Thursday, August 02, 2007

Things I have said to evangelists

It happened again. Two girls, bright, perky (in more ways than one), polite - approached me in a shopping mall, and asked me if I would be interested in attending a "special event" at their church.

I've always had a special interest in Christian evangelists in Singapore. Singaporeans as a whole seem to be shy about approaching strangers. Evangelists on the other hand, don't seem to mind, in fact, they're quite happy to do so. It's something they share with those credit card roadshow folks, time-share marketeers and "Hi we are looking for model" people.

(strangely enough, students on flag day seem prepared to die of embarrassment. And block the escalator while doing so.)

Anyway, I've thought that it was quite cool that they did so - after all, it takes guts to go up and tell complete strangers that they're currently on the pathway to hell. In some sense, I envy them - I've always wanted to tell people that they're going to hell.

So let's get this straight - I admire what they do, and the kind of conviction that can get you to overcome so many years of cultural conditioning.

But to be honest, it's a hassle to tell them that you're not interested in the kind of ecstasy they're pushing. After the most recent attempt at conversion, I started to think about all the experiences I've had with evangelists.

Mezzo, age 12

Bespectacled, vaguely aware that there's going to be an exam. Not entirely sure what religion is, except that for some it means no charsiew bao, and for others, no free time on Sunday morning.

Evangelist cousin, 19, and therefore has the answers to the cosmos. She corners me in her bedroom, along with an even younger cousin. Younger cousin is Catholic, or so her mother has told her.

Evangelist Cousin: Jesus saves. Accept him. Become christian.

Mezzo, age 12: Really?

EC: Yeah. Take a look at this handy little Christianity 4 Noobz booklet I happen to have here. All here.

Mz12: But I think I'm [insert faith].

Younger cousin: And I'm already Christian, cos I'm Catholic.

EC: Nya-uh. Did you know that [prominent leader of faith] went to hell? There was this guy, see, who had an mystical vision, and saw [leader] in hell. It's true. You can trust people with mystical visions.

Mz12 + younger cousin: *looks*

EC: Look, you wanna go to hell?

Mz12: .. no?

EC: Excellent. Take this book, and the booklet, and start reading it. Younger cousin, take one too, I know you're Catholic, so you'll need one. I'm so glad!! Oh, and do you want the rest of your family to go to hell?

Mz12: .. no?

EC: Well, you know what to do! I have more Christianity 4 Noobz booklets, just ask me for them. *leaves the room*

YC: Did we just get converted? Mum is going to kill me.

Mz12: I think you go to hell if you convert.

YC: Mum's worse.

Two weeks later -

Mz12: *dials* Um. Evangelist cousin? I don't think I can be Christian anymore.

EC: Oh no, why?

Mz12: I think my family would get upset.

EC: You're a very brave kid. You can do this.

Mz12: No, I don't and I think I'm too young and you're not allowed to chose religions if you're too young. I can't even watch porn yet, how can I choose Gods?

EC: You watch porn?

Mz12: Erhm. Bye.

Mezzo, age 15

A typical teenager, trying to fit in while trying to stand out. Hesitating a touch too long at a bus interchange, as if unsure of where to go.

An evangelical surveyer approaches, to show Mezzo@15 the way, the only way.

ES: Hey, do this survey. The one that cunningly yet casually asks you your religon with other data that only exists to make it look legit.

Mezzo@15 is a teenager, looking for a way, trying to take root while trying to uproot.

ES: Oh ho, I see you are a 'freethinker'. Let me get you to sit down and ask further questions.

Mz15: Sure? Why not?

ES: Have you seen my l33t Christianity for Noobz booklet? Got one right here. Now, if you're feeling lost, that's because Christ needs to be on the throne of your life. Like in the picture here. See? There's this cross, and it's sitting on a throne. That's good, cos now there's a big circle around the cross and the throne and you, and GOD, who unlike Christ and you, actually gets his name spelled out.

