Refusing Evangelism

An atheist blog reader (wishing to remain anonymous) sent me an email.

The person (“Bob”) often receives messages/emails/calls from a close friend who happens to be Christian. The Christian ask Bob how he is doing, if work is going well, and oh yeah, if he is attending church now.

It gets annoying. And even though the Christian is aware of Bob’s atheism, the evangelism doesn’t stop.

Bob can’t just blow off the friend. Too much would be lost if the Christian was out of his life.

So Bob asks this question:

… how DOES one politely refuse evangelism from someone they’re close to?

Please give Bob some advice!


[tags]atheist, atheism, evangelism, Christian[/tags]

  • http://www.reverendmark.com Rev. Mark J. Seydel

    As an Atheist Inter-Faith Minister (yes, we exist) I would tell Bob to suck it up.
    If the cost/benefit factor of this “friendship” was not favorable for him he would not be involved with this person at all.

    Namaste,

    Rev. Mark

  • John

    Try being honest. Not brutally honest. Just politely at first say how it is annoying for him to keep evangelising and why it is annoying. And then if he continues to ask, make your responses increasingly firm.

    1 – “You know Joe, we talked about this.”

    2 – “Come on Joe, I don’t keep asking you about when you’re going to stop attending church.”

    3 – “Joe, I don’t attend church because it is silly, ridiculous and preposterous to believe the sorts of things you do. Now, please, for the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, give me a freaking break!”

    Or, tell him you’ll go to church with him, right after he goes to see that new Bill Mahr movie (Religulous) with you.

  • Pingback: Just say No to God « The Atheocracy

  • Rob Linford

    How about “I know you are asking because you care, but I’m really comfortable and happy being and atheist. Lets just agree to disagree on this one and not talk about it any more. It makes me really uncomfortable for you to keep asking.”

    If he truely believes in this stuff it is unfair for you to expect him to ‘get the message’ by osmosis. Just let him know how you feel in a respectful way.

  • http://godlesswasatch.blogspot.com John Moeller

    I think that I agree with John and Rob. Don’t wait for it to stop. Just be gently honest (at first).

    If it’s a game, tell Joe you aren’t having fun. If it’s a case of Joe taking advantage of your relationship, let Joe know that it’s unacceptable to you to feel cornered.

    You obviously have something in common with Joe. Just be politely firm, and move on to your common interests.

  • Heather

    The first three comments sum up how I’ve dealt with evangelist friends. You have to decide how much of each to apply in a given situation, but they can work pretty well. I would add that some form of “I know you’re very excited about your religion and I’m happy for you for that. We share a lot of common interests, just not religion.” Some people (especially the newly evangelical) have a hard time understanding how 1)anyone could reject this amazing outlook on life and 2)it’s possible not be “in to” someone else’s primary passion in life and still like that person. You like your friend, but religion isn’t your thing. Fear of rejection can drive a well-meaning friend to evangelize more than they might otherwise, in my experience.

  • Maria

    How about “I know you are asking because you care, but I’m really comfortable and happy being and atheist. Lets just agree to disagree on this one and not talk about it any more. It makes me really uncomfortable for you to keep asking.”

    I agree. I was in a similar situation with someone I was close to, and when I did this I found out they honestly weren’t aware of how they were affecting me. Once they were, they understood and everything is fine now. Sometimes you just need to be honest.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com/ hoverFrog

    Consider mocking him or rolling your eyes in an exasperated manner.

    How about playing it in reverse and evangelising about the benefits of atheism? Do this once and tell “Joe” that this is how it feels whenever he waxes lyrical about his belief.

    Turnabout is fair play after all.

  • RikB

    I’ve been sort of lucky. My in-laws are evangelicals, but my wife is not (although they don’t know it). They aren’t aware of my atheism, although they’ve made comments to my wife about the Darwin fish on my vehicle. For the most part, they keep from trying to convert me. Why? Because years ago my wife made a point of telling them “He respects your feelings and beliefs, so you should respect his.”

