Tom Muzzio
Tom Muzzio
T.E. Publisher
The Narrow Gate
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Howling at the Moon

I converted to Christianity in the sixties. Totally out of step with my generation – instead of growing my hair long, wearing beads and flowers, and experimenting with free love and drugs – I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. Like most youth of my postwar baby boom generation, I had never read the Bible beyond a cursory glance. My first encounter with the Bible was with the New Testament, and it revolutionized my life.

Totally amazed with what I discovered in its pages, I formed some very firm and – I think – correct ideas about the basic message of the Gospel. Whenever I reread the four Gospels, I am again and again impressed by their simplicity. And whenever I observe others who claim to be Christian behaving in a manner that I find in direct conflict with the spirit of the message, I shudder.

The first notion that stands out as a foundational idea in the New Testament is that Jesus was carving out of Judaism a new and different way of looking at the world. He made revolutionary statements that set the religious order of his day on its ear. I am sure he knew that it would not be easy for most people to accept the new idea and live it. For that reason, I’m sure, comes one of my favorite verses of scripture: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14, NIV). This is a verse well known to born-again Christians. The narrow way is a term that I learned early, and which sticks with me to this day despite the fact that I am no longer a believer. Jesus, it seems, never intended to found a universal religion. He founded an exclusive club. The club was reserved only for those willing to enter by the narrow gate and follow the narrow road. The symbolism has never been much in dispute that I know of. Jesus refers to himself as the gate, the door (John 7:9), and the road – the way (Jn. 14:6).

The narrowness of the entry and the difficulty of the path is the hallmark of the religion. It is restrictive. One must be willing to, first, enter by means of Jesus – the only way, as there is only one door. Jesus said: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. (Jn 14:6). Secondly, one must be willing to keep on the path, which itself is quite narrow and confining. There is a great deal of debate in Christian circles as to just how narrow the path actually is! But that is an internal debate, and should not have to do with those who choose the wide gate and the wide road which leads to “destruction.” However, unfortunately, it does. And, as one who has found his way off the narrow road and is now happily on the broad one, I resent having those on the narrow road call over the fence to us on the broad road, telling us that we must behave as they do.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not resent the narrow roaders calling over and telling me how wonderful the narrow road is. Nor do I resent them calling over and extolling me to join them by entering through the narrow gate and resuming my journey on the narrow path with them. What I do resent is them telling me and my fellows that we are obliged to behave as they do even while we are on the broad road!

Those who are called to follow the narrow road are obliged to try to persuade those of us on the broad road to reconsider our direction, as it surely leads to destruction. I have no problem with this. This is the warp and woof of the Christian religion. It is a missionary religion, and one cannot practice it fully without himself being a missionary of one type or another. Many things bother me about Christians and Christianity, but missionary work is not one of them. I believe in freedom of religion and freedom to practice one’s religion. The proclamation of Jesus to: Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation (Mark 16:15), is a fundamental aspect of the practice of the Christian religion. It is in fact referred to as “the Great Commission.” By preaching and exhorting me to come over to their side, they are fulfilling one of the very important tenets of their religion. However, that is where it stops. In no place does Jesus demand more of his followers than for them to exhort us to change our direction. They are not responsible for us if we choose to continue on to our destruction. As a nonbeliever, it is my responsibility to heed their warnings or to ignore them. Fair enough.

This system works for me. This is how I understood it when I first became familiar with the teachings of the Gospels. In fact, I recall a particular verse where Jesus makes it abundantly clear that his followers are not responsible if the doomed do not heed their warnings. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. (Matthew 10:14). This absolves the believer from any responsibility for a bad choice on the part of the hearer of the message, if she or he chooses to reject it.

Much ado is made of this command of Jesus to preach the gospel or “good news” to what the Christians refer to as a “lost and dying world.” Truly, it is a command that no Christian I know of would dispute. The Christians even have a specific term for the act of preaching and exhorting nonbelievers to change paths. It is called “witnessing.” It is rather queer indeed to use the word witness as a verb in that way; but in "born-again" parlance, it is perfectly understandable. Actually, it was originally "to give witness" or "bear witness." But you get the drift. Most Christians consider witnessing sort of like pulling teeth or cleaning out the refrigerator. It is a necessary but unpleasant task. I know this is true. When I was a Christian, I was a faithful and obligated witness for Christ. I know how difficult witnessing is, as it requires that one attempt to persuade another person to change his thinking. We all know how difficult it is to cause another person to change his or her mind. It is doubly hard when a load of other baggage comes along with the change!