Mz15: I think I've seen this comic before.

ES: The circle is like your life. It's a circle of life, but without Elton John, because Elton is gay and God hates fags. Hahah. Now, the other picture, you're on the throne, Christ is not, and God is OUTSIDE the big circle which is your life. Which makes God sad. Do you want to make God sad?

Mz15: No?

ES: Then accept Christ on the throne of your life!

Mz15: Um. Yeah. Let me think about that. Thrones.

ES: Here, take my Christianity for Noobz booklet. In fact, take three.

Mezzo, age 17

It's junior college, and partying is what you do, apart from angst. You're a jc kid, ergo, you party. Any party.

Friend: Come along to my Easter day party!

Mz17: Awesome! Ooh, movie! Ooh, guy in robes! Talking to himself! Ok, it's like he's going to die, no wait, he doesn't have to die, he's asking his father why he has to die.. eh. Think I know how this goes.

Evangelist Party-goer: Hi, person. Come sit with me! Don't worry about your other friend, she'll be sitting with my friend. It makes things easier when I break you down, um, bond with you.

Mz17: *notes that EP is unfanciable, loses interest*

EP: Hey, lookie at my Christianity for Noobz booklet!

Mz17: *spaces out*

EP: *ten minutes later* .. and here, God is in your life, cos Christ is on the throne. Also, he's the pathway to heaven!

Mz17: Never mind. Er, you know, I'm kinda already [member of faith]. And aren't all Gods one god anyway, and teach basically the same thing? We're all brothers. And world peace.

EP: No. Christ is the only pathway to heaven!

Mz17: Like Led Zeppelin?

EP: *is polite*

Mz17: *wonders if wise-assery keeps you out of heaven*

Mezzo, age 21

Still finding the way, but university's given the tools to navigate. If you're going to find your way, it helps to find your starting point.

At a train station this time, because Singapore's finding new ways too. Two girls approach, with a survey in the hand, and faith in the heart.

Evangelist Girls: Hey, survey! You're freethinker?

Mz21: Sorta, but I'm also kinda [insert faith here]

EG: Oh. Um. Could we go through this booklet with you?

Mz21: No. Absolutely not. Look, I've got friends who show me the way already, ok?

EG: Oh, which church? Come on, strike up a conversation with us, that way, it's harder for you to be so mean as to just leave.

Mz21: One of them. Thanks, but not interested.

EG: But! Save! Throne!

Mz21: No, don't worry about me, ok? Anyway, I've a friend who's going to turn up in a bit, so I don't want to keep him waiting.

EG: We could meet your fr..

Mz21: We're in a hurry. Movie. But thanks for caring.

Friend turns up, Mezzo@21 fills him in.

Mz21: They're the ones over there.

Friend: The pair talking to a makcik?

Mz21: Yeah.

Friend: They're dedicated.

Mz21: Optimists.

Friend: Christ is Hope, remember? Hey, that one's hot.

Mezzo, age 24

At 24, family starts being bearable again. You stop imagining that you're actually adopted, and acknowledge you could be related. Again, at a junction, a surveyer approaches.

Evangelical Surveyor, ver. 2: Ah. You're [member of faith].

Mz24: Uh huh. *wonders if actual prayers are required*

ESv2: Well, nice to meet you.

Mz24: *wonders if the booklet is the same colour* Huh? Where'd she go? That was fast!

Mezzo, present day

I'm standing in Novena Square, and the girls have pamphlets. I'm a working adult, almost visibly English-educated, and I look younger than I am. I'm not surprised I was picked.

The girls ask me if I'm interested in a special performance at their church. They've got leaflets, with colourful Photoshop images. For a moment, I miss that little orange booklet.

They ask me to come and listen. I know a bit more of what I am, than I did at 12. I know how to stand out and fit in, because I'm not 16. I'm not 17 either, and I know that nice-sounding concepts need to be supported by understanding and facts. Moved beyond 20, so I've done the readings. No longer a tentative 24, I can stand firm and say it, because I am an individual, and belonging to a family or a group greater than myself doesn't change it.

