I got stopped by an evangelist today. This time, I was dealing with a man who was of the opinion that, through meditation (at his meditation group, of course), I could reach “self-actualization,” a state in which I would finally find happiness. At long last!
He made this pitch after a long lead up, in which he talked about how “people in the olden days had very little, but they were so happy! And now we have so much, but everyone is stressed and upset!” The chief example he offered about how people are in such trouble these days was that they sometimes eat while walking, presumably because they’re in a hurry. This, he said, is indicative of how discontent and out of touch they are.
We also talked a bit about what defines me, or any person. Is it the name? No, we agreed, names don’t define people. That is when he reached into his bag and took out a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. I had gotten a copy over the summer, the last time I was stopped by a Hare-Krishna, and so I quickly explained that, in fact, I already had one of those. Not to be deterred, he produced another book, “The Book of Self-Actualization,” which he said would “help” me.
Now, as I said, I’ve dealt with other Hare-Krishnas, so I knew this next bit was coming: After he had “given” me the book, he asked me for a donation. I reached into my sporran and gave him two dollars. The evangelist I was dealing with then asked that I give him another three dollars.
Ridiculous donation racket aside, there was another reason that this Hare-Krishna chappy had trouble getting through to me: I’m happy with myself. The problems I have in my life (lack of disposable income, bad at cooking, gen-ed requirements, etc.) are all temporary. I am happy with myself the way I am, and I do not feel the need for some meditative chants to “find my true self.”
The same thing applies to Christian evangelism. I do not feel broken. I do not feel particularly sinful. I do not feel lost. Your savior is of no use to me, because I do not need to be saved. Your meditative “self-actualization” is of no use to me, because I know who I am. None of the allegedly transformative miracle cures that are peddled by evangelists appeal to me, because I am just fine as I am, thank you very much.
It’s no accident, I think, that this fellow opened with a claim that people are all unhappy and out of sync today. This is the core of evangelism: Convince your target that they have a problem that only you can fix. This is why the notorious “I Agree With Markwell” campaign last year stressed how “messed up, jacked up, and broken” people are before claiming that buddying up with their god will complete you. This is why Ray Comfort, the Grand Poobah of obnoxious one-on-one street evangelism, gives a talk to evangelists called “Hell’s Best Kept Secret,” in which he stresses the importance of convincing everyone that they are vile, filthy, sinful wretches before suggesting that they “accept Jesus Christ into their hearts as their personal lord and savior,” so that they will be scared into converting.
So, when I stood there on campus, holding a cheap copy of “The Book of Self-Actualization,” having handed over two dollars already and being asked for another three, I took a moment to consider all the factors. I know who I am, as I said, so I didn’t really need his self-actualization book, anyway. I am satisfied with my own system of ethics, so I don’t need to be issued one by him, or anyone else. I thought about what sorts of things were detracting from my happiness, and what sorts of things would make me happier. Long story short, I handed the book back, took my money, and bought some Milano cookies. No regrets.