How is it moral to proselytize?

I am asking this question because I genuinely want to know the answer. Thus, I may not participate that much, because I don’t have that much input. But this question has been on my mind for a long time.

I can’t help but feel that it’s wrong to try to convert someone, for several reasons.

[li] I’ve only ever been on the side of being converted. Hinduism (my original religion) is not a religion that lends itself to trying to convert someone, nor is it part of the religion to do so.[/li][li] Conversion to a new religion causes strife, unhappiness, and the breaking-up of families. I’ve seen it many times. [/li][li] Conversion seems to smack of extreme arrogance. “I know better than you where your soul is going to go, and what you should do.”[/li][li] Conversion seems to me to be at the downfall of many religions. If it wasn’t written in a couple of holy books “Unbelievers will perish in hell, and should be converted” (majorly paraphrased) perhaps religion would not have caused so much strife. [/li][li] If we didn’t go around trying to convert each other, I firmly believe religions could live together more often. I realize there still would be other problems, but it seems this is a biggie. [/li][/ul]

I’m sure there’s more but that’s all I can think of. So, teach me, Dopers, why is it OK to proselytize? Why are missionaries considered good people for coming into a foreign country, changing the rules, telling people they have to worship a certain god, and alienating them from their culture & traditions of thousands of years?

For the purpose of this discussion, I mean *any * religion that converts people. So unless you’re using examples, please don’t pick on any one religion.

I think what it comes down to is that people who proselytize feel morally compelled to do so. In their view, it’s an obligation and they’re trying to help people by telling them what the deal really is, and that outweighs concerns about arrogance, privacy, respect for other people’s views, and so on.

I think to see the good in it, you have to first accept…wrong word…understand that from the viewpoint of the missionary, and their religion, it is good to do so. Many religions see themselves as the ‘true’ way, and thus think it’s a good thing to show others how they too can be on the right path.

Sometimes I hear the word ‘witness’ associated with christianity. As I had it explained, this isn’t converting, or proselytizing, but “just saying”, if you will.

"I’m only here to tell you all the wonderful things “insert your diety here” has done in my life, that’s all, you make your own choices.

People safe and happy in their beliefs or lack of belief seldom want to be preached to. I especially have a problem with what you mention at the end there about missionaries entering foreign countries and in essence trying to shift an entire culture to their point of view.

Can’t remember the book I was reading, it was a long time ago, but somewhere it cited that about 85% of the casualties of war since recorded history have been in wars related to or started because of organized religion.

Yeah, GD is the forum for witnessing, so I’ve seen that from time to time. I’m unable to detect a difference or a way that this is better than proselytizing.

If one believes that their deity or deities commanded their followers to be witnesses to others, then they are obligated morally to do it. Speaking personally, I believe I am obligated to proselytize because Jesus commanded it. He told His disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel, baptizing people, and teaching them what He had taught.

Additionally, if one believes that an afterlife that consists of rewards for the converted and punishment for the lost is reality, then there is a moral obligation borne out of the love for those other people and the desire to not see them punished to warn them of this reality. Speaking personally, I believe that hell is a real place, and thus I invite others to my church with the hopes that they will be converted. I’m fully aware of the perceived arrogance of this view, but I can’t do anything to change it other than refuse to act arrogantly and thus perpetuate the stereotype. I am also aware that this is seen as an invasion of privacy to some, but that does not negate the command as I see it, and a little inconvenience now is insignficant to an eternity of loss.

That’s my two cents.

So, all those Hare Krishnas, they’re just an offshoot of Christian Science, then?
Otherwise, I generally agree with your points

I think that, generally, pure missionaries aren’t regarded as well as they were. Which is why the trend lately seems to be good works first, like building hospitals/teaching English. This seems to get a better response, but I still can’t say I approve.
It smacks of the Salvation Army charity approach “we’ll feed you, but you’ll have to listen to the sermon too” or as Jethro Tull put it:
“salvation a’la mode and a cup of tea”
Aah, for the old days, when we could put them in big cookpots!

But you don’t really have an answer as to why this is right except God told you. Which is a circular argument.

I can accept witnessing better than I can accept proselytizing, honestly. It’s one thing if you live & act and speak of the things your god has done for you. But trying to convert others? I don’t think this is moral.

We don’t admit to the Hare Krishnas. :smiley: They’re an embarrassment, and there’ve been allegations of child molestation leveled against them.

If I see you heading down the river in a raft, and I happen to know that there’s an 80-foot waterfall ahead, is it moral to warn you to change course?

If I see you heading down the river in a raft, and I happen to know that there’s an 80-foot waterfall ahead – BUT, unbeknownst to me, I’m wrong, and there is no waterfall – is it moral to warn you to change course?

But you don’t know. Really. You may think so, but I disagree and so do millions of other people. This argument doesn’t work, because you can **see ** the waterfall, you can **know ** it’s there. We can’t really know anything about the afterlife.

What if I firmly believe my religion is saving me from the waterfall?

Your second argument sounds like you’re arguing both sides!

Your OP rests on the assumption that the religion one is attempting to convert people to is not true. If this were the case, then your points would be well taken. But of course, those who attempt to convert others do believe that their religion is true. It’s not necessarily arrogant or obnoxious for me to tell you something you don’t know but I do, or for me to try to convince you of something that I believe is true, whether we’re talking about religion or scientific theories or car care or which software package is best or whether OJ is guilty.

