Saturday, February 5, 2011

Conversion, Conversation, Disagreement, Disagreeableness

Recently on Facebook, a friend of mine posted this article: "Catholic Church Issues Guide on How to Convert Witches." She is, herself, Wiccan, so it wasn't exactly a favorable notice she was giving it. To be fair, this pamphlet appears to be largely talking points and about how to have a conversation about faith with someone who believes something different from what you do--as the article notes, the booklet says "it's important to recognize that 'Wiccans are on a genuine spiritual quest,' providing 'the starting point for dialog that may lead to their conversion.'" This is genuine progress from "Burn her! She's a witch!" or even building a bridge out of her.

The comments from her friends were largely about tolerance and how the Catholic church should leave people alone, except for one mutual friend of ours who--while being respectful about it--basically said that everyone needs to accept Jesus. This got some push back initially, and though I commented there, the issues involved have continued to percolate.

We all have a right to our own beliefs and to be free from coercion. The Inquisition, burning "witches" (I put that in quotes since most of them probably weren't), a state-enforced or supported religion--all of those things are, to my mind, wrong. This pamphlet or the exchange of viewpoints such as we have in this comment thread? That's okay with me. As far as I'm concerned, S___ or the Catholic Church or whoever is welcome to tell me or P___ or anyone else that we're going to hell (or "not going to heaven") for our beliefs. I'm secure enough in my beliefs that I can handle the implied criticism of that belief system.

Fair's fair, of course, and they should be ready to get as good as they give (or perhaps get even better, if I'm right).

When it comes down to it, I can understand why the True Believers aren't, typically, laissez-faire about the whole thing. If you believe that, as the New Testament says, that the only way to get to Heaven is through belief in Jesus, then conversion of people you like and care about (or don't like, but through some ideal of universal love care about anyway) just makes sense. If I see you with a gun that I know is loaded and you believe is not loaded, and you're about to shoot yourself in the head, I should try to stop you from doing so. For such people, there's a lot at stake.

For those who either don't believe in God or gods--or those who believe that there are many paths to a happy afterlife--the stakes aren't so high. If such people are right, then all that belief in Jesus as the only path to salvation, well, it's probably not hurting you. You'll either by just as dead and decomposing and not going anywhere as the rest of us or just as likely to be on your way to Heaven for the sake of being a good person as the rest of us, so why fight about it? As long as you're not impinging upon my rights (for instance, by pushing legislation that enshrines religious doctrine as law), then you're welcome to be wrong, no skin off my back, no reason for me to convert you.

And so I have rather mixed feelings on the whole thing. Ultimately, we're all on our own path through life, we're all more or less competent to make our own decisions, and so it comes back to me championing the right for people to express their beliefs, even if I don't like their beliefs, and to argue about their beliefs, as long as they do so with relative civility (I say "relative" because I have, myself, called a colleague a fascist in the course of heated political debate--these things happen when spirits are raised). As I said in the comment thread:

it's also the case that we will all, naturally enough, judge one another. From the judgment that someone else is wrong or misguided or what have you to the judgment that someone is a real asshole or a very nice, civil person for the way that they express their disagreement, we will all naturally make those judgments.
I've lived long enough to know that good, intelligent, thoughtful people believe all sorts of things and that, much as I would like to think otherwise, I'm not infallible, so there's certainly room for disagreement without being disagreeable.


  1. I feel as you do. While I find it annoying when people try to convert me, I do understand. Given their belief system, I couldn't have any respect for them if they *didn't* try to convert me. It's a Catch-22.

    Ultimately, what I never get and they can never explain is this: If you see a good person in me worth saving, how can you worship a God who would condemn me to hell for no greater cause than my failure to worship it as it wishes to be worshipped? Don't you find that rather small?

    All I get is, "He's God," which will never work for me.

  2. Nice.

    Paula, if you asked me that, I'd say all people are worth saving because God created and loves all of them. What puts people on the road to hell is sin, and everyone, however good at most times, has sinned at least once, and most of us if honest would find sin creeping into even our best efforts. People either pay for sin with their own lives, or with Jesus' life.

    If God did indeed create people, don't you think God would know best how people should live? And that would include their spiritual lives.

    But mainly I just wanted to appreciate y'all's appreciation that those of us who do believe in Jesus have good reason (in our own worldview) in wanting to convince others about him.