An expression often used in the act of witnessing is "to lead someone to Christ." I had quite a bit of experience in this for many years. Those who are successful in leading nonbelievers onto the narrow path are lauded and praised, as it is no easy matter. Their theology says that their friends and neighbors around them are bound for hell, on that wide and well-trodden road, and that they are responsible to at least try to get them to come over to that blessed narrow path. Fortunately, for those who are not so articulate, persuasive, or bold, Jesus gave them a sort of Plan B. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden... Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-15). Let your light shine before men. Set an example! Jesus commanded his followers to be shining examples to the world around them. I guess Jesus sort of knew that most people are not very good at witnessing, so he gave an alternative to those who are too timid, wishy-washy, or ill-at-ease – to witness verbally to the lost and dying world.

I have less of a problem with this notion now than I did when I was a Christian. During my early years as a very idealistic convert, I just couldn’t imagine anyone who claimed to be a Christian not preaching it loud and clear, far and wide. “Look around you,” I berated my wimpy Christian brethren. “Everywhere you look – all over the place – people are dying and going into a Christless eternity – into a fiery burning hell. We have to warn them. To do otherwise would be heinous.” I believed it with all my heart, and was furious when so many called up Plan B. “I realize that I don’t witness as much as you do, but I witness with my life,” was the defensive reply. “I am letting my light shine!”

It always bothered me that they could let themselves off the hook so easily. But now I think perhaps they did have something of a point after all. My preaching and cajoling and warning only got me into endless fights and disputes with just about everybody around me. I was under constant pressure and constant observation, lest I not live up to some perceived standard. And when I fell short, I was castigated and denounced as a hypocrite. After many years, many arguments, and many frustrations I concluded that perhaps Plan B was alright after all. So I joined the ranks of the “I am witnessing with my life” crew. I will admit, it made life a lot simpler.

Then the world began to change. The narrow gate and the narrow path began broadening. Around 1972, I remember reading about the “Jesus Movement” in California. I was living in Europe at that time, and working for a well-known Fundamentalist parachurch organization called Teen Challenge. I actually felt a bit of contempt for what I considered cheap California religion. All these leftover hippy types were now discovering Jesus, and dashing off to be baptized in the ocean, and singing spiritual songs around campfires, and coming to Europe to “evangelize” at the Olympics which were being held in Munich that year. It was a joke to me. The world was not ready for any of it, and it was a gross waste of money; but the young converts had one thing that I never had when I was converted: numbers! There were thousands of them, and as a result, they never felt the isolation of walking that narrow path alone and feeling defensive and outnumbered. They had a “support group” which began growing and growing. A few years later, when I was visiting the United States, I caught a whiff of things to come. I visited my first superchurches in Texas and California. I was impressed! I welcomed the idea that for the first time in my memory Christians were going to have some clout. I was so tired of the narrow way. I wanted a steamroller to blast the path ever wider, and to be able to yell over to the broad road that leads to destruction...

“You stupid people didn’t listen to me before. Now look! See! I am not the only one. There are thousands like me. We are going to kick your asses! I remember that time very well. It was a heady time. We felt strong and defiant. The “world” was not going to kick Christians around anymore. By God, we didn’t have to take shit off anybody. After all, we were “King’s kids,” and God was beginning a “mighty work." He was raising up a “mighty army,” and we were “more than conquerors.” Our God reigns. Our God reigns! It was exhilarating! Everyone was high on Jesus.

Swept up in the ever-increasing Christian juggernaut, I too wanted to kick some ass. I still remembered the days when I was ridiculed for being a Christian, criticized for being a “holy roller,” and ignored as a fanatic. Now, all of a sudden, we were respectable. We were fashionable. We had clout! I liked it! It felt good. Christians began standing up against political injustices. We began exerting ourselves with our numbers. We began seeing our potential! Screw the narrow way. I liked this path. It was big, it was broad, and it was defiant! Our God reigns. Our God reigns.

Perhaps the thing that piqued my conscience first was the fact that I was not living in the United States. I had left America in 1968 and years later, I was still a visitor – an observer in this country. I came back from time to time, observed ... but went back overseas again and again. I think 1980 was a turning point. The rising tide of Americanism began to spew ugly mutant offspring. Hyper-Christianity was the most obvious of these. Blatant, militant Christians began dominating the religious community. Television Evangelists began pumping their overwhelmingly jingoistic American programs onto stations all over the world. I began feeling sick. I felt the American nationalistic propaganda was hopelessly inappropriate for the overseas market, but I was still quite dedicated to the idea of a strong Christian movement in the United States.

