I left this comment on someone’s blog that was about their approach to their ministry of the gospels and I thought it was worth sharing as it includes some profound realizations I’ve been having over the last two days. Here goes:
What I’ve been thinking about the last few days you may find interesting. It’s occurred to me why religions stink at evangelism. I mean think about it, religions split off into more and more diverse groups and never unify two of those groups. Islam and christianity split off of judaism, islam split into a ton of groups (who are all trying to kill or rule over each other) and christianity split off into a million groups who have ruled over, killed and tortured each other for centuries until the biggest group split down the middle, which then fractured more and more. Do you think any of these groups will ever reach a consensus? Do you think muslims will convince christians to be muslim or visa versa? Do you think catholics will ever convince protestants that they need to be forgiven by a priest and that the eucharist literally becomes the body of christ when a priest blesses it?
It’s not that people can’t be persuaded, in scientific circles controversies that split academia are resolved relatively quickly and never with any violence or force of any kind. So why can scientists convince each other one side is right and religions can’t? Because scientists are trained to be objective and religions train people to be subjective. Objective evidence is persuasive, subjective evidence is not. If you’re christian because you were raised christian, do you think that will mean anything to a muslim who was raised muslim? All the two of your will do is believe opposite things for the same reason. Whereas math, observation, experimental predictions, logic etc can be tested for errors and demonstrated to be valid or invalid.
This is why there will never be peace in the middle east (and hasn’t been for thousands of years). This is why one religious group has only converted another through coercion or extermination. So if your goal is evangelism and you say that your beliefs are based on “a constantly- growing personal relationship with the Living Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ”, how exactly is your subjective experience and impressions of the bible, the world and theology ever going to persuade anybody else?
Here is a long quote but one well worth reading as it cuts to the heart of the issue.
“This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason.
I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.
Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice.
Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what’s possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It’s the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences.
To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing. And if you doubt that, let me give you an example.
We all know the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham is ordered by God to offer up his only son, and without argument, he takes Isaac to the mountaintop, binds him to an altar, and raises his knife, prepared to act as God has commanded.
Of course, in the end God sends down an angel to intercede at the very last minute, and Abraham passes God’s test of devotion.
But it’s fair to say that if any of us leaving this church saw Abraham on a roof of a building raising his knife, we would, at the very least, call the police and expect the Department of Children and Family Services to take Isaac away from Abraham. We would do so because we do not hear what Abraham hears, do not see what Abraham sees, true as those experiences may be. So the best we can do is act in accordance with those things that we all see, and that we all hear, be it common laws or basic reason.”
– Barrack Obama