I rail against conversion, evangelism, and proselytizing a lot here. However, it is worth noting that I don’t believe people have to or should “stay in the religion of their birth.” I definitely believe that there is not one correct religion for every person on earth, but different “paths up the same mountain,” as they say. I think there is a religion (or brand of atheism) that suits each person and they should explore, learn, and embrace the path that works best for them.
So that means that people do convert. Sometimes they are converting to Hinduism, as many people I know through this blog have. Sometimes they are converting to Christianity (though why completely mystifies me, but whatever. That’s their choice).
If people can change religions, what’s wrong with proselytizing?
The big concern that I have is that the people I have witnessed proselytizing view it as the ends justify the means. So they don’t care how they get there, as long as they reach the point where the other person either accepts Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior or accepts Allah as the only God and Muhammad as his prophet. (Those being the two religions that do by far the most proselytizing). I have seen a variety of coercion techniques used to elicit these conversions. Tricks, bribes, threats, etc.
If your religion is the right one, then it shouldn’t scare you to let people take their time to learn about it and consider it with honesty.
I hate proselytizing. It used to be that I could think about it from the evangelist’s point of view, that they want to help me. In their (screwed up) world view, I’m going to go to hell because I don’t use the right name when I pray. So they are trying to help, it comes from a good place.
But you know what? I’m sick of that.
I don’t have any obligation to live in accordance with their beliefs. How much interference in my life am I supposed to put up with because they think there’s a hell and a God who punishes people who don’t thank him for murdering his son? People knocking on my door, people handing out fliers in the grocery store, people stopping me on the street, people leaving fake money with conversion rhetoric on it in the parking lot, fliers on windshields, brochures left in my mailbox.
I don’t care if you think that you are “warning me about my ticket to the Titanic” (as one friend recently put it). I don’t impose my worldview on you and it’s really shitty that you do it to me. Regardless of your motives, I will make my own choice and I’ll sail on the Titanic if I want to. Consider me warned!
But again, there are times when people are not born into the right religion for them. There are times when people will find more peace, more joy, and more meaning in their life on a different path, whether that is going from Christian to Hindu or from Hindu to Christian or from Christian to Islam or from Islam to Hindu, etc.
What is the right way to convert people, then?
And the basic principles there can be extended to any religion someone is considering joining. The seeker should take the time to learn about their current religion and see if there is a different branch or interpretation that would work better for them. Then learn about the religion they are considering. Hear a wide variety of points of view on it, read books from supporters and detractors, visit services for different branches.
The Himalayan Academy recommends formally severing ties with the previous religion by speaking with the priest or minister or pandit or imam that you grew up with or who was part of your spiritual development (if there is one) and getting an official “release” from them to pursue your new path.
Then a formal ceremony and changing your lifestyle to match your new path.
All this assumes that a seeker knows what religion they are interested in.
How will someone learn about your religion if you aren’t proselytizing?
They will learn slowly by getting to know you and observing your life. The best form of evangelism is living a good life and being happy. People who are not happy or feeling dissatisfied with their path will ask you what brings you joy. Then you can tell them.
Without force or pressure, you can tell them that this religion and way of life works for you and suggest that they may want to give it a try. Offer help in getting them started learning about it.
- Do not drag up whatever nasty rumors you have heard about their birth religion.
- Leave open the possibility that a different path may be the right one for this person.
- Listen with an open mind to their questions and concerns.
- Don’t claim to have all the answers. If you are uncertain about something, offer to learn about it together.
- Remember that not everyone has the same experiences or is looking for the same thing out of their faith.
- Speak from your own experience, your own stories and feelings.
If everyone approached proselytizing with an ethical stance in mind, I wouldn’t have a problem with conversion.
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