Then the Christian programs began. Once the Christians found a political home on the Republican Far-Right, they were positioned to push for more clout and political power. I remember having a discussion with an Assembly of God missionary colleague of mine. He was from Georgia. Jimmy Carter was from Georgia, so I assumed he would like Carter. As it turned out, he didn’t have the time of day for Carter. I was amazed. “Why?” I asked. “He is a Christian! A Baptist!” Carter sort of formalized most of my religious feelings. He was a good man, a caring man, a real Christian politician.

“Just being Christian doesn’t qualify one to be the President of the United States,” my friend retorted. I asked him if he actually thought Ronald Reagan was born-again, and he laughed! We knew full well that Reagan was an actor, and that his religion was only skin-deep. "How then, can you support Reagan over Carter?” I asked incredulously.

“Reagan has balls!” he proclaimed. So that was it!

Indeed. That is what it was all about. Moxie. Chutzpah. Balls. The narrow gate just got a bit wider. Abortion began surfacing as a national issue. Christians recognized that the gate would have to be broadened to include “non-Christians” of like mind. So Mormons, Catholics, and Jews were enlisted. No born-again Christian believes for a moment that a Mormon, Catholic, or Jew will be present in born-again Heaven. They are just as lost as a pagan, a prostitute, or a faggot. All of those who do not walk the narrow way will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Nevertheless, it is important to further the American Christian agenda. So let us ignore our “differences” for the time being, and fight together against the common enemy ... the liberals, the humanists, and the gays.

This just infuriated me. “How can we sell our convictions like this?” I queried. “We all know that no Catholic, no Jew, and no pagan will ever enter the Kingdom! Aren’t we just using these people to further our aims? Isn’t that despicable? What a sellout!” We are trading, I thought, eternal Christian ideals for short-term American political objectives. I was nonplussed. I realized that I didn’t at this point have a say. The born-again Christian power structure had finally congealed. If I didn’t like it, I could just shut up or get with the program. I didn’t like it, but I wasn’t about to get with the program. One thing I did learn back all those years ago, following the narrow way, was to recognize when you are indeed on the outside. I saw it then. The Fundamentalists intended on expanding the narrow way to be an interstate highway. By broadening its traffic base, it would broaden its political clout. That is exactly what it did. It was about then that I began considering finding and exit – an off-ramp.

I was in the United States for a few months in 1983. The debate in Fundamentalist circles was swirling. Should we remain on the narrow path, acknowledging our position as a minority, calling lost humanity to join us? Or should we join a widely defined Christian “moral” majority, and press a political agenda, demanding the nation return to “traditional Christian values?” I traveled a lot that year and spoke in hundreds of churches. I saw the dilemma. No one knew which was better – adhering to the narrow path or blazing a new wider trail.

I think critical mass was reached in about 1984 or 1985. Once they got a whiff of election victories, Christians all over the nation abandoned the narrow way and got on the steamroller. It is much more fun and comfortable to run over your opposition than to be run over. To hell with this “they who find it are few.” It is far more fun to be in the “moral” majority. I must say, it felt nice to be in the majority. I wonder if Jesus was ever in a majority. Doubt it.

Right around 1985 I felt the earth shake. Christianity in the United States was no longer in a minority position. No real born-again Christian felt then, or feels now, that the rabble joining the “righteous” movements of the 80s is going with them to their promised Christian bliss; but they share certain temporal objectives – namely the overthrow of “humanism.” So I observe with crystal clarity the making of common cause between the Christian right and the Untermenschen: the Catholics, Mormons, and Jews. This will be short-lived. Pat Robertson said recently on National television: If the born-again Christians and the “family-minded” Catholics and Jews could all vote together, there is no city, country, or state in the nation that could not be won for “traditional American values.”

What are “family-minded Catholics and Jews? Pat knows as well as I do that those selfsame “family-minded Catholics and Jews are not going to Pat Robertson’s born-again Christian Heaven. They are going to frizzle and fry right along with the Pagans, Commies, Buddhists, Hindus, and Queers. Where is “Let your light so shine...?”

Some born-again style Christian churches have become crusaders in recent years. It has become their focus to call to the attention of those on the broad road to destruction that certain of those on that same road are engaging in behavior that is offensive to God, and generally disgusting to the American populace at large. Is this their calling?

Where in the Bible does it call on Christians to castigate non-Christians for their behavior? It clearly commands Christians to go into all the world and to preach the Gospel of peace to every creature; but it does not in any way imply that they are supposed to try to modify the behavior of nonbelievers. The whole concept is that the Christians are supposed to be the light of the world – shining examples of what men are supposed to be like – and that the rest of us are supposed to be so wowed with their exemplary lives that we will repent of our evil ways, turn to Christ, and join them on the narrow way that leads to eternal life. But what do we see here? We see Christians running full tilt to secular humanist institutions to try to control them in order to impose their “morals” on the Wide-roaders!