By Grace Brown, Assistant Opinion Editor
It was a crisp spring day in Chicago — the kind where the warmth of the sun makes it pleasant to be outdoors in spite of the wind, until the clouds roll back in and throw you into chilly shadows once again. I was in Millenium Park, trying to ignore the wintriness of a breeze that blew rather briskly across the ripples of nearby Lake Michigan. Instead, I gazed admiringly at the Bean, as I liked to call it, though its given name “Cloud Gate” may make more sense for true art critics.
It is easy to see why the sculptor chose this name; the titanium-esque orb bearing a remarkable resemblance to a large legume also does an incredible job of reflecting Chicago’s expansive skyline to viewers — almost serving as a gate into the clouds. Personally, I just like to stand really close and take funny pictures of my carnival house–looking self, skewed in the massive mirror.
This visit, it was Easter Sunday, and without a really tight schedule to keep, I was kind of just hanging around, occasionally asking people if they wanted a picture after watching them awkwardly try to take wide-lense selfies with the Bean for a minute or two.
Rather abruptly, my Good Samaritan duties were interrupted by a question.
“Have you heard of the Gospel?” someone asked from behind. I turned to reveal a small, plain-faced girl with dark, modestly styled hair. She was accompanied by a tall, skinny man in a green felt beret cap, holding a leather-bound Bible in his hand.
Immediately, I knew what was coming for me, but foolishly responded anyway. “Um, yes, actually.”
The following conversation proceeded as anyone familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses might expect.
I explained my beliefs to her, after which she drilled me with questions to expose the logical holes in my faith. I acknowledged these and said I accepted them as an aspect of the mysteries of the universe — because isn’t that what faith is, believing in something that can not be proven?
Evidently, she didn’t like that answer very much.
She tried to educate me in order to lead me to “beliefs that make more sense.” When I expressed satisfaction with my own religion and a lack of desire to change them, she took this as an invitation to explain the ways in which her own religion was superior to mine.
“Don’t you fear death?” she asked. “Don’t you fear what will happen, now that God has seen all of your darkness and all of your worst thoughts and desires? Now that he knows you're a sinner?”
I replied that no, I did not regularly contemplate the terrifying prospect of death. This seemed to displease her, and she reassured me that we were all sinners and therefore needed to repent. I told her I was aware of this.
Her companion took a less condescending approach, and he shared with me the inspirational ways in which God had transformed his mindset and lifestyle. He seemed happy, so I congratulated him on this. Then the woman took back over and continued to interrogate me on the inner-workings of my spirituality.
When I told her I considered myself a Christian, she scoffed. “Do you think your God is a just God?”
“Of course,” I replied, rather uneasily. The conversation had taken a turn I was not really enjoying on my day off. “I mean, he’s God.”
Again, an unsatisfactory answer. I felt like I was trying to compose an alibi under pressure.
She asked if I thought murderers could go to heaven, and I explained that yes, I thought they could if they worked hard enough at atonement. She took this as a clear indication that my God was entirely “unjust.”
I cannot deny that there are definitely holes in the logic of my faith. Sometimes, people in the world receive good will who do not deserve it, while others in need are left to suffer. This would admittedly seem like an “unjust” turn of fate, but we all know these things happen. Often, those people don’t even give gratitude to God for the good things in their lives.
But, in the end, my religious beliefs don't need to be perfect and my God doesn't need to be perfectly just. They’re mine! I believe that the workings of the universe come right in the end, regardless of how confusing or convoluted they may seem in the meantime. Moreover, my religious beliefs cannot be validated by a stranger who deems themselves an expert on all things Godly — especially not a girl who looked to be about the same age as me, for the record.
I stand firmly by my opinion that religion is a personal phenomenon, between you and your God, or whatever version of a grand “something” you believe in. In fact, nobody’s God should look the same way because we are all different people! That being said, no one else has the authority to tell you what you should or should not believe.
Though I can appreciate the commitment of folks like those who approached me in Chicago to spread awareness for a cause they are passionate about, nobody likes to be solicited. More significantly, nobody likes to be berated.
The passion for Christianity demonstrated by groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Born Again Christians is admirable, and I applaud their confidence to make such zealous efforts at sharing the word of God with others. I am not saying they should stop doing so. It's their religion after all; they can do whatever they want. I am making the point that they do not have the ascendancy to deliver a verdict on the “justness” of your version of spirituality.
Performances such as those I experienced on Easter do not help convert more believers to the cause of any Church. Brash approaches to sharing the Good News (such as the approach relayed above) only serve to perpetuate the perception of Christians as Bible waving proselytizers that preach the condemnation of sinners who must repent or fear the wrath of God — and who wants to be a part of that Church?
If this stereotype continues to pervade the population, it will alienate people from Christinaity to a grander and grander degree. Young people specifically are increasingly disenfranchised with this idea of punishment and guilt.
Given that churches across the world are already struggling with dwindling congregation counts, it would seem logical not to drive people away in droves, for the sake of the Church’s survival. A great place to start achieving this goal is to stop discounting the spirituality of others.