Yesterday morning we had someone ring our doorbell; it was a Christian evangelical, handing out pamphlets. This happens a fair bit in our neighborhood because we live in a quiet upper-middle class suburb. Most of our neighbours are families with grown children or retirees, so there’s plenty of folks around in the daytime and a very minimal chance of stumbling onto a meth lab.
I suppose she was taking advantage of the gorgeous weather to do some door-to-door proselytizing; we’re still getting intermittent snowfall, but by and large the weather here is finally edging towards spring, so a bit of out-and-about is actually pretty welcome. This lady rang our doorbell around nine in the morning, which was right about the time we were making breakfast and waking up; since The Wife™ had no clients booked and I currently have no job we were treating Monday as part of a long weekend. And suddenly, as I was trying to get around a cup of coffee, we had a door-to-door Jesus salesperson ringing our bell and driving the dogs crazy. She had that earnest/pushy manner that these folks adopt and simply wouldn’t take no for an answer.
The thing is, though, that The Wife™ was the one to answer the door, not me. And, while she was cheerful and polite about it, she wouldn’t take this lady’s pamphlet unless the lady took one of hers. You see, The Wife™ printed out several copies of an atheist pamphlet available online titled “Is God A Moral Monster?” for just such an occasion.
Well! The Jesus lady was deeply offended and refused to take the pamphlet, and she demanded to know “Why would anybody do that!?” before retreating in dismay. And we smirked a bit and went back to our lives. (As an amusing follow-up, later in the morning I glimpsed the Jesus lady at the local liquor store where she was picking up a big box of white wine.)
Okay, were were rude. Probably very rude. And it might even have been a little nasty, I’ll be the first to admit that. But you know what? I’m not going to feel guilty about it, because I’ve got some pretty deep-rooted problems with people who go around and push their religion on others. And, clearly, so does The Wife™.
Interestingly, our objections to proselytizing are very different. The Wife™ grew up as an expat kid in the Bahamas, a country where religion is omnipresent and very in-your-face. More than 91 percent of the population of the Bahamas professes a religion, according to Wikipedia, and a lot of that religion is the more demonstrative sort of protestantism, particularly evangelical Christianity. As an agnostic kid, she faced harassment growing up because she refused — openly and for good moral reasons — to profess a faith simply because everyone around her did. She was told, frequently and forcefully, that she was going to hell because she wasn’t a Christian.
The Wife™ has a stubborn streak. It’s one of the things we share, along with what one of my high school guidance counselors memorably referred to as “a healthy contempt for authority.” Simply put, if you order her to do something, she’s going to dig her heels in unless you can give her a damned good reason.
And “because I said so” is not on her personal list of Damned Good Reasons.
Nowhere is that more clear than in religious matters, because she was a bright kid and had ears: she knew about the hypocrisies being committed in her community: the parishioners who used religion as an excuse to treat others badly, or as a get-out-of-jail-free card for their own wrongdoing; the preachers who had their hand in the collections box or who had fathered children on underage girls. That the worst, most evil people in our species got a pass on their wicked deeds so long as they got right with Jesus… and these were the same people who’d turn around and tell a little girl that she wasn’t going to be a real person, a whole person, unless she did the same.
That sort of thing leaves a mark: Religion is a very big red-button issue for her, especially if she feels its being being forced on her. I’m not sure if I’d call her an outright atheist, twenty years on, but she’s definitely a very skeptical agnostic… and one who gets very, very angry when you try and tell her — or even imply to her — that she’s going to Hell because she doesn’t believe the right things.
My objections to proselytizing are somewhat different. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I dislike hypocrisy in the extreme, particularly hypocrisy couched (or draped) in religious terms. I grew up in a practicing Roman Catholic family before the institutionalized hypocrisy and homophobia of the Roman Catholic Church drove me out. (And I won’t be going back, “progressive” Pope or not.)
But I didn’t abandon or reject spirituality. I became a Wiccan, and later adopted the Reclaiming Witchcraft tradition as a framework for my own spiritual beliefs. I also dabbled in Buddhist meditation, which I found to be a profound comfort during some very rough times in my life. I would not consider myself an atheist at all, or even an agnostic, although I’m also very influenced by the writings of Carl Sagan. My personal spirituality is actually pretty complicated, as I’ve written about before.
But let me be clear: I’ve had some very intense spiritual experiences which have had a profound effect on me and how I see the universe.
But the big thing about those experiences? They’re private. Because they were intense. Because they effected me profoundly. I would rather discuss my sex life with strangers than have a conversation about my spirituality with friends. Because it’s nobody’s business but mine. It’s between me and my deities. Period.
Heck, The Wife™ and I hardly ever speak about spirituality and we’re actually rather close, what with the being married and all.
So when I see evangelicals running around, waving Bibles and pamphlets and telling me about the joys of Jesus Christ, their Lord and Personal Saviour, it makes me profoundly uncomfortable for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons is that I know, I know, that if I were to try and discuss my spiritual experiences with those people they would dismiss them outright because they didn’t occur within the acceptable structure of Christianity, because Christianity (and usually their own particular variety of it) is the One True Way and nothing else is valid. Another reason is because it makes me feel a little sick that they’re waving their own spiritual experiences around in public. And by “sick” I mean literally nauseous. It’s very much a form of exhibitionism, and I really don’t like it when someone uses me to help them get their jollies without without my consent.
And you know what? Proselytizing like that cheapens spiritual things. It really does. These are supposed to be deep and profound truths, matters of supreme importance, not things that you should be hawking on the doorstep like HVAC cleaning or utilities payment plans. If you think it’s your duty to bring religiosity to the fuzzy-wuzzies, you’re wrong. If you truly believe that your faith is right, that your experience of the Divine is valid, then you have to trust that the Divine force will reveal itself correctly, and in the fullness of time.
You can’t force it. And watching someone try to force it — especially trying to force it on me — makes me angry.
I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what faith you profess. I don’t even care if, by your lights you’re doing me a huge favour by trying to convert me. You’re not. Keep your faith private. Keep it sacred. You don’t sell faith. You don’t even give it away. It’s something that you have to find for yourself, and no amount of coercion will make faith real.
And if your faith can’t stand being a little tested, so much so that you get profoundly offended when being offered a pamphlet with a competing worldview, than I’m not sure your religion has got much to commend itself. Yes, we offended a largely guiltless evangelical yesterday… but if she had handled it differently, if she had taken our pamphlet and promised to read it, I’d have honestly done the same for hers. I won’t claim that I’d be converted by her pamphlet — any depictions of Paul on the Road to Damascus that I’ve ever seen have been notably lacking in photocopied Biblical references, after all — but I’d have given her the same fair hearing she was prepared to give us.
Except she didn’t, of course.
So if you come to my door to force your religion in our faces, then let’s call our pamphlet a test: We were looking to see whether she would do unto others as she would have done unto her. I think that I read that somewhere.