Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Proselytising and Preaching the Right Way

Written by johnleemk on 4:47:08 am May 9, 2007.
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Many monotheistic religions grow through proselytising. By convincing others of the truth of their beliefs, they bring more sheep into the fold.

The means and methods of proselytisation, though, differ. There are often two approaches. One is to use rhetorical power and sheer logic to convince people of the truth (so to speak). The other is to lead by example.

(There are of course a number who opt to convert with the sword. This, though, is not really proselytising but coercion.)

From experience, however, it seems to me that treating proselytisation as if it were a battle of wits and logic is the wrong course to follow. Religious debates rarely conclude with one side or the other winning; they are typically fought to a brutal stalemate, where both sides remain as convinced as ever that they are right and the other is wrong.

This actually is not too surprising. Because there is no empirical proof of God's existence, or lack of it, it is impossible to prove or disprove Him.

The few arguments that theists do marshal to their cause are actually more about emotion rather than reason. There is no logical reason to look at the world around us and say "Wow, this is so great, so clearly we were made by a higher being!" As many atheists have noted, it is equally possible to look at the world around us and declare, "This world is so messed up, and we're just an insignificant speck in the universe; why should there be a God?"

For this reason, I think that the only way to effectively proselytise is to be the change you want to see in others. If your religion preaches peace and compassion, then be peaceful and compassionate.

Many fundamentalists, however, give their religion a bad name by refusing to be the change they would like to see in others. Nobody likes to be separated from their family by force, and yet that is exactly what some Islamists are doing when a Muslim marries a non-Muslim.

The most powerful preachers, however, are converted not by the force of reason, but through the emotional conviction that there is something greater than them. Malcolm X became a Muslim not because he saw the logic in Islam, but because he was touched by the lack of racial distinctions in Islam; in Mecca, there was no white or black, only Muslim.

Similarly, Christian missionaries have often established themselves by doing good for the communities they seek to reach out to. They build schools and hospitals — they address the physical needs before turning to the spiritual.

This is the kind of proselytisation that the world needs more of. We do not need conversions at gunpoint, nor do we need logicians and debaters arguing that one religion is more logically profound and superior than another.

In the first place, religion is not a thing of the mind; it is a thing of the heart. We are compelled to believe not by a logical conviction in our brain that God is real, but by the heart's feeling that there must be a God.

What we need, then, is more fundamentalists who would serve man as their God wants them to, and be the change they want to see in others. It's not just what mankind needs; it's what God would want.


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