This is in response to something that a friend of mine said to me in an interesting conversation we were having about religion last week, and something which kind of Gil wrote yesterday in a comment on this blog. Both said something very close to: “I hope you don’t think I’m trying to convert you, because I’m not!” This sort of assertion baffles me.
Now, I understand and agree that it’s rude among casual encounters with strangers, or in most situations where religion is not specifically approved by all parties as a topic of discussion, to bring up your religion and assert its correctness over the beliefs of everyone else around. I am not recommending that you get all up in random people’s faces about what you believe to be the fates of their eternal souls. I know that these disclaimers are intended with a spirit of politeness, and I appreciate that.
At the same time, though, I’m pretty sure that whenever you are explaining your opinion to another person, you are on some level trying to convince that person that your opinion’s a reasonable one to hold. And when you’re talking about the very nature of reality, rather than a mere opinion or preference — it seems downright important to convince others of the truth. Truth has consequences! Making decisions based on false information is bad! I don’t know … does this need more explaining? It seems really obvious to me.
When I’m sitting down with a Christian friend, talking about how I came to be an atheist and how she came to be a Christian — when I’m outright asking her, “Why do you believe what you do?” — I expect that we will each be essentially trying to convince each other that we are right. When I make a blog with open comments on all my posts, in which I write about my atheism and my befuddlement at every religion I’ve heard of, I expect that people who think that one or more of those religions are correct will try to help me see why and how. And meanwhile, I know that (in addition to writing material I think other atheists will find interesting) I’m trying to help religious people see why their beliefs befuddle me. That’s how this whole “dialog” thing works. We tell each other what we think, we go back and forth on it, and hopefully in the end we get ourselves closer to the truth. That’s my goal, anyway. I want my beliefs to be as close to the truth as possible. Maybe it’s naive of me, but I assume that most other people want that, as well.
That’s why I think it’s so strange when people tell me they don’t want to convert me. What does that mean? They don’t think their religion is true? (Or, maybe, they don’t think their religion matters?) If you’re right and I’m wrong, by all means convert me! I have no problem with that whatsoever. In fact, if you have some great argument for your religion and you’re withholding it from me because you’re worried about offending me with your evidence and logic, I’d be awfully sad.
One final observation, tied in with that post from a few days ago about our borderline-illiterate Christian friend … I find it a bit strange that the thoughtful, moderate religious people are always the ones that don’t want to convert me (according to their protests), but the judgmental, hateful nutjobs show no reservations about doing so. Anyone else experience this trend, or is it just me?