“Evangelism” is one of those “Christian” words that makes me cringe. The motivation for evangelism is certainly legitimate and benevolent. “Go and make disciples.” “Spread the Good News.”
The application, however, is usually what makes me cringe. When I think of “evangelizing,” the word instantly conjures up images of bridge diagrams, philosophically and empathically shallow discussion, and a general failure to enter into the symbolic world of those whom we are bothering…er…I mean evangelizing.
Lately, however, I think that I’ve come to question even the motivation for evangelizing. There are, perhaps, two comments in particular that have brought these thoughts to forefront of my mind. One comment I found in a book entitled Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment. The authors casually reported the findings of hedonistic psychology, which state this: the greatest predictor of self-reported happiness is not religion, money, or status. It is how often one spends with others socializing. Now, there are some seemingly serious methodological difficulties with measuring a thing like happiness, but this is still rather troubling for someone who thinks that their religion will bring a unique happiness to those who would otherwise be unhappy.
Soren Kierkegaard’s remarks in The Sickness Unto Death are the second set of thought provoking comments,
Just as the physician might say that there lives perhaps not one single man who is in perfect health, so one might say perhaps that there lives not one single man who after all is not in some extent in despair, in whose inmost parts there does not dwell a disquietude, a perturbation, a discord, an anxious dread of an unknown something, or of a something he does note even dare to make acquaintance with, dread of a possibility of life, or dread of himself, so that, after all, as physicians speak of a man going about with a disease in him, this man is going about and carrying a sickness of the spirit, which only rarely and in glimpses, by and with a dread which to him is inexplicable, gives evidence of its presence within.
S.K. claims that despair is a universal sickness. Moreover, he claims that we (the infected) may not even know about our infection. This seems to be a very difficult thing to accept. It’s more than a little bit odd to tell, “hey, you are in despair.” Especially, if they say, “Nay, I am quite happy with my life.”
But what else am I supposed to believe? How can I be motivated to “go and make disciples” if everyone is hunky dory without the bother of becoming a disciple? Is this yet another instance where I must embrace another absurd aspect of my religious life?
For S.K., the answer to the aforementioned question is no even though S.K. is a friend of the absurd. Instead, he suggests that the one who understands despair has some privileged access to knowledge of what constitutes the good life just as a doctor, on who understands health, has privileged access to knowledge of what constitutes good health. This is easier to swallow, but I’m still a bit reluctant to think that I am that knowledge about the psychological health of others.
Alas, perhaps, for now, I must be content to be in the position of an unknowing disciple: I have been beckoned to “follow Him,” and yet I have no idea where He is going, nor do I have an idea of why He is going that direction.