by Tyrone Williams
If there’s one thing worse than an evangelical Christian, it’s an evangelical UNBELIEVER. Someone who insists on preaching the "good news of UN-belief." Sheesh. Will it never end?
There must either be something in the water, or something in our genes, but for some reason every human being, at one time or another, believes it is their (forgive me) “god-given” right to tell someone else how to live/what to do. Why do we often believe that WE have the “right answer” for everyone else? Why do we find it so damned difficult to just shut the hell up and leave other people alone? Why do we derive so much carnal satisfaction from assuming the role of Authority Figure in everyone else’s lives? From governments to parents to teachers to best selling authors to comedians to friends to spouses to neighbors to co-workers, everybody seems to get off on being “right” and correcting someone else’s alleged deficiencies.
And if there weren’t enough know-it-alls roaming the landscape, now added to the list are the newest evangelical busybodies -- the religious unbelievers. Those people who have made a successful break from god-belief and now believe it is their DUTY to convince (force) the “deluded masses” of the error of their ways.
To this I cry, “Shenanigans!”
[I recognize the delicious irony of my telling people that THEY are “wrong,” in a hit piece admonishing people to “mind your own business!” But it just can’t be helped. Simply take solace in that this is just an informative rant, and you are under no obligation to agree with what I say here. I’m not speaking as any Authority Figure. Just someone with a salient point of view. Okay?]
Now, before I begin casting my stones, let it be known that I also shared in this particular “sin.” I’m as guilty as the next impertinent a-hole who dared to stick his nose where it wasn’t wanted. So I KNOW whereof I speak. Back when I was a new atheist I considered it my Duty to de-convert all and sundry. I wrote many hostile anti-Christian diatribes and formulated many plans for my Atheist Evangelical Crusades. I even called myself an “Evangelical Atheist.” Fortunately none of my plans ever saw the light of day. By spending time on these forums, and others like this one, I was humbled to confess the error of my ways. A few people (Christians and Ex-C) correctly beat it into my thick skull that ANTI-evangelism is equally as wrong and as offensive as it’s counterpart.
The reason that I’m re-visiting this subject is that it appears that the lesson must be taught anew to the newly “born-again” unbelievers. I’m seeing a resurgence of people who wish to perform door-to-door anti-evangelism, begin forum wars with Christians or engage in e-mail debates with family and friends, just to delight in telling them how “wrong” they are for believing. Not cool, people. Not cool.
Your zeal is commendable, but misplaced. Rather than labor fruitlessly to free those who resent your efforts, you should simply enjoy your new lease on life.
I KNOW how much it hurts you to witness those you love “throwing their lives away in this foolish pursuit.” I KNOW how badly you want to shake some sense into them. You want to take them through their religion and brick by brick tear down it’s foundation. You want to strap them down, a la A Clockwork Orange, and force them to watch Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris videos until they see the light, hallelujah! And having done these things, you imagine that you will be congratulated or applauded for “rescuing them” from their enslavement.
But that would be wrong. In fact, I hope you realize that it would be down right sadistic. Who are we to take away someone's comfort? Going toe-to-toe in debate with people on forums such as this is one thing. We all asked for it. But ambushing friends, family and strangers minding their own business is out of bounds.
In general, anti-evangelism is wrong because A) We don’t have the RIGHT to take away someone’s beliefs, and B) IT DOESN’T WORK ANYWAY!
Religious beliefs aside, people of all ages, creeds, sex, races, politics, etc. have ALWAYS believed something “stupid” (i.e. something someone doesn’t agree with). And as I said earlier, there seems to be a never-ending procession of self-appointed Authority Figures lining up to correct/control these “errant thinkers.”
Do I REALLY need to belabor the point that it is FUNDAMENTALLY wrong to abrogate another’s freedom of choice? It all boils down to the Golden Rule. If YOU don’t want someone telling YOU how to live/what to do, then it sure is hell is wrong for you to force YOUR views down another person’s throat. It doesn’t matter how ill-advised or self-destructive you believe someone is being. So long as their choices don’t infringe upon YOUR life, then we are all obliged to shut the hell up. Case closed. No debate necessary.
No one is saying that you aren’t entitled to your opinions. Nor that you must hide what you believe, or not defend your beliefs. Not at all. I happen to be one of THE Most Strongly Opinionated curmudgeons this side of the Antares Maelstrom, and I will defend my beliefs with every nefarious weapon in my considerable mental arsenal.
But note that I said "DEFEND my beliefs." If someone wants to start an argument with me then I’ll be more than happy than to assail them with whatever beliefs I have, simultaneously laying assault to THEIR beliefs. What I WON’T do is start a fight with someone in an attempt to “convert them” to my side. I think that is rude. And anyone who does such a thing deserves to get their head handed to them on a platter. I’m a firm believer in “Live and Let Live” and “Mind Your Own Damned Business!” [Present case excepted! I'm giving advice, not challenging your world view.]
Aside from any necessary defenses, I believe that it is the height of decency and good manners just to ignore people’s religious foibles. Don’t get your knickers in a twist every time someone casually says something religious. It’s not a Call To Arms. They’re just words. Don’t be such a prickly pear. If mom and grandma think their prayers are doing YOU some good, then how does this harm you? Let them have their pacifier. Humor them and politely change the subject.
