The Logic of Religious Beliefs and Sidewalk Preachers

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.

This photo, “Gratitude practice from the Sakya lamas to the deities, closing of the Hevajra mandala, Tharlam Monastery, Boudha, Kathmandu, Nepal” is copyright (c) 2014 Wonderlane and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license. The image was cropped to create the featured image.
This photo, “Gratitude practice from the Sakya lamas to the deities, closing of the Hevajra mandala, Tharlam Monastery, Boudha, Kathmandu, Nepal” is copyright (c) 2014 Wonderlane and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license. The image was cropped to create the featured image.

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?


39 thoughts on “The Logic of Religious Beliefs and Sidewalk Preachers”

  1. I consider myself to be more spiritual than religious. No dogma but compassion and no gods but other people. I practice seeing the god in others by smiling and making eye contact for a moment. I could talk about this for a while but I won’t.

    1. I say the same – I’m more spiritual than religious. I haven’t let go of the Christian ideas, though. My beliefs are more of a combination of all religions. Someone once told me of health and diets.They told me there is no one magic path to health. Instead, you should look at all the diets and see what they have in common. That is the heart of health. I consider religion and spirituality similarly. No one religion is right or wrong. Instead, I look to see what they all have in common. That is the spirituality I seek.

      Like you, I could go on, but let’s leave it at that for today.

  2. Interesting post, I guess I found it by chance. There are many problems with certain thoughts. For example, why can’t Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists and Christians all go to heaven and why can’t they all be right. Well like you said, in all religions faith is required. Faith in the fundamental teachings especially, and where do these fundamentals come from? From the Holy book or books that religion has. If you are a Christian you have to accept that the Bible is 100% true. Why? Because if you say, well it can’t be perfect, nothing’s perfect then that means you can never know anything for sure. For instance, if someone asked you how do you get to heaven? Of course the Bible says how you get to heaven but according to your “it can’t be perfect” ideology, the part that says how you get to heaven could be the part of the Bible that’s untrue so you can’t confidently say to someone how they can go to heaven. The Bible was inspired by God, but man wrote down the words, and I’m sorry but if you believe God is all powerful, all knowing, how can you not believe that he is able to inspire a perfect book and preserve it? (I don’t mean you specifically I’m just speaking in a general sense). It doesn’t measure up for a person to believe in a powerful God yet not believe that the Bible which is God’s holy word could not be preserved by him.

    Psalms 12:6-7 says “6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.

    7Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.”

    So if you believe in God and his character to be true, you must believe in what his word says as well.

    Now, other religions, why can they not all be true? Simply because they contradict one another and truth does not contradict itself. Let me give you some examples, Christianity teaches that Jesus is the Son of God, God sent him to earth to live a perfect and sinless life, and to pay for the sins of the whole world by his death, he was crucified, buried and he rose again on the third day. If you believe that you yourself can never earn heaven but believe that what Christ did, (dying on the cross, being buried and being raised up from the dead) made a way for you to heaven, through faith then you can be saved. By putting your faith in Christ and not yourself, or your church leader, or your good deeds, or your husband or wife etc, you can be saved. Only the faith in Jesus saves you, not good works, nothing else. Now we come to another religion, Islam, Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet and not the Son of God, and he wasn’t crucified, and your good works have to outweigh your bad deeds when you’re judged in order for you to be saved. The Holy books, the Qur’an and the Hadith (not spelling that right probably, apologies) where written way after Muhammad was alive and they contradict the Bible. But the focus of Islam is on good works. Buddhism is much the same idea, to reach Nirvana your good works must outweigh your bad deeds. Most religions put the emphasis on good works whereas Christianity puts the focus on faith, faith in Jesus and Jesus alone to justify us from our sins. They can’t all be true, because if you say faith alone justifies you how can you then say, so do good works? It doesn’t measure up. It’s not arrogance to say other religions are false, it’s just a fact. If you put your faith in a belief, for me it’s Christianity, what I’m effectively saying is, this is what I believe to be true and therefore I’m inadvertedly saying that other religions are false. It’s a decision you have to make when you put your faith in something, is it popular? Of course not, but if you truly have faith in Jesus, you don’t care about what people think, you care about what Jesus thinks.