    My suggestion is to use this on the friend. Just lay it out simply and sincerely.

  • http://george1001.livejournal.com/ George

    Consider mocking him or rolling your eyes in an exasperated manner.
    That wouldn’t work, he said he couldn’t just blow them off.

    I think that polite reverse evangelism would be fine, if this person were being persistent over objections.

  • http://rpkthoughts.blogspot.com Robert

    When I’ve encountered this type of circumstance, typically a polite thank you but I’m not interested in attending church does the trick. The other option would be to explain to them,
    Sure I’ll attend your church, but will there be a questioning and answering session afterward that includes the entire congregation? Will I be able to ask the pastor a question during or immediately after the sermon? Will you and your church be willing to seriously question your faith, and try to rationally explain your positions?

    In all honesty I have no problems attending church. The issue with me attending church or a bible study is I don’t think most people are ready to discuss the questions I will bring up :)

    Another option could be the next time he mentions it simply start the questioning there:
    Why do you think it’s important to attend church? Then continue from there… This line of questioning will usually end the continuous evangelizing.

  • http://flowerdust.net anne jackson

    I like most of the answers above…BE HONEST and kind. It might help if you use some of Bob’s language (grin) like, “Maybe you’re just the seed planter…” If he has ever read any books on evangelism, he’ll know what that means and probably leave Bob alone. :)

  • grazatt

    Just why does Bob feel he needs this person in his life?

  • http://www.socialrank.com caroline

    Hey there,

    This is Caroline from SocialRank.

    I am trying to get in touch with you but couldn’t find your email address.

    We’re launching a new Web 2.0 site dedicated to Atheism and we have started indexing your blog posts as part of our

    content filter.

    I’d like to send you an invite to a beta preview. Can you get back to me with your email address.

    Mine is caroline@challengereligion.com

    Kind regards,

    Caroline

    http://www.SocialRank.com

  • HappyNat

    I agree with being polite, but if the question kepts being brought up after he has asked his friend to stop, he should have a pat response he gives everytime it is asked. Something like
    Friend:”Are you attending Church yet?
    Bob: ” Have you figured out God is a figment or your imagination yet?”

  • jedipunk

    I cured my father of this by sending him newsclippings of church wrong doings, moral leaders doing wrong, and research on bible errors.

    I didn’t change his mind, but he quit sending me contrived emails about jesus.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    You have to be willing to lose the friend, frankly.

    My mother used to be like that until I told her she was no longer welcome in my home if she was going to continue to try to push Christianity down my throat. She had to make the choice whether she wanted to have a relationship with me at all, or if she wanted to keep trying to evangelize.

    We did the same thing with my in-laws and now my father-in-law hardly talks to my husband. That’s his choice. It was our choice to decide that we don’t want to be preached to all the time, or listen to inuendos about Jesus and The Lord every time our family visits.

    You can’t make the choice for the friend. You can only tell them what is acceptable to you. If you don’t want to hear it any more, you have to tell them.

  • Mriana

    Well, I managed to do it with family… I think. Now that is a relationship that is important. However, I had a sort of a cop out that was true. See, even if you don’t attend the Episcopal Church they keep you as a member and even if you do attend you can be an atheist/Humanist or what have you- see Robert Price. So, I could still say, with all honesty that, “the Episcopal Church doesn’t teach that. (Path of Salvation in this case)” and in that particular case it was true.

    I don’t doubt Rev. Mark. There are a several non-theists, even non-theist ministers in the Episcopal Church and he maybe right, you may have to just suck it up if the relationship is important to you. For all I know Rev. Mark might even be a Humanist Celebrant too. Anyway, he is right, there are some things you just have to let blow ever depending on how important the relationship is to you. I’ve had to suck up a lot of things with my relatives concerning religion. It’s not always easy though.

  • http://tomesnyder.com Tom E. Snyder

    Are you attending church now?

    “Not yet, I haven’t found the right one.”

