Wednesday, March 30, 2011


So today I made a comment about how, if you truly believe that people will suffer eternally if they don't convert to your religion, it'd be simply evil to not be an evangelist. And it just so happens that, a while later, I read Great Christina's latest piece on AlterNet, in which she writes:

In fact, if these believers were right, and our eternal afterlives in bliss or torment really were contingent on believing the right religion? Then not trying to persuade others to share the faith would be objectionable. Immoral, even. Callous to the point of being monstrous.

The piece in general is quite worth a read for reasons entirely unrelated to the fact that a minor point she makes echoes a thought of mine. In any case, curious coincidence, made it more prominent in my mind, hence blog.

Now, I don't generally like evangelists. They are occasionally fun to argue with, but their entire movement seems to conspire to keep society stuck a few centuries in the past, and not for particularly good reasons. If I had to choose between them and the more liberal live-and-let-live crowd, the latter would win easily, just because they aren't actively campaigning against equal rights and proper science. But.

What I said first remains true. If you truly believe that the one thing that can keep my soul from eternal torture is a conversion, then you better damn well try to convert me. Much in the same way as, if were I to mistake sulphuric acid for water, I'd want you to yell at me and knock the glass out of my hand before I drink. I don't think I'm mistaken, let that be clear. I think this glass is water and when you knock it out of my hand you'll just fill the floor with shards of broken glass (to continue the metaphor). But if you do believe it's acid, then the right thing to do, as far as you know, is to stop me from drinking. It would be rather worrying, in fact, if you just stood by and let me hypothetically kill myself.

I understand why this attitude exists, or at least I have a fair idea. I know about the bystander effect, about akrasia, about how what people actually believe can differ from what they profess to believe, even without them being aware of it. So I understand why some people can believe billions are going to Hell and they don't make any significant effort against it. I also know that many of the live-and-let-live types don't believe their benevolent God would create a Hell (I'd agree with them if I believed in benevolent gods).

And yet... they act like evangelists are weird for not treating their religion like you'd treat a choice in favourite books. Many of them, and many of my fellow non-theists, not only criticise the absurd beliefs, but also the attitude behind the evangelism. And therein lies my bafflement. How can you think that it'd be reasonable for people who believe in Hell to treat religion like mere preference?

Belief should never be mere preference. People need to have beliefs that match reality as closely as possible, because often making the right decision depends on having the right knowledge. Of course, evangelists are not too good at the matching reality thing, they violate this principle in multiple ways. But to not even try to correct mistaken beliefs when you see them, or to advocate others take that attitude, is also a violation. In the name of tolerating diverse viewpoints, they forget that viewpoints aren't clothes, fit to whoever wears them. 

Reality is one, and encouraging a diversity of viewpoints is only a tool to get to the one closest to truth. Not an end in itself. And further, there's no bloody point in trying to be right if you're gonna ignore what your model of reality says you should do.

So, am I saying I want more evangelism? No. I want less, preferably none. This isn't about how the live-and-let-live crowd are self-contradictory and the evangelists are consistent. Neither group is entirely consistent, and the evangelists are probably worse, this is just noticing one particular point that I found curious.

No comments:

Post a Comment