Ithaca, NY is a pretty progressive place, so I was very surprised during my visit this weekend by the entertainment I found in the Ithaca Commons. Flanking each entrance to the pedestrian mall were Mennonite proselytizers distributing pamphlets and CDs while a Mennonite choir performed hymns on the center stage, amplified for all to hear.
I politely accepted the materials I was offered, knowing they would make for interesting discussion here on the blog. Further, I don’t know much about the Mennonites, so I was seriously curious what kind of messaging they are using. If you’re completely unfamiliar with the Mennonites, I generally think of them as Amish who are less conservative about electricity. (The Amish actually were a group who split from the Mennonite church in 1693.)
Knowing I would probably write a stinging critique, I decided not to take any photographs of the proselytizers or performers, but I have scanned the pamphlet and CD case so you can get a sense of what they were offering. Click on any of them to see them full-size.
The informative pamphlet seems innocuous enough at first glance. “Do you know?” Do I know what? Let’s see what interesting lessons it has to offer!
Do you know why nations are on the brink of catastrophe and churches are overrun with unbelief and rebellion, their walls crumbling by moral decay and sin? The answer is in the Bible, if you really want to know.
Well that’s uplifting, isn’t it? I mean, first they’re kind of begging the question a bit. Are nations on the brink of catastrophe? What does that mean? Further, I don’t think churches are overrun by “unbelief.” As someone who does not believe, church is really the last place I want to spend any of my time. I also doubt that the mere fact that many of us do not believe is somehow impacting the physical integrity of church walls. Perhaps this is a use of metaphor, but when we’re talking about folks who take the Bible as the word of God, the line between metaphorical and literal interpretation is pretty fuzzy.
Do you know what determines your eternal destiny—heave or hell, saved or lost? The answer is in the Bible, and the following verses all relate to the final Judgment.
This right here speaks to the observation that atheists are often “more intellectual” than believers. It takes a more significant intellectual foundation to be confident in nonbelief. As a nonbeliever, I understand that there is nothing to substantiate the existence of a soul, an afterlife, or sin. I do not use a god to define my morality; I only care whether I offend the existence of fellow humans.
BUT, if I had any wavering doubt, this pamphlet might raise concern for me. After only two paragraphs, I might already be thinking about how I’ve lived my life, with concern for the fate of my soul in the afterlife. This is blatant fear-mongering, and it is at the heart of most proselytization.
The rest of the brochure mines quotes from the Bible to “prove” each tenet. Here are the rest of the questions posed (I highlighted a few that I think are funny to consider from an atheist point of view):
Do you know that many people who think they are Christians are deceived, for many ministers and teachers today teach partial truth?
Do you know that salvation and good works cannot be separated?
Do you know that if you do not obey God, you are not even saved?
Do you know that if you do not walk in the light (that is, respond in obedience to every Bible teach), the blood of Jesus does not cleanse you from sin?
Do you know that if you claim to know Jesus and do not keep His commandments, God says you are a liar?
Do you know that no liar will go to heaven?
Do you know that the things Paul wrote in the New Testament are the commandments of God?
Do you know that if you are involved in a divorce and second marriage while your first companion is still living, you are living in adultery?
Do you know that no adulterer or adulteress will be allowed into heaven?
Do you know that God commands men and women to dress modestly?
Do you know that there are many other commandments in the New Testament, and that the pastors who say you are all right without obeying them are lying to you, meaning that both you and they will be lost unless you repent?
Do you know that to believe in God but not obey Him is death?
Do you know that your final judgment will be based on what you did and how you obeyed what you knew?
I like that last one. There is no final judgment offered by a higher power, but I definitely measure my life by my actions and how I use what I know. It’s exactly why I’m an atheist!
Anyway, you can see pretty obviously how this Mennonite group is trying to use fear to convince folks to conform to their narrow-minded beliefs. Looked at another way, it could be seen as an act of self-reassurance: Look, this is what we believe! This makes sense, right? Either way, it’s the age-old core foundation of religious outreach: Join us or you’ll burn in hell.
This paper was written to give you an opportunity to repent, and to expose the greatest error in the churches today—the teaching that men and women will go to heaven only on the basis of their knowledge. [Another mined Bible quote.] When you stand before the great Judge and hear His eternal verdict about you, there will be no second chance. Nor will the pastors that deceived you be able to change it. So repent now, turn to Jesus for cleansing from sin, and keep His commandments. Then only can you claim the promise of eternity with God.
While the pamphlet seems mostly geared toward other kinds of Christians who should be afraid that they’re not getting the full package from their beliefs, the accompanying CD seems to target atheists in particular. I wonder if they originally were going to call the CD, “Yeah-huh!”
I should point out that the CD is not really listenable. They basically opened a hymnal and sang 18 songs out of it. It’s just a cappella homophony, and the vowels are spread and the intonation poor, giving it the folksy sound you might expect if you were sitting right in their church listening to the congregation belt it out. It almost makes you want to sing along, just in hopes that your own voice will drown theirs out. If you’re curious, iTunes identifies the artist as “Singers of the Epmc” (Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church) and the Album as “Hymns Of Truth And Grace.”
Look at those mountains! Aren’t they pretty? There’s no way that picture was taken in Pennsylvania or New York. The goal of the message there is that since the mountains are majestic, they must be proof of God. I think they’re just proof of mountains… somewhere.
The songs on this album bring you a message about the love of God. The Bible tells of the gift of salvation that God has offered to us through His Son Jesus Christ. [Another Bible quote.] Jesus’ blood is able to cleanse us from sin and give us power to live a new life. We need to repent of our sins to experience God’s forgiveness and confess our need of Jesus to receive his help to live free form sin. Then we can have peace with God and the promise of a future home in heaven.
In other words, we need to beat ourselves up and make ourselves feel like shit so we can feel better later. That’s a message of “love,” for sure.
If you would like to talk to someone about how to find Jesus as your personal Saviour, we welcome you to use the phone number and address on the face of the disc. If you have already given you [sic] heart and life to God, we desire that these hymns could be an encouragement to you. We would enjoy hearing from you.
Apparently, the money they would have used to get the internet and an email address went to the fancy speaker system that amplified their solemn singing across the Ithaca Commons all afternoon.
What is most interesting and yet most unsurprising is how un-unique these proselytizing efforts are. You would expect to see the exact same tactics from most Christian groups. In fact, this pamphlet was quite similar to the “America, America” pamphlet I wrote about last year.
Unfortunately, this means I didn’t really learn anything interesting about the Mennonites except that they use the same fear-mongering as everybody else.