Monthly Archives: August 2010

Missionary Go Home – No Just Go Away

One of my favorite scenes from the “Sex and the City” TV series was when Charlotte wanted to convert to Judaism and the rabbi slammed the door on her.  That’s my kind of religious leader.  The Dalai Lama said, “You should be devoted to your own religion while nurturing a deep respect for other religions.”

I had a distant relative go to China on a “mission” to convert the heathens to Christianity.  This was organized by some group in the business of proselytizing on a regular basis.  The catch here was that they had to deceive the Chinese government into believing they were offering some social service.  I never heard what service that was.  Is there anyone reading this that also finds it ironic that these Christian missionaries were so willing to lie systematically about their intentions and activities in order to fulfill their “mission”?  From what I can tell, this did not for one moment create any ethical dilemma for those involved.  Deceit does not strike me as a Christian value.  Premeditated deceit is so much the worse.

Aversion to conversion is difficult for zealots to understand, but trying to impose your religion on someone else is just arrogance.  Working to convert people of other cultures is imperialism.  The other misguided and connected activity, which is necessary to support this scramble to convert, is the need for fund-raising.  Don’t kid yourself, being a missionary is profitable.  Since God doesn’t have a payroll for cash in this lifetime, the missionaries have to convince the faithful to support them financially.  They go to family, friends and churches to ask for money.  The faithful are happy to chip in because it’s all about God’s work, now, isn’t it?  I know of one church-going couple who spend more on missionaries every year than they ever spent on the education of their children in total.  These same folks are quick to judge the poor for being on welfare.

There is a difference when the faithful make a statement by taking action.  Public television’s Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly (“Season of Service,” 10/16/2009) had a story that demonstrated a mission of service that is indicative of compassion and respect.  I would say it is mission in action, and actions that are needed and welcomed.  More than 26,000 Christian volunteers cleaned schools, organized and operated dental and medical clinics, and offered many other services including free veterinary care.  Watch or read the story on the link below.  You’ll feel better about humanity – I promise.

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/october-16-2009/season-of-service/4589/

This has been a news week when the raging controversy is whether or not there should be an Islamic community center near the World Trade Center site.  The Pew poll was also released indicating how many people think the president is Muslim.  On weeks like this, it seems the Stupids are winning.  It is sad that not only is the rumor about the president untrue, it shouldn’t matter.  This is not, by design, a Christian nation.  It is a secular country designed to allow the free practice of any, all, or no religion(s). We would be better off with no missionaries except the likes of the “Season of Service” or Habitat for Humanity.  Show me what you believe and just stop talking about it.  True Islam is about compassion, and Christianity is the same.  If you define a religion by the fanatics, then all religions look bad.

So, missionaries, go home and stay away from mine.  Unless you want to roll up your sleeves and really make a contribution, we just don’t need you.  There is already enough judgmental arrogance to go around.  And if you want to offer social services as an example of the best of your religion, then come on.  Whatever religion you are and wherever you want to be, there is not one single spot in this world that couldn’t benefit from more compassion – especially Ground Zero.

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Jesus the Socialist

In a prior career, I was in advertising where I learned that seven words or less make the best billboard copy.  I always liked that method of getting to the point, but I would not confuse billboards with literature.  Not everyone would agree with me.

While I was sitting in a hospital waiting room the size of a walk-in closet, I had the unavoidable misfortune to overhear two local pundits discussing Obama as a Socialist.  I don’t want to sound like a snob, but I was pretty sure neither of these geniuses had ever heard of Friedrich Engels or Karl Marx, unless someone at their church had the same name.  I fixed one of those glares on them that my mother used to use on me and that was enough to provoke a response.  He said something brilliant like, “Looks like somebody doesn’t like what we saying.”  I simply replied, “It’s such a shame you don’t read much.”  That was less than I wanted to say because you see both of these inspired philosophers were carrying Bibles.  Then Intellectual Number One said, “I do read.  There is a billboard in Texas that says Obama is a Socialist.”  I’m not sure which was more disconcerting, that he considered reading a billboard really reading, or that he believed what he read on a billboard was absolute truth.

It’s a pretty safe bet that the intellectuals mentioned here can’t master a Google search, but I can dream that they have a dictionary.  A simple dictionary look-up offers a few manageable sentences to help understand the actual meaning of the word being tossed about.  Dictionary.com defines socialism as a system of community ownership.  Utopian socialism is even more interesting and is defined as, “an economic system based on the premise that if capital voluntarily surrendered its ownership of the means of production to the state or the workers, unemployment and poverty would be abolished,” (the same source).

From where I’m sitting, a system without unemployment and poverty deserves consideration.  Now, don’t overreact.  I’m not promoting socialism.  I’m just suggesting that unregulated capitalism has led to runaway greed, and as a result record unemployment.  In a capitalistic society, losing your job is economic cancer.  The social toxin more potent than racism is classism.  All races, more than anything else, don’t want live in poverty, and the lucky hope the poor did something to deserve it, so it doesn’t happen to them.

Since I outed myself in the last column as having more familiarity with Christianity than other religions, and since it is the majority religion in this country, I am comfortable addressing Jesus and socialism – a column topic recommended by my friend Kathleen.  Jesus was not a big proponent of social systems, though he was comfortable challenging them.  Challenging the status quo was something he had in common with Marx, Engels, and Max Weber.  He was also a big fan of the poor.  He spent most of his time with social outcasts.  In today’s world, I would suggest that to be AIDS patients (lepers), victims of domestic abuse (adulterous woman about to be stoned), blue collar neighborhoods (fishermen), and the like.

When most people today use the term “socialist,” it is to obtain emotional responses from the uninformed.  It is intended to evoke a similar reaction to the old Cold War era fear of communism.  Labeling Obama a socialist gives folks a way to name-call without being accused of racism.  You are free to criticize his policies or how they are implemented, but if caring about the poor, the unemployed and the uninsured is socialism, then we need some more of it.

Concern for the greater good and the welfare of millions of disadvantaged people is not socialism, it’s being a decent human being.  It’s about time some leader of this country tried to help those who cannot help themselves.  All the hunting in the world will not makes jobs available for everyone who needs one.  Obama is the one who told us in the campaign that we can’t expect folks to pick themselves up by their bootstraps if they don’t have shoes.  I don’t care if he has all the answers or perfect policies.  I am grateful that someone in leadership is even talking about helping others.  Jesus is the one that said if you do it for the least of these, you’re doing it for me.  Bring on the Socialist Jesus because this is one greedy, troubled country.  Hiding your racism behind inflammatory labels on the president does not help the disadvantaged.  If you carry a Christian Bible, then you are signing up to care about others.  Here’s my billboard: “If you’re racist, you’re not Christian. Choose.”  How about those seven words?