    Anyway, hope that helps. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just trying to say somethings that may help you. If you find that you just have an inkling to want to find out more, then they’ll be a way, you may randomly want to listen to a hymn, you may randomly want to read the Bible, something in you may just move you to do something that you wouldn’t normally do, when you get that urge, don’t put it off, act on it. Because I believe that God cares about you, and he wants you to know the truth and the truth is out there, you just have to desire to find it. Even though I’ve been a Christian for over a year now, I still don’t understand why God loves me but his love gives me more peace than my old life, my old friends, ever could.

    John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

    Romans 5:8 “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

    Going to church doesn’t get you to heaven, faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross gets you there. If you want to find peace, find Christ. John Chapter 3 is a good chapter to read if you haven’t read it already.

    See ya.

  3. Proselytizing turns me right off, whether it’s on the street corner or elsewhere. I’m wondering what is your view of Islam which seems to have been hijacked been the jihadist extremists? I haven’t read the Quran but I hear parts are, in fact, very violent…similar to the violence espoused in the Bible.

    1. I find even accepting people starting to doubt Islam. Personally, I don’t think it’s more violent than any other religion. If we lived in a theocracy run by Christianity, I feel it would be just as violent. The religion is not the problem. The extremists are.

  4. I have unfortunately had a lot of experiences with them, I live in Asheville North Carolina which has been called a ‘cesspool of ‘ by some who were running for office. We are a trendy place to condemn and to try to convert. I love my town. I love its diversity, it’s Art, it’s freedom of expression, it’s Joy, and it sense of community. And I am a Christian. To me, if you have to scream at somebody to convince them of something- you are actually trying to convince yourself. True faith, assurance, and confidence is always, 100% of the time, coupled with graciousness love and mercy. It is what the Bible commands of us, and it is also diesel’s modeled for us. Anyone who says her acts differently is ignorant of what the Bible is saying, and I will submit to you that they don’t even really believe what they are saying at all. Nietzsche right when he said that most all religious people are miral for immoral reasons; they want to get God in their pocket, so he owes them, or they want someone to blame when everything falls apart. The need for manipulation and condemnation goes away when you see the truth of the gospel being that God loves and excepts humanity and would seek to save them from their own self-destruction at any personal cost to him.

    1. “To me, if you have to scream at somebody to convince them of something- you are actually trying to convince yourself.”

      I think the same thing. In Catholic school, there was a song called “They’ll know we are Christians” The Chorus was “They will know we are Christians, yes they will know we are Christians by our love.” I still like that idea. You don’t convert or save people by preaching to them. You do so by loving and accepting them to the point they ask, “what’s your secrete? Why are you so happy?” Then you can answer that you are happy because you know God. I like that concept. It’s not about pushing yourself on others, but embracing them.

      1. I totally agree, sometimes I have to wonder if it’s not necessarily the idea of sharing one’s faith that is so offensive, but rather the brash condescension implicit within the tone that unfortunately is so prevailing. I feel like in America, we have taken very beautiful concepts like Shalom and the Trinity and have made them as cartoonish as the stained-glass renditions are of the actual people and stories they represent. I’m a big fan of Dr. Timothy Keller; Who wrote a New York Times best-seller called The Prodigal God. If you ever get a chance you should pick it up; not because you will then want to become hey bottle blonde Tammy Faye Bakker Evangelical, but because it almost perfectly illustrates what you just said. Plus Keller is easy to read, he doesn’t really waste a word.

  5. I was raised Catholic, but have spent my adult life becoming a firmer and firmer atheist. While many of my best conversations are with those who have a religious faith, I have no interest in engaging in a conversation with somebody who is trying to convince me that their faith is the one and only.

    1. I was also raised Catholic but I don’t call myself atheist. I do feel like there is something divine there, though I doubt it is in the form most religions think of.

