International Community Radio Taipei a few days ago broadcast an interview with a Christian missionary from the US working in Taichung. During the interview, he said that what he mainly does is care about people wherever he meets and talks to them. That is nice. Then he said he would also talk about the Bible, adding that he would do so only if people are interested in such topics. No shoving down people’s throats, he said.
Still nice? Well, somewhat. Missionaries do missionize; that is their job. Why else would someone proactively care for strangers who do not ask for help if there were not something else at stake?
As for the no-pushing strategy: Rhetorically skilled speakers can easily move topics in conversations with linguistically less versatile young people toward the “right” direction, and that would not be so nice.
He went on to say that he and his team would cooperate with local colleges and schools, offering students free language training through interactions with native English speakers in his team, obviously in exchange for access to human “material” awaiting to be proselytized.
Such barter involving the trading of linguistic skills for soul-fishing are officially accepted at some local universities.
I find this situation problematic for various reasons.
First, the main goal of institutions of higher education is the enhancement of professional and academic skills. “Spiritual” enhancement must not be part of a university’s portfolio.
On the contrary: Students on campuses must be protected from falling prey to interest groups with a very unacademic agenda.
Academic institutions must focus on the enhancement of logical, critical and independent thinking. Unfortunately, core values of the local culture here are not amenable, often even inimical to such essential educational goals.
The prevailing culture here is authoritarian and honors blind obedience, its education awards rote learning without understanding, it discourages young people from thinking for themselves and it punishes inquisitive minds.
The disingenuous educational paradigms are implemented in so many classrooms here on a daily basis. Therefore, there is no need in Taiwan of an additional input of uncritical thinking by religious groups that aim to hijack the minds of young people through the indoctrination of dubious contents.
There is another reason for concern. It is obvious that so many young people in Taiwan are literally clueless about major issues that move the world. Their life experience is minimal, their minds are soft and malleable, underdeveloped, easy to bend.
Aggravating this intellectual shortfall is that the main procedure here of what is called learning is the copy-paste-delete routine: A waterfall of exams induces students to copy, or memorize, a piece of textbook content, paste it onto the test sheets and delete it immediately after the exam, because neural storage space is needed as the next exam is already around the corner. Hundreds of such exams leave students clueless about the world.
Consequences of this culture of learning are evident. Often, young people are emotionally and intellectually insecure; they have never developed their own ideas about topics of general concern. They are lost when having to move within competitive networks of opinions, assertions and claims — the stuff the modern world is made of.
Therefore, they can be easily manipulated and “guided” by those who do have opinions, no matter whether they are good or bad.
Exploiting this situation for one’s own purpose — even despite best intentions — is simply unethical. Educators, therefore, should carefully distinguish between making people think and making people think like you. The former is the job of academic teachers, the latter the job of missionaries.
Another point concerns facts. The interviewee — who seemed to be well-informed, self-ironical, honest and open-minded — also said that he uses the gospel as guidance for his life, and that he loves the Bible.
Many Christians say that, but is there not some cherry-picking at work? Here is some food for thought:
The god of the Old Testament — the first part of the Bible — is not a nice guy. For instance, He instructs his followers to commit multiple genocide as they are told to wipe out several tribes who happen to live in the “wrong” place, and to have innocent and helpless women and children raped and then slaughtered.
The list of such niceties from the “Good Book” is much longer. I wonder what it means when God also tells us that “thou shalt not kill.”
This god, believed by Christians to be perfect and almighty, is vengeful, genocidal, parochial, hateful against other cultures, brutal, bloodthirsty and vain, to name but a few.
How can someone love such a book? I highly recommend everyone to read it, especially Leviticus and Deuteronomy — for sanitary reasons.
Moreover, the Bible is full of internal contradictions and most propositions about the world are wrong. The idea of a hereditary original sin is deeply immoral and so is the presumed crown jewel of Christian ethics: The command to love one’s neighbors and enemies. Try to live by it, we would soon have Apocalypse Now — unlike the one wrongly prophesized by Jesus.
Christians must reconcile their belief in a perfect, almighty creator with the fact that before you finish reading this sentence, several children around the world have died of hunger.
The last point is the making of the Bible. Its readers should know that the gospels were written generations after Jesus’ death — none of its authors, including Paul, met Jesus. We have no originals: The earliest manuscripts of the gospels are the copies written 130 years after the crucifixion of Jesus — which means they are copies of copies of copies of copies, full of mistakes and deliberate insertions made by tired and ambitious copyists.
People have no clue what the originals really said, and how reliable they were. There was no non-Christian source reporting about the assumed events until the year 90.
Therefore, the only way the Bible should be dealt with within academic institutions should be through what is known as “historical-critical method,” which requires the application of academic skills.
It renders results very different from those who approach the Bible with the love of their heart.
Herbert Hanreich is assistant professor at I-Shou University, Kaohsiung.
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