Those Awful Missionaries

When it comes to Jewish/chr*stian cooperation of any kind one subject always interposes itself: the issue of chr*stian missionaries.  No other issue is the source of so much ill will and is subject to so much misunderstanding and even intentional misrepresentation.  Therefore, as a former chr*stian who is now a Noachide, I have felt obligated for some time to deal with this issue and try to explain each side's position to the other.  So here goes.

Despite the fact that both groups share a belief in the inspired nature of the TaNa"KH (Hebrew Bible), the difference in theology between the two groups is much greater than Fundamentalist Protestants realize.  In fact, it's amazing that two groups with such disparate beliefs share common scriptures at all.  However, this becomes understandable once we recognize that Fundamentalist Protestantism, for all its love of the "old testament" and its acknowledgement of it as history, derives its metaphysical worldview entirely from the "new testament" and from chr*stianity.  And when one considers that Jewish doctrines of the afterlife are not found in the TaNa"KH at all, but are found exclusively in the Oral Torah, this is easy to understand!

The Jewish position is relatively straightforward.  Stripped down to its simplest and most basic level, it holds this life to be a probationary state during which one has the opportunity to make tiqqun (repair) to a world damaged by sin.  G-d watches every individual, weighing every thought, word, deed, omission, intention, repentance, and backsliding in a way only He can.  Then at death the individual is judged in the context of his total life and some sort of judgement is rendered.

The Fundamentalist Protestant worldview, while radically different, is simple and straightforward in its own way.  Adam and Eve were created as perfect beings but when they disobeyed G-d in the Garden they were transformed from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.  Not only were Adam and Eve damned by their sin, but the entire human race throughout all time was rendered damned in Adam's loins.  This damnation is not so much the result of personal sin as it is the result of a sickness that makes personal sin possible.  Individual personal sins are merely the symptoms of this disease.

At any rate, G-d was bound by His holiness to damn Adam and Eve for their disobedience and the imperfection it introduced into them, but He hit upon an ingenious plan.  In "the fullness of time" he would incarnate Himself as a human being and then vicariously damn Himself in the place of every single human being who would ever live.  This was done, according to Fundamentalist Protestantism, by the "passion," in which (as the late Southern Baptist leader Reverend Adrian Rogers used to say) "G-d, being infinite, suffered in a finite period of time, what we, being finite, would suffer in an infinite period of time."  All the individual has to do to take advantage of this way out of an otherwise inevitable damnation is to accept it, at which point G-d in His incarnation takes that individual's place in Hell and his original destiny of Paradise with G-d is restored.

There are two things about this worldview that need to be understood.  First, one's actual individual deeds, whether righteous or sinful, ultimately are of absolutely no meaning with regard to one's eternal destiny.  This world is not so much a probationary state as it is a paradise ruined by Satanic interference and Adam's weakness.  Second, this view clashes radically not only with the Jewish worldview but with that of historical liturgical chr*stian churches as well.  The latter not only reject the concept of the passion as a vicarious damnation, they also regard this world as probationary and the individual's sins and good deeds as of utmost importance.  They merely regard the original probationary method as having been disrupted by the "original sin."  However, with the coming of Chr*st, the world has been "redeemed."  Every individual is now born into a redeemed world in which he must merit either Heaven or Hell, and his fate is not finally determined until after his entire life has been lived.  Though more similar to the Jewish view than that of Fundamentalist Protestantism, it also raises the question of why such a worldview required the sacrifice of Chr*st at all, since it is basically the Jewish worldview with J*sus replacing HaShem (chas vechalilah!) and the "new law" replacing the Torah and the Noachide laws (chas vechalilah!).  Indeed, Fundamentalist Protestantism seems to be the logical and ultimate conclusion of chr*stian assumptions.  The ironic fact that Fundamentalist Protestantism is so much friendlier to Judaism is due to several factors (the use of the TaNa"KH as a history to fill its own historical vacuum, Biblical sentimentalism, the non-competition between the legal system of Judaism and the essentially antinomian Fundamentalist Protestant soteriology, etc.) that have been discussed elsewhere on this web site.

