By Michael E. Brooks
“Having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12 NKJV).
I was riding with a group of Nepali preachers and Christians between Birtamode and Ithari when one of the men in the back called out, “Look at the bats!” Right beside the road there were several trees filled with sleeping fruit bats, the large variety known as “flying foxes.” Though I have seen them frequently in South Asia and elsewhere, that was the largest concentration of them I have ever witnessed.
Bats have a dubious reputation. They are feared as carriers of rabies. The most famous bats are the vampire bats of Central and South America which feed on blood. Many people therefore assume that all bats are “blood suckers.” In fantasy literature and movies vampires are depicted with capes and other costumes suggestive of the bat’s appearance, furthering the association. Many species dwell in caves, which along with their nocturnal habits make them appear secretive and suspicious. Bats just don’t have a good public image.
Since I have been traveling to areas with larger populations and greater variety of species of bats, I have learned that much of the above is either misleading, or simply not true. Actually almost all bats in the U.S. and 70% world-wide feed almost exclusively on insects (they are great mosquito controllers). The large fruit bats are vegetarians and serve a tremendous function as seed dispersers. While the bat may carry rabies, so can all other species of mammal (so far as I know) and others may be carriers as or more frequently than the bat. The U.S. wildlife service says that one-half of 1% of bats carry the rabies virus, and they are non-aggressive even when infected. Aesthetically, watching the large fruit bats fly into nearby trees to roost at dusk has become a favorite pastime while in Bangladesh. They have tremendous grace in flight.
Stereotypes are easy to form and hard to overcome. This is as true of humans as it is other animals like bats and snakes. Once someone acquires a negative image it becomes very difficult to live it down.
Christians often face this problem. Many humanists would like to blame most of the world’s ills upon Christianity (and sometimes other religions). They point out the many wars fought over religious issues, the opposition to supposed progress from religious organizations, and the prejudice and divisiveness of many doctrinal disputes. Others would depict all believers as ignorant and superstitious, rejecters of modern science and advanced knowledge.
This is not new to recent generations. Peter reflects upon the reputation of Christianity when he says that believers in Jesus are spoken of as evildoers (1 Peter 2:12). In the first-century Roman Empire, Christians were accused of cannibalism (they ate the flesh and drank the blood of Jesus); atheism (they refused to confess Caesar as Lord); treason (they proclaimed Jesus as Lord and King); and social revolution (for promoting the welfare of women, the elderly, children, and slaves).
We can overcome these stereotypes however. Peter points out the way. We must live so as to cause any accusers to be thankful for our good works. The old proverb says “the proof (of a recipe) is in the pudding.” In other words, a good recipe is one which produces a tasty and nutritious dish. Peter adapts this concept to Christian faith. A good religion is one which produces benefit to society. Opponents might find intellectual fault with Christianity, but their prejudice will be overcome by the positive fruit borne by genuine disciples. When we live what we teach, God is glorified and the world is impressed.
By Michael E. Brooks