'Who's That Knocking on the Door? A Buddhist's Guide to Evangelical
Christianity' ~ An extract from a book by Ven. Sravasti Dhammika
"About six months ago there was a knock on my door and I opened it to find two evangelicals Christians there. I knew they were evangelicals because they had that fake friendly smile on their faces, which all evangelicals have when they are trying to convert someone. This was the third time that month that evangelists had come knocking on my door and disturbing me so I decided to teach them a lesson. 'Good morning' they said. 'Good morning' I replied.'Have you heard about the Lord Jesus Christ'? they asked. 'I know something about him but I am a Buddhist and I'm not really interested in knowing more' I said. But like all evangelists, they took no notice of my wishes and proceeded to talk about their beliefs. So I said, 'I don't think you are qualified to speak to me about Jesus'. They looked very astonished and asked, 'Why not'? 'Because', I said, 'you have no faith'. 'Our faith in Jesus is as strong as a rock' they insisted. 'I don't think it is' I said with a smile. 'Please open your Bible and read the Gospel of Mark, chapter 16, verse 16, 17 and 18' I said and while they flicked through their Bibles I went quickly inside and came out again.
One of them found the passage and I asked him to read it out loud. It said, 'He who believes and is baptized will be saved but he who does not believe shall be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe in my name. They shall cast out devils, they shall speak in tongues, they will handle snakes and if they drink poison it will not hurt them and they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover'. When he finished I said, 'In that passage Jesus says that if you have real faith you will be able to drink poison and not die'. I took a bottle of Lankem from behind my back, held it up and said, 'Here is some poison. Demonstrate to me the strength of your faith and I will listen to anything you have to say about Jesus'.
You should have seen the looks on their faces! They didn't know what to say. 'What's the problem'? I asked. 'Is your faith not strong enough'? They hesitated for a few moments and then one of them replied, 'The Bible also says that we must not test God'. 'I'm not testing God', I said, 'I'm testing you. You love to witness for Jesus and now is your big opportunity'. Finally one of them said, 'We will go and speak to our pastor about this matter and come back and see you. 'I'll be waiting for you' I said as they scurried away. Of course they never came back again. Here is a bit of advice. Keep a copy of this Bible reference and a bottle of Lankem ready and every time the evangelists come to your door to harass you give them this test. You might like to have a *polanga ready as well.
*"polanga" is a Sri Lankan word meaning "viper"
Evangelical Christians are often predicting that the world is going to end very soon and Jesus is going to come again. When I was 18 I remember very distinctly that the Jehovah's Witnesses came to our house and told me that the world was going to end in 1975. If you find any old Watch Tower or Awake magazines from that period you will see many articles about the world ending in 1975. Of course they were wrong, just as they were wrong when they predicted that the world was going to end in 1895 and again in 1914. In the 1990's many churches were claiming that the world was going to end in 2000. Some naive and impressionable people were frightened enough to believe this nonsense and converted to Christianity.
In 1991 I was working in a particular place and every lunchtime I would go to the restaurant on the ground floor. One day I met three young men who told me that they were doing part time work for a man on the 5th floor. One day as we sat having lunch together the subject got on to religion and they told me that their boss believed that the world was going to end in 2000.
One of them was obviously a little frightened by this possibility and asked me what I thought about it. 'It is complete nonsense' I said. 'I don't believe it and I guarantee that your boss doesn't really believe it either' 'Oh but he does' the three boys said. They told me that he had books on the subject and he had showed them passages in the Bible proving that the world was going to end in nine years. 'I tell you, your boss doesn't really believe that', I said. 'Do you mind if we tell him that' they said and I told them that I didn't mind. The next day the man together with the three boys came to see me. We had a friendly chat about Christianity and then we got onto the subject of the end of the world. The man insisted that the Bible clearly predicted that the world was going to end and that he had utter faith in the Bible. I laughed at him. 'You Christians are so confused and lacking in awareness that you don't know what you believe' I said. 'You have no right to doubt the depth of my faith' the man said, now a little annoyed. I said, 'I can prove that you don't really believe the end of the world and Jesus' return. 'Prove it then'! he challenged.
