Proselytizing Christians in China Suck.


James Zaworski

You know, I was raised as a Roman Catholic Christian. I don't practice, nor believe, in the tenets of Christianity any more, and perhaps this was due to my studies in anthropology and history. Studying comparative religions in my anthropology studies, I learned that religion works essentially as a mirror. In that mirror, you should see reflected back your culture, it's norms, values, traditions, morality, etc. That's fine. The religion, when functioning in harmony with the culture will tend to change as the culture changes. However, when one codifies, that is, writes down and "concretizes", these doctrines as part of religious laws, then we have a situation where the religion does not change, even when the society or culture in general may undergo change, and even significant change, over time. At this point, we have what is called a "disconnect".

When I read the Gnostic Gospels, those discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in the 1940s, and finally translated form the original Coptic, I realized that there was no one "true" aspect of what was considered to be "Christian truth". This was, for all intents and purposes, a whole other sect of early Christianity, that had a different interpretation of the life of this Jesus character, and essentially said that the resurrection of the Christ was metaphorical, symbolic, and an expression of the transcendence of our experience as humans, as we have to "die" to our "nature", and "rise again", to a new consciousness and reality. It appeared that this sect was not in step with the "orthodox" early Christianity. The literal resurrection of Christ, the basis of all current Christian traditions and beliefs, and the foundation of the whole religion of over 1 billion people worldwide, seems to have been "invented" for a political power play!

It all just reinforced my suspicions and ideas that religion is just another way to justify power, within the cultural context. The Gnostic Gospels really put the nail in the coffin for me once and for all, in terms of having any "faith" in organized religion.

This does not mean that I don't respect religion, and am not interested in it. It is endlessly fascinating to me, is part of how I was raised, and was a big part of my life for a time, in my youth. But essentially, I am an agnostic, the opposite of the "Gnostics", who "knew". I "don't know", and so cannot be an "atheist", for I cannot prove, or disprove, that which cannot be proved, that is "god", the transcendent, whose attempt mythology and folklore and religion attempt to explain. To "explain the unexplainable" in language that is idiomatic, figurative, and metaphorical, is complicated, and is what religions are all about, though we get stuck with the "myth" instead of the "meaning or message" of the myth. 

Now, I am a university professor in Macau, and have been working and living in Asia for the past seven years. I'm an anthropologist, historian, and also archaeologist as well.

I came to China to learn more about, and experience, this ancient civilization and this important modern, and developing society that was undergoing some changes. I came here with great responsibility as a teacher, not to tell my students what to think, or even how to think. That is up to them to do.

At times, in the past five years of teaching in mainland China, I have come across Chinese Christians, converts, as it were. They encounter me, and think that I am a practicing Christian, just because I am a foreigner. I am not. In the PRC, practicing Christianity openly, in a non-sanctioned, non-state supported church, is not a good thing to do. 

I avoided these Chinese Christians like the plague when in mainland China, in part because I didn't want any trouble from authorities, and in part because I am not Christian, and don't want to be part of this "group".

One day, a rather persistent convert followed me from the subway to the bus to my stop with his bible, and kept proclaiming "jesus this" and "jesus that" to me in English. I disagreed with him, tried to move to another chair, and was only puppy dogged by this guy. When I got off at my stop, he did too, and informed me that his "church", had a "congregation" every week in the Tiley Building in Nan Shan, Shenzhen. He invited me to come, I declined. He told me how these "white haired foreigners from America", had "shown him the truth". They were Evangelical Christians.

How dare you! You come to China, prey upon people (likely getting them into trouble), and try to say "my culture is better than your culture"! How dare you!
The audacity! The small mindedness! The ethnocentrism!!!!!! You think your culture is better than another, and your religion is better than another????? 

Tonight, one of my students asked me some questions after class. She told me that her high school English teacher was a Christian, and that this person told the students that "Christianity" was better than Chinese culture! So, this English teacher came to China to convert 14-year old kids!! So, prey upon the vulnerable, try to convert the uncertain, and do underhanded things to get the converts and in the process, totally mess with someone's life, their psyche, and their head. You think you helped these kids? You sent them into shock, questioning who they are, where they belong, and told them that their parents are all wrong, and that you are right.

I asked my student if she felt pressure and unease as a result of this, and she said yes. She further told me that her friends, Christians, were pressuring her to convert. Peer pressure. I asked her if she felt comfortable about it, and she said no. She cannot make herself believe, and doesn't like this kind of thing. 

I, as her teacher and her friend, and as one who does not want to influence her to give in or resist, merely asked her what she wants to do. She said she doesn't want to do this. I said, ok. She asked me if I was Christian, and I told her that I used to be. She asked me why, and I told her. But I told her also that I respect the religion. I did not dissuade her. I did not persuade her. She is 19, and can make up her own mind.

