Religion and spirituality happen to be interests of mine. As such, there are a scattering of blogs on ChapterTK on religious subjects. For whatever reason, regardless of whether or not the blog is supportive of any given religious idea, I get a number of people who want to convert me after reading. I’d like to say this is my fault for daring to write about religion in the first place, but the fact is there are people all over the place trying to persuade people to their religion. I’m always a little flabbergasted at the preachers on the street corner, handing out Bibles and condemning people to hell. What makes them think their ideas are better than anyone else’s?
So many people talk about the religion they follow as if their ideas are assured facts, disregarding all other religious beliefs as false. While I have nothing wrong with the idea of missionaries or trying to persuade people to their religion, I always feel like people who do so appear a little arrogant. I don’t think I will ever forget the day I walked to a book store in my area. Standing outside were two girls who approached me and asked, “Do you know about Jesus?”
I know this seems like an innocent question, but I have never had a good experience with people who ask me that question. My response was something like, “Yes I do. I already have a church.” Almost immediately, I got a haughty, “Oh really?”
Yes flipping really! What makes you think your idea of Jesus is any better or worse than mine?
The way I see it, all religious beliefs are founded on similar unprovable ideas. That’s the whole point of faith. You can’t prove the existence of a deity or of heaven, but you believe. You feel it in your soul that it is. Your soul reads the Bible, goes to church and feels compelled to the Christian belief. The same can’t be said for everyone. Some people’s souls connect with other religions and other ideas. They have the same thing: faith. They can’t prove their idea is any more real than yours.
I was talking with a friend the other day who said we need to just admit that some parts of various holy books are wrong. It’s just wrong to sell your daughter into slavery or to stone someone for not going to church. The thing is, I don’t think anyone will buy that idea. I was once told a third of Americans believe in a merciful god, a third believe in a jealous god and another third believe in an angry god. Perhaps I, being a part of the third who believes in a kind, merciful God, can find some logic in saying some ideas expressed in any given holy book are not literal. However, other people won’t see the difference. They look at their holy book as the literal ideas of a deity. Even if they seem cruel or inhumane, it doesn’t matter. The word of god is absolute.
That absolute idea will never be something I can get behind. It seems there are a lot of places for humans to screw up the whole process of obtaining and interpreting said word of god. For starters, even if prophets of the past literally heard the word of god or were inspired by some kind of divine experience, they were still human and open to failure. Nothing says they didn’t misinterpret part of the message. Nothing says part of the message hasn’t been lost in translation. Just existing in a different culture than those that existed when any given holy book was written leaves us opening to missing the true point.
I am by no means saying every holy book ever written is 100% wrong. Instead, what i mean to say is that we all get behind the idea that speaks to us. To some, that idea is Buddhism, to others, Christianity. Some people are Jewish or follow Islam while others find none of these ideas speak to them, choosing to be agnostic or atheist. To me, there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these beliefs. We follow what speaks to us. Living different lives and existing in different cultures, different ideas will do that. Believing in a merciful deity, I don’t believe the belief that speaks to us decides our path after death. It’s about how we live and whether we strive to be a good person.
People who try and convert others miss this idea. They always seem to think they are right and anyone who believes differently is wrong. Your idea – what speaks to your soul – is clearly wrong and will send you to hell. Do these people actually convert others with that mindset? It seems to me a person would have far more success by having a discussion with non-believers, listening to their ideas and accepting their logic. I think these sidewalk preachers would have more success if they could say, “I understand where you are coming from and why you think the way you do, but I think you should also consider my idea.”
Of course, having the ability to say that requires a certain amount of questioning. How can a person understand why someone might question their religion if they have never questioned it themselves? However, as we all know, many believe the simple act of questioning their belief system is sinful.
What has been your experience with sidewalk preachers? Have you ever responded to them? Are any of them effective? Have you ever questioned your own belief system? Do you think such questions help or hurt religious belief?