The three boys were now listening to our discussion very intently. 'Alright'! I said. 'Do you believe that the world is going to come to a complete end in the year 2000'? 'Absolutely'! said the man. 'The Bible predicts it and I believe it will happen'. 'Okay' I said. 'I have a friend who is a lawyer. I will ask him to come here tomorrow and you and I will draw up a proper legally binding contract in which you will agree to give me all your property - your house, your business and all your assets - in the year 2001. Do you agree to do that'? The man was flabbergasted. He didn't know what to say. 'Come on', I said. 'If you are right, and you insist you are, in 2001 I will be in hell and you will be in heaven with Jesus where you wont need all your worldly goods'. 'This is just silly' said the man now very flustered.
Now one of the boys joined in. 'Its does not seem silly to me. It seems like a good chance for you to prove you beliefs'. 'I agree' I said. 'Now is your big chance to demonstrate how genuine you and strong your faith is. These boys might be so impressed that they might become Christians. Put your faith where your mouth is'. The man became very angry, got up and walked away. The three boys were smiling and the one who had been a little frightened about the end of the world was smiling the most.
When two nice looking young American boys with short hair, white shirts and ties appear on your doorstep you will know that the Mormons have arrived. Mormonism is not only the weirdest of all Christian sects it is also one of the most weird religions in the world. The Mormons are also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Nowadays the Mormons are very respectable but the early history of their church is full of controversy and scandal. Of course the Mormons will never tell you about this and indeed some of them don't even know it themselves. So you might like to remind them about it when they come knocking on your door. The two most shameful things that the Mormon church used to teach was polygamy and the idea that black people are evil.
The founder of the Mormon Church Joseph Smith taught that a man could have as many wives as he liked and he is said to have up to 40 at one time or another, some of them very young. This caused outrage in America in the 1830's and Mormons were persecuted, Smith was arrested and eventually killed by an angry crowd. Brigham Young, the second head of the Mormon Church had 27 wives, the youngest of whom was only 13 years old. All the Mormons used to live in an isolated area of America and they wanted to become a part of the United States. The America government insisted that they could only do this if they gave up the practice of polygamy. So the church declared that polygamy was wrong (after years of saying it was good) and the Mormon state of Utah became a part of the USA.
Many Mormons were not happy with their church's compromise and continued to have multiple wives and many still do. The Mormons also believed that black people were morally and intellectually inferior to white people and they were not allowed to enter Mormon temples for over a hundred years. By the 1960's this belief had started to become a major embarrassment for the Mormons and so God very conveniently came to the rescue. In 1971 in a complete reversal of the revelation he had given Joseph Smith 140 years earlier God revealed to the head of the church that it was actually okay for blacks to enter temples. Isn't it funny that God can't seem to make up his mind about what is and is not okay.
Do miracles really happen as the evangelist's claim? No, they do not. Then why are Christians always claiming that Jesus is helping them? In some cases they are lying or exaggerating in the hope that you will be impressed enough to inquire more into Christianity and hopefully eventually convert. But in some cases they really believe that Jesus miraculously intervened in their lives. So deluded are they that they interpret the most ordinary events, the most common occurrences, as a miracle. I used to know a man who was always very aggressively trying to convert me. One day I asked him why he became a Christian. He drew himself up, pleased to have the opportunity be a witness for Jesus and then he told me this story.
