A zero-sum win-lose clash of religions?

Dave Andrews

I never wanted to exterminate anyone – I wanted to convert everyone.

I was taught apologetics by Francis Schaeffer. He encouraged me to believe that Christianity had a monopoly on revelation from God, and as such, our religion had a franchise on what he called the absolute ‘true truth’. That being so, I concluded it should be my mission to expose the false assumptions on which all other religions were based, personally underscore their internal and external contradictions, publicly destroy the credibility of those traditions, and try to convert vexed Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Muslims to Christianity.

Five years into my time in India I was reading the gospels when I came across the words Jesus spoke about how we should proceed with extreme care when criticizing others: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the plank is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.” (Matt.7:3–5).

The plank I had to take out of my own eye was my own self-righteousness. I am a strong, resourceful, assertive person. My ancestors are Scots on both sides of my family, and I’m told that our Scottish family motto is mak sikkar! or “make sure!” When I hear the challenge of Jesus to be “perfect” (Matt. 5:48) —to be “more righteous” than the “pharisees” (Matt. 5:20) —I am inclined to martial my determination, in all its bloody-mindedness, to “make sure,” that I “winnow” the true “wheat” from the false “tares” in my world. (Matt 13:36-43)

At my best, this means that I can lock myself in an empty house, fast and pray for a month, vowing not to come out until have sorted through all my thoughts and feelings to make sure that my actions will be in alignment with God’s will. At my worst, this means I can emerge from my hermitage as a more intense, more intent, more focused, and more committed “self-righteous bastard,” ready to rip into unsuspecting people about their supposed “unrighteousness.”

For someone as combative, dominating and intimidating as me, to treat the conflict between competing truth claims as a credal, zero-sum, win-lose clash between the “righteous” and the “unrighteous” meant I won a lot of arguments, but did a lot of damage, needlessly, heedlessly shaming many vulnerable and sensitive souls who were nurtured in the bosom of honour-shame cultures.

When I took the plank of self-righteousness out of my eye I could see clearly:

1. All men and women are made in the image of God and have the law of God written on the hearts;

2. the Spirit is already at work bringing order out of chaos and leading people into the truth in every situation we find ourselves in;

3. Jesus is already with people – ‘Christ-ians’ and ‘non-Christians’ alike – whether people know it or not; and

4.our role is not to convert people, but to ‘witness’ to people – simply sharing with them (through ‘withness’) what we know.

Comments are closed.