Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Propriety of Evangelism

It's no secret that I don't approve of religion. It is a system of lies that people tell themselves and others about the world, and these lies obscure their view of reality. Much as I would like to see religion eradicated, though, I know that in a free society, this is not likely to ever happen. This is because private beliefs are not something to be policed, and beyond my disapproval of religion, I disapprove far more of forcing belief (or disbelief) on the unwilling.

It is when one's private beliefs start to spill out into one's public actions that religion becomes a cause for real concern. Many religions require their adherents to evangelize and spread their religion. Is this a violation of the rights of those they accost? In the United States, we have the right to freedom of religion. But do we have the right to freedom from religion?

I would submit that we do, and that evangelism is sometimes in violation of this right to freedom of and from religion.

Basically, to quote a sentiment that has already been seen all over the internet, religion is like a penis.

It's fine to have one (or not), and it's fine to be proud of it. It is not quite proper to be waving it about willy-nilly in public, and it is definitely not acceptable to shove it down anyone's throat.

Let me tell you of one day in which I crossed paths with two evangelists.

The first evangelist was speaking on the mall of Old Dominion University, which I attended at the time. Perhaps "speaking" is not the proper word. He was spewing forth his venomous, hate-filled bile about how every one of us there was a sinner, and was going to hell. He was cursing us for living sin-filled lives of debauchery and was even more outspoken in his belief that homosexuals were destined to damnation.

I had some time on my hands, and because what he was doing disgusted me, I went up to talk to him. He thought, at first, that I was threatening him (I had thought there was a fencing demo that day, and so had my épée sheathed on my back, and he apparently thought I was going to run him through with it), but after I set the scary practice blade a little ways away, I was able to engage in a kind of dialogue with him.

This conversation consisted mainly of him yelling things that didn't make sense, and/or quoting selectively from the Bible. Having a bit of grounding in scripture myself, I asked him why he had shaved that day, whether his clothes were of mixed fibers, and if he liked shellfish or bacon -- all these being outlawed in Leviticus, from which he was quoting quite a lot. He sputtered more nonsense, decided to ignore my rational questions, and decided to prove God's existence to me.

Using the banana argument. Which was laughable.

After a bit, there was a crowd of jeering students keeping watch over my épée, and another atheist up with me, toying with the poor deluded fellow who could not admit that he hadn't a leg to stand on. A little later, the campus police arrived and escorted the evangelist off the campus for, I assume, causing a ruckus and generally being insulting.

As I was headed off the lawn, a guy approached me, and asked if he could walk with me. He had that look about him that suggested a partner and two bicycles weren't far off, but I figured that I could always just walk into a lady's room in the student center if he wouldn't go away.

Sure enough, he introduced himself as a Mormon missionary after a moment, and asked if I’d like to hear more about his religion. I said, “No, thank you, I’m actually an atheist.”

He said, “Oh, alright then,” and walked me back to my dorm, with never another word said about religion.

Now, I know that this might not be exactly representative of the way most Mormon missionaries operate. To be honest, I never found them terribly offensive, but that might be because of how my mother handled them on their frequent visits. They would ask about our religious affiliation, my mother would explain that we were Catholic and had no interest in converting; they would ask if there was anything they could do to help out anyways, and my mother would reply that she could use some help cleaning the outside of the windows. I have very few memories of anyone in our family ever having to clean the windows.

That said, I'd prefer that the Mormon missionary hadn't bothered me about his religion that day, but I would not curtail is option to do so. He offered to tell me about it, I refused, and he respected my refusal. It was handled with dignity and professionalism. I have no objections to this approach to evangelism.

The other man, to my mind, was violating the rights of everyone who passed by when he condemned them for fornication, or for promoting homosexuality, or for just not being his specific flavor of Christian. He shoved his "religion penis" down the metaphorical throats of everyone there, with no regard to whether we wanted to swallow it. He was asked many times, even many times politely, to stop or to leave. He refused. This kind of evangelism is not acceptable. It should be considered what it is -- hate speech -- and those who practice it ought to be prosecuted.

If we live in a country where freedom of religion is a right, we have to understand that this right gives us freedom from many religions, and, if we choose, freedom from all religions.


  1. I'm a Christian, and I'm laughing heartily at the effect of your epee.

    Yes, I believe the beliefs of Christianity are true. Yes, I would like people to at least understand what Christians believe and consider them with an open mind. And I believe I would like to start with the gentleman you ran into at Old Dominion.

  2. See, that is an attitude I can get behind. While I don't agree with your beliefs, I rather doubt that you would force them on me, and I wholeheartedly support your right to have them. I don't think religion should be outlawed any more than I think frat houses should, despite them both being (from my point of view) detrimental to society at large.

    As long as everyone respects the rights of others, I think there is room enough for all of us to hold whatever opinions or beliefs we wish. And quite frankly, we need people like you to support this kind of respect as much as we atheists need to support it ourselves; a one-sided attempt at mutual respect only ends with one side being taken advantage of by the other.

  3. I too am a christian, and I just like to point out that my belief stems from the thought that Jesus Christ was an individual who promoted LOVE before all else.
    In Corinthians somewhere it simply says that love is the greatest there is, as well as proclaiming that God IS love.
    I might be crazy, but this leads me to believe that "God hates fags!" is quite simply an awfully wrong statement, and I would most definitely like the christian community to promote this truth above all else, as all God wants is a simple relationship with us. I'm sorry if this is too preachy and stuff, but I claim to have indeed interacted with him, and experienced things that I cannot explain. Placebo and coincidence just can't explain the stuff I've experienced...
    Sure there are things I don't understand either, but I'm quite sure that Jesus promotes Relation and not Religion.
    (And it kind-of rhymes so it just HAS to be true ;) )

  4. As far as Corinthians goes, I do have to admit that I appreciate the "Love is patient, Love is kind" part (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). There are parts of the Bible that I can accept as good literature, though I don't believe that it was "divinely inspired" anymore than I believe Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde or Ayn Rand were.

