I saw a Tweet the other day that really bothered me. I don’t remember the exact wording but the gist of it was “How can we get people who don’t go to church to go to church?” My response was “Um, leave us alone? Not everyone wants to go to church. It’s ok. You can relax.”
I know there are some people who really can’t relax about that because their doctrine tells them that sharing their faith and bringing others into it is vital but, speaking from the perspective of a non-believer, that attitude is pretty had to take.
Not that I have anything against religion. I totally don’t. I was raised Unitarian and still love the teachings of my church. I just don’t attend any more because I need a free morning more than I need spiritual support at this moment in my life. But religious communities in general strike me as pretty cool. I love the idea of people joining together with common purpose and helping one another and others in need. And if you said to me “Hey! I’m part of a group of thoughtful, caring people, who have a great choir, do amazing potlucks dinner, and do projects to better our community! You should check it out!” I might be interested in stopping by to see how cool the party is. But if you append that with “And if you don’t you’re going directly to Hell”, well, you’ve lost me.
No, I know no one ever says the part about going to Hell outright but it’s implied whenever someone tries to share their brand of religion with a missionary intent. And I really, really, really hate it. A lot. Because the underlying sentiment in evangelism sounds to me like “My faith is all right. Yours is all wrong. Change. Now. Or suffer the consequences.”
What on earth is appealing about hearing that you’re wrong? What is seductive about being told everything you believe is blasphemy? Why would I want to play along with someone who is unwilling to even consider that other faith choices might be valid? To be fair, I feel the same way about anyone pressing any sort of lifestyle choice. People who are evangelically eco-conscious, people who wax rhapsodic about the contents of books like The Secret, people who subscribe to rigid parenting philosophies and feel compelled to share and persuade, it all grates at me.
Here’s what’s at the core of my beliefs: if the gods all wanted us to be the same religion, we’d all be the same religion.
It is my prerogative not to be anything but Unitarian. I have arrived at my beliefs through years of thought and consideration. I am not ignorant of the tenets of other faiths and they don’t ring true to me so I do not follow them. I wish to be left alone with my faith. I wish for others to respect it and not ever try to convince me that I need to join their religion because they think it’s intrinsically better and I’m just too ignorant to know it. That actually happened to me in an airport once upon a time. Boy, was I mad at those guys. What arrogance to tell a stranger that she’s foolish, and her belief system is inferior and that, based on your convictions, she should abandon them and climb on board your bandwagon.
You know what? You don’t know that your religion is really better. Just like I don’t know that mine is really better. I just know that mine is best for me. And I would never presume to tell you which religion is best for you.
Because all of us in America have the good fortune not to live under a theocracy, we all get to pick which church, or schul, or mosque, or what ever place of worship we choose. Or we can choose not to. We can turn off the tv when Pat Robertson comes on, we can unfollow the person on Twitter who tweets nothing but religious messages all day long, we can celebrate our own slate of holidays in our own homes as we see fit with no fear of recrimination by an official authority. Furthermore, if you want to go door to door and spread your faith, you can as long as you obey local laws on trespassing and privacy.
But why would you? Why, why, why would you bother people in their homes and try and tell them they’re wrong? Why can’t you respect their faith as you would ask that them to respect yours? Think about how you’d feel if you tried to share your faith and were told “Oh! No, that religion is flat wrong. Yeah, you’re going to burn in eternity for thinking that. Let me tell you what I believe. It’s the right choice. Yours sucks.” Why not choose to do it the way a woman I was chatting with recently does; she told me she prefers to exercise the evangelical aspect of her doctrine by praying privately for those she cares to pray for, without getting in their faces about it. That seems like the perfect compromise between missionary intent and good manners.
What I guess I’m saying here is I that I support your freedom to practice your religion. But I support my freedom to not practice it and ask that you support it, too.