In the United Kingdom, and perhaps many other Western countries, there is an unwritten rule that requires people to keep their religion to themselves. My understanding is that the reason for this is so that people find it less difficult and unsettling that other people hold different morals, principles and ideas to them and about them because they are not vocalised. All in all, the system promotes social harmony – reducing conflict.
The truth is, though, that some of the most popular religions and beliefs around the world teach of a divine retribution of some sort – a consequence for the way you have lived your life. When this is a person’s belief it becomes a little more important to share. The message I’m trying to convey here is perhaps best represented in a quote by an atheist magician/illusionist, Penn Jillette. He says:
“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”
You may not want to hear what we have to say but since no-one could prove us wrong, when the consequences are considered it may just be worth your time. We are trying to help.
You’ve only to look through a smattering of the world’s literature to realise that love is a big deal to the human race. It seems as though every film, every novel, every song is infused with a love story to keep observers’ attention; it’s what we want to engage with. It seems fitting that such a complex species should be so obsessed with such a complex feeling. There’s no black and white to love – it can be a source of joy or pain, and often a mixture of the two – it affects anyone, anywhere, any time and it cannot be controlled. Previously straightforward decisions become clouded and overwhelming and strong opinions can be toppled in seconds. Love is not a force to be meddled with. It is so complicated, just finding words to define it is mind-blowing. It is a feeling, an emotion, an obsession, a compulsion, cruel, kind, beautifully simple and yet so hideously problematic. We are far closer to understanding time than we will ever be to understanding love.
Of course, it could just be an evolutionary compulsion adapted to give us the best chance of surviving to produce fertile offspring…
Humans are an incredibly social species in comparison to the rest of biology. The primary function of most animals appears to be to survive as best as they can and produce fertile offspring. For most animals, this really consumes most of their time; they rarely get a chance to sit down with a few friends with a couple of bottles of wine and chat through the night… and even when they have the time, they seem to have something better to do! The fact is, no other animal feels the need to form and maintain relationships with others in the same way we do. If you have a pet, I’m afraid they only love you because they think they need you to survive as best as they can; it’s what you’ve taught them. But for most people, relationships are important to us regardless of whether they pose us an advantage – we love our parents, for example, until the day they die and beyond, despite any mental deterioration and financial dependence that may arise in their old age.
I’m unsure as to how unconventional my view of altruism is among Christians but, for me, when I logically attempt to derive a conclusion as to whether the phenomenon truly exists, I only ever come to one answer. I should be clear that when I talk about altruism here, I am referring to the idea of complete selflessness; an ability to ultimately and definitively put someone else’s needs above one’s own.
One of the most common arguments used against the concept of a perfect, divine entity is that there is so much evil and suffering in the world. You don’t have to look far away to see pain, anguish and horrific mistreatment and to many people this is conclusive evidence that if there is a God; He cannot be both good and omnipotent. I’ve heard responses to this point that have been awful, and have seen some that completely dodge around it, ignoring the object and instead feeding you a decoy lined with uncommon theological jargon.
I think, certainly in the UK, people see Christianity as a form of life insurance, something that old people turn to in order to feel safe for their future. People have a very traditional view of what it means to be a Christian, and what church is like and see it is somewhere to go to when your mind is slowly deteriorating that gives comfort and peace in those final years. It is true that this aspect of Christianity exists, this is undeniable, but anyone who takes any of the teachings seriously will tell you that faith in the Christian God is far more complex, and far more relational than just a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Too often in this world, people are judged by their desires. It’s easy to criticise something that you can’t relate to and makes very little sense to you, particularly if it appears to damage people’s lives. Heavy smokers, sadomasochists and drug addicts are just some of the people that fall into this broad category. The majority of people in the Western world struggle to comprehend why anyone would participate in recreational drug use or sadomasochism and so the people that do are stereotyped, just as all minorities, whether that’s sexual preference, religious belief, ethnicity or anything else for that matter.
Success is an interesting concept to consider because it’s definition is hyper-variable from person to person. My copy of The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines it as:
“The accomplishment of an aim or purpose”
You may be surprised as to how general that definition is. Of course, when we talk about success in general we are talking about the success of one’s life; how satisfied we are with the accomplishment of our own personal goals. These vary from person to person from happiness to love, sex, money, power, changing the world, having kids, marriage, having material published in their name – the list is endless. But is there a right or wrong answer?
People make snap judgments about almost everything, it’s a perfectly logical natural instinct that prevents you from coming into contact with the same bad thing twice and, equally, leads you to do something pleasurable again and again until you lose interest. I am of course making an overgeneralisation and oversimplification of something that’s influenced by a number of other factors but the principle remains. I know this because I do it myself all the time, we just can’t help it. A good way of testing this point on unsuspecting individuals, provided they are in a talkative mood, is to ask them about their recent holiday destinations, provided they’ve recently been on holiday. You’ll find people saying things like “Oh yes! ‘insert-country-here’ is a lovely country, beautiful scenery, the food’s not too great though,” despite having visited the capital city for just four days, eating at the hotel restaurant every night and visiting two museums and a temple.
There are a variety of different faiths in this world that share the opinion that there is only that faith that can save you from condemnation. Of these faiths, a proportion actively try to convert people to their own belief in order to save them from suffering. This tends to be for one of two reasons:
They believe they are commanded by the laws of their religion to spread the word and change people’s way of thinking.
They feel genuine empathy for the people around them and wish to save them out of pity for their damnation.
I don’t know about you, but I personally have no qualms about these reasons; they seem perfectly acceptable and respectable reasons to share a belief. In fact, in any other context it would be considered immoral and downright evil not to share the knowledge of something that could save one’s life. Try to remember this next time you feel like someone is “shoving a belief down your throat” – they are doing it to save you.