Home > philosophy, religion > The Road to Atheism Part XII: Deception

The Road to Atheism Part XII: Deception

Spring 2002: I’m living in Toledo OH, pursuing what would eventually be my first master’s degree. I lived alone, no television, no internet, and for the most part it was kind of boring. Classes on some days of the week, TA duty on another, Chess night on Thursday, etc. On and on it went. Life, was for the most part pretty motonous. One day, someone in the undergraduate philosophy club put up a flier in the dungeon (where the TAs are kept), it advertised  a joint venture with the Campus Christian Fellowship (or whatever it was called) sponsoring an afternoon where people would get together watch a bunch of Simpson’s episodes, presumably eat pizza, and then discuss the various philosophical and theological issues that were brought up by the episodes. If that seems like an odd thing, you have to understand that the Spring of 2002 saw the release of “The Simpsons and Philosophy” as well as “The Gospel According to the Simpsons;” both books writing of a serious subject(s) with a pop culture lense so that more people could grasp the issue at hand. There existed some legitimate academic weight to doing so. Both books were popular and I figured that was the reason they were having the meeting in the first place. My primary motive in going to the meeting was to watch the Simpsons, I feel that it would be dishonest to not admit that up front.

At this point in my life I’m still religious, I’m just into the Eastern ideas that I brought up in an earlier post. I wasn’t there to cross-convert, I have never been–even at my peak of religious devotion-into evangelizing. I had no interest in refuting anyone else’s religion, and at this point I had no direct experience with bible-literalists. I didn’t want any of these things either, I just wanted to watch some television and eat pizza, but by the end of the meeting it would all change. In all earnestness; it wasn’t my fault.

Toledo, OH was the first city that I saw a mega-church. I knew that going in, these Christians were going to be different, but I was raised Catholic so how different could they really be? I asked one of my other fellow students to come with me and on a midweek afternoon we walked over to a building I had never been in to watch reruns of a show that we both liked. The meeting began with a prayer, not one I was used to but it was supposed to be an ecumenical meeting so we just let that go. The prayer thing was to be expected since it was, after all, a Christian organization, they then quickly began the episode: Season 11, episode 15, aka “Missionary Impossible.” In this episode Homer fakes a pledge to PBS and Betty White (before she was cool) in order that a violent Scottish sitcom can be aired. When they come collecting Homer runs to the Rev. Lovejoy who puts him on a plane to a south pacific island to do missionary work.

The episode ended with a thinly veiled attack by Matt Groening on the Fox Network for cancelling Futurama, the discussion leader began talking about his personal experience with being a missionary. As he finished, someone else in the audience (of about twenty) told a similar story. I smelled a plant, i.e. someone that is placed in an audience with the sole purpose of confirming the host’s position. My suspicions were confirmed when they began to pass out pamphlets which described how one would go about volunteering for missionary work. What was in fact happening was not an open discussion but a recruitment drive. My problem was this: if they wanted to recruit volunteers they certainly can–even if I am opposed to what they are doing, I just won’t go. If, however some group is going to misrepresent themselves, and waste my time there’s something wrong. Two things: one is the obvious deception, while the second is a matter of pragmatism. DId they really think I was going to sign up after having been lied to? How effective is their message if they have to deceive people in order to hear it?

At this point in the meeting I felt that i had permission to begin an attack. They had wronged me first by lying, and it seems to me to be my duty to at least make an attempt to get the discussion that I had been promised. My colleague was not as kind. He began by attacking the notion of missionary work itself. He used the episode. The people of the island that Homer was sent to talked ruefully of how the previous missionaries taught them “the joy of shame” in reference to Homer wondering why they didn’t walk around naked like he expected. My colleague’s point was that the natives seemed to be perfectly happy before some outsiders showed up and told them their way of life was wrong and needed to change. This is what French Philosopher Rousseau talked about when he discussed “The Noble Savage.” I disagree with the Frenchman but he has a point on this. Is it really necessary to bring what we call civilization to people who may not need it and probably don’t want it? Is it really bad that the natives on an isolated island aren’t exposed to religion, or at least, someone else’s religion? Or does placing “god” in the picture make it ok to resurrect the White Man’s Burden?

Now this idea, that perhaps people can live a prosperous life without having heard of Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, etc. seemed quite foreign to a good number of people in the room. The host took up the defense, and it was odd. He began talking about how good the missionary work made him feel. Such subjective claims are difficult to deal with because what he is in effect doing, is asking us to to explain that if what he did was wrong then why did he feel good about it? You can’t prove someone else’s internal feelings were incorrect, it’s so personal. Yet, that knife cuts two ways. Just as much as I can’t understand how good he felt, he can’t impart that feeling to me, only instill jealousy that I hadn’t had the same feeling. However if he’s going to derive such a good feeling from bringing Jesus to the heathens, then I’m going to wonder why such cultural dominance can give such a feeling to begin with. Is it the satisfaction of a conqueror?

I did, and do believe, that he thinks he did the right thing. The thing about morality and reality, though, is that it doesn’t change based on how one feels about it. The reason that I mention this brings us to one of the fundamental problems of the missionary, uh…mission, is it necessary?

The first encouner Dante has in hell, is that of the noble pagans. These were people like Aristotle (and where Virgil himself is locked) whose only crime was not knowing of Jesus. Other than that, they done no wrong. I believe that Catholicism has long since abandoned sending people to hell for true ignorance of Jesus, but most other religions still maintain it (Mormons and post death baptism come to mind). The Christian sect talking at this meeting had to believe it, because if not, then who are they helping? Outreach programs and charities are good things, but why do they need to advertise why they did it, if not in order to convert. They may build a hospital on some island in Indonesia, but I’ll guarantee that a cross goes on it. Isn’t true goodness doing something and not bragging about it? I read that in a book somewhere, though the title escapes me.

Sure I may be a bit harsh, but what it comes down to for me is cultural superiority. The missionary knows, knows, that these people are in need of the salvation that only their religion can bring. Otherwise, the very fact that they were born, where they were born will doom them to hell.

Oddly enough the episode in question ends with Homer destroying the island because he rung a bell on the chapel he built, which causes a volcano to erupt. I made the point that had Homer and the previous missionaries never visited the island the volcano never would exploded. I said that in response to his point that it was good that the islanders found Jesus before the eruption. I’m of the opinion that my point was better.

Categories: philosophy, religion
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