Against Proselytizing

July 24, 2010

If you found something you thought was a great thing now and that you believed would put you in a much better place when your body decides to stop breathing, wouldn’t you want to share it with other people?

Not unless they asked for my advice, because I’ve found that what works for me has no bearing on anybody else’s life. And I believe it’s especially arrogant to assume such things when they take the form of advising someone on “the one, true way”.

The above statement contains several unacknowledged assumptions about the nature of the world. Religious people with these ideas seldom seem to understand atheism in anything but a very shallow way. I wouldn’t group Christianity with sun-worship, and I expect that, before a Christian tries to change my mind on a topic as sensitive as religion, they should have an adult grasp of the arguments involved. Otherwise, all they’re communicating is, “I don’t give a damn about what you think, I know what’s best for you,” — which is how the the Dutch felt about the Congolese, and the Portuguese felt about the South Americans.

Aggression can be Subtle

In offering unsolicited advice, an advisor is leveraging the listener’s wish to not be rude; many people will feel uncomfortable being proselytized to but will put up with it for far longer than they feel is reasonable. It’s happened to me and I’ve watched it happen to others. The unfairness increases when it becomes a two against one situation, which is often the case with Mormons knocking on one’s door. I’m well able to handle them (and do so politely) but it makes me mad when I think of others who are not as robust or able.

Proselytizing is Coercive Persuasion

Coercive persuasion attempts to force people to change beliefs, ideas, attitudes, or behaviors using psychological pressureundue influence, threats, anxiety, intimidation, and/or stress. [Martyn Carruthers]

It’s repellant, and it’s both morally and ethically bankrupt—which is not a great way to start a conversation about The Ultimate Truth.

It staggers me that supposedly mature adults place themselves above basic morals, and even simple manners, and proceed from there to tell me how they understand the fundamental nature of the universe. I’m, like, “Do you have any idea of the basic human principles you just trampled on?”

The Silver Rule

When it comes to religion, the Golden Rule should be discarded in favor of the Silver Rule:

“Do not treat others in ways you would not like to be treated.”

This is why, even though we know that eating like a pig will give you diabetes (and cause national budget problems down the road which affect everybody) we don’t allow government to send anyone into our homes to harangue us into eating broccoli. And we get annoyed when confronted by a dietary do-gooder who tries to do the same, just because he’s sure he knows better*.

Multiply by a million when it comes to something as personal as a religious worldview. Nobody should be so arrogant as to think they know what’s best for anybody else.

* Of course, the dietary do-gooder is actually objectively correct: most people will be far better off eating fresh vegetables instead of donuts; the difference being that his assertion can be backed up by science, evidence, and common knowledge—whereas religion is an elaborate fantasy without a shred of evidence, science, or common sense to back it up.


3 Responses to “Against Proselytizing”

  1. fuse Says:


    Shoot me an email, I have something to show you.

  2. Fred Says:

    So the opinion you’re sharing is that people shouldn’t share their opinions? And when they do it’s “coercive persuasion, repellant, morally and ethically bankrupt”?
    Well you’re doing the same thing here.

    If truth and consistency aren’t part of your views, why should you believe any of your own thoughts? Like the mormons, your attempt at proselytizing me has failed.

  3. Sean Says:

    Obviously, Fred, an Internet posting like this is not proselytizing in the same sense as knocking on someone’s door and attempting to convert them to one’s point of view, backed up by the threat of eternal damnation. If you can’t grasp that difference, I can see why religion might have power over your mind.

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