I was about 12-13 years when I first heard someone utter the name, Jesus. This person was a Christian from Tamil Nadu and was our neighbour when my family was residing in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. He was from Tamil Nadu and lived away from his family for his work at Telco. My parents, being very friendly people, opened their home to this person and would sometimes send him food. Those were very rough times for my family, with my mother’s ill-health and my father’s professional upheavals. This neighbour who saw our family closely observed our difficult situation started talking to my parents about Christianity and Jesus. He told them that Jesus would solve all our problems and we needed Jesus in our lives. My mother needed minor surgery. She and my father needed to travel to Hyderabad to her sister’s home, who arranged for the surgery. While they were gone, my maternal grandmother looked after my four siblings and me. In the absence of my parents, the neighbour continued to preach and read the Bible to us and invited us every night before bedtime to pray with him. In Hyderabad, my aunt’s family friend, who was a Christian, introduced my parents to a pastor of a nearby church. Being in a very vulnerable state, my mother succumbed to the sweet talk the pastor engaged in. Eventually, my parents got baptised in the faith. Later, my siblings and I got baptised one after another. My baptism was in the year 1992.
Usually, the way conversions are designed, there is no scope for the converting family or individual looking back in regret. The pastor is closely monitoring the transition of the family. He is with the family every week, giving them hope (which I now know is a false one) he partakes in their happy times and sad occasions.
Visit to US
I went to the United States on an immigrant visa by virtue of marriage. I am someone who likes to keep on studying, taking exams and getting degrees. All that changed now. But back then, the first thing that came to my mind when I knew that I was going to be spending the next few years of my life in the United States was to go for another master’s degree from a US university. I had two options—a Master’s degree in Education Management (I was running a prep school and was a freelance education consultant before I left for the States) and a Master of Divinity (the highest non-doctoral research degree in Christian studies). On the one hand, was my opportunity to fulfil my lifelong desire of conducting a deeper study of the Bible and study Christian history as an academic in order to know the place of my own ethnicity in the Bible and on the other hand, was my chance to make my dream career in the US school system in a senior management position. I was in two minds. The devoted Christian that I was, I prayed. And “god directed” me to take up Christian studies. I imagined God calling me to serve him in India because God was “disheartened” to see India reeling in idol worship and needed gifted preachers like me. I thought I had the divine duty to “save India from darkness”. I had no doubt I could change the demography of India once I became a trained evangelist. Aided with such confidence, I enrolled in the degree in the last quarter of 2010. I have to tell you here that there are two kinds of master degrees offered in the US. One takes a shorter duration to complete and the other longer, with more hours of study and more courses to complete. M. Div is the longer master’s degree. It is a non-Ph D degree but is a research-oriented degree. M Div usually offers two tracks of study—Apologetics and Ministry.
Ministry has got to do with pastoring a church, and apologetics is the defence of the Christian faith against criticism. I opted for apologetics. The first course that I took was a course called the Introduction to Old Testament. The text that was prescribed for this course is titled Survey of the Old Testament Introduction. It is a book that justifies the Old Testament, defends its theology, and rebuts criticism of it. It took me just that very first course of the very first semester of my 5-year degree for my 25-year faith to come crashing down. A textbook that was supposed to reinforce my faith and affirm my decision to become a Christian propelled me in exactly the opposite direction. The textbook spoke of things that I was hearing for the very first time in 25 years. For example, I have never heard either from a critic or from an apologist that “the Bible had discrepancies.” And here was America’s acclaimed apologist (the author of the textbook I mentioned) who was saying that exact thing. Of course, that statement of his was followed by a “but” and dozens of chapters to explain the discrepancies away. But that acceptance by him was enough for me to know that the Bible indeed had errors. Imagine the shock of knowing that the book around which I had built my entire adulthood, on the basis of which I had taken life-changing decisions, had errors in it. Errors to me meant that it was not a divine work. From there, my faith went south.
Pastors approach human needs with an attractive solution. Sometimes they offer money on the spot. A lot of times, they pay from their pockets. Of course, they do so with an agenda, knowing that if they are able to win this needy person, which they do, they will get so much more in the form of weekly donations and monthly tithes.
Imagine the shock of knowing that the book around which I had built my entire adulthood, on the basis of which I had taken life changing decisions, had errors in it. Errors to me meant that it was not a divine work. From there, my faith went south
I always wonder, why would the god of the universe want an ordinary (sometimes illiterate) pastor to propagandise him? Isn’t god himself capable of showing his might to people that he wants to follow him? If he was able to reveal himself to a desert tribe once, why can’t he do it again? Especially if it can prevent nasty and sometimes bloody fights? And if he so a mighty and wonder-working being, why can’t isn’t the whole world Christian, even after 2000 years of Christianity’s invention? Why is converting ¼ of a small planet taking so long when he was able to create millions of such planets, much larger in size, in just seven days? The very fact that one human being has to convince another that a certain religion is true or a certain god is the true god indicates that something is not right about that god or his religion.
(As told to Pradeep Krishnan)