Monday, August 29, 2011

Having Compassion: Politely Refusing Religious Proselytizing... Or, How I Failed To Do So

I was stopped at a red light on my way home. It was after nine o'clock, and the sky was dark. An overly cheerful man was approaching random passers-by and asking them, "Would you like to know about Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour?" People tried to quietly refuse him and go on their way. Just before the light turned green, he greeted me.

Here is a shorthand version of the encounter:

Proselytizer: Hello! Would you like to turn your life over to Jesus Christ?

Mamzer: Obviously, I know who Jesus is. And if I wanted to follow your religion, I would be doing it.

Proselytizer: This isn't a religion. This is about a relationship with Christianity. It's about a relationship with Jesus the man. This is The Truth.

Mamzer: That's a religion.

Proselytizer: No, it's not a religion. It's The Truth.

Mamzer: You're wrong.

Proselytizer: Ok, if you don't want The Truth, that's ok.

(At this point, he walked away. Now I was the one calling after him.)

Mamzer: Don't you think it's kind of arrogant to tell others how to live? God doesn't need -"

Proselytizer: You don't want The Truth!

Mamzer: Doesn't the Bible teach humility? Don't you think it's kind of arrogant to assume you know better than others how they should live their lives?

Proselytizer: Ok! Bye!
(End conversation.)

When you see a man at nine o'clock at night approaching people at an intersection and trying to convert them, you know you can't argue with him. You know it's going to turn into a screaming match. You know you're not going to win. You know this. And yet... something in you kind of hopes he gives you an opening to set him straight; at least that was the case with me. And what do you know - I got my chance.

So there I was, at nine o'clock at night outside a subway station, ignoring traffic lights, yelling after a random passer-by, trying to make him see the error of his ways and live his life according to my views. Who says insanity isn't contagious?

This man - and this is just my opinion - wanted to feel safe. He wanted to feel special and important. He was scared and projected hostility outward at others, because he was afraid and hostile; the symptoms were clear. That unnatural cheeriness? The framing of a discussion in a way that is designed to be antagonistic? The desire to convert others along with a hope that they'll argue with you and give you a chance to feel smug? The fury when they don't fight with you, but are merely resistant and don't engage?

I know that. I live it in my head day to day with my struggles in my mother's family and the Jewish community where I live. I know it in the rage I feel when I connect to the overwhelming weight of white supremacist brown/black-oppression that infuses every society on the earth these days. I feel the rage of knowing things are just not fair, and that it seems those who do the most damage will never have to pay for it.

And then there's the fear. The fear I feel in removing layers of ossified protection I don't need anymore. The great discomfort as I give up resistance to my true self and feel afraid to dissolve into nothing. The fear in giving up certainty and the illusion of control. I know that.

Evangelists and other proselytizers scare me. Whether they're Mormons, Witnesses, Chabad, Aish, Hare Krishnas, or Larouchies. In my personal opinion, they attract extremists and spread fear.

So how do I avoid becoming one of them?

I can practice compassion. I can consider that they are seeking community, security, respect and acceptance, even if it's not being done in the most respectful or useful way. I can also avoid debating with them, because I'd be entering into a battle of false egos; how low is my self-esteem if I point out someone else's faults to feel secure myself?

Whether proselytizers are rude or polite, aggressive or mellow, angry or happy, they are our brothers and sisters and deserve respect and kindness. I think many of them just want to feel respected and valued, and it projects itself outward into this false arrogance of offering conditional respect and value to others.

Sometimes, I think the best thing I can do is say no thanks and wish them well on their spiritual journey. Then walk down a brightly lit, well-populated street and check over my shoulder a few times to make sure they aren't stalking me.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting... But what stood out was something you said that may be the key to why you're seemingly struggling... You said, : "...The fear I feel in removing layers of ossified protection I don't need anymore. The great discomfort as I give up resistance to my true self and feel afraid to dissolve into nothing...". That last part especially is something I can relate to. Only it's a illusion created by fear. the reality is that when you peel off that "old protection", you reveal the pure [you]. You know the concept of when one door closes another opens. this is the same. You peel off one layer you REVEAL another. Your so-called boredom may actually be fear. I'm sorry if I'm being so forward about this, it just so stood out to me, I felt the need to express it....