  6. There’s nothing new under the sun my dear, folks were debating the very same things about society that we are debating today since Samson and Delilah and Jesus. So far Nothing new. All Christians say they know and love Jesus, but not by his criteria, by theirs. Most Christians have never read the Bible, much less studied it. And those who do their version of “Bible study” really don’t get it really, I MEAN LIVING THE JESUS LIFE,. Not just shopping for Christmas. As for “Faith”. . No one has healed Regan’s sidekick Brady or Senator Gabby Gifford, the Astronaut’s wife. Or any of the kids in All children’s hospital. Only diligent inquery,endless superhuman individual effort and consequent divine inspiration sets up the arena for miraculous Jesus love and miraculous healing here on earth. Is there any ‘need’ in heaven? Keep seeking my friend. I can see the evolution in your life already taking place. There’s more to life than “FAITH”. I’ll send you a copy of my serious but comical book about that. Next week.

    1. You know, I’ve always wanted to try a real Bible study, but never have because I know what will happen. If I read a passage and interpret as being accepting of all sexualities or of premarital sex… or the opposite. If I read a passage traditionally though to ban those things differently… I’ll be rejected. My idea will be wrong just because I interpret it differently.

      Maybe I’ll do my own form of study someday. I’d like to do so with sacred books from multiple religions.

  7. I would just like to point out for a certain commenter above or any other future commenters who would like to take that commenter’s route, as quoted from this very post, “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….What makes you think your idea of Jesus is any better or worse than mine?…They always seem to think they are right and anyone who believes differently is wrong… We follow what speaks to us… People who try and convert others miss this idea.”

  8. “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 guess I was never really compelled by the Christian belief. I just heard it and thought it was all that was out there. I went through a time of questioning the omnipotence and omniscience when I found they were not biblical. I tried open theism, deism, and eventually just couldn’t believe any of it and became atheist. I then started studying Islam and Hinduism and got really creeped out at how similar they were to christianity even though there are differences.

    “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 is why questioning everything will free someone from that type of thinking. People are very afraid to ask questions though.

    “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?”

    I haven’t seen sidewalk preachers, but I think I would run away if that happened. I think asking questions inevitably leads to changing our beliefs as we search for answers to those questions.

    1. All the religions have similarities and I don’t think it’s really a bad thing. I think it’s because they’re all trying to address the same thing.

      Yes, questioning will break everyone free, but as one who questions and still believes, I don’t think everyone will come to an atheist conclusion. Instead, we will all come to the conclusion that speaks to us.

      They are odd creatures surely. Some are nice and some just scream at you. I do my best to avoid them whenever I come across them.

      1. I think an interesting thing to think about is that our past may have something to do with what conclusion we come to about what we believe.

        I imagine if my life was peaceful and I didn’t have as much empathy as I do, it might be easier to believe something just because it was a popular belief. But abuse in my past forced me to ask questions that I would not want others to need to ask.

  9. My experience with sidewalk preachers have been mainly in college and they were usually not up for debate or legitimate conversation which frankly always put me off. If you truly believe that you hold some truth, then you should, in theory, be able to discuss it and hold it up against criticism and inquiry.

    Of course, this never works out because as you suggest, religion is more of a personal experience that an all encompassing truth of the world. Having been raised in a very conservative Christian home, I feel like I was essentially indoctrinated into a belief that I do not necessarily hold anymore. I still believe in the idea of a divinity or creator, but not in the way I was taught in my youth.

    The only interesting thing I remember about sidewalk preachers is one known as “Preacher Bob” that would go to my campus every year. One time he was speaking in a crowded area about sin and inequity. Anyway he asked the group “how many of you are going to get drunk tonight and fornicate?” The group responded in mostly approving cheers. To which he stated, “yeah right. Most of you are going to go home and masturbate and that is still wrong in the eyes of the Lord.” I, honestly, laughed for a solid five minutes before moving on. He was rather entertaining.

    1. Yeah, I remember the college preachers. I think they were more of a skeptical. Students would crowd around him just to engage in debate and make him mad. I never liked those kinds of debates, though. There’s no winning when any one person arguing refuses to be open-minded.

      1. When it comes to very personal subjects like religions, politics, etc., I don’t think you can ever “win” the conversation. The most you can really hope for is to have a civil discussion with both parties walking away a little bit more enlightened afterwards.

