Gorrindo- ESSAYS

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  • The Unsuspecting Pentecostal

    By John Michael Gorrindo

    January 05, 2010

    Recently I was approached by an elderly Indonesian man on a ship voyage on the Celebes Sea. He claimed himself to be the Secretary General of the local region's Pentecostal Churches. As he was Indonesian and a man of distinction who was more than happy to show-off both his education and ability to speak English, he most likely figured me- as a foreigner - would be so polite as to agree with everything he had to say. I was at first interested to hear him speak, as he explained the early Pentecostal movement in Indonesia; how it originated in the American state of Washington and eventually dispersed from Bali to Surabaya and on to many points throughout Indonesia. All of this was new to me. When it comes to history, I am as patient a man as ever born. Then the conversation took an unfortunate turn, as he had primed my patience with an informative and gentlemanly manner. Predictably he segued into the evangelical, and such a turn of conversation should always be anticipated with a Pentecostal. Generally naive when first striking up conversation with someone new, I was yet again taken off-guard. I was willing not to protest as to his old-school Christian views until I saw my benign complicity made him assert progressively bolder lies. Out of politeness, when he claimed the Israelites to be God's chosen people, I said nothing in reply. Finally, he declared Max Weber- the first celebrated sociologist- to have rightfully asserted Europe's long-time predominance in the world to be the result of its Christian faith. I could take no more. I promptly told him that Christianity had completely failed Europe, and had helped lead the Europeans to consider themselves superior to, for instance, people with Malay blood. With their faith in hand, Europeans could justify their exploitive colonialism. Not only that, but their Christian faith did not prevent their own continent from experiencing two mega-World Wars during the last century killing nearly 100,000,000 people. Unsolicited, I moved on to expound about the Religious Right in America, and how it had conspired with the ruling political elite to subjugate America to a regime of righteous terror. As a tour de force, I concluded that the greatest teacher was not faith, but history- that one need not have any particular faith to learn the truth about the world of cause and effect; that history could pave the road to truth given a man to be of common decency. Needless to say, I never saw a man so happy to end a conversation that had in its incipiency appeared so promising. The problem with Indonesians is that they're too polite. They will broach a point in nascence, but to engage in full debate is generally considered to be avoided and even hostile. Prolonged exchange of disagreement is destabilizing and Indonesians generally fear it. On the other hand, courtesy taken to extremes precludes any kind of in-depth discussion. Having been relieved from having to qualify their own thoughts, the greatest loss may be stunted intellectual growth. Thoughts and thinking aren't cultivated to completion; their fruits don't ripen to complete maturity. The problem with Americans (i.e., myself) is that we have learned all to well how to seize hold of any discussion and by use of blunt force change its course irrevocably. We are the cultural inheritors of all manner of rhetorical device, and abuse their powers in equal measure to using them prudently. Bringing the Religious Right into the conversation was really a cheap shot. Sorry about that, Mr. Secretary General. But way too many of them live in Washington State. I should know. My sister is a charter member.