Besides, you won’t change their minds anyway.
Anti-evangelism is doomed to fail and here are several reasons why.
1. Religious people (just like everyone else) believe that THEY are right, and YOU are wrong. Everyone believes that THEY have done ALL the requisite thinking/research enough to have made an “informed decision”, and your gnat’s buzzing will simply be viewed as “sour grapes” from the undereducated. Simply stated -- they’re NOT going to listen to you. Talk/write ALL you want, but you’re preaching to the Unconvertable. They may humor you, but rest assured your words are being filed in the Circular File Cabinet. [We do the same thing to them.]
2. Faith trumps Reason everyday and twice on Sunday. No matter what Reason you trot out -- no matter how many contradictions you find, no matter how many errors, no matter how well you can dismantle their doctrine -- the Theist will ALWAYS find refuge in their Faith. God has given them Faith to believe, while denying it to you. (Poor soul.) It sucks to be you, with your hardened heart.
3. Your “attack” against their Faith will ALWAYS be viewed as “panic fire”, AND it will justify and cement their belief. The more you lash out at religion, the more it will be seen as someone who is “afraid of God”, or “angry at God.” Trust me -- you can’t win by going on the offensive with religion. They’ll perceive it as “persecution” and you’ll only strengthen their Faith. The best thing to do is just humor them and live your life in peace. That ALWAYS confuses the hell out of them.
4. They can’t AFFORD to be wrong. After many years of convincing themselves to believe, and investing their LIVES in this thing, the theist can’t now afford to admit that they’re wrong! You don’t really expect someone who has claimed Faith for 80 years to just drop it all after a few clever words from you, do you? Decades of egg on the face doesn’t wash off that easily.
Think back to how difficult it was for YOU to let go of your faith. The Most Difficult Thing To Do was to admit that you were wrong. That you’d been suckered for a fool. Confessing to being wrong is hard enough, but admitting that you’d wasted years and resources to a huge and now OBVIOUS con? That goes against every screaming, self-defensive nerve ending in your body.
5. Which brings me to my final reason for believing anti-evangelism to be wrong. People are seldom (if ever) convinced of their mistakes via external pressure. The revelation MUST come from within. The more you press from without, the MORE they resist your “attacks.” Just out of spite or embarrassment.
Remember how it was with you? I remember how it was with me. For the short time that I was a Christian NOBODY could have convinced me that I was wrong, and for all the previous reasons listed. I was only capable of escaping when I doubted, questioned and REASONED myself out of the faith. Had anyone poked and prodded me I probably would have gone running back to the church, fearing a “trap of the devil.” People MUST be allowed to make their own decisions/mistakes. Not only is this their Right, but in that way they can be certain that they weren’t tricked by some smooth talking “devil.” If they suspected for a moment that you tricked them into unbelief, then they’ll be back on their knees to god, begging forgiveness, faster than you can say “Rosary beads.”
Not to mention the fact that I wouldn't WANT to be responsible for causing someone to "lose their faith." People are left in a fragile and vulnerable state after that. Are you going to be around 24/7 to nursemaid them through all their doubts and recriminations? I'm not. People are much better equipped to accept their new reality IF they labor through the stages on their own.
The Best Anti-evangelism is similar to the Best Evangelism…just live an honest and exemplary life. Be “salt and light” and SHOW them what “fruit” you have. If they're curious they'll begin doubting, asking questions and making informed decisions. Arm twisting and propaganda pieces are coercive tactics and they stink.
So there you have it. Why I believe anti-evangelism is both wrong and doomed to failure.
Now, I’m not naive. I know that some of you haven’t been convinced and feel totally justified in taking the battle to THEM. That’s your right. But before you go off half-cocked, picking fights where once their was none, ask yourself these questions…Is THIS the hill you want to die on? Is ruffling feathers and getting friends and family members’ noses out of joint REALLY worth this dubious “cause” of yours? Having dropped one fundamentalist habit, do you really want to take up another? Besides, you’re unlikely to convince anyone that you're right, AND you’re more likely to strain your relationships.
I’m not saying you can’t be openly unbelieving. Just stop acting like a fundamentalist unbeliever. Stop trying to live everyone’s lives for them and mind your own business.
Fortune cookie say, “He who sticks his nose in other people’s business is apt to lose his sense of smell.”
So put down your Skeptics Annotated Bible. Amp down the volume and rage on your anti-apologetics web sites. Stop e-mailing your friends, family and your old pastor to pick a fight over their religious mania, and start smelling the roses, instead of smelling a rat. It may well be rotten in Vatican City, but unless you’re a resident it doesn’t concern you. Take that Golgotha-sized chip off of your shoulder and just relax in your newly won freedom from religious tyranny, alright? We’ve got more than enough would be dictators telling everyone ELSE what to do. We don’t need you adding to the signal-to-noise ratio, further confusing the picture so that no one can tell the apologists from the apostates.
“But that’s just my opinion…I could be wrong.” -- Dennis Miller
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Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)