I often condemn Christians who seek to make the world Christian and I will tell you why: I find proselytizing an offensive intrusion. People are welcome to their religion and they should be able to celebrate it publicly (and atheists their non-belief), but the line should be drawn at door-to-door god sales. If we have questions we can come looking; churches are easy enough to find.
But pushing your religion on others seems a churlish and low-brow thing to do. Perhaps I only think so because I am conscious that in the past this pushing was often done with the point of a sword but I think it has more to do with the abundant hate and bigotry of our current crop of religious fundamentalists – and I’m not talking about Islam. I’ve never had a Muslim show up on my doorstep and ask to witness to me.
Americans should have a right to be free of harassment on their own doorsteps by people so insecure in their own beliefs that they must push them on others, to say nothing of the harassment we endure in parking lots and sidewalks as we go about our business and minding our own affairs. My time is my own, after all, and my pursuit of happiness is not theirs to interrupt.
Troublesome as all this is, we are far more fortunate than our ancestors, who were subject to coercion of all types by Christian missionaries, prompting the Heathen leader Radbod of Frisia to tell his own irksome visitors, “I’d rather go to hell with my ancestors than to heaven with a parcel of beggars!”
But there have been sensible Christians, though never enough of them. A contemporary of Augustine but less well known, Prosper of Aquitaine believed that God wanted all men to be saved but he believed it was entirely up to divine grace to do that saving. It was no job of man to interfere with God’s business.
He was a minority voice even then and within two centuries his attitudes quickly forgotten by an aggressive church, then bent on bending the whole world to its will. The bloody, centuries-long genocide known as the conversion of Europe is what resulted. Now we get to listen to Christian apologists (there is no other word for it) tell us how Europe has a common Christian heritage.
Not so much. Europe’s common heritage – its stolen heritage – is entirely Pagan.
Finally, 1300 years after the unusually sane Prosper, we find William Carey, a Baptist, who was told in 1786 by his own ministers when he wanted to become a missionary, “Sit down, young man. When it pleases the Lord to convert the heathen He will do it without your help or mine.” One scholar of the barbarian conversion, Richard Fletcher, cites the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1796:
“To spread abroad among barbarians and heathen natives the knowledge of the Gospel seems to be highly preposterous, in so far as it anticipates, nay even reverses, the order of Nature.”
These seem very sensible attitudes. If God is all powerful, why does he need human beings to do the things he is perfectly capable of doing himself by a mere act of will? It would certainly be far easier to snap his fingers and make of the world good little Christians than to create it in the first place. Too bad nobody was listening.
All the evil that followed can be pinned to a passage in the Bible that is not even in our earliest versions – the Great Commission. In Mark 16:8 (Mark being the first gospel written) we see the women fleeing the tomb saying nothing to anyone “for they were afraid”. What comes next was added later, as we know because they are missing from the “oldest and best manuscripts” as Bart Ehrman tells us. “The evidence,” he says, “is sufficient to convince nearly all textual scholars that these verses are an addition to Mark.”
“The ending that became the most popular,” he says, “was found in the manuscripts used by the translators of the King James Version in 1611, so that it became widely familiar to English Bible readers.” Think of Pentecostalism without these twelve verses: speaking in tongues, picking up snakes, drinking poison – and converting the entire world. And we all know that the King James Bible, the Bible favored by fundamentalists, is the most flawed translation available.
But Jesus didn’t actually tell them to do those things and Mark never said he did. Some later scribe, disappointed with Mark’s original abrupt ending, added it, resulting in misery for all the inhabitants of Europe, North, West, and East.
And millions died as a result.
It all leaves one wishing for a functioning time machine. If there is one person in history more culpable of genocide than Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot, it is the unknown scribe who entered that passage into the Bible.
We can take pleasure from a recent Leadership Poll by the National Association of Evangelicals which reveals 68 percent of respondents (who include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches) do not believe America is a Christian nation. That’s great; it’s good to hear and we need to hear more of it.
Less pleasing is hearing that “Evangelical leaders said that regardless of whether they would call the United States a Christian nation or not, America is fertile ground for evangelization.” America is now spoken of in the same terms as Barbarian Europe at the end of the fourth century: a target-rich environment.
“America is one of the world’s great mission fields that the Church has been called to reach in this generation,” said George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, one of those Pentecostal denominations dependent upon a falsified passage.
Wikipedia says of the falsified passage, “the commission from Jesus has been interpreted by evangelical Christians as meaning that his followers have the duty to go, teach, and baptize. Although the command was initially given directly only to Christ’s Eleven Apostles, evangelical Christian theology has typically interpreted the commission as a directive to all Christians of every time and place, particularly because it seems to be a restatement or moving forward of the last part of God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12:3.”
Unfortunately, every step forward for conservative Christianity (the sort that believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God) is a step backward for the rest of us. We have watched our rights steadily eroded in state after state, like women’s reproductive rights, and other rights hotly resisted, like the rights of gays and lesbians to get married and adopt, and our religious rights (Heathens like me can still lose their jobs, homes and even children to over-zealous Christian social workers); and we’re at the point now where we can give no more to their upside-down version of “religious freedom.” As Captain Frederick Benteen said at the Little Bighorn, it’s “a groundhog case. It’s root hog or die.”
The Pine Street Baptist Church in Guyton, Georgia, says, “The Great Commission is enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are to be Christ’s witnesses, fulfilling the Great Commission in our Cities (Guyton), in our States and Countries (Georgia and the United States), and anywhere else God sends us (to the ends of the earth).”
Maybe so. But their God isn’t my God and his genuine wishes have nothing to do with me; his falsified wishes less so, and the Great Commission ends at my doorstep, or anywhere I happen to be standing. As Radbod of Frisia said, I’d rather go to hell with my ancestors than to heaven with a parcel of beggars.”