        1. to me, that means something was gained. I guess I shouldn’t have said. win. I just meant that nothing could be gained. If I’m going to discuss something with someone, I want at least one of us to walk away with a little more knowledge and insight than had before.

  10. I just ignore them, because i know better. I was I was raised Catholic/Christian/Lies.. I’ve come to the conclusion that all religions are for the week minded people that need someone, some “god”, to tell them how to live their life’s, and each religions members trying to convert other people because apparently that’s the only religion and the true “god”. It’s all lies and manipulations, mind control of the masses by those in power, indoctrinations.

    Here’s some truth, if you have time to waste or want to know intresting things.

    1. I think the rules and traditions religions try to force on people are a bigger problem than the general belief in a deity. Sometimes people don’t want to think for themselves. They aren’t comfortable not knowing answers to questions.

  11. Hi 🙂 To answer a couple of your questions (briefly); this is a video of the super-famous magician and atheist Penn Jillette explaining why it’s actually a pretty awful thing, for a true believer (of any religion) not to proselytize:

    (I hope it plays–I had trouble finding one that would, even though I knew the video I was searching for!)

    But if the minute-long-ish vid doesn’t play: Penn basically says that folks who believe that you’re about to go to Hell and don’t warn you, HATE you. His stance seems to be that it doesn’t overly matter *why* they believe what they believe, or how unlikely it is–the fact of the matter is, if someone believes in an everlasting punishment and they’re not sure you know about it, they should share their “knowledge”, or they’re a total douchebag. Right? And I agree, for what it’s worth.

    And if you want my full/extended response, see below:

    Anything beyond sharing/being open about your faith (e.g. that shit where evangelicals try to scare you into repenting)… that’s also a douchebag move, but less so. If I slap you, I’m a douchebag–but if I thought I saw a wasp on your head, and slapping at it was my best idea… I mean, there were better ways of approaching the situation, but slapping the wasp off of you is better than letting it crawl into your eye and sting you blind. In the case of religion, the religious person (obviously) only *thinks* they see the wasp (eternal punishment, etc)… but I think you have to cut them some slack. It kinda doesn’t matter how fucked-up their beliefs are; if they believe that, and they’re literally trying to save you from a fate worse than death (AND they probably know you’re gonna laugh at them or judge them for sharing) then they’re doing the best thing they know to do, by proselytizing.

    As for my experiences of street preachers, I find them to be a mixed bag. Hindus and other polytheists seem to have the gentlest approach; I usually walk away from them with a leaflet and maybe a hug; I have a friend who got a sandwich off of some Hindus once, because she looked hungry. I can’t fault any polytheists I’ve heard about or personally seen, preaching on sidewalks 🙂

    Monotheists, though… good and bad experiences, but I understand why. I grew up in the Bible Belt, to a fairly strict set of religious parents. It can make you crazy (as in, requiring medication to stop the voices and nightmares, crazy) sitting around thinking about how almost everyone you see is going to roast for eternity. When people like that have approached me, though, I’ve usually been able to reassure them (truly–they look terrified for me, and then happy for me) by telling them I was raised Pentecostal, I still believe, and I alternate between going to my mom’s Pentecostal church and the local Methodist one.

    Whether or not I actually believe isn’t the issue, in my opinion. To me, a person shouting and/or crying on a street corner is not well mentally, and the humane thing to do is to try to calm them down and reassure them as best as I can.

    Asking why they do what they’re doing… well… because they’ve been brainwashed into it. And unless you’ve experienced their particular brand of brainwashing, from a young age, it probably won’t make sense to you (why should it? most people don’t have any experience of being brainwashed, thankfully). I’m telling you, though. If you’re waking up in the middle of the night, shit-scared that you’re gonna die and burn forever, from as far back as you can remember (or the age of 5 or 6, in my case)… it takes a lot of luck *not* to turn into someone ranting on a street corner (and in my case, my mother arguing with me that the idea of God as portrayed in our church was actually, well, wrong).

