Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Trials and Tribulations of a Door-to-Door Proselytizer

During my stint in a local polytechnic in Singapore many years ago (1996-1999), I was often hooked up with evangelicals and Christians who often attempt to "witness" to me beyond the pulpit of the Church; "witness" being a Christian jargon for indoctrination and being dogmatic.

At that time, I had just lost my religion, having been fully sickened by ten years of conservative, almost senseless drumming about the end of the world and the Rapture into my brain, which was further exacerbated by my four-year stint in a Catholic School and trying to skip mass every year (Yes, I find the mumbo-jumbos of catholic mass excruciating to go through, and certainly I do not think that treating a wafer as someone's body is very hygienic or humane). And it is on this count that I have always wondered: What is the prime motivation that drives religious folks to preach their religious oddities to the likes of infidels like me?

Then there is that odd door-to-door Christian, who, despite facing a real potential of strangers slamming the doors on their faces, somehow musters enough emotional strength and courage to spread their good word to complete strangers, and that on Sundays too! Kudos to these folks, even if I do not agree with their message. Ask any door-to-door salesman about what really is his greatest enemy, and the unanimous answer is rejection.

This is indeed a strange phenomenon, and I shall attempt to explain it a little more lucidly and suggest methods which you might find useful if you ever meet people who pander their odd religious beliefs and Sky Gods.

Good Intentions

From an atheist point of view, religious proselytizers are almost synonymous with the pesky fly who swirls around your head and refuses to go away, and the fact that these "good news" can sometimes be delivered very condescendingly doesn't really help their cause, and believe me I have met a few of those myself.

It is easy to lampoon these folks, but try to step into their shoes and view the world through their religious, myopic worldview: This planet is rife with sin, and sin is a disease which, if not eradicated, will send your spiritual, ethereal entity, i.e your soul, to an eternal cauldron of burning fire dubbed hell if you die unrepentant. Add to that, God will eventually get sick and annoyed with his minions on this filthy little planet, and send his Son, Jebus on a spaceship to Earth to trigger a series of events that will trigger the Armageddon and end existence as we know it.

As atheists, we might find it incredulous that anyone can believe in bullshit of such a magnitude, but if you are a believer, wouldn't you be extremely concerned about the fate of the common man? Simply put, if you see a person who is injured, you would want to help him up or call for an ambulance. This is the primary reasoning for proselytizing: It is the Christian equivalent of helping a fellow man who is deemed to be in trouble in the eyes of a sky deity. In that perspective, these proselytizers are doing a charitable deed (from their point of view) on our behalfs, whether we believe it or not.

While it is not intrinsically wrong to proselytize, more often than not, proselytizers, armed with the dogma that his religion is superior to all other religions, philosophies and creeds, begin to fall into a maze of self-delusion and condescension. They fail to see that in a multicultural society, not everyone shares their religious beliefs, and that sort of superiority complex inevitably rubs people the wrong way and puts people off.

A Christian's Point of View

A closer observation of this "save a soul" policy can be gleaned from a Christian's comment on Vjack's blog.

Daniel Livingston writes:

"Nobody likes it when you show up at their door. I get mormons and JWs just like everyone. I dont need points so thats not why I do it. My religion does tell me to, but thats not my primary motivation either. I respect your beliefs and recognize the strength one must have to get through this life unassisted. However, I just cant keep it to myself though you wish I would. Since people like me absolutely have to anyway, I will keep your don't do list in mind( except for the "dont do it" part) He can do many things for you Shawn. I am living proof. I have a question for you: Do you really find fulfillment in any of these things on Earth? I have done every drug and almost every other self-satisfying thing you can imagine. All it left me with was emptyness. If you really are truly satisfied and fulfilled, and have reached the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, then I can't do anything for you. I would still be your friend, but wouldn't waste my time on telling you stuff you don't want to hear. It takes a stronger person than me to be an atheist, and I respect that. I used to think of atheist as like free-agents in pro sports, but your post makes sense in that you have thought it over and chosen atheist, instead of just being atheists by default. Do you guys vote for Obama mostly? Is that a dumb question?"

What comes across in this commentary is a dash of condescension, sarcasm and unnecessary empathy, plus a half-hearted attempt at justifying the nuisance of proselytizing. Sure, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are doing the same annoying work as me, but hey, I am different! I preach the truth, and they don't. Time and again, Sectarianism rears its ugly head even amongst folks of the same deity-worshiping cult.

This condescension is not even artfully camouflaged; He claims to be "one of us", i.e an atheist, and that all he ended up with was a legacy of drug abuse and forlorn emptiness in his sad, pathetic life
. This fallacy of "one atheist is bad, so all atheists are evil eggs" manifests itself as a form of nasty bigotry, and by portraying himself doing silly deeds as one of us, he manages to portray the image of the evil atheist as a wasted drug addict. Such tactics are standard fare for Christians who claim to be atheists and criminals in their unreformed states, and serve as unauthenticated testimonials in their question to "witness" to heathens and infidels alike.

The rest of it comes across as an implicitly insulting tirade: Atheists are kind of like agent-less sportsmen with no general sense of direction; atheists are self-deluded people who think they have reached the highest scale of self-actualization on the Maslow scale, and so on and so forth.

Standard Quips from the Average Door-Knocking Proselytizer

While Daniel Livingston does not represent every Christian, he does highlight certain traits of these proselytizers, plus some familiar arguments of choice, which can be condensed as follows:

1. Me and my colleagues are doing the work of God, and so our annoyance of heathens and other unbelievers is well-justified.

2. We may or may not be in for the brownie points; our primary objective here is to give you a chance to save yourselves from the burning cauldron of hell, and eternity is a heck of a long time to burn.

3. You see, my dear Atheist/Non-believer, I was once one of you. But now I believe in God. I am no longer living a depraved, wasted life like you are living in now. Your life rings hollow, because you do not believe in an Almighty God.

4. It takes more faith to be an atheist than to believe in God, therefore you have to exercise a significantly higher level of faith than me (If you analyze the statement here, what the Christian invariably is trying to say is that you are either irrational, or illogical, or both).

5. Atheists invariably vote along similar party lines, hence they are simply following the herd, so to speak.

How Should You Dissuade the Door-to Door Proselytizer?

For most atheists, door-to-door proselytizers can be a terrible pain in the ass. They usually arrive in groups of two or more on Sundays, disrupt our sleep and our lives, only to tell us about their invisible friends which we most probably have known or believed at some point of our lives and which have been discarded because of the sheer incredulity of these nonsensical beliefs.

And so the question arises: If you do meet a god-damn proselytizer at your doorstep, how should you approach them? Will brandishing knives and AK-47s help? I should think so, but I digress.

This is a particularly tricky question, in the sense that not every proselytizer approaches unbelievers with the same level of condescension or mockery, or perhaps none whatsoever. In some cases, the proselytizer's good intentions are well-meaning to a point that he or she says: "This is the bible, I leave it to you, and here's my contact number. If you have a question, feel free to ask me anything." Which is a fine thing, really. Of course, some of the more pushy ones do exist, and should you encounter a pesky religious freak who simply attempts to shovel religion down your throat, then the solution may lie somewhere else.

As far as I am concerned, brevity is usually a brilliant solution: Be short and concise; inform them that you have absolutely no interest in their deluded nonsense, no matter how well-meaning they may be. Just to add a touch of courtesy, thank them sincerely for their efforts.

If this solution is not helpful, resort to the extreme: Slam the door in their faces. That should do the trick.

"I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires." -Susan B. Anthony