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    You know, this isn’t a problem peculiar to atheists. Religious believers are often the object of unwelcomed evangelism, sometimes by atheists. The best way to get rid of a pest is by having some knowledge of their faith and using that in refutation. My experience is that being able to give it right back to them is effective against Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and even quite often against the hardest of fundamentalist believers, the faithful of Scientism.

    Ask why Elisha calling the she bears to tear apart the boys wasn’t an example of black magic, for example. Get a list of about ten similar examples and give them a rigorous look of this kind and eventually the pest will give up.

  • stogoe

    Religious believers are often the object of unwelcomed evangelism, sometimes by atheists

    What you call ‘atheist evangelism’ is probably just any criticism of religion that happens to be spoken aloud near a believer.

    [/trollfood]

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    What you call ‘atheist evangelism’ is probably just any criticism of religion that happens to be spoken aloud near a believer.

    I’ll tell you the one, irrefutable argument for atheism that exists, “I just don’t believe it.” Other than that, they are all disputable just as any similar argument for religion is.

    [/jack ass chow]

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    There is one advantage associated with attending a Unitarian Universalist church — especially in the Bible Belt of the US. It’s very useful for deflecting evangelism efforts.

    When friends and neighbors attempt to “evangelize” you, you can tell them you already have a church home. Just think of it as an “immunization.”

    And the Unitarian Universalist tradition is compatible with both Atheism and Agnosticism. We are non-creedal (no shared statement of belief) but we are “covenental” (shared statement of how we should get along ethically with our neighbors). So we require no belief in god but do encourage ethics that are grounded in empiricism.

  • Polly

    Blaspheme the Holy Spirit. His evangelism will then be useless in his eyes, and you can get on with life.

  • Michael Bolton

    Is this one of those riddles? You know… “Roosters don’t lay eggs!”

    Bob’s friend is Jesus, right?

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    As an Atheist Inter-Faith Minister (yes, we exist) I would tell Bob to suck it up.

    And here we have the current state of the faith/no-faith relationship in a nutshell.

  • http://hulz.livejournal.com Julia

    I liked the statement RikB said his wife used:”He respects your feelings and beliefs, so you should respect his.”

    That’s one of the most peaceful and non confrontational ways to go about this, which seems to be what “Bob” wants. I find that evangelicals sometimes go after atheists/agnostics because they think that we are suffering from a lack of beliefs. Of course that’s not true. He should make it clear that he has his own beliefs/views on religions and he feels his friend is not respecting them. If that doesn’t work, he may want to have a set answer to give his friend everytime like. Once you’ve done that, it may be best to try ignoring the question completely and if confronted just say you’ve already talked about it in the past.

    I deal with this with family members all the time and I make it clear that I respect them and they have to do the same for me. I think one conversation with loved ones should suffice and they should not continue trying to force anything onto you.

  • http://www.rekounas.org rekounas

    I had a neighbour that was a Wesleyan minister, we never spoke religion. Period. We were always extremely nice to each other though. Had he been the slightest dick though, look out!

    Here is what I tell my son when my parents priest asks him if he is coming to church on Sunday. “Nah, I have other things I am doing.”

  • Thaiguy

    I have been on the giving end of this, as well as the receiving end. The evangelizer, misguided as they are, may genuinely believe they are acting for your benefit. Whatever you tell them will stop the pestering if :

    a) you show them you don’t need what they are selling (I’m a Unitarian) or

    b) what you are selling doesn’t interest me (clippings of church leaders’ antics, biblical inconsistancy, etc.)

    It’s not really different from a vacuum cleaner salesman (no offence to vc salesmen)

    On the receiving end, this test of your relationship is a bit of a courage-in- communication thing. Can your relationship stand this challenge? What if it can’t? Is this person the kind of friend you feel you ” deserve “- one who does not respect you/your beliefs? Do you feel you do not have a choice? Like many of these differences with others which arise, how we handle them usually says more about where we are and what our attitudes are about ourself than about anyone or anything else.