    If my mom hadn’t been *convinced* that our church had the idea of God wrong, and if she hadn’t spent *years* of my young life arguing (against the very indoctrination that she actually exposed me to–I know, it makes no sense)… I don’t know how I’d have turned out. Not the way I did, though, probably (supporter of human rights, including LGBTQ rights; ardent feminist; believer in a higher power, but not in the concept of God I learned about as a child; etc). I reckon I could easily have ended up frothing on a street corner somewhere, crying myself to sleep every night as I begged God to spare “them all”… it’s so much worse to BE that person, than it is to have to sidestep them in a public place.

    Final thought: as for folks posting here, who have missed the entire point of your post… they may well fall into the above category (crying every night for your sins, their own sins, all the folks they know who are gonna burn, etc) but be able to hide it better on an online forum. And yes, that’s crazy, I’m not saying it’s not–but how would you respond to someone who was terrified that giant spider people were about to eat them? You might laugh later, or be freaked out or irritated, but you’d mostly just hope that they got that shit worked out, right? You’d hope they got some anti-psychotic meds, and some counselling, and so on and so forth. For a lot of people making a nuisance of themselves about religion, it’s the same thing. Yes, it’s annoying, but c’mon; they *actually* believe you’re going to burn for eternity, and they’re trying to stop that from happening, and you’re not letting them “help” you. It’s not hard to see why they are/could be slowly going bonkers, is it?

    1. I’ve thought of that before too, but then, I had a conversation with one particularly religious friend once. I asked her if she thought people who had never ever been told about the Christian God would go to hell. She said no. To go to hell, you must reject God. I then asked her about the logic of preaching. If people who are told about God but don’t believe go to hell, but people who just never hear anything go to heaven, why not say nothing?

      But then, if you think everyone who doesn’t know God will go to hell, I have to agree with you…. kind of. It seems to mean that people who honestly care about others going to heaven would work really hard at finding methods to make that happen. This whole sidewalk preacher thing is not effective.

      1. I genuinely think that people who do the sidewalk-preaching thing are, for the most part, mentally ill and not really in the right frame of mind to find a better way. As a matter of fact, I’m fairly sure I can find some reputable statistics regarding links between a Hellfire-and-Brimstone-style upbringing, and various forms of mental illness (yes? no? I’m happy to go hunting for that data, if you like).

        Most (most, not all) of the Christians I know who actually try to be “good” Christians feel that you’re supposed to lead by example, but not necessarily preach to people, as such…. in my youth group (teenage Bible class, kinda) we always got taught that we were supposed to be good/kind/decent to people, and then wait for an opening (e.g. someone asking us why we don’t drink at parties, etc) to discuss the particulars of our beliefs. My sister is actually teaching that very idea to a new group of teenagers now, in fact–her thing is you should never share your faith with someone you haven’t taken the time to befriend, and the topic should come up naturally, so to speak–out of curiosity, would you say that’s a better approach, or a worse one? I can see pros and cons either way 🙂

        Do you know which branch of Christianity your friend belongs to, btw? Me, I have literally met maybe 5 Pentecostals (the type of church I was raised in) and NO Baptists (the other really common one, where I’m from) who believe that ignorance gives you a free pass. It’s actually a huge bone of contention between my mom and her sister, who are fairly typical examples of life-long Pentecostal Christians; they argue (far too often!) about whether or not Native Americans 500 years ago all went to Heaven/Hell. My mom insists they must have gone to Heaven; my aunt insists that you have to accept Christ to go to Heaven, no ifs, ands, or buts…. and most preachers I’ve heard in my life actually agree with my aunt.

        The question is one of the main ones that divides Christian sects, though. Between the various denominations, there’s a lot of disagreement on that particular subject… if I had to guess, I’d guess that it’s mostly members of evangelical branches of Christianity that (go a little nuts and) wind up on street corners.

        As someone else has said, this is a great topic, with lots of really interesting comments. You must be pleased with the response you’ve had, yeah?

        1. I would be interested to see something on sidewalk preachers and mental illness. You have me intrigued.

          My friend is Seventh Day Adventist. I grew up Catholic and I agree with the idea of leading by example. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a good person and, when someone asks about your secret to happiness, you can say God. Nothing wrong with that if it’s true. it’s certainly not as bad as badgering people to join your religion or else.

