co-Exist?”  It was a really fine article about my agnosticism, and how I arrived at that belief (or non-belief).
Within an hour of the paper arriving at people’s doorsteps, we had our first telephone call. A pleasant woman expressing her sadness at our plight. She offered us solace, and said she would pray for us. The next day, a long note in a card arrived in the mail, expressing the same sentiments, and suggesting that we should consult a minister and she had just the man for us. She felt sorry for us, especially since we seemed to have such a nice pond. Poor souls.  That same day, yet another telephone call, telling us that we clearly needed help and should consult a minister about our plight. We thanked him and hung up.
See, that’s the missionary thing writ large. The article indicated quite clearly that we thought it was ok for people to believe whatever they wished, but that people really ought to respect the beliefs (or non-beliefs ) of others.  In short, they really should respect us, by essentially leaving us to our beliefs. We neither needed nor wanted their  consolation and , frankly, the last thing we need is a consult with a local minister. I regard priests (that includes ministers) largely as charlatans, even the nice ones. So, why would I want to consult a charlatan, or a local Ponzi master?
Um, I don’t think so.
But we survived, and the community at large seems to have survived this assault on the belief system at large. The world goes on. If only everyone would understand that life really is a journey, and there may be no “there” there at the end.  So, the best thing is to try to enjoy the journey without harming anyone along the way.
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