And I've been working for awhile, and I know what to say.

MzPresent: Thank you. But I already believe in Jesus.

Evangelist girls: That's fantastic!

Their pleasure is palpable. For a moment I feel like telling them that I don't think they understand it the same way I do. But what's the point? They'd get upset, and right now, they're happy and if I am a true believer in my faith, I wouldn't do that to them.

Maybe I should have just been straight with them. I didn't lie. Some beliefs are common to all humanity, too.

But I do believe. In my own way, and so do they. And it doesn't threaten me at all.


Events described here are real, though I will admit to paraphrasing it for the purposes of coherency and to allow for my impressions to come through. I've actually been approached many more times than this, but some were less pleasant, as well as somewhat irrelevant.

To the two evangelists I met at Novena - Um. Sorry. Yes, I do go to a church in Bishan, like I told you, but when I said "church", I was broadly interpretting it as "place of worship". By the way, you're cute. Really. Are you single?

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At 1:55 pm, Blogger Agagooga said...

'Evangelist' is an anagram for 'Evil's Agent' ;)

I always beat evangelists at their own game hehe. Maybe you should try that. It's great fun!

Oddly the only time I've been approached since JC (6 years ago) was when someone who knew me tried to do it, and I'm told she was very traumatised by the experience. Maybe I'm too famous already, hurr hurr.

At 1:54 am, Anonymous Odin said...

this is epic man
Noobz booklet zomg p4wnage!

At 8:13 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once told some eager beaver come-and-be-our-friend cool-r-us people who stopped me at a canteen that I was "with the other guy" pointing down into the floor. They were quite stunned and didn't quite know what to say. Quite funny. Thank goodness they didn't hustle me into a room for a quick exorcism...

At 2:05 pm, Anonymous lq said...

no words can describe how IRRITATED i am by these evangelists. so much for religious harmony in singapore, they should absolutely be banned in public places. if i wanted to be saved, i'll go TO them to donate the 10% of my salary every month. instead of them coming TO me to ask me for 10% of my salary on the pretext of being 'saved''

At 3:31 pm, Blogger Mezzo said...

I once thought of discussing theology with them, but their level of conviction is so high! Sometimes I wish that I had that sort of rock-hard certainty - it would be nice to be convinced you've got all the answers.

I don't know why I attract evangelists - at a rough count, I've had 8 or so attempts.

That's not to say that I haven't had good experiences with Christians, I've even attended service with a friend. She invited me because I was visiting her, and feeling depressed. Strangely enough, that's the only time that no one tried to convert me!

I think it's not a coincidence that my friend's church was one of the first to push interfaith dialogue back in the 1940s.

At 8:41 pm, Anonymous The Hammer said...

are you against the rule of laws? the laws touches everything in your life. it decides on what you shall eat to how should you should dress(can't walk out naked can you?). it also decides on who is worthy to run your life. if you generally have nothing against the rule of laws, you are family. but if you choose to walk outside the rule of laws, how can you survive its iron rod?

having said that, these laws are quite straight forward. the problem we are facing is, Who is behind this tree. what should the new structure of order be. etc.

the rest are just technical confusion that led to bloody wars and division. don't waste your money on such temples who do not know what they're talking about.

At 11:26 am, Anonymous pfong said...

I applaud your tact and diplomacy. I understand why you've taken the stand that you have.

It isn't worthwile to discuss your point of view with people who are not interested in a discussion but only in pushing across their own point of view.

At 10:45 am, Anonymous just_passin said...

I think I had about 3-4 encouters so far, but none of them were with gorgeous gals.

In fact, at least 2 of those were westerners (young, good looking, aye, but not my cuppa tea...)