If you believed that by proselytizing or “witnessing to” somebody you could potentially save their eternal soul, how could it be moral not to do so.

Not all attempts at conversion are that intrusive or heavy-handed. What if I just explain what I believe and why, so that you have a fair chance to accept or reject my message based on its merits?

Not all missionaries are like the ones you described. Unless you can provide a cite otherwise, I believe that most missionaries today do far more good than harm.

Apply, if you like, all the arguments you mention against religious proselytizing to something like female genital mutilation.

FGM is part of some cultures. And I have heard of cases where there is social pressure to inflict it on female children. Isn’t it arrogant for us Westerners to come in and tell people we know better than they do what is good for their daughters?

Or think of the British campaign against suttee.

It is going to depend mostly on whether or not you consider a given religion to be true or not. If I have access to information that is potentially to your benefit, is it not moral to share it with you? Sure, maybe I’m wrong. But maybe I’m not.

“I got a speeding ticket today - $120! Did you know there was a speed trap over that hill?”

“Sure, I saw the squad car there yesterday.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about it? You could have saved me $120!”

“I didn’t think it was moral to tell you - they might have moved the speed trap since yesterday.”


And the person who is being converted is equally sure their religion is true. Do you think about the damage conversions do to families? Because it is damaging. No, I don’t have a cite - how could I have a cite for such a thing? I just see it, in my life, my families’ lives, and the lives of those back in India.

As for your other question, I don’t have a problem with so-called “witnessing”, as I said.

The rest of your post is in line with what I wrote and what mr bus guy wrote (and now, I see, with what a couple of other people posted), but I’ll quibble with this comment.

The arrogance is not just perceived. And while I’m sure you do your best to proselytize politely, it’s not arrogant because of the way it which people do it. The behavior itself is fundamentally arrogant. While it’s nice of you to try to do it in a considerate manner, there’s nothing you can do to change that.

But a speeding trap can be verified. Your god cannot be verified in any satisfying manner. Your beliefs cannot be verified. If I choose to take you at your word, that’s one thing.

I don’t have a problem with halting suttee or FGM. I find those practices cause a demonstrable harm to someone. Perhaps I’m being hypocritical, but I don’t see that those practices can’t be stopped without destroying the culture & religion. And converting nations to a new religion does inevitably destroy or at the very least weaken the old culture.

I still don’t see a moral argument for proselytizing. It is based entirely on the belief that the converter is right and the convertee is wrong, and **no one ** has any 100 % credible evidence of this. And the evidence of your god must be 100 %, at least to me. If you are going to attempt to inflict such a life-changing…change…on me, then, I need data. Facts. You must back your assertion up.

Again, I definitely see a moral argument for witnessing. But there is a difference.

What if you’re converting me to the wrong religion?

If upon receiving said warning, I show you the specs on my kayak which demonstrate that it should have no problem handling the waterfall safely, will you back off?

Nevertheless, they’re Hindu. In the sense that Krishna is a Hindu deity, and their sacred text is a Hindu one.

Here, they have quite close ties with other Hindus. Certainly, I’ve seen the Sai Baba crowd around as well.

My take on it: witnessing is fine, but approach me unasked and you’ve crossed over. Especially given the amount of damage you (i.e. missionaries) have done on my continent. By all means come and build a hospital/dig a well, but then shut up and leave.

That analogy works very well if you ignore the fact that the harm of FGM is physical, real, and indisputable, whereas the harm of not telling people about The Truth of Your Religion[sup]TM[/sup] is ultimately a matter of perception (it’s real to you and not them) - which is the entire crux of the matter. If this was indisputably real, it wouldn’t be arrogant behavior and actually might be helpful.

Of course, if you’re going out and proselytizing you’re never going to admit that it’s a matter of opinion and that it’s okay to let other people have their own views on topics like this. It’s too important to let other people live as they see fit, darn it, they know better. So there’s that impasse.

Oh yes they are. And I disaprove of their methods. Hinduism is not supposed to convert people! It’s not! None of our gods ever said, as far as I know, to go out and convert the world.

And the Sai Baba crowd is also wrong. Sai Baba claims to be a rebirth of Shirdi Sai Baba. Just claimed it. No one said he was. He claims to perform miracles, which is fakery IMO. And he’s been accused of child abuse.

But he made the hospital in Puttapurthy. I have to give that to him.

You are correct about the assumptions of proselytizers. It seems the belief that proselytization is immoral is founded on the same belief, only reversed.

It seems to me that you meant to phrase your OP, “how can proselytization be moral, given that all religions are wrong?” What I am saying is that people who proselytize do not take it for granted that their religion is wrong.

You don’t accept that. OK. But I don’t see how it is immoral to try to convince people otherwise, any more than it was immoral for you to start this thread.

So, assume you are a convinced atheist. Is it wrong for you to tell religious believers that they are wrong? What if it disrupts their families? Was it wrong for Stalin to destroy the culture of Old Russia by persecuting the Orthodox church in the former USSR?

And if you are suggesting that no one can argue for a position that cannot be proven 100%, then you have eliminated 99% of the SDMB (apart from GQ). Including, and perhaps especially, this thread.