    Been there, done that many times.

    Good luck! Keep thinking!

  • Mriana

    Steve, you sound like me. :) I use that tactic too.

  • Vincent

    steve caldwell said
    When friends and neighbors attempt to “evangelize” you, you can tell them you already have a church home. Just think of it as an “immunization.”

    I prefer to say I go to the church of the inner spring.
    (sounds nice and spiritual, but just means I sleep in on Sundays [innner spring mattress]))

  • Daniela

    I would reply with an e-mail: “No, not really… And you, have you quit your religion already?”

  • http://misanthropic-bastard.blogspot.com/ Rasputin

    If you can’t ask someone politely to stop doing something without them getting all huffy then they aren’t much of a friend.

  • Susan

    I’d sit down with him and have a very frank (but respectful and friendly) discussion about each others’ beliefs and values. This helps to show the friend that you are truly interested in him, and at least tolerant and respectful of his faith, as well as allowing him to learn about the atheist perspective. Then at the end of the conversation (assuming the friend hasn’t managed to convert you, or you him) you can point out that he often seems to get pushy about encouraging you to go to church, and you’re really not interested and would like him to drop it. Let him know that you have an open mind, and that if at some point you decide you want to try church you’ll let him know, but until then you’re just not interested. (On second thought, this last bit might give the friend some false expectations, so maybe not.)

  • Jen

    I am all for being nice, but if that doesn’t work, move on to the slightly meaner “When will you lose your faith?” “When you will realize Jesus is a fake?” and “Why the hell don’t you listen when I tell you repeatedly that I am not buying what you are selling?”

    There are limits as to how nice you can be to someone who just doesn’t get it, especially if you aren’t related to them.

  • http://george1001.livejournal.com/ George

    “Bob can’t just blow off the friend. Too much would be lost if the Christian was out of his life”.

    Part of the problem of offering advice here is that there’s not enough information. What type of a “friend” is it that doesn’t stop doing something that bothers jo,? What would be “lost”? (is it really a friendship, or some type of dependency?) How many times has Bob asked him to stop, and what were the responses?

    Of coursse it’s possible that Bob is just a wimp.

  • llewelly

    I am nearly certain that back in the early 1990s I encountered this story as a part of a Christian proselytization strategy. Bob’s friend is, as someone already pointed out, Jesus.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com/ hoverFrog

    Sarcasm is our greatest weapon against the evangelist.

    I have a friend who is a converted Jehovah’s Witness and I openly mock his views just as he does mine. You know what: that’s what friends do to each other.

    If he asks if you’ve attended church tell him that you’d like to but it’s full of crazy people who keep getting in the way of the wonderful architecture and muttering to themselves.

  • Vincent

    HappyNat said,

    September 12, 2007 at 7:18 am

    I agree with being polite, but if the question kepts being brought up after he has asked his friend to stop, he should have a pat response he gives everytime it is asked. Something like
    Friend:”Are you attending Church yet?
    Bob: ” Have you figured out God is a figment or your imagination yet?”

    I’d rather say “have you sacrificed any goats to the sky god yet?”

  • http://www.flatustheelder.com Cliff

    The scripture can be used for multiple purposes. When the zealots get abusive I tell them that I’m hanging my hat on Luke 10:17 (the parable of the good Samaratin). Sometimes I say that when I meet my maker I will ask if he is preparing a room for you. Also, for everything there is a season.
    “Flatus The Elder”

  • stogoe

    It’s not really different from a vacuum cleaner salesman (no offence to vc salesmen)

    You know, I don’t think there are door-to-door salesmen any more. Somewhere along the line their roles (annoying home intrusion and hard-selling worthless crap) were split up between the JW and the Home Shopping Network.

  • Aimee

    Stogoe,

    Oh but there are still door to door salesmen, Kirby Vacuums, unfortunately. And what do Kirby and JW’s have in common, they all suck! ba da bum!!!
    Sorry, lame I know, I couldn’t resist.


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