Religious and unreligious persons: do you try to convert others?

Obviously inspired by this thread of mine, which began in this forum but got moved to GD. I’m starting this one in IMHO because I’m hoping to encourage a sharing of anecdotes and motivations, not start a debate–so if, um, certain mods would mind not moving it unnecessarily, I’d be grateful.

On to the basis of this thread: Atheists & agnostics, do you try to convert religious persons to your way of thinking? Feel free to expand on your answer, but don’t feel compelled to.

Answering my own question:
No, usually. Unless someone picks a fight.

Expanding on my answer:
As I mentioned in the other thread, faith in Jesus was a very important part not only of my family’s life but of my emotional makeup when I was young. Losing that faith was not pleasant; like Gatsby, I “had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream.”

My reaction to this was twofold. On the one hand, I didn’t especially want anyone I knew and loved to feel the way I was feeling. My little sister, say, was and is my favorite human being; she still believes, and if that helps keep her warm at night in this cold world, more power to her. Add to that my distaste with the very notion of being a missionary, asking others to give up the beliefs that give them comfort; this often seems arrogant at best, and cruel at worst.

On the other hand, a fair number of Christian denominations place a strong emphasis on witnessing. I don’t necessarily mean Jehovah’s Witnesses or others who go unvited to others’ homes (those I simply shut the door on, unless I’m bored or they’re hot girls); I mean the likes of the Church of God in Christ, my parents denomination and the largest church here in Memphis. Even if I never spoke to another member of the Rhymer family again, as long as I live here I’m likely to have encounters with persons from that church who feel obliged to correct me.

For instance, I used to have a pair of coworkers, TC & DM. The year before last, killing time on the Friday before Independence Day, the three of us found ourselves discussing the presidential campaign, which led to a discussion of gay marriage. TC & DM were both strongly against it, as COGIC taught; I was for (as long as I don’t have to marry another guy, that is. :smiley: ) During this conversation DM voiced a sentiment I’ve heard from many fundamentalist & evangelical Christians:

You don’t really believe what you’re saying, Skald.

To which TC added:

You were raised in the church; you know homosexuality isn’t right.

These types of statements always annoy me–the implication that I don’t know my own mind or beliefs, and the concommitant implication that there is only one way anyone could possibly look at things. So I lit into both of them. Being the only sort of man who could ever move Dusty Springfield (you know, being the son of a preacher man) I can quote chapter and verse of much of the Bible, so I started to point out all the myriad inconsistencies I perceive of the sacred writ, and in COGIC’s interpretation of same. (COGIC teaches Biblical literalism and inerrancy, so that’s fairly easy.) I was definitely trying to show these guys the flaws in their reasoning–which is to say, I was being a missionary.

So that’s my POV. What’s yours?

If people mention their religion but don’t try to convert me or witness to me, I do my best to respect their beliefs and don’t feel any need to attack them. If people start witnessing to me, I start by simply stating that I’m an atheist and they’re not likely to convert me (e.g. “Yes, I’ve encountered that Biblical story before, but since I’m not religious, it’s just a story to me.”). If they persist, they get it with both barrels. That does not happen very often, by the way, because here in the Netherlands atheism is the norm rather than the exception, at least among my aquaintances, so theists who go around actively witnessing to everybody they encounter are pretty rare – they’d never get around to doing anything elkse.

Some theists are quite able to handle having the premises of their own beliefs questioned, and actually enjoy a good discussion with a staunch atheist. In those cases, I’m only too happy to oblige. In fact, some of my closest friendships are largely based on this: we can debate for hours, each person knowing that they won’t convince the other, but enjoying the intellectual challenge nonetheless.

I seem to have the kind of face that street evangelists are drawn to. Most of the time, I just brush them off, but if I have some time to spare and I feel like it, I sometimes engage them into a discussion. In such cases I always give a fair warning first: “Look, I enjoy debating this kind of thing, but if you’re looking for converts you’d better try and spend your time on someone else.” If they accept those therms, the fight is on… Same with Yehova’s Witnesses, although they seem to avoid my address nowadays for some reason.

In fairness, Skald, you did taunt the mods with “if a mod wