By Rabbi Rami Shapiro
On Sunday (June 21, 2009) I wrote about Catholic efforts to convert Jews (Choosing the Chosen). On Monday I received a private email from a rabbi saying I was taking the matter too lightly. I agree. Converting a person from one faith to another is no laughing matter. So here are a few suggestions on the more serious side.
We ought to have reality shows featuring people of different faiths being pitched to by people of other faiths. On one show, Big Bother, proselytizers would race around a city knocking on doors trying to convert people to their way of believing. On another show, I’m a Celebrity Destined for Hell, Get Me Out of Here, famous clergy would proselytize famous Scientologists. A third show, Amazing Grace, would feature missionary teams proselytizing indigenous peoples in remote parts of Africa, Australia, or Utah.
Reality shows are only the beginning. Religions seeking converts need an all out effort at product placement. Ironically, Judaism, which has little interest in proselytizing, has a leg up on the competition with the FBI hero of the hit show Numbers going to see his rabbi for spiritual direction, and the hot Israeli Mossad agent working with NCIS on NCIS. I wonder how much the Elders of Zion spent on those gigs?
Advertising will also be important. Mormons, for example, can offer converts that cool protective underwear that claims to be God’s own brand of Kevlar®. Judaism and Islam also offer distinctive clothing: caps for men, and headscarves for women. Judaism also has the option of dressing like a 17th century Polish nobleman or noblewoman if you buy the Hasidic package, while the Muslims could counter with the burkha.
Food might be another area of competition. Christianity can promote pork over and against Judaism and Islam’s pig-free diet the way Hebrew National promotes its kosher hot dogs over non-kosher brands. Catholics can offer something unique in that they alone eat the actual flesh and blood of God. Forget trans-fat, how about transubstantiation!
Potential converts looking for value might prefer Christianity’s Three Gods for the price of one, but Hinduism and its 330 million Gods will be hard to beat on that score.
Maybe the kind of eternal life in heaven a religion offers could separate it from the pack. Hindus and Buddhists might lose out on this score since they insist on reincarnation (at worst) and the extinction of the separate self (at best), but maybe not. Jewish heaven is (for those few Jews who still believe in heaven) eternal bible study with God. Christian heaven is the endless singing of the same hymn. And Islamic heaven is an unending feast of culinary and sexual delights. Of course reading the same book, singing the same song, and eating the same food for all eternity can get pretty boring after the first few millennia. And even sex gets old. So maybe this isn’t such a good area for competition.
Anyway, I like the idea of out and out conversion campaign among the world’s religions. I think this would invite creativity, and force theologians to come up with some cool new slogans. John 3:16 is so yesterday. And it will put an end to believers killing nonbelievers since this drains the market for new converts.
In the end, though, I think Catholics will win. As the competition heats up the Church will bring back dispensations and, rather than sell them as they did in the Middle Ages, they will offer dispensational packages to people who convert and get others to convert as well. When it comes right down to it, it is hard to compete with a “Get Out of Hell Free” card.