A Question for Former Believers Who Were Once Religious Proselytizers

Last weekend I was talking with someone who insisted to me that the urge to proselytize signals a weak faith. He argued that if someone was truly strong in their faith, they would not feel any such strong need to have everyone else around them agree with them. I said in reply that he must have never been a believer and he laughed and said something to the effect that he had apparently revealed himself.

The reason I said he could not have really ever believed was that he was completely not able to empathize with the frame of mind in which you really believe as, a matter of literal truth, that everyone outside your faith is going to hell and so really are motivated by actual concern for their souls, and not necessarily by any hidden agenda of not simply being afraid of being alone in your beliefs. I also pointed out to him that proselytizing was typically only found in religions like Christianity or Islam where it is actively insisted upon by the religious founders. Jews rarely proselytize and not because they are somehow less insecure but rather because theirs is simply an ethnic religion in which they understand themselves to be a uniquely chosen people. It’s not meant to be a religion for everyone and so they usually feel no impetus to convert others. Christianity and Islam have proselytization baked into their self-understanding and so for logical reasons many Christians and Muslims feel like their beliefs simply require that they try to turn outsiders to their faith.

Do you think I was right? If you once believed and were concerned about proselytization, do you think it was really because you felt Jesus had obliged you in the Great Commission or that Muhammad’s comparable injunctions to convert and to conquer were binding upon you as a believer? Or, in retrospect, do you think it is reasonable to charge you with, deep down, simply being insecure in your faith and needing the validation of having everyone else agree with you in order to reassure yourself?

Please answer in the comments and if you are having problems figuring out how to post a comment, consider writing me an e-mail with your comment at camelswithhammers @ gmail. As part of the e-mail let me know if you would prefer you would prefer your comment be kept private or if you are opening to me publishing it either in a follow up post or in the comments section below if I find it particularly striking. Any comments alerting me to problems with the commenting system would be very helpful as well. I know there were problems last week and I’m not sure if they’ve been resolved.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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