          Personally, I think good people make it to heaven regardless of religion – even if they’re not Christian. A good, kind atheist stands a better chance (in my opinion) than a cruel, judgmental person who happens to believe in the Christian version of God.

          1. I think I can turn up some studies exploring links between, e.g., schizophrenia and religious fundamentalism. (Some of the literature that suggests that is outdated; but there are current and/or recent studies exploring the links between religious fundamentalism and mental illness such as OCD, schizophrenia, etc in a more scientifically rigorous fashion.)

            I do have to make the point that it’s purely fundies (as far as I know) who show these symptoms… a moderate religious belief is largely accepted (or beginning to be accepted) as a psychological strength. My psych textbook from last year explicitly said so, and I can find studies to support the idea on PubMed. Folks like you, your friend, etc, actually get the assumption of greater psychological strength/resilience, through faith.

            Looking at it from the other side, I’d be interested in whether hardcore, militant atheists might show up at increased risk for mental illness, as well. Speaking purely as a layman, I’ve wondered before if that might be the link–not the belief system itself, but the absolute refusal to even entertain the notion that it could be flawed. (I will not be doing a study on it any time soon, but if I ever do and I still read this blog, I’ll share the results here. I would love to study that question, in spite of the fact that my own confirmation bias would probably prevent me from doing so.)

            Leaving scientific studies out of it, I *know* some former Christians who will attest to the trauma and horror of their religious upbringing, and who blame it for, if not causing, at least worsening their mental illness. I could likely find studies to back-up the idea that being in a cult increases the risk of mental illness (which, when some of these people describe their upbringing, is exactly what they describe–a cult-like environment). However, that’s not going to be relevant to people who have been raised to accept other ideas of God/religion, right? Because by definition, you’re not in a cult, if you’re being told that people get to make up their own minds about things.

            Anyways, some links:

   (I’ve linked this one because it specifically mentions the high incidence of Pentecostals and members of other “minority” religious movements undergoing treatment for schizophrenia–the study actually encourages integrating a patient’s religious beliefs into treatment, but very carefully)

   (just the abstract–I can’t access the full study–on how cult integration *may* impact on mental health)

            I have found several other, potentially more promising links on PubMed, but as a layman and non-subscriber, I can access almost none of them. And I need to do some housework before my kids come home from school 🙂 this is fun, but it’s also not something I’m trained to do, nor does it impact on the people I’m actually responsible for, a.k.a. my kids (she says, trying to tear herself away from the pc).

            PS One last thing–I don’t want to give you the wrong idea, here. No reputable study will *ever* come out and say (as I did) that sidewalk preachers are mentally ill. That’s too specific, it makes too many assumptions, it is not a testable hypothesis at all…. ah, have you done any university-level work with statistics and particularly stats in a psychological setting? Essentially, a psychological study is never going to “prove” anything. Ever. The best you’ll get is, e.g., “living in a cult may have some mental health effects, which may be this and this”. May. Could. Might. But at the same time, the “common sense” assumption that living in a cult does psychological damage is one I’m going to continue with. Technically, I cannot prove it, in the same way that I can’t prove that people who rant and rave about other folks burning for eternity are mentally ill–the best I can do is say that the idea has occurred to other, more educated folks, and they’re looking at it.

  12. What an interesting post and series of comments. Good for you! I like the thought of Prince Shotoku in Japan’s first constitution of 604 CE: “let us not be resentful when others differ from us. For all men have hearts, and each heart has its own leanings. Their right is our wrong, and our right is their wrong. We are not unquestionably sages, nor are they unquestionably fools. Both of us are simply ordinary men.” Wouldn’t that attitude heal a lot of suffering?

  13. I’ve often wondered about this. My guess is that they do this to feel good about themselves — right with God — and it doesn’t matter whether they are being effective, because it’s more about personal identity and going through a ritual to make yourself feel worthy.

    1. And you just answered the comment I left somewhere else here. If they REALLY cared, they would work harder to find effective methods of conversion. What they do makes people avoid them at best and hate them at worst. I don’t see how that brings any good into the world.

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