Stop shining that light in my face

Evangelism. For centuries, many of the world's largest and most influential religions have practiced it. The word itself is generally associated with Christianity, and rightly so. But a number of other religions, such as Islam, also actively encourage it.

The idea behind evangelism is that one particular religion is the one true way to find G-d and to live a good life. It is therefore a duty, and an act of kindness, for the followers of that religion to "spread the word", and to help all of humanity to "see the light".

The catalyst behind my writing this article was that I happened to run into a Christian evangelist today, whilst out walking on the streets. I've never actually stopped and talked to one of these people before: my standard procedure is to ignore them when out and about, and to slam the door in their faces when they come a-knocking. This, quite understandably, is also how most other people react. But today I stopped and talked.

To cut a long story short, I walked away from the conversation almost an hour later, more certain than ever that evangelism is a bad idea.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm all for the spreading of knowledge, and I think that connecting with and learning about religions and cultures outside of your own is a very worthwhile endeavour. I have personally devoted a fair amount of effort into this form of learning, and I don't regret one minute of it.

But imposing your ideas onto others is a whole different ball game. Teaching is one thing, and dictating is quite another. Unfortunately, evangelism is not about the sharing of knowledge or opinions. Sharing would involve telling people: "these are my beliefs, what are yours?" Instead, evangelism involves telling people: "these are my beliefs, and if you know what's good for you, they'll be yours too".

I happen to be a member of the Jewish faith, although I ain't the most religious Jew on the block, and I don't agree with everything that my religion has to say. I believe that Jesus was a great bloke, who obviously performed a great many charitable deeds in his life, and who was revered and respected by many of his contemporaries. As far as I'm concerned, someone who blesses fishermen and promotes world peace is a nice guy.

Nice guy, sure; but not son of G-d. Nice guy, sure; but not responsible for atoning for the sins of every man, woman, and child, for all eternity, that believes in his divinity. Nice guy. Jewish too, by the way (not roman). But that's it.

Today, my over-zealous acquaintance in the shopping mall told me his beliefs, which happened to be slightly different to my own. I had no problem with listening to them. According to my acquaintance, Jesus is the son of G-d, he was resurrected from the dead, and he atoned for all the sins of his followers through his death. I am aware that this is the belief held by millions of Christians around the world, and I respect that belief, and I have no desire to impose any other conflicting belief upon any Christian person. I just happen to have a different belief, that's all.

However, after that, things started getting a bit ugly. Next, I was informed that I am in grave danger. It is imperative that I accept a belief in Jesus and in Christianity, because only then will I be forgiven for all of my sins. Should I fail to accept this belief, I am doomed to eternity in hell.

Thanks for the warning, buddy - I appreciate you looking out for me, and I'm grateful that you've been kind enough to help me avoid eternal damnation 'n' all. But actually, I happen to believe that everyone goes to heaven (with a sprinkling of hellish punishment on the way, of course, depending on how much you've sinned), and that I already have a means of getting the all-clear from the Big Man regarding forgiveness, through my own religion.

The response? I'm wrong. I'm doomed. I haven't seen the light. Such a pity - it seemed, at first, that there was hope for me. If only I wasn't so damn stubborn.

Actually, I did see the light. How could I miss it, when it was being shone right in my face? For the sake of everyone's retinas, I say to all evangelists: stop shining that accursed light in our faces! Instead, why don't you practice what you preach, and respect the rights of others to serve G-d and to be charitable in their own way?

I don't respond well to advertisements that proclaim too-good-to-be-true offers. Hence my reaction to the whole "believe-in-my-way-and-all-your-sins-are-forgiven" thing. I also don't respond well to threats. Hence my reaction to the whole "believe-in-my-way-or-spend-eternity-in-hell" thing. It amazes and deeply disturbs me that this crude and archaic form of coercion has been so successful throughout the history of organised religion. But then again, those "$0 mobile phone" deals have been quite successful as well. I guess some people really are a bit simple.

I applaud the millions of Christian people (some of whom are my personal friends or acquaintances) who openly criticise and shun the evangelism of their brethren. It's a relief to know that the majority of people agree with my opinion that evangelism is the wrong way to go.

What this world needs is a bit more respect for others. We need to respect the rights of other people to live out a good life, according to whatever religion or doctrine they choose. We need to accept that if people want to conform to our ways, then they'll come of their own volition, and not through coercion. And we need to accept that imposing one's beliefs upon others is an arrogant, disrespectful, and hostile act that is not appreciated. World peace is a long way off. The practice of evangelism is a sound way to keep it like that. A better alternative is to agree to disagree, and to get on with doing things that really do make the world a better place.

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