Different message and cultures – same method of evangelism
I had a surreal moment this week. I sat in a building I know well, but instead of ordered western rational church services, there were people dancing to ever more frenzied mantras with drums, in the bright colours of India for the Festival of Spirit.
I tried not to think of my evangelical family as I listened, feeling quite alien and a little furtive into my first foray into public Eastern Spirituality. But a thought struck me that I have had in every church I have been to – and I claim to have tried every branch of Christianity – all have the same methodology, the same tone. The people might be different, the buildings, trappings, the words… but essentially, in ebullient outreach mode, are scarily the same. And it is true of these mendicant Hare Krishnas.
We were hyped up by a simple song, which also closed the evening. The speaker was a Caucasian dressed in robes, but his voice was just like the preachers of my Christian Union days. The talk wasn’t intellectual but it was clever from an oratory technique. That smooth, colloquial, I’ve been where you are voice. Not the calm of senior Buddhists or contemplative Christians, nor the rant of the traditional protestant and political demagogue, but I say again, smooth, in both senses: The well rehearsed story of Bhagavad-Gitas (re)appearing in spooky ways in people’s lives and changing them; the “you can every penny back of you don’t like it” speech – this was free, including, cunningly, a meal; the drama sketch designed to lampoon British ignorance and imperialism (which felt at least 50 years too late)… all gave little real content. I still don’t really understand what a Hare Krishnan believes. But then a Christian preacher wouldn’t take you on journey of theology and church history at a Gospel rally. They too would find things you’d notice were lacking in the world, find sore points in your own life; flatter you a little for coming and having the sense to look for something new; even acknowledge some were only here for the food – which we had to wait 2½ hours for – and was not a good way to convert to vegetarianism, as intended.
Also like my last experience of a Pentecostal church, I was accosted before the meeting began by a person eroding my personal space and another who kept looking at me conspicuously throughout the meeting, probably for not clapping and chanting the name of a god I don’t personally deal with (or perhaps I do, under a different name – a thought I would not let occur 15 years ago!) At the Pentecostal meeting, I saw another man, similarly harassed, slip out for a fag. Although I am passionately anti smoking, I was tempted to join him and commiserate, as I too fled. It was only the meal that made me stay at with the Hare Krishnas – and that early nonconformist chapels are hard to escape from, with their pillars and pews – and the only free exit blocked by the Hare team using it as a kind of Green Room.
Unlike Christian meetings, there was no altar call, no asking for prayer or Holy Spirit/anti demon whip up, though like the cult in Holy Smoke with Kate Winslet, the music would have been enough to incite ecstasy and euphoric experiences. There was nothing in the meeting that made me curious enough to read more, although perhaps I should have a look at another holy book. Again, its presentation reminded me of fundamental Christians – a literally happened story with all the answers of life, just as you need them.
I shall not look at that chapel the same, but think my current flavour of faith suits me better.
At least I can’t be accused of not trying anything different!