Monday, April 23, 2007

This one goes out to the ones who love

Listening to Christian radio today, I heard them exhorting people to share the gospel at their workplaces, at their schools, to (blurg) "reclaim them for Christ." And I got to thinking about why Christians sharing their faith are so astoundingly obnoxious. You know, not people who matter-of-factly acknowledge their Christianity, and try to live well to teach by example. We're talking about people who feel they must Witness to you. I think we can all agree they are astoundingly obnoxious, even many of the witnessers themselves, if the Christian literature urging people to overcome their reticence about it is any indication.

So I thought, honestly, if people are genuinely trying to share something with you, something they believe to be the key to everlasting joy, why is it so freaking irritating? I mean, it's an offer, isn't it? It's something generous, right?

Except, maybe it isn't. Maybe the reason these interactions are so annoying is that they mirror the obnoxious door-to-door salesman far too much. The guy who knocks on your door (or calls during dinner) and tells you he has a fabulous offer for you. Who will. not. admit. that he is selling something. Perhaps we are getting the sense that underlying that surface generosity is nothing more than selfish opportunism.

Not that it's conscious on the proselytizer's part, heavens no. See, I think a lot of this febrile witnessing, this obsession with the Great Commission, is an attempt to prop up faith. I think maybe a lot of people have questions and doubts, and part of making that go away is bringing in new believers. If you can convince ten new people to believe, why, that must mean that your beliefs are true! It also gives you something to concentrate on besides pondering the real posers like the Problem of Evil, while also projecting your own doubts onto someone else, and taking a purely adversarial position toward such doubts: armed with predigested apologetics, witnesses assume the truth of their position, and use every trick to turn the arguments of the target. Much more comfortable than actually thinking about the questions. And if you fail, it's not because the faith is utter codswallop, rather it feeds the tempting idea that you're part of a persecuted group.

No wonder people get rude when a co-worker asks if they have a personal relationship with Jesus, or strip naked to greet the Mormon missionaries. We're sussing out the subtext of the message. On the surface, it is, "I love you, let me share this gift with you," but underneath it's clear: "I don't see you as a person, as an end in yourself, but merely as a means to prop up my own beliefs and prove my worth." No wonder people get offended. At least the salesman on your doorstep, however insufferable, is offering a good or service. Christian proselytizers really just want something for nothing.

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