current events

Religious fundamantalists want to save us all



A short e-mail exchange

One of the schools I attended recently had a twenty-five year reunion.   I wasn't able to go as it was in Australia, which is about as far away from Bermuda as you can get.   I doubt I would have gone if I'd been there, as I'm not sure w hat we gain from superficial discussions with people with whom we share no allegiance.   If we didn't make the effort in 1979, why now?  

Anyway, one of the banes of e-mail is that a lot of people I had gladly forgotten were able to contact me.   This has been kind of pleasantly irritating.   One of the e-mails I got was broadcast to a number of people, and it went like this.

TO: General Distribution

FROM: Mark Bennett

Subject: Message from an old mate

Dear All

I was unable to make it to the school reunion a little while back since I am not in Australia at present. I would very much liked to have been there and to see what you all look like after so many years and to hear some stories. Many surprises I am sure. Some with happiness and some sadness.

I hope that you don't mind, but I am taking this opportunity to send a short note to you that I think is important. I do not get the chance to have so many email addresses of people I know, all in one block, so I suppose in some way I am sending "Spam" to you. I am a little apologetic for this, but not much. This is much more valuable than most junk you could get.

It is a short passage from a good book, an Australian bloke who was visiting here read it to us last week;

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain concept, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ:

Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross.

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on the earth, and every tongue confess, that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philipians 2:4-11 (the Bible)

  Mark Bennett

Now, I haven't seen this guy since 1978, twenty-five years.   I used to hang about a bit with him during my Christian revivalist period in my late teens. I'd heard Mark had gone to university and got a science degree and then a job at Arnotts, a biscuit manufacturer in Australia.   One of my other correspondents mentioned that Mark was now a missionary in Egypt.

Anyway, I took a bit of offence at this e-mail, and rather than ignore it I thought I'd take a crack.   This was my response.

TO: Mark Bennett

FROM: Rick Shaw

Subject: Re: Message from an old mate


Sending stuff like this is for your own sake, not for others.   You think it godly to send godly words, but you're either talking to the converted or reinforcing stereotypes and your good intentions are not achieved.   If the grace of god is evident in your daily life you will radiate serenity and by your example people would be drawn to the light.   Preaching like this, in this context, without any attempt to fathom the path that people are on, is self-indulgent and patronising.

Anyway, besides that, I hope things are well with you.   I hear you're a missionary in Africa - I met a lot of missionaries when I was in Africa and I'm a bit wary of the role.   Beats Arnotts I suppose.


While upon reflection it reads a bit harsher than intended, I was simply trying to say that I think it's appropriate to establish connection before taking an evangelical bent with a lot of people you haven't seen in a quarter of a century.

A few days later I got the following response, which took me back a bit.

TO: Rick Shaw

FROM: Mark Bennett

Subject: RE: Message from an old mate

Dear Rick

Thanks for your thoughtful response. It is interesting to see what you

catch when you throw out some bait. Some swallow and others swim past.

It is the sort of response that I would have expected from you, good

that you have not become jaded in your old age.

One point though, I was not preaching or reinforcing any stereotypes, I

was simply quoting a passage from a book. They are not my words and I

gave no commentary to them.

This particular book usually invokes a response from people. Obviously

in your case a significant one, a bit venomous too. But that may just be your way of using the language.

Also I sent it for your sake, not mine. The response that it has had is

a good one and I am glad that it has stimulated your thinking or gastric juices or whatever.

Thank you for pigeon holing me and passing judgement on me and what I do while knowing little about it, you must have very fixed ideas about the world and what is useful for people to spend their time doing.

I hope you are doing something with your life that you feel is satisfying and for the benefit of your fellows. I know that this is

important to you and I would love to hear about it.

I have had some other interesting responses from old friends and it has

been an interesting way to make contact. Don't be surprised if you find

another short quotation in your inbox, now that I have you in my address book.

Mark B

Now I never meant to offend the guy, but I felt like a quick exchange had turned into High Noon, and I knew I wasn't cast in the Gary Cooper role.  

I decided I couldn't trust myself anymore and I needed a second opinion.   I asked my wife, and she wondered why I bothered.   I then asked someone else on the original distribution list what she thought, and forwarded her the subsequent exchange so she'd have the full picture.   This is not really fair, as Andrea is still a friend of mine.   However, Andrea is a committed Christian who has dedicated her life to her beliefs.   Here is an extract of her response.

TO: Rick Shaw

FROM: Andrea Macadam

Subject: There are some messages from an old mate I like and some I don't ..


I was so angry when I received the original and I cringed, wondering whether you were on the list. I resent Mark's comment about "taking the bait". What sort of "evangelism" or "mission" is it to bait people, and what arrogance to assume that no one has moved on since bloody ISCF high school black and white and sugar.

I didn't deign a reply to Mark, and having read your exchanges, I will not give him the pleasure of a debate. The more I type the crankier I am getting.



I had support.   I felt on safer grounds. I sent the following response to Mark.

TO: Mark Bennett

FROM: Rick Shaw

Subject: Re: Message from an old mate


It's probably no use continuing exchange, coz our interpretation of each other's tones is negative.   I never pigeon holed or passed judgement on you, I couldn't, I have no idea what you do   - I said I am wary of the role of missionaries in Africa, which even in a fundamentalist world must be an allowable observation, given that I've spent time with missionaries in Africa.   Anyway, I think you should be "wary" of your role (as I should be of mine) - it's important to question and critique our life choices.

You can't really opine on whether or not you're reinforcing stereotypes, that is a matter for others to determine, don't you think?

My definition of " preaching " includes sending unsolicited quotes of text.   To say " They are not my words and I gave no commentary to them ." is glib - so there is a possibility that you don't agree with the words?

Basically, I think it presumptuous and patronising to send me anything across a space of 25 years before establishing your right to do that.   Of course it was partly for your own sake, you want people to know the path you're on - there's nothing wrong with being proud of what you do.   I accept you think the words are worth sharing (and agree), just establish contact first.

" Venomous "? - now that's a bit weird - unless you're a little old lady, I can't see the gain in not just speaking openly.   I know how difficult it is to hold on to faith in this world, and I sense that that is what you're trying to do, and I can honestly say there is no venom in my thoughts - don't kid yourself that you could provoke venom.  

I deadset wanted to give you some constructive feedback.   If you saw the need to be " a little apologetic ", why are you now so defensive?


That was it, I haven't heard back from Mark.   No " short quotation in [my] inbox", as threatened. I'm not sure why I bothered.   My greatest fear is that I have been as sanctimonious as I accuse Mark of being.  


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