Published March 03, 2010
Which doorstep missionary is correct?THE OLYMPIAN
About once a month, a kindly woman in a medium tan coat sounds the mellow chimes of my doorbell, and waits patiently on the porch as I pull myself away from a generally spellbinding breakfast. I open the door, she opens her purse, and we exchange pleasantries as she passes over a pamphlet explaining one tenet or another of the Jehovah’s Witness religion. She donates countless mornings in this way, spreading salvation among the neighbors who are perched with varying degrees of precariousness upon the precipice of perdition. I think this woman is overwhelmingly generous. A little later in the year, when the icy bite melts off the afternoons, two young men will come walking down the street in the sharpest suits you ever saw. Grinning and undaunted, they will stop a moment at every door for a spot of amiable conversation about the merits of Mormonism. My mother will unfailingly invite them in for tea. Inevitably though, not every doorstep is as welcoming, and these young men persevere through every shade and color of rudeness, buoyed only by the knowledge that they are doing good work. I think these men are overwhelmingly generous. Missionaries arrive in all shapes and sizes, advocating a wide variety of beliefs. I’ve spoken to Presbyterians and Baptists as well. And although religions such as Buddhism and Islam are not so aggressively evangelistic (at least this side of the prime meridian), I have friends who follow these faiths, and if some day they were to show up on my porch, I would consider them just as overwhelmingly generous with both their time and energy. All missionaries, in my book, are overwhelmingly generous and dedicated folks who deserve respect and politeness. Each one is trying to circulate what they feel is the most important knowledge anyone can have. But it occurred to me the other day, as the kindly woman smiled and passed over a pamphlet on “Hellfire,” that missionaries themselves might draw much stricter distinctions. A missionary understands certain fundamental truths about the world. These truths are so important that he or she gives up his time trying to coax others into considering them. Sadly, these truths are skewed at least a little (and sometimes wholly perverted) by every other missionary of other faiths. It is fascinating to me — even somewhat dizzying — that these friendly, devoted souls who all stand in pretty much the same spot on my porch, and hand me pamphlets of about the same size, view themselves as so opposed to one another. I sometimes wonder what might happen if they showed up on each other’s doorsteps. How might the Baptist respond to the Muslim’s claim that Islam is more updated than Christianity, since it recognizes Muhammad in addition to his predecessor, Jesus? What might the Scientologist think about the Sikh missionary’s pamphlet arguing that leading a disciplined life is more important than achieving a state of Clear? Would the Hindu be swayed, even just a little, by the Protestant on his porch pleading that worshipping murtis is really just glorifying false idols? I would love to know which one of the hundred hypothetical missionaries on my porch is completely correct about every detail of the universe, and which 99 missionaries are completely wrong. It’s probably important; people fight wars and achieve eternal bliss because they know that their pamphlet is the right one. At the very least I could finally squelch that nagging spark of curiosity which lingers in my head about momentous metaphysical questions. I guess I just don’t have that sort of confidence. For now, I’ll stick to serving them all tea. Emerson Hardebeck, junior class president at Timberline High School and an editor of Timberline’s student newspaper “The Blazer,” is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. He can be reached at email@example.com.