Speaking at the TOC year in review, Miss Braema Mathi tells of her encounter with a religious group that showed up at her doorstep with the intention of spreading its gospel.
Her opinion is that they should not have knocked on her door, as it was evident that she had identified herself as a Hindu with a picture of a Hindu deity on her front door. In her words, “How dare they?” It was, according to her, a deliberate intrusion of her personal space (“it’s my door”) and even though she told them politely (“did you not see the picture?”) that she wasn’t interested, one can’t help but wonder: Was her reaction absolutely necessary? Let’s assess the situation.
Beginning with the evangelists, what exactly were their intentions? Evangelism is defined by the Oxford Dictionary of Current English as “the spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness”. Essentially, an evangelist who doesn’t preach is redundant – like a water bottle with its bottom cut out. Therefore, it should be safe to assume that their intention was to offer people insights into their beliefs.
Carrying on from there, were those intentions good or bad? Should we assume that these evangelists are manipulative, with intention to wage an unspoken religious war against “the others”? Or do we give them the benefit of the doubt, and concur that their desire to spread what they perceive as good news is purely borne out of goodwill.
I’ve dealt with my share of evangelists, and it always amazes me how wholeheartedly they believe in their religions. Despite my overwhelming cynicism, it is difficult to conceive of them having ill intentions, even if I disagree with what they have to say. Like kids sharing candy, one boy may like liquorice, and may offer it to the other kids because of what he perceives as an extraordinary flavor. The others have no obligation to accept the offer, and may even reject it.
But when do evangelists cross the line? A Christian couple was convicted last year for distributing two anti-Muslim publications, The Little Bride, and Who is Allah? This was Singapore’s first sedition trial involving religious publications. I do not know if the couple had read it prior to its distribution, but the odds are they didn’t. The Little Bride is full of nothing but offensive, presumptuous statements. The fact that these inflammatory messages were displayed as a children-friendly comic strip makes it worse! Materials like these promote religious intolerance, and supply a one-sided view of religion.
Were they correctly sentenced? Whether they were or not, they may have potentially ruined it for all evangelists in the country. Evangelists with the purest of intentions are now viewed as intolerant, religious extremists whose sole purpose is to rid the world of all opposing religions. Already, people like Benny Hinn have tainted the art of evangelism with their idiocy. The stereotype looks to be set in stone, and everyone is sold.
Hence, when people feel that their personal space is intruded by evangelists knocking from door to door, are they already holding a biased impression that these well-meaning evangelists are religiously intolerant? Even if there were religious signage on the doors of these households, one wonders if the mere act of spreading the gospel constitutes disrespect for the religious choices of the households involved.
Perhaps an actual, written sign would have worked better. “Beware of uninterested dweller” is subtle yet humorous, and also serves multiple purposes – it will repel salesmen, promoters and evangelists. If that doesn’t work, and they still come a-knocking, then Miss Braema’s sentiments would surely be justified. For now though, I’m not so sure they are.