Proselytizing vs. Consent

Sorry for the late post.  Technical difficulties conspired to compound my procrastination today, and I burned up most of my buffer during a shallow Funk.  Better late than never, though.  Hope your ready for a relatively heavy topic…

I was having a conversation online recently about religion (not the brightest idea, I know), when the subject of proselytizing came up. Specifically, why so many evangelical Christians (the denomination in question during this conversation) seem to persist even when politely (or not-so-politely) told “no thank you.”

This video by Penn Jillette was brought up as an example of why. In it, Jillette talks about how he has to respect Christians that persist in their proselytizing, since according to their worldview, they would be condemning a nonbeliever to a fate worse than death if they didn’t do their utmost to “save” them. After all, if they truly believe that non-Christians are going to Hell, it would be criminally negligent of them to not try and do something about it.

I can see where Jillette is coming from: that sort of sincerity, no matter how misguided, has to garner at least some level of respect. However, the more I thought about this issue, the less comfortable I became with that answer. Doubly so when I thought about unwanted, persistent proselytizing in terms of consent.

I realized that, by encouraging people to proselytize even when asked not to, we are also encouraging them to not take “no” for an answer. We are implying that the proselytizer knows better how to run another individual’s life than that individual. We are telling people that their opinions don’t matter, that they are wrong. That all they need to do is give up control and everything will be better.

Do you see where that starts to sound scary?

After all, religious instruction often starts at a very, very young age. As such, the core tenets of a given religion can form huge cornerstones of a person’s personality. If they’re taught to not take “no” for an answer when proselytizing, then how much of a stretch is it to think that they won’t take “no” for an answer in other aspects of their lives? Like jobs? Or politics? Or relationships?

Now, I’m not saying that following a religion that enshrines proselytizing automatically turns someone into a rapist (although if I wanted to be uncouth, I could mention that the Catholic clergy has a lot to answer for these days). That would be an unfair over-generalization. But it’s pretty clear that we have consent issues in our modern society, and I can’t help but wonder if this religious prerogative isn’t in some way contributing to that.