His mother had been a Buddhist and his father had been a Christian and as a boy he was a little of both. During the Second World War he joined the army and was taken from Sri Lanka to North Africa. He and his platoon were due to be taken abroad a ship but because to a series of strange incidents he was delayed and when he finally arrived his platoon were all on the ship and it was sailing out of the harbor. As he stood watching the ship reach the open sea and a German submarine suddenly torpedoed it. The ship sank and everyone on board died. After saying this he stood there with a big smile on his face as if this explained why he had became a Christian. 'What is the point of your story'? I inquired 'Can't you see'? he said. 'If I had been on that ship I would have died. Jesus delayed me in order to save my life. At that very moment I was born again and I gave myself to Jesus'. I was silent for a moment as I tried to comprehend the bazaar logic of the evangelicals. Then I said. 'Do you mean to tell me that Jesus let hundreds of people die just so that you would believe in him? Why didn't he delay the whole platoon so they would all believe in him'? He stood there with his mouth open. It was clear that he had never thought of this possibility before. This man never talked to me about Jesus again.
I know a Sinhalese family living in England. The wife is a pious Buddhist but the husband is not particularly religious although he is an very honest and kind person - religious without calling himself so. He is also a very no- nonsense kind of person. To the mother's great distress the oldest daughter has become a very fanatical evangelical Christian and she insists on praying every night before the family start eating. Being a tolerant Buddhist the mother lets her do this, the father sits there impatiently waiting for her to finish and the other children smile to themselves, thinking that their sister has 'gone a little loose'.
Evangelicals love to do this sort of thing. They will use every opportunity to push their religion into the center of attention. If they are Christian they will insist on letting you know it. One of the things the daughter would often say as she prayed was 'Thank you Jesus for this food that we eat with gratitude tonight'. One night, after months of listening to such things the father decided he had had enough. He roared; 'It is not Jesus who puts this food on the table every night but me. It is I who work 50 hours a week to get the money to buy what we eat, not Jesus. If you ever say that again I will throw you out of this house and then you can ask Jesus to get you another place to stay'.
Once I was sitting reading a book on Buddhism while I was waiting for a bus. After a while a young man sat came and sat beside me, saw my book and asked me if I was a Buddhist. I told him I was and he started to bombard me with the usual evangelical boasts, half-truths and unsubstantiated claims. As he got more excited he said 'God exists and I can prove he exists'. I laughed and told him that this was impossible. 'I have proof of God here in this bag', he said. This really intrigued me and I asked him to show me. He put his hand in the bag, pulled out an orange and held it up. Now I was really bewildered. I asked him, 'How does an orange prove that God exist'? He opened the orange, separated the segments and said, 'God has designed the whole universe for man's benefit. Look at this orange, each segment is designed perfectly to fit into our mouth'. I laughed out loud and then said, 'What about a water melon! How would you fit one of those into your mouth'? Such is the simplistic logic that leads some evangelists to believe in God.
Just recently a friend of mine died and I went to his funeral, which was at the crematoria. He was a very devote Buddhist, he practiced meditation and was widely respected for his kindness. As it happens his sister and brother are both Christians, in fact his brother is an evangelical pastor. They and a few of their Christian friends attended the funeral too. Because the deceased was a Buddhist a well-known monk conducted the ceremony. After he had finished his sermon he decided that it would be a graceful gesture to invite the brother up to say a few words also. The pastor came to the front and without thanking the monk for his thoughtfulness launched into a long and very angry speech. He said that there was only one true religion and only one way to salvation and that there could be no compromise between light and darkness.
When he had finished he left the platform again without thanking the monk and walked back to his seat. Even I who are well acquainted with the rudeness of the evangelists was shocked by this display of bad manners. After we all left the crematorium I was talking to a friend and he said, 'Wasn't that pastor's sermon wonderful'. I was shocked by this comment and asked him what he meant. 'Well', he said, 'there couldn't have been a better demonstration of the difference between Buddhism and evangelical Christianity. Every one of the hundred or so people who came here today now knows how rude, fanatical and bad mannered these people really are'.
In the 1980's a huge scandal hit the evangelical world of the American. Two of the biggest evangelical pastors were Jimmy Swarggart and Jim Bakker and his wife Tammy. Swaggart had a television program which was watched by millions of people every week. He was a typical preacher always pleading for donations 'to do the Lord's work', loudly condemning all kinds of immorality and insisting that only Jesus can make a person better. Jim and Tammy Bakker had an enormously popular television show too but they were better known for teaching what is called the Gospel of Prosperity. They lived in ostentatious luxury and were on salaries of hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.
