Why I don’t like militant evangelism

Monday, May 25, 2020

“Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence. You know, all mystics –Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion– are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well. Strange paradox, to be sure. But, tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep. They are having a nightmare.” (Anthony de Mello)

I generally like Anthony de Mello’s texts, but I am not sure about this particular one. He lived in India and wrote this text more than thirty years ago. I read it in Estonia while I was just thinking about Tanel, one of my many friends who are definitively not religious and probably the opposite of a mystic.

One of the most serious reproaches I repeatedly hear from non-Christians is that we (the Christians) are trying to tell them (the non-Christians) that they have a problem, and that we have the solution for this problem. They don’t feel like having a nightmare, they rather say that we are having a nightmare when we believe that people who don’t believe in Jesus will go to hell when they die. Anthony de Mello’s text sounds to me like adding fuel to that fire.

One can say that, yes, Christians do have a problem. They see a danger that others ignore: the danger of missing out on the Kingdom of God, of not getting into “Heaven”.

This reminds me the anecdote of the atheist who died and arrived to hell. There were sunny beaches, great food, beautiful and nice people everywhere. Except for one place surrounded by high concrete walls like a prison. He could see the inside of this place from his hotel room. The people in this place were being tortured and obviously suffered terribly. He asked the hotel waiter what this place was, and the waiter shrugged her shoulders and said “Oh, that’s for the Christians, they seem to prefer it that way.”

I don’t believe that this anecdote tells the truth about what happens to us after death, but it does raise some important questions about what we believe or refuse to believe. It explains why I don’t like militant evangelism.

As a Christian in Estonia I feel a bit like Moomin when he woke up too early from winter sleep in one year. All the others were sleeping peacefully. He started to enjoy the situation only when he stopped to try to wake them up, when he left the house and had a tour outside and discovered the snow and the frozen sea.