Orthodox Jews should consider why it is so difficult for Fundamentalist Protestants to give up their missionary attitude.  For them religion is not a matter of abstract ethical philosophy or ethno-cultural tradition but simple fact.  They regard it as a simple fact that each and every human being born into the world, regardless of his ethnicity, religion, or his personal behavior, is destined to eternal damnation simply because he has Adam's "disease" and that their "new birth" is the only "antidote" in existence.  How would the Fundamentalists' critic behave if he believed such a thing?  The demand for Fundamentalist Protestants to cease any and all missionary activity is seen by them as utterly unreasonable.  Doesn't someone who has contracted a deadly disease need the antidote before it runs its course?  How is merely informing each individual of the danger he is in and informing him of the cure an insult to pluralism, diversity, or anything else?  What have any of those things to do with the situation?

Not only is the Fundamentalist Protestant insistence that "ye must be born again" not intended to imply that the proselytized individual is an immoral person (since an individual's morality has nothing to do with the universal disease all human beings have inherited from Adam), but it is not even an attempt to get people to move from one culture to another.  Most Jews are probably not familiar with the fact that Fundamentalist Protestants do not baptize their infants.  Instead they bring them up with chr*stian teachings until the "age of accountability" at which point the individual product of a chr*stian family must also be "born again" or else he is as eternally damned as anyone else!  Each and every single Fundamentalist Protestant actually considers himself an "adult convert to chr*stianity."  Those outside the tradition will find this difficult to understand, but the radically individualistic nature of Fundamentalist Protestantism demands that each and every single human being, if he is to be "saved," must be individually converted--even if he has spent his entire life being taught chr*stian doctrines by his parents and teachers!  For this reason he regards a missionary message directed at an adult member of another religion as no different from the message directed at him when he himself "converted" or which he directs at his own children.  Of course he does not understand why his missionary activity is considered offensive!

Fundamentalist Protestantism refuses to accept any chr*stian tradition not mentioned explicitly in the "new testament."  Since all converts in the "new testament" are adults (there is no mention of the baptism of infants) he insists that no one can become a chr*stian until he makes the decision to become one (which no infant can do).  The historical churches rightly point out that the "new testament" presents only a snapshot of the chr*stian church in its infancy, before the first chr*stians began reproducing and having the first chr*stian families, but Fundamentalist Protestants are devoted to the concept of sola scriptura and insist that if infant baptisms were permitted the "new testament" would explicitly state this.  So Fundamentalist Protestants live forever in the first generation of the church when it was made up entirely of adult converts.

This, however, causes a problem.  The first chr*stian converts were converted to chr*stianity intellectually.  The doctrines and positions of the new religion were presented to the potential convert and he either accepted them or did not.  But this was true only in the very beginning.  For most of the past two millenia chr*stian parents have taught their religion to their children from infancy.  How is a child who has grown up breathing in chr*stian doctrines like oxygen to become an adult convert?  The answer is the "new birth"--a uniquely Fundamentalist Protestant mystical-emotional experience that provides a precise adult conversion event to the lifelong chr*stian enabling him to share in the experience of the first chr*stians, who were all adult converts.  What most--perhaps all--non-Fundamentalists do not understand is that Fundamentalist Protestants regard themselves as "adult converts to chr*stianity" precisely as someone coverted from another religion, and that the "new birth" of a "lifelong chr*stian," far from being the rite of passage outsiders assume it to be, transforms an adult non-chr*stian into an adult convert to chr*stianity.  Being deprived by a chr*stian upbringing of the opportunity to be intellectually converted to chr*stianity as adults, this "new birth" has developed to answer this "biblical" requirement.  The lifelong Southern Baptist who "accepted chr*st" as a teenager quite literally regards himself as no different from any adult atheist, b*ddhist, or (G-d forbid) Jew who comes to accept chr*stianity intellectually.  Is it any wonder that Fundamentalist Protestants don't understand why their proselytary activity aimed at non-chr*stians (including lifelong chr*stians not yet "born again") is somehow bigoted?