That also reminds me about the conversation I had with a Credit Card recruiter, who kind of can't accept that I do not want a Credit card just because I do not want one.

At 10:51 am, Blogger litford said...

actually, there is a lot of historical text supporting that the Jesus [this is who you were refering to right?] did indeed walk the earth 2000 years ago.

i think what most non-believers find hard to believe is the claims he made:

1. son of God
2. only way to heaven is through him, salvation
3. he died, rose again, ascended back to heaven
4. he's coming back

these is the crux and fundamental belief of the christian faith, and the part the requires an amount of faith no matter how much evidence is presented to anyone.

it's not a convenient excuse, when everyday we put faith into other things we don't see with our eyes.

not gonna 'preach' on your personal space -) but just offering any point of view to those who might have questions, and also well.. comments are free -)

At 1:08 pm, Blogger Agagooga said...

Actually there isn't much non-biblical text supporting the idea of Jesus' existence, and all the evidence suggests he was nothing at all like what Christians believe.

At 2:02 pm, Blogger litford said...

i guess it depends on also what schools of thought what one chooses to chooses to see history through.

the japanese have a very different picture of what happened during the war based on the historical text they provide. much different from the way we remember all the archived media we consume to understand its past.

there are many manuscripts that date back to 1st - 4th century AD written by people who have had direct contact with the man and his influence.

the preservation of its history is recorded in the bible, and other religious or historical views.

so my thought process is this, and it's merely food for thought, is that most of the time we view history and our present surroundings through a particular lens, and that lens shapes the world view and we are more dependent on that than just reading mere facts/recorded data

it is its interpretation that we derive meaning from, as such, i am not contesting anyone's interpretation of history or religion of any form, merely saying from what i hopefully see as a factual standpoint, that a lot of the christian faith isn't just made up, but things happened in the past and were recorded and passed down through the generations. -)

At 6:44 pm, Blogger Agagooga said...

It depends on what school of thought you choose, yes, but the school of Japanese thought that says the Rape of Nanking never happened and that Comfort Women didn't exist is undeniably, irrevocably wrong.

The most detailed extra-biblical references to Jesus are in Tacitus and Josephus. Josephus was doctored at a later stage, as can be seen from textual analysis (the style is different and he expresses sentiments at odds with those expressed elsewhere). Tacitus references the Christians and Christ but says nothing about his alleged resurrection. The other sources are even more scanty and late.

It is entirely possible for an imaginary figure to have had influence. What matters is not what he did, but what people think he did.

At 6:45 pm, Blogger Agagooga said...

A Christian site admitting there's no source of extra-biblical knowledge about Jesus:

At 7:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bravo mezzo and gssq!

At 12:46 pm, Blogger Mezzo said...

Hammer said: "are you against the rule of laws? "

Well, first I'd have to know what they are. No, seriously, what is the rule of laws? Because all I can think of right now is "Wizard's First Rule".. and I don't think that's what you meant.

I don't know whether Jesus existed, or even if Moses existed, but it's never really bothered me. I think it helps that I tend to focus on the general idea, and the scriptures, rather than relying on Jesus's paternity as a justification/validation.

Very illogical, but somehow it works for me.

Still, I get fascinated by the historical elements in the Great Books, and by the historical debate that goes around it. After I read the Josephus description of Jesus, I felt that Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" had horribly miscast Jesus. It shouldn't have been James Cavievel, it should have been Danny Devito.

At 1:08 pm, Blogger Pkchukiss said...

Friends who try to convert pkchukiss know better than to do so. As a typical horoscopic Leo, he will bite their head off if they try.

Strangers who try will have their existence left unacknowledged, just like flyer distributors at every Sim Lim Square escalator floor landing.

At 4:29 am, Blogger Patti Blount said...

If you love the truth, ask God about Jesus and He will show you. Afterall, it's about being reconciled to God and then having a relationship with Him, not going to church. (anyone can do that) He really does want all to come back to the home of His heart.


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