When I was a Sunday School teacher, I was told how my church had to be careful in circumventing some government policies. My church runs schools which are required to comply with the directives of the Ministry of Education. I was told that a long time ago, there was a policy that when a classroom had enough students of any religion who wanted lessons on that religion to be taught, the school was obliged to conduct classes of that religion for the students. I was told that it was a tough time for the church then because they had to reshuffle students in the school so that there would not be enough students in one class who would be taking non-Christian religious lessons. Sometimes, they had to talk to the students to persuade them not to opt for religious lessons but to take a secular lesson in civics studies. That way, the schools of the church managed not to hold religious classes of other faiths.
I would be dishonest if I spoke as if I was totally disapproving of such a stand. I must confess that at that time, I actually felt relieved that the schools of my church did not have to offer lessons in a non-Christian religion. I was no different from most other Christians in Singapore and I honestly believed that a non-Christian religion was the surest path to eternal perdition. When we later prayed to God for his protection over the institutions of my church and to thank him that he had thwarted the influx of false beliefs into our schools, I was truly sincere in my prayer.
And then I got married and had kids of my own and the day came when my son entered Primary 1. Of course he was in the school of my church. The first day of school is always a trying time for kids and that school was no exception. But volunteers from the school chapel were prepared for this. The kids were all taken to the school hall and Christian parents were enlisted to help out. As a Christian, I naturally joined in to assist the church volunteers. What happened in the school hall was nothing less than an indoctrination session. Some boys cried because they were uncomfortable in a new environment but they were all told that whenever they felt fear, they should call on Jesus. To be fair, I don’t think the adult volunteers only had indoctrination in mind. They probably wanted to comfort the boys and “running to Jesus” was something they were familiar with themselves.
All around the hall, church and parent volunteers gathered in groups of three to five to pray for the boys. I was in one of these groups and it’s not surprising that we prayed that God would comfort the boys and lead them to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour. I was again sincere in my prayer because I really believed that these boys would burn in hell for ever if they died as non-Christians.
I have to say something about our sincerity. Many non-Christians think Christians are insincere when we try to get someone to join our faith. But that’s not true. The volunteers who are so eager in converting the boys to the Christian faith are extremely sincere. They don’t stand to benefit at all from all this. Their sole motivation is the love they have for the children and the belief that all these boys are heading for destruction if they don’t accept Jesus as their Lord. As a very important person in that school told me when I attended the prayer sessions for fathers, he considers it his primary duty to bring the good news of Jesus to everyone in the school. Not just the pupils but also the teachers and staff. During the prayer sessions, special attention was always given to the Mother Tongue Language teachers because, as I was told, this group of teachers was the most resistant when it came to accepting the Christian faith.
If you believe with all your heart that everyone is going to be tortured for all eternity and they can escape the torture by merely accepting Jesus as their Lord, wouldn’t you do all you can to try to get everyone to accept Jesus? That’s precisely what all these Christians are doing. It’s wrong to say they are insincere. They genuinely want to save people from the hellfire they truly believe in. They really mean well.
This brings me to my main point which people who are not of a monotheistic religion of Middle Eastern origin such as Christianity and Islam will find hard to understand. Many of us will stop at nothing to thrust the gospel down people’s throats. Even if there is a law prohibiting proselytising, many committed Christians will flout the law even if the punishment is death because they would rather obey Christ’s Great Commission than a man-made law. It’s the same thing when it comes to Christian morality. We will do all we can to ensure that the whole world (if that is possible) conforms to the Christian standard of morality. The reason is simple. Christians believe that any act that is inconsistent with our idea of morality is deeply displeasing to God and pleasing God is what we have all been trained to do from the cradle. Even if the act is committed by a non-Christian, it’s still offensive to God and if we can nip the act altogether in the bud, we are really serving God by pleasing him.
It is for this reason that I personally believe that it’s very hard for a committed Christian to be objective in his dealings in this secular world. Whenever I read of controversial actions taken by someone in a position of authority (eg the recent library pulping of books that had a gay theme), I always wonder what the person’s religion is and if I hear that he or she is a Christian, I’m afraid I will have serious misgivings about how objective his decision is and how much of it is in fact really influenced by his desire to please God.
Let me examine myself and not turn my attention to others. How objective am I? I’d like to think of myself as extremely objective. When I see mistakes (and there are many) in the Holy Bible, I will openly declare that there are mistakes. Many of the postings in this blog concern the inadequacy of my own religion and the flaws in my own holy book. While I can be very objective when I discuss issues in my blog, I don’t think I’m all that objective when it comes to my personal life. But there is one huge difference between me and many pious Christians. I only apply my bigotry to myself and nobody else (not even my own children). For example, I’m totally opposed to gambling and have never gambled in my entire life, not even a single cent, but I’m not opposed to the building of casinos and having facilities for people to gamble. I’m absolutely opposed to divorce and I firmly believe that my marriage must be for life but I do not object to other people getting a divorce nor do I campaign for the abolition of divorces. I am dead opposed to abortion and if my wife had carried a foetus with a serious congenital disease or condition, I would be prepared to look after the child for the rest of his life and I would never contemplate an abortion but I have no problem with other people aborting their foetuses nor will I support a campaign to criminalise abortions.
But many Christians will say that I’m not a true believer because a true believer must believe in the goodness of God’s laws and morality for all people and not just for themselves. And because I no longer believe in the idea of heaven and hell as accepted by most fundamentalist Christians, I look upon all acts of proselytising as embarrassingly intrusive.
But Middle Eastern religions of which Christianity is one are known to be notoriously divisive and tribal. As our Lord himself says, “He who is not with me is against me”. You are either a follower of Christ or an enemy of Christ.
Some biblical verses can appear deceptively universal in its love and application. Many Christians will quote John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
However, what we often leave out from the quotation when we try to make our faith appealing to non-Christians is the line two verses later:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Monotheistic religions are usually very clear in their warning against the worship of other gods. The First of the Ten Commandments is “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”.
This “we versus the rest of the world” mentality breeds tribalism and separatism which are perfectly fine in a society where everyone adheres to the same religion and is of the same religious “tribe” but in a multi-religious, globalised society such as the one we live in, it spells disaster if the liberals within the religion remain silent.
I firmly believe that the liberals in all religions should be more vocal. If the voice of liberals is not heard, the world will be drowned by the shrill and strident screams of fundamentalists.