I am a cultural relativist, which means, I do not want to impose my culture upon another, and will not judge another culture, or member of another culture, based on my culture. It is the opposite of what most people do, which is ethnocentrism. This is the value judgments that one makes about another culture, based on the norms and values of his own culture. Of course, the latter is a very natural thing to do, and the former is difficult to do. But it takes a great deal of cultural awareness, self reflection, and questioning of one's own culture, values, beliefs, norms, etc. to be effective at the former, and no one can truly escape one's own culture completely, in terms of world view.

But, it made me angry. How dare these Christians who come to Asia, and try to convert students! That is not your job, and it is not what you have been hired for! If you are teaching English, you have no right to convert students to Christianity! Okay, you can talk about the religion, and talk about its holidays, and why they are important to Christians, but that is not the same as preaching the religion, making value judgments, and trying to make converts!

So, proselytizing Christians in China, and elsewhere, you suck.

That is my personal, and professional opinion.
Here is a picture from last week of a "big sun" sunny day in Shenzhen.
An Interesting International Day in China: January 19, 2011.


James P. Zaworski (An American in China)

It’s January 19, 2011, and I woke up this morning with a taste for kimchi.  Last night, my Chinese girlfriend and future wife talked to me about kimchi, so it stuck.  In my night’s sleep, and dream’s eye, I thought of Poland and Korea, and wrote a little about the parallels of their histories.  Then, I thought about food; lately, I have been missing non-Chinese food.  In particular, I miss the variety of European foods, particularly Polish food (varieties of sausage, sauerkraut, rye bread, etc.), which is nigh impossible to obtain here in China. 

My girlfriend, who simply adores traditional Chinese opera and culture, played both Shao Xing Opera and Beijing Opera after having Chinese green tea and Twinnings Earl Grey Tea for our morning breakfast. After some exercise, a shower, and some fiddling with my increasingly troublesome Japanese computer (Toshiba, which shuts down inexplicably), this American (half Polish ancestry, one quarter Dutch ancestry and one quarter British ancestry) set off to one of the local Korean restaurants.   We had the usual bul go gi ( marinated Korean beef), and kimchi.  It was so good that we bought some to go (da bao, take away). 

After coming home, we went out to Carrefour (the French Wal-mart), to buy Si Chuan Ma La sausage (black pepper and chili pepper), American wine (Berringer Zinfandel), German beer (Apostle’s Brau), Jiangsu “Glutinous Rice Wine” (very reminiscent of Sherry), cheddar cheese (from New Zealand, really excellent aged extra sharp cheddar), Thai rice, and Coca-cola.

We stopped at KFC on the way home, pondered buying some Uyghar flat bread, and finally came home to work on my computer, scan some photos that I did not have on digital format, play a bit of video game, prepare some lessons for tomorrow, and listen to my iPod.  I set it to random (shuffle), and my 60 Gigabyte iPod played for me a wonderful array of tunes while I played my game (I will give the most interesting combination, which prompted this entry):  Mozart, Shakti (an Indian-British jazz group), Gaelic music, Little Feat, Paul Simon, Jethro Tull, The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp; Jean luc Ponty, Louis Armstrong, and some BB King. 

So, here I am: a 45 year old American English teacher, anthropologist, and archaeologist in China.  Today, I enjoyed a very international day here in China.  Everything from the food, drink, company, music and ambience, it was Chinese and international.  I suppose that is why I like Shenzhen, and why I like China.

Postscript:  I also downloaded two documentary films that I will watch this weekend:  one on Marilyn Monroe and the other on Jimi Hendrix.  Only in China.

My girlfriend and I decided to go to a Muslim restaurant (Gansu food), this evening for dinner, as I wanted to eat some la mien soup and beef with hot peppers.  The restaurant was empty, except for one man, with head shaved, and a kind face eating plain noodles.  He said to me in English "hello, how are you", and then spoke with my girlfriend in Chinese.  It turns out that he is from Anhui Province, and he had crutches, and is a victim of childhood polio.  He spoke with a slow kind of slur, but had the kindest and most reassuring face.  He told us his story.  He is the youngest of 9 children, his parents are now deceased.  He was a beggar for 7 years.  One day, a huge rain storm came, and he was stuck in the street, and the local Buddhist temple took him in.  He had a vision from the "Buddha of the Sea", a female Buddha incarnation.  She told him "to ask for a job at the monestary", and he did.  It is where he works now.

The owner of the restaurant came in, and we had a very good conversation about religion, kindness and tolerance.  As one of the hallmarks of Islam, giving alms to the poor and being kind to the less fortunate,  and this was very much in evidence at this restaurant.  The owner told us how this man comes and has breakfast, lunch and dinner here.

I was touched by this story, and the kindness shown across faiths, from these men who have very different religions and cultures, Gansu and Anhui.  So, in Shenzhen, I was fortunate to see this and tell this story.

A new month, the fifth of the year, has dawned.  May Day celebrations came and went, we were going to go to Wutong Mountain, but didn't do it as we deemed that we'd be up to our armpits in people, since everyone has the three day weekend free, and some have five days off.

I decided to delay this for another day.  Wutong Mountain can wait.