I’m asking this as a serious question; I know some of you out there are religious, and this is something I’ve never heard answered to my satisfaction. By way of telling you where I sit before I tell you where I stand, there are three aspects to my personal thoughts on the matter that apply:
First, my atheism. I was not raised in any faith. The Old Man is an agnostic, my mother a sort of Jefferson-style Deist, and the only thing they ever said to me about religion when I was young was that I would figure it out myself when I was old enough. I did. The tipping point was when I thought about what I later discovered was Descartes’s concept of duality; the idea that there is a magical “me” that transcends the physical. I never believed that and still don’t. Also, I never could – even as a teenager – reconcile the idea of an omniscient God with the claim of man’s free will.
Second, my personal stance on individual intellectual freedom. Robert Heinlein, speaking through his recurring character and (I always thought) personal avatar Jubal Harshaw, said “ninety percent of all human wisdom can be summed up in the words ‘Mind your own business.’” He was right. It doesn’t bother me if others are religious, unless (see ISIS) they try to spread their faith by force. I admit proselytizers annoy me if they knock on my front door and try to convert me, but that’s just an annoyance and no more – unless they refuse to vacate my property when asked.
Third and finally, my take on matters social is simple, as I have repeatedly stated in these pages. I really don’t give a damn what people do, as long as they leave me alone. I expect that of religious proselytizers just as I do advocates of anything else from floor brushes to political causes.
With those in mind, I find it impossible to understand why religious people seem to feel the need to recruit new members to their faith. The exception seems to be Judaism; we have some close friends who are Jewish, and it seems to me that the difference is that Judaism is as much an ethnicity as a religion. An exception on the other end is the jihadi nutbags in Islam, who wish to spread their version of Islam by force, that force including rape, beheadings and fire, but Islam is as much a socio-political system as a religion, so I won’t include that in this discussion.
I speak instead of the mainstream Christian religions. All of them seem to feel the need to gather new recruits to their cause. Why? If, as Heinlein said, ninety percent of all human wisdom can be summed up as “mind your own business,” then why do Christians feel the need to intrude into other people’s business by proselytizing? You can’t convince me that you’re concerned for my soul; I don’t have one. You can’t convince me that your God loves me; I don’t accept his existence. So why try?
It doesn’t bother me if you believe. In fact, if it brings you comfort and peace of mind, I say, good for you. I don’t share your belief, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it has value to you. I would never interfere with your free practice of your faith, in fact I once swore an oath that I would give my life in defense of your right to do so. I still think that oath has value and still stand by the principles behind it.
This is something I’d really like to know. I’ve asked it before and never heard an answer that didn’t refer to a Biblical injunction to do so or something along those lines, and honestly I don’t see that as sufficient justification to try to influence my belief – or non-belief. Is there any non-Biblical reason to proselytize? I suspect I know the answer to that, but I’ll leave that for any ensuing discussion.