Considering the fact that Fundamentalist Protestants are absolutely "sure" that every single human being is doomed to eternal damnation merely by being born with Adam's "disease" and that they possess the only "remedy" to prevent this, it is really a wonder that they are as non-coercive as they are!  I doubt that a medical professional armed with a serum in the midst of a population of mortally ill people who refused to recognize their predicament would be as respectful!  Instead of being condemned as "bigots" because they believe every single human being born into the world must be "born again" as an adult, Fundamentalist Protestants in fact pioneered the concept of "religious freedom" precisely because only each individual has the right to accept this "salvation"--a point of view not held by more traditional churches that baptize infants.

However, despite the fact that the vast majority of Fundamentalist Protestants are "fanatically" missionary (which is resented by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as much as by Jews), there are still a small minority who adhere strictly to the position of John Calvin and who refuse to engage in missionary activity at all.  That is because they believe that G-d in His absolute sovereignty has fore-ordained from all eternity who will be "saved" and who will be "lost" and that there is absolutely nothing that can be done to change this.  These small churches regard "gospel preaching" as solely for the purpose of "the edification of the elect" and not aimed at making converts.  One cannot help but wonder how the Anti-Defamation League would react if all those horrible Fundamentalist Protestants adhered to this position instead.  The missionary activity would be non-existent, but they would surely feel insulted at the G-d's flouting of "democracy" and "human rights" in the matter of "salvation!"

Finally, it must be remarked that Jewish opposition to "proselytization" is most ironic considering that it was none other than Abraham, the First Jew, who initiated this tradition.  Indeed, Jewish tradition lauds Abraham for doing so, bringing the message of the One G-d to a world mired in polytheism--the most tolerant religion in history!  How can sincere Jews commend Abraham for his "intolerance" while promoting "religious pluralism" as the absolute pinnacle of all Jewish goals?  The fact is that until Antiochus Epiphanes (mach shemo!) pagans and polytheists didn't give a hang about which "gxd" one chose to worship, since they were all considered valid!  Until Antiochus it was precisely this easy-going tolerance that Judaism denied and opposed in the name of the One True G-d Who was a Qel Qanna' (jealous G-d).  If "tolerance" is indeed the ultimate value, then Monotheism is the worst possible idea and Abraham becomes the greatest villain in history.

In Parashat Zakhor (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) the Jewish People are given seemingly contradictory commandments: to "wipe out the memory of `Amaleq," and to do this by "remember[ing] what `Amaleq did to you" and not forgetting.  How does the constant remembering of `Amaleq and the prohibition of forgetting what he did help to "wipe out" out his "memory?"  Does it not instead perpetuate it?   It seems to me that in the matter of proselytization Jews are put in a similar "catch 22" situation.  The mission of the Jewish People is to destroy all false "gxds" so that the One True G-d alone will be acknowledged by all the earth, yet in doing so they struggle against the very "tolerance" that would leave them in peace while exemplifying the most intolerant religious position in existence (Monotheism), and certainly Jews always seem to be in greater danger from Monotheistic gentiles than from pagan ones.  But does this negate the Jewish mission of spreading knowledge of this intolerant G-d?  I realize that there is a position that holds that doing the mitzvot is so important and so basic that the encouragement of "tolerance" among the gentiles is justified, even though that tolerance is inimical to Monotheistic philosophy.  And I am neither a tzaddiq nor a poseq and have no right to dispute those who are.  However, poseqim and tzaddiqim--and the entire People of Israel--should consider that when Noachism emerges as a factor among the gentiles, as it has now, that the encouragement of "tolerance" is not such a black-and-white issue any more.  When Jews were forbidden to teach non-Jews, the encouragement of "tolerance" was understandable.  But what about now when "tolerance" cuts the ground out from under the Noachide project, infant though it may be?  Are we perhaps coming to the time when the original Jewish mission of spreading the knowledge of the intolerant G-d of Israel no longer conflicts with the ability to keep mitzvot?

Let us hope that those in authority--the legitimate leaders of `Am Yisra'el--will, with G-d's guideance, deal with this issue.  And perhaps even the intolerance of Monotheistic non-Jews will have surved a holy purpose.  Let us hope so!