Both Swarggat and the Bakkers had built up empires of incredible wealth and power and naturally they were very jealous of each other. One day at the height of their power word leaked out that there was something wrong in Jim and Tammy's church. It soon emerged that there had been massive financial irregularities in the church - fraud, theft, tax evasion and illegal bank accounts. Worse, it was discovered that Jim had been committed adultery with his secretary, had committed sodomy with his driver and that Tammy was actually a drug addict.
America was shocked, the country's most pious couple were actually thieving, lying hypocrites, and as the police began their investigations the Baker's empire came crashing down. Eventually Jimmy Bakker was sentenced to 45 years in prison for fraud. One person however was ecstatically happy, Jimmy Swaggart. On his television program he proclaimed that if the Bakers had been 'real' Christians, the way he was, that this would have never have happened. He said he would support a move to expel the Bakkers from the church because evangelical Christian organizations must be pure, the way his was, and that true evangelicals must give themselves completely to Jesus, the way he did.
Just a few weeks later a newspaper reporter managed to take a photo of Jimmy Swaggart coming out of a brothel. The next day the story was in the headlined of every major newspaper. In front of an TV audience of millions Swaggart confessed his sins and pleaded with Jesus to forgive him. Jesus may have done so but the American public did not. Amidst cries of 'Hypocrite'! and 'Pervert'! and howls of laughter from critics of evangelical Christianity Swaggart had to resign as a pastor. One night a few months later a policeman pulled over a car which was driving too fast. Inside he found Jimmy Swaggart with his pants down and dozens of pornographic magazines on the back seat. Just as these scandals began to die down yet another evangelical pastor was exposed as a hypocrite.
In 1992 the highly respected preacher Edward Gallimore was charged with bigamy. It was discovered that not only had he married a second time without divorcing his first wife but that his second wife was only 15 years old. Such are the antics of some of the leading lights of the evangelical Christian churches in America.
Of course we cannot rejoice when we hear that a religious person has been tempted into evil and betrayed the trust of their devotees. But the fact is that these sorts of things are very common in evangelical churches, far more common than in the Catholic Church and the mainline Protestant churches. And the reason for this is very clear. Long before the evangelicals have genuinely changed their lives they are running around trying to convert others. They are far more interested in making converts from other religions than they are in making bad Christians into better Christians. Further, evangelicals have the most simplistic view of human problems, indeed they have a simplistic view of everything. The answer to every problem, the solution to every crisis, the medicine to every sickness, the resolving of every doubt is 'just accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior'.
If someone is depressed, suffering from anxiety or has a sexual problem long term psychiatric counseling may help them, but jumping up and down in a church while shouting 'Praise the Lord' will not. Consequently evangelicals never really resolve their problems, they merely suppress them, ignore them or deny them. But the thing that corrupts evangelical Christians more than anything else is their vaulting pride. They are totally devoid of the humility that made Jesus so loved. They have an utter certainty that only they are right, that they have all the answers, that they can learn nothing from anyone else. This pride leads to over confidence, which in turn leads to all the types of bad behavior we have been discussing.
In 1985 I had a chance to visit the USA. It was a good opportunity to learn about Christianity in America. I was very interested to discover that there were 15 different Christian denominations in the town where I stayed. Some of these only differ from each other in very minor ways but the differences between others are very great. For example, nearly all Christians believe you should go to church on Sunday but the Seventh Day Adventists believe you should go on Saturday. Catholics worship saints and the Virgin Mary while other Christians say it is wrong to do this. Most Christians believe Jesus is the Son of God but the Jehovah's Witnesses believe he was only a prophet.
