I hate salesmen.
Well, that might be a tad strong – let me re-phrase that.
The world would be a better place without them.
The notion that we require other people to tell us what we need has always struck me as strange. I know if I need groceries, or gas for my car, or a new pair of trousers.
The job of salesmen -- and the advertising messages that seem to invade our lives these days, including the wall space above urinals in men’s restrooms -- is to convince us that we need things, even if we merely want them. When I worked in the newspaper business, our advertising sales trainees were told that was the main job of advertising – to turn people’s wants into needs.
I used to abruptly hang up on telemarketers and breeze past store clerks asking if they could help me – i.e. – sell me something. But now I try to be more polite, even to telemarketers who try to coax me into purchasing more services from a phone company that can’t get my current bill straight, or a drive-thru server who thinks giant fries and a barrel of Coke would be a perfect complement to the calorie-conscious salad I just ordered.
“They’re just trying to do their job, like I am,” I try to remind myself over and over again.
But there’s one breed of pedlar for whom I have virtually no patience – the kind that dares to venture onto my front doorstep. This is not to say that we won’t support high school kids selling chocolate bars so they can go to Paris, or toss a couple of cans of pork and beans into a sack to support the local food bank.
Just don’t knock on my door offering to replace my aluminum siding or sign me up to a plan guaranteed to cut my home heating bill in half. I swear by the philosophy that if a sales pitch sounds to good to be true, it likely is.
Worst of all, don’t ring my doorbell – especially at 9 o’clock Saturday morning – holding a pamphlet promising me the key to Eternal Life if I just start believing in your brand of religion. Nothing is more offensive to me than someone who thinks they have the right to sell me on their set of beliefs, whether or not there are financial strings attached. It’s one thing to try to convince someone that you should buy a car from them, quite another to imply that their core values are out of kilter.
What is it about Christianity in particular that makes its adherents feel it is their divine duty to make others switch to their brand? Given the result of historic attempts to “convert” indigenous peoples to a variety of religious creeds, one would think these street-corner missionaries would be ashamed to show their faces.
Starting about 500 years ago, boatloads of Europeans began making their way across the Atlantic, in search of New World wealth, land, and savage souls to convert to the true Christ. The friars and priests on board the ships of Columbus, Cartier, Champlain and Pizarro were the forerunners of the young Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who knock on our doors today.
Except they were even more forceful in their sales pitches. For Incans and Mayans, Algonquins and Huron, not signing up could result in a variety of consequences, including starvation, torture and death. The skeletons about Christianity’s role in the notorious network of Indian Residential Schools are still spilling out of the closet.
So when Pope Benedict XVI used his visit to Brazil this month as an opportunity to criticize the apparent revival of Native spirituality in some Latin American countries, history was not on his side.
“The utopia of going back to breathe life into the pre-Columbus religions, separating them from Christ and from the universal church, would not be a step forward,” said the Pope. “Indeed, it would be a step back. In reality, it would be a retreat toward a stage in history anchored in the past.”
The Pope even tried to make a case that indigenous peoples really wanted to become Christians before the arrival of the Europeans.
“Christ is the Saviour for whom they were silently longing,” he told a regional conference of bishops.
A spokesman for the country’s Indian Missionary Council said the Pope’s remarks seem to ignore the fact that Indians were enslaved and killed by Portuguese and Spanish settlers who forced them to become Catholic. He called the Pope “a good theologian who seemed to have missed some history classes.”
A Guatemalan anti-racism advocate said Benedict’s comments were a step backward.
I respect his right to his own beliefs, but His Holiness better not show up at my front door.
Maurice Switzer is a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation. He serves as director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians, and editor of the Anishinabek News.