A few weeks ago I attended a talk by an evangelist, and it did me a lot of good. But not in the way some of you might think. The evangelist was Peter Pollock, who in the 1960s played cricket for South Africa, but later started his own ministry.
I know Pollock meant well, but his talk was the typical conservative Christian narrative that I grew up with: the focus on hell and the devil; the belief that humans are by nature greedy and sinful; the degrading of reason and human achievement; and the claim that one cannot be truly happy without Jesus.
The talk got me thinking about evangelists in general. I'm convinced that they are successful because they manipulate (often unintentionally) two powerful emotions: shame and fear. The evangelist's technique is to make us feel shameful for simply being human, and this is often followed up by a reminder of hell, with the hope that if guilt won't motivate the audience to make a decision to follow Jesus, fear will.
Soon after leaving the faith, I used to respond to evangelists with trepidation, and later with anger. But this time, surprisingly, I did not experience any of these emotions. Instead, while I listened to Pollock, I felt a renewed sense of certainty as well as a great deal of relief. Certainty that I had definitely made the right decision to leave this brand of Christianity behind, and relief that this decision freed me from the burdens of conformity and servitude, which fundamentalism requires.
The talk did me a lot of good because it made me realise something extremely important: that evangelists no longer have any power over me, the power to instill fear or even to rouse anger. I think this is because, after six years of being non-religious, I no longer fear hell or any concept of god; and I no longer feel any guilt or shame for being human. Without these prerequisites, there is nothing within me that the evangelist can latch onto.
But more importantly, I believe that love enhances human dignity. What kind of love is the evangelist advocating if he or she has to manipulate and scare people into heaven? If this is God's love – a love motivated by shame, guilt and fear – then I'm not interested.