There are two places on my daily trip home from work every day where I encounter Christian missionaries. One is at the start of the trip, when I enter the subway. There is usually a woman there with a microphone going on about how if one accepts Jesus, all will be well with you in the afterlife.
When I get off the train, I catch a bus. At the corner where I catch the bus, there is usually another person there missionizing. He does it a bit differently. He simply stands there with a bicycle and a sign and waits for people to approach him. I've eavesdropped on some of his conversations and he seems like a fairly intelligent person. I've never actually spoken to him directly.
This story is not about either of those people. :) (Hat tip: Douglas Adams - go to page 2).
This is about someone who approached me while I was listening in on a conversation the bicycle evangelist was having with someone else.
I was approached by a balding gentleman, about 40 years old, short, with a short red beard. He was wearing what looked like maroon hospital scrubs. He came to me and asked me if I believed in Jesus. I decided to entertain him and answered that I did not.
"Why don't you believe in Jesus?" he asked me.
"Why should I?" was my response. He responded with a verse from the Christian Bible.
"You do realize," I informed my disputant, "that quoting from the New Testament to convince me isn't going to do you any good, since I don't hold of the authority of the New Testament to begin with."
"But he died on the cross for you," was the next line of argument. Rather than get bogged down in the historical accuracy of the statement, I decided to try a different tack.
"So?" I said. "What does that mean?"
"You said that Jesus died on the cross. What does that mean? How did he die for me? Lots of people died on crosses. What makes his death any more special to me than any other?"
"Pray with me..." was the next tack.
Now, I knew the answers to the questions that I asked. I'm actually fairly well versed (for an outsider) in Christian theology. I know the significance (in Christian thought) of the crucifixion, the resurrection, Original Sin, etc. But I find it interesting that my disputant, who was trying to convince me to become a Christian, could not even tell me the very basics of *why* he was a Christian.
"Don't you want to be saved?" he asked me.
"What do I need saving from?"
"Why do you think I'm going to Hell?" I asked him. "I'm not a wicked person."
"Because you don't believe in Jesus."
"But why would I be going to Hell because I don't believe in Jesus?"
"Because Jesus said so."
"But since I don't hold of the authority of the New Testament, that basically boils back to "because I said so." I replied. "That's not enough. If you want me to believe, you have to give me a reason."
"I believe it," he said. "Isn't that good enough for you?"
"Of course not," I replied with a smile. "I believe Jesus wasn't the messiah. Isn't that good enough for you?"
In the end, he left me alone, he simply could not convince me. No surprise there... I don't think he really had any idea why he was a Christian himself.
Of course, that got me to wondering how many frum Jews know why they are frum Jews. I'm sure that, as a whole, frum Jews are far better educated about their religion than most Christians (especially those who didn't go to a parochial school or religious seminary). And I'm fairly certain that most frum Jews *inwardly* know why they are frum Jews. But how many can express that in words; in clear coherent sentences. I'm not looking for people to bring proofs to the authenticity of Judaism (a la the Kuzari)... just simple statements that explain why they believe what they do.
The kiruv movement has brought this more into the spotlight in recent years. After all, as my disputant showed, you can't convince someone else of something unless you can articulate what it is you're trying to sell. And I don't think that you have to trot out false "proofs" to convince people of the wonderfulness of Judaism. All you have to do is be able to articulate what it is you find special about Judaism; the wonderfulness of the holidays, the meanings behind some of the rituals we observe; the bond that forms in our communities (barring the rotten apples, of course :) ), etc. *That's* the point that needs to be emphasized when speaking to people about Judaism.