Missionaries (why I don’t like them)

by Berck

So, I haven’t been blogging much about training this time around. It’s still pretty boring, since I’ve mostly been through it already. We’ve been promised that we’ll get our simulator schedules tomorrow. If so, I’ll be very happy to know what’s going to be going on and when.

Instead of blogging or studying this afternoon, I’ve been emailing. I figured I’d go ahead and post this on here in case it sparks discussion. If you don’t care what I think about missionaries (and really, why should you?), don’t bother reading the rest.

I don’t deny that many missionaries do a lot of good. I tend to think, though, that they could be doing a lot more good if they weren’t so focused on spreading the news. I appreciate that many people believe that the most important thing in life is for a person to accept Jesus so that they can be saved.

Since I think it highly unlikely that God only lets people into heaven through Jesus (even though Jesus may have claimed such), I clearly disagree with the amount of effort that I see wasted in that direction.

I see a fair amount of harm in it as well. Christianity caught on in early Rome because it offered this hope to the lower classes which they otherwise didn’t possess. In Rome, it’s not as though one could move up in society through hard work. The lower class had, at best, a shot at a miserable existence. Along came a religion that provided hope that in the afterlife things would be better. Perhaps, at the time, it wasn’t such a bad thing.

But we don’t live in ancient Rome. We live in a world where things can change, and someone can generally better his own life if he tries. He probably won’t, but that hope is important, and can exist without Christianity. If you go into an impoverished nation and focus on bringing people to Jesus, you run the risk that people will latch onto the hope of things being better in the afterlife rather than focus on this life. Perhaps change could be effected sooner and more dramatically if missionaries didn’t spend so much time on Jesus. One of my big personal complaints about Christianity in general is its (as I see it) absurd focus on the afterlife. I plan to live this life as best as I can and I’ll worry about the afterlife when I get there.

In short, I’d rather see people focus on making this world a better place, and certainly missionaries do a lot of that. But I’d rather they left the Jesus bit out.

There is also the class of pushy, conditional missionaries who offer assistance only if the recipients agree to be baptized or in some way indoctrinated. This is possibly only a small contingent of missionaries, but they do exist, and I think it should be plenty obvious why I see this as despicable.

Finally, I find evangelism itself to be very offensive. Christianity is, as far as I can tell, the only religion so interested in acquiring converts. In general, Christians are the only group of people who cannot seem to accept that I don’t want to be one of them, and that I don’t need to be one of them. I’m perfectly happy for as many people who want to to become Christian, (don’t think I mean to declare war on the religion!) but I don’t want any part of it, and I want that decision to be respected. While some Christians do, many do not. This type of loud, obnoxious, evangelical who doesn’t respect my right not to be Christian often tends to be drawn toward missionary work. Having encountered such missionaries, I’m likely to take a dim view on the entire enterprise. I appreciate that not all missionaries are this way.

I’m thrilled that [some folks we know who might not want to be mentioned here] are hoping to join the peace corps. It’s something I very much wanted to do, but they are a pretty picky organization, and I was not qualified without a college degree. In fact, they turn away many people with humanities degrees as well, as they seem to prefer people with technical backgrounds. I appreciate that [some folks we know] have done lots of good while working for evangelical Christian organizations, and as I understand it (though I might misunderstand it), their motivation for peace corps is likely related to the appeal it has for graduate schools. (Secular graduate schools, like me, and for similar reasons, look a lot more favorably on peace corps work than missionary work.) Still, I’m glad they’ll be doing plenty of good without trying to actively convert people. Furthermore, I’d bet that Christianity is probably better served by demonstrating good works rather than preaching the good news.

9 Responses to “Missionaries (why I don’t like them)”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    “Missionaries (why I don’t like them)”
    Hhmmm….you seemed to like Joanna pretty well during the time she was a missionary.

  2. Berck Says:

    •Jonah claims she was very much not involved in any proselytizing.
    •I disagree with plenty of other things Jonah does and still like her pretty well.
    •I don’t even dislike all missionaries who proselytize, just most of them.

  3. Nathan Says:

    Meme: You know who else didn’t like missionaries?

  4. nbailey Says:

    I can think of several theocracies that really, really don’t like it if you’re not a part of their religion. Your opinion that Christianity is the only religion to be so interested in acquiring converts seems to turn a blind eye to major current events.

  5. Berck Says:

    I assume you’re referring to Islam. While such theocracies essentially legislate their religious laws to everyone in the country, they’re not necessarily concerned about whether or not you profess or believe the same religion. Furthermore, Muslims don’t go out and try to convert. They just don’t. They don’t go door to door, they’re not interested in making you one of them. I’ve known plenty of Muslims, and never had one try to convert me. Sure, there are crazy Muslims who kill Jews, but for the most part they don’t care about killing Christians, and it has little to do with trying to convert anyone.

  6. Nathan Says:

    They’ve created an entire systems of government based on their religion.
    They forbid you from practicing yours.
    Their laws force you to live according to their religious beliefs.
    Leaving theirs results in death.

    Seems to me that there are far better things to be offended by.

  7. Berck Says:

    Well, in the past, Christians have had plenty of similar theocracies, so I don’t think you get to take the high road here. Your religion has mellowed out a bit since the crusades, and Islam probably will too when it’s a similar age.

    I’m clearly not a supporter of Islamic theocracies, but it has nothing to do with what I was complaining about. I don’t like telemarketers either, but that also wasn’t the point.

  8. Nathan Says:

    You were complaining about Christian evangelists. You said they were the most interested in converting people, and that you found them very offensive. I pointed out there were other religions that seemed to be a bit heavier handed about wanting to convert people. So yes, it had everything to do with what you were complaining about.

  9. Berck Says:

    But you’re wrong about Muslims being interested in converting people. They just aren’t. Sure they are “heavy handed” in countries where they are all Islamic anyway. But they don’t go try to recruit non-Islamic folks and convert them to Islam. It’s not their way. You seem to think that simply because there are totalitarian Islamic theocracies that they are interested in converting people and proselytizing for Islam, but that isn’t the case at all. Muslims in this country or any other don’t really care about making non-Muslims convert. They are *very* interested in making sure that their people follow the religious rules which is something completely different.

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