    Moreover, you have the right here to come across as "preachy" so long as you are not preaching. Go ahead, share your experiences. Just try not be offended when I (or someone else) offers an alternate explanation to "God did it."

    I am not writing this blog as an echo chamber. The point of allowing comments here is to facilitate discussion. A discussion where everyone agrees is pointless, as well as unnecessary. Please, by all means, discuss.

  5. Then i will!
    I've found that the belief in something supernatural is simply unnatural, logically enough. That there is some THING out there that doesn't get affected by any laws of nature, and knows of EVERYTHING EVERYONE has done. But then I look at the other theories of how the world is put together, and I find that the Big Bang- and evolutiontheory require faith just as much as theism does. I simply think that the concepts of beauty, music, relativism are simply too odd to exist at random.

    I'd also like to point out that I'm not so ignorant as to say that both theories are completely impossible, as I'm sure you haven't completely debunked the possible existence of a supreme being. Iæm just saying it is just as plausible that God exists, as it is unlikely.

  6. Though I cannot rule out the possibility of a god existing, due to the difficulties inherent to proving a negative, I have ruled out the possibility of the existence of any being that I would feel the need to worship. Thus, for all intents and purposes in my life, there are no gods.

    As far as evolutionary theory and the Big Bang are concerned... There is legitimate proof involved. There is no verifiable proof of deities. Not understanding how something works is not evidence for gods; it is evidence of ignorance.

  7. There is a mountain of evidence for evolution across many fields of science. Including things like genetics, which wasn't even dreamed of when Darwin formulated his ideas on natural selection. It's just too much to ignore. Like human chromosome 2 being a clear fusion of two chimpanzee chromosomes, proving that we have a common ancestor.
    Even the Catholic Church of all things accepts evolution as scientific fact, even if it's some form of theistic evolution if you read between the lines. But that's certainly infinitely better than creationism.

    As for the Big Bang. The evidence is the COBE mission:

    It showed that the cosmic microwave background radiation is a near-perfect black body spectrum. Exactly what you'd expect if the universe was once really hot and dense.

    In general, we don't need to disprove god(s), which is impossible anyways. It's believers who make extraordinary claims about the universe and - more importantly - demand everyone else to live their lives according to their wishes. The burden of proof is clearly on them.

  8. To prove the existence of (at least) the christian God would be counterproductive of his intent to save mankind. If God was proven beyond doubt, then everyone would've HAD to believe in him, thus eliminating the concept of free will, which is paramount in having the relationship that God is after. I've heard hundreds of people testify of amazing supernatural events, and witnessed some myself, and placebo simply cannot cover it all.
    Sure, I look at everything from a christian perspective, as I am utterly convinced that God exists, but FROM that point of view, I find that it makes sense, as you consider that an explosion can in turn produce sentient, beautiful, individual human beings.

  9. I'm sorry, Anon; I don't agree. Sure, if your god's big idea was to see who would believe in him with no data whatsoever to support that belief, he's doing a great job. But requiring that belief on threat of eternal hellfire is a dick move, and I don't worship assholes, however imaginary they may be.

    Furthermore, I don't believe that my fact-based belief in evolution, tigers, gravity, or the fact that my ancestors existed doesn't seem to impinge on my free will. Somehow, I doubt that your god showing evidence for its existence would impinge upon it, either.

  10. There is no RECORDED data. The James Randi foundations prize money still stands. But there IS something supernatural, and it CAN be experienced (proven for an individual). Blind people HAVE spontaneously reaquired their sight, and miracles DO happen.
    As far as eternal hellfire is concerned, God is perfect. And that implies that he has to be just. If there were no consequence of doing wrong, God would be unjust. Unfortunately, WE aren't perfect, and are all justly sentenced to being away from Him, as God (being perfect) can't be with us sinful people.
    Something has to pay for all the wrong, but we couldn't do it ourselves. I couldn't have sacrificed myself for the sins of others, when I myself was sentenced to die also. But Jesus could, as he was not. If we simply don't accept his taking the blame, then of course we receive the penalty ourselves!

  11. Considering eveidence, I'd say that pretty much everything passively implies that God exists, adding to the list conscience, matter=energy, imagination, and that absolute undisputable evidenece doesn't exist for either of our parties.
    Also, the Bible shows that God enjoys using his creation in creating new things, so the Big Bang might very well be one of his tools. (This theory you've obviously heard about, but maybe readers of this blog might discover it)

  12. So your god, being perfect, decided that people brought up in non-Christian cultures ought to go to hell. Excuse me if I don't believe that ethnocentrism is indicative of perfection or justice. I am also a wee bit questioning of the concept of a perfect god asking his followers to practice this little thing called forgiveness while being unable to do so himself, instead opting to magically impregnate some woman with himself, be born, and sacrifice himself to himself. Somehow, that just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

    Considering the evidence, your statement seems to imply that you don't understand the evidence and can't be bothered to attempt to more than it implies that your or any deity exists. While some of the things you list are not at all focuses of my education, as far as the conscience goes, it is an evolutionarily advantageous feature, which could have evolved in much the same way as any animal instinct, and which is observable in the behavior of animals other than human beings. I would also like to point out that the Bible is not a good source for making arguments about the existence of your god, as belief in said god is a prerequisite for believing that any of it is true.