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Religion Last Updated: Sep 7th, 2007 - 00:42:57

Eternity with Jesus -- at your front door today
By Nick Paccione
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Sep 7, 2007, 00:41

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Fundamentalist Christians often accuse liberals of corrupting society with unscrupulous morality and progressive views on sexuality. Conservative wars without justification and out-of-control money-grubbing apparently aren�t big concerns. Most laughably, religious conservatives worry endlessly that gays are planning to recruit their children.

The funny thing, it�s Christians that regularly knock on my door to recruit me to their lifestyle -- from Bible fundamentalists to Jehovah�s Witnesses. Who else does this sort of thing? I guess politicians who are trolling for votes go door to door; and realtors and sales people regularly ring strangers� doorbells. That�s how they make their living.

But Bible fundamentalists who �brighten� your threshold are only there to save your soul. They are supposedly operating out of duty to the word of God; proselytizing because Jesus, through the Bible, has told them to do so. Meanwhile their ministers make a healthy living with each new recruit that joins their church and is wheedled into donating 10 percent of their household income each week. I know, I know! Some kind proselytizers just told me last week: �The Bible says to donate 10 percent and the churches need the money to reach more people and save more souls from the fires of hell.� Pay no attention to the six-bedroom mansion or the brand-new Cadillac in the minister�s driveway.

Wouldn�t it be fun if atheists took the time to proselytize? Of course they�re too damn busy working for the ACLU, pulling God out of every public building while doing everything in their power to prohibit your local department store employees from wishing you �a merry Christmas.� Or imagine an Orthodox Jew coming to your door on a mission to get a yarmulka on your head. Or picture a Muslim knock-knock-knocking to tell you that your wife should be wearing a burqa and veil to cover everything but her eyes.

The Christian will argue that as the majority religion in this country that �was founded by Christian men on Christian values,� they have some sort of right to try to convert the unwashed masses. The founding fathers may have been God-fearing but they were far from enthusiastic about Biblical dogma. It�s easy for Christian fundamentalists to ignore this fact since few of them bother to accept that the very concept of Biblical literalism that they hold so dear didn�t even exist before the nineteenth century. Sadly, historical facts are as useless as science to these folks.

Early last week three women from Gethsemane Baptist Church rang my bell. Bibles in hand, they exuded that endearing arrogance that only comes from a certified relationship with Jesus and an irrevocable guarantee of eternity with God.

�If you die today, will you go to heaven?� These were the first words spoken to me as I opened the door.

I had a few minutes to banter so I expressed my concerns that Bible Christians seemed to be well-intentioned but it�s my belief that they are sending the wrong message to their children and to anyone else that subscribes to their point of view. They were curious but unflappable.

All you need to do is accept Jesus and you will go to heaven? These Christians used myriad Bible quotes to support this position. My concern is that this belief does nothing to influence behavior. Organized religion has its legitimate detractors but if it has served to keep people from killing each other through fear of God�s punishment it can�t be all bad. Bible Christians have stripped God of this power because if you take them at their word, you can do anything you want, accept Jesus and go directly to heaven.

�So if I accept Jesus and then kill my neighbor will I still go to heaven?� All three women looked at each other as if they�d never heard such a question. One of them scribbled a note in her little crucifix-decorated tablet. �Call police after lunch.� Just guessing. Finally the ring leader said, �If you accept Jesus, you would never want to kill anyone.�

Not a bad answer. But I continued. �So it�s your belief that once I accept Jesus, I am saved and can never lose my salvation.�

All three answered yes with much enthusiasm. Then they went through their list of Bible quotes that reinforce the concept that we are only �saved� because of and through Jesus. Nothing we do can save us. Our deeds are meaningless. So now we�re back to my concern that these people are sending the wrong message.

I don�t believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God. I naively asked them if they were aware that the Bible they are holding has been translated from Hebrew and Greek. For almost fifteen hundred years the manuscripts of the New Testament were hand-copied by scribes who were very human and deeply influenced by the cultural, political and theological debates that affected their lives.

�Ring Leader� said that God saw to it that the Bible she was holding was inspired and she didn�t need to worry about the original texts. She didn�t care about mistakes, contradictions or intentional changes by scribes, because her minister convinced her that God�s hand was guiding even the most misguided scribe every step of the way.

Next I told them that I didn�t believe in the Bible as literal prose but since they do believe that way, why were they on my porch defying the word of God. All three had a look that conveyed, �What is this nut talking about now?� I asked to see a Bible and found this quote from 1 Corinthians: �Women should be silent during church meetings. They are not to take part in the discussion for they are subordinate to men as the Scriptures also declare.�

�But we�re not in a church meeting,� stated Ring Leader. Foiled again. But I argued that the essence of the Bible quote is that women shouldn�t try to educate men and that the key word is �subordinate.� It wasn�t literal enough for them and they rejected my interpretation.

I dwelled on Bible quotes that contradict their claim that our deeds don�t matter. I found many quotes without much effort -- quotes that clearly say that we will be judged according to our deeds and by how we treat the homeless, the hungry, the elderly, the lonely, the prisoner. They refused to agree that they had a skewed view of Jesus� words based on a current fundamentalist interpretation that has become quite popular in recent years.

I told them that, in my opinion, their ministers were uniformly schooled to dwell on some Bible quotes while ignoring other quotes that are clearly contradictory, especially on the subject of faith versus deeds. I read from the book of James: �It isn�t enough just to have faith. You must also do good to prove that you have faith. Faith that doesn�t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all -- it is dead and useless.� James goes on to say that even the demons in hell believe in God but they�re in hell because of how they�ve acted.

We spoke for almost 40 minutes. No minds were changed. No influence felt on either side. I volunteered some personal information. I told them that I was housebound because I was basically the sole caregiver for a parent that is currently in hospice care. They all nodded sympathetically. I realized that although we had been politely arguing, I had kind of enjoyed their visit. It had distracted me.

Ring Leader seemed especially sympathetic about my housebound status. She promised that they would be back to see me at the end of the week to talk and deliver some Christian literature for stressed-out caregivers. �It will change your life,� she all but guaranteed. After I closed the door they may have talked amongst themselves and deemed me hopeless. Or maybe during the week, some important distractions arose for each of them. Life can get unexpectedly busy, you know. For whatever reason, I was disappointed when they didn�t return as promised. But then, I thought, why should they keep their promise to return? I rationalized that it wasn�t really a promise. Besides, deeds are meaningless to them because, after all, they are already saved.

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