Ordinary Christians go to a doctor when they are sick but the Christian Scientists believe that to do so shows lack of faith. Some teach that to be saved you must be baptized as soon as you are born, others say that you must be baptized at the age of understanding, the Mormons teach that you can actually be baptized when you are dead. Some say that just tipping the water over the head is enough to baptize you, others insist that you must be submerged under the water. All these different beliefs, ideas and doctrines prevent Christians from worshiping the same God together. If Jesus' teaching is so clear why are there all these different churches? Which of all these different versions of Christianity is the true one? If Christians really practice love why is there so much mutual jealousy, rivalry and ill - will between the different churches? What right have they got to imposeon Buddhists a religion that they can't even agree about amongst themselves? In Sri Lanka there might be a dozen temples in a town and yet they will all teach the same Dhamma. There may be personal differences between monks but they all believe in the same Dhamma.
Some years ago I met a woman in Malaysia who told me an interesting story. Her son got an ear infection and then started to go deaf and he could only hear if she shouted very loudly in his ear. Naturally she was worried and had gone to many doctors but none could help. One day a friend told her about a Christian healing rally and although she was a Buddhist she decided to go just to see if it could make a difference to her son. There were thousands of excited people in the rally, she, her son and many other sick people were taken up on the stage and one by one presented to the pastor who blessed them and prayed for them. When the boy's turn came the pastor he asked what the problem was and the mother said her son was deaf. She was going to add that the boy had partial hearing but before she could do so the pastor shouted at the top of his voice, ( evangelical pastors cant speak quietly or gently, they can only shout) 'In the name of Jesus, be healed'! Then he shouted 'Can you hear now'? and of course the boy nodded because he can always hear if people shout at him. The pastor started jumping up and down and shouting, 'It's a miracle! The Lord has healed him'! and then the whole audience started clapping and shouting 'Praise the Lord'. The woman and her son were immediately hustled of the stage and the next 'miracle' was performed.
The woman later heard that several people in the audience were so impressed by the little boy who's hearing was 'miraculously restored' that they converted. This incident epitomizes the reality behind most evangelical miracle rallies. Almost none of the supposed healing are genuine. Often, as in the story above, the pastor is so anxious to prove his power that he loudly proclaims a miracle where there was none. On other occasions a crippled or physically weak person gets so caught up in the excitement that they are actually able to get out of their wheelchair only to collapse again as soon as they are off the stage. But of course the evangelicals do not care about this, their only concern is to impress the audience and make as many converts as possible. For them, sick people are only tools to be used and then hustled away before too many questions are asked or a doctor appears to examine the patient.
On other occasions deliberate fraud is committed. They will put a man on crutches in the audience, he will come forward, pretend to be healed and then dramatically throw his crutches away and dance around to show that he can now walk unassisted. They always favor men on crutches because their supposed healing is more easy for the audience to see than healing an ulcer, bone cancer or deafness."
Book available from the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society (BDMS) which is dedicated to making known the Teaching of the Buddha by publishing books and organising talks and Dhamma courses. For more information, visit www.bdms.org.sg
(Photo Source/Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/citronsmurf/211483525/)
This is a nice contribution, I want to share my reflections and experiences too!
Technorati: Buddhism Buddha Buddhist Dharma Compassion Wisdom Religion Meditation Zen Philosophy Spirituality Inspiration Peace Insight buddha-insight evangelism
“Sariputra, if there are people who have already made the vow, who now make the vow, or who are about to make the vow, ‘I desire to be born in Amitabha’s country,’ these people, whether born in the past, now being born, or to be born in the future, all will irreversibly attain to anuttarasamyaksambodhi. Therefore, Sariputra, all good men and good women, if they are among those who have faith, should make the vow, ‘I will be born in that country.’”
~ Amitabha Sutra
When I obtain the Buddhahood, any being of the boundless and inconceivable Buddha-worlds of the ten quarters whose body if be touched by the rays of my splendour should not make his body and mind gentle and peaceful, in such a state that he is far more sublime than the gods and men, then may I not attain the enlightenment.
~ Amitabha Buddha's Thirty-Third Vow
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Posted by Colin at 11/16/2006 03:48:00 PM