Advice for Proselytizers July 7, 2010Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Politics, Popular Culture, Random Observations, Religion & Theology.
These tips are adapted from a post-Christian’s advice to “Christian” evangelists. (I use quotation marks because I don’t believe people who hate (“the sin but not the sinner”), judge, and condemn in the name of the God of Love and forgiveness are Christians.) The Red-Headed Skeptic, a former fundamentalist, ran across a book that described “lost” people for “Christians” to save: they don’t believe the Bible is literal history; they don’t obey the same selected subset of biblical commandments that “Christians” do; they don’t speak Christianese (“saved,” “sinful,” “blessed,” “born again,” etc.); and they’re “spiritual seekers” who are “ready for Jesus.”
The Skeptic took offense at this view of, I would guess, 99 percent of humanity (everyone who’s not already in the selective club of “Christians”), and quite rightly. But it struck me that, with just a little tweaking, her advice would be useful not just to “Christians,” but also to atheists, Muslims, Scientologists, and devotees of Glenn Beck and Ayn Rand. I have encountered atheists who are just as aggressive proselytizers as any door-to-door “Christian” evangelist; I have encountered right-wingers who are exactly as smugly patronizing as any “Christian.”
So here’s my advice to anyone who’s trying to change my thinking and bring me around to his/her point of view. (I’ve omitted any advice to Islamists as unnecessary; they would have no interest in my subhuman opinions in the first place.)
- Don’t assume you know the person you’re talking to. At all. Don’t assume that they are broken, sad “deep down inside,” needy, smug, ignorant of your special subject (be it the Bible or the holy words of Ayn Rand or Richard Dawkins), have never participated in your special rituals (whether church service, tea-bigot hatefest, or atheist-vs.-believer “debate”), are thirsty for your enlightenment, etc. Don’t assume you know what they’re thinking or feeling. Don’t assume that if they don’t agree with you, there’s something wrong with them.
- Don’t be so condescending and judgmental. Don’t assume that you are the possessor of the only Truth there is, and everyone else is secretly confused, stupid, deluded, badly educated, ill-informed, or incapable of rational thought. Don’t assume that someone who has devoted more than 20 years to a given subject understands less than you do with your big old 20 months and your diploma from Not Accredited Seminary/University.
- Stop judging the hearts of other people, which you cannot possibly ever understand or even know more than a tiny fraction of. You can’t even fully understand your own motivations, much less anyone else’s. Christians: never comment on the supposed relationship between God and anyone but yourself until after you’ve taken that sequoia out of your eye.
- Stop trying to impose your values on society as a whole.
- Christians: If gay people want to get married, that’s between them and God, and it’s none of your business at all. Stop mistreating them; they were created exactly as much in the image of God as you were. Stop trying to deprive women of the right to control their own bodies. If a woman can’t be trusted to make her own health decisions, she certainly couldn’t be trusted to rear the child you would compel her to bear. And finally, try to understand that faith is holding true to your values no matter what, not turning off your brain and believing nonsense because your televangelist says so.
- Atheists, stop yammering about the pigheaded insistence of bibliolaters in worshiping the idol they have created in the image of Billy Sunday; you’re never going to enlighten people who already consider that they’ve seen the light and you haven’t. Say to “Christians”: You believe that God is everywhere, including right here with us, right this minute. That’s what “omnipresent” means. That means that God’s truth and God’s wisdom and right here with us, right this minute. Defend your values right here, right this minute, without quoting or even referring to the Bible.
There’s an old story about diarist Samuel Pepys. Two fishwives were arguing, one from her upstairs window, and the other from her upstairs window across the street. “They will never agree,” Pepys joked: “they are arguing from different premises.” Your debates with defenders of religion will never succeed because the two sides use the same terminology to mean completely different things, and neither side notices.
- Right-wing nut jobs, stop trying to persuade me that Ayn Rand was the Second Coming. She was an atheist, an elitist, a terrible writer, and on every conceivable theory, simply flat-out wrong. Moreover, hate radio and opinion masquerading as fact do nothing but erode your capacity for dispassionate Reason.
- Faith, by definition, cannot be proved. “Christians,” stop trying to prove that evolution, an obvious fact, is the same thing as Darwin’s theory of natural selection. (Gravity is the same type of scientific theory as evolution, only there’s less proof of the existence of gravity.) Atheists, stop trying to prove that God does not exist, and instead explain to me exactly how something, the Universe, appeared out of nothing, in the space of less than one 49-millionth of a second. RWNJs, stop trying to prove that lowering the nation’s income through less taxes on the wealthy will increase the nation’s income enough to pay off the massive debt that you ran up, to a large extent through tax cuts for the wealthy.
All three: The problem with trying to prove what cannot be proved is that you look like an idiot when someone who has a better education than you do comes along. Looking like an idiot is not good for gaining converts to your way of thinking.
- Enough with the dogmatism. I mean it. Practice saying, “You have an interesting point” and “I can see you’ve put a lot of thought into what you’re saying” (especially if you’re sure they haven’t). If what you believe is as incontrovertibly true as your dogma holds, everyone alive would believe in God / that there is no God / in your particular depiction of God / that your particular depiction is wrong, whether it’s Yahweh, Allah, Jesus, or the Invisible Hand. The slogan “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” proves only that you almost certainly believe the Bible was written in 1611, in Shakespearean English, by God Godself, and it currently sits, perfect and inviolable, in a missile silo in Colorado Springs.
That goes for you too, atheists. Okay, you believe the Bible is myth, that myth is fiction, and that all religion is delusion taught by malicious charlatans who have leached all capacity for rational thought from their dupes. I get it. Give it a rest.
Conservatives: Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot. Glenn Beck once described himself as “a rodeo clown,” which is a malicious slur on rodeo clowns, who actually have to be skilled at something. Your worship of Mammon, of Profit, of “wealth creation,” at the expense of everyone else, is nauseating. Your economic theories added eight TRILLION dollars to the national debt, almost caused a complete economic collapse, and resulted in the most mammoth transfer of wealth from everyone else to the top five percent than anything since the robber barons, which you strongly resemble. You should be ashamed of yourselves, not nattering on about how people who are unemployed because of you are lazy parasites.
- Your subculture is lame. “Christian” radio? Totally lame. “Debates” where each side tames straw dogs and claims victory? Limp. Fat, middle-aged white men who indulge in outrage because it’s no longer 1957? Liquid.
The sad part, of course, is that the people who would benefit the most from following this advice will never do so, even if they somehow encountered it. Starting with Reagan, who held the title of History’s Stupidest President for 20 years, conservatives of all descriptions — religious and political — have hated and demonized intelligence, education, merit, and rationality. It is no accident that Edmund Burke, Milton Friedman, and William F. Buckley have fallen and that Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Sharron Angle have taken their place. It’s so much easier to demonize President Obama as a secret Muslim Kenyan socialist totalitarian Communist fascist!