Christians seem an increasingly lazy lot.
Teaching a lesson on the contemporary church in the world before the Easter holidays, brought an encounter with one mission group who claimed that their rallies in parts of Africa attracted crowds of up to a million people. Anyone familiar with the reality of infrastructure and transport in the sub-Saharan countries where Christianity is strong will know that the gathering of a million people for a religious meeting organised by a small evangelical group is not improbable, it is physically impossible.
To put the claim of there being a million people at a rally in context, the Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj attracts two million people. Jeddah Airport is the size of one hundred football pitches; it can handle eighty thousand people at one time. At Mina, where pilgrims stay overnight, there are 57,000 large tents. No Christian gathering is remotely comparable, yet Christians seem content to resort to the sort of boosterism that was employed by those who opened up the American West, simply making up statistics to suit their purpose. Personally convinced that one African bishop made up numbers that suited him, I counted the number of people at a service one Sunday morning: there were between 170 and 180, the actual number I counted was 173. Afterwards, the bishop claimed the congregation numbered 700-800. Providing accurate numbers is of no avail in an argument, to challenge the figures is to be told that if one had faith, then the numbers would be clear.
Christians seem increasingly content to withdraw into their own circles of self-affirmation; to shape their perception of reality so that it is in accord with their worldview. Even in a scientific age, when observations and measurements are accessible to all, there are Christians who continue to make claims that are unsubstantiated by research or facts. In the 1970s, our fundamentalist housemaster told us that when NASA were planning space missions, they had to know where stars and planets would be and had to look to the Bible to find missing time; it only was years later that I discovered from reading the NASA website that this story was baseless and dated back decades. In the 1990s, it was asserted that “contemporary Christian music” was the fastest growing music in the world. Twenty years later, there is still no sign of it breaking into the mainstream.
Why tell untruths? School students would be dismissive of claims of a million at a religious meeting and their scepticism would extend to the religious tradition making such claims. Recalling the Passion on Friday, it was Pilate who wished to avoid truth and Jesus who was prepared to meet the full reality of what truth meant. Christians who accept false claims seem to have more in common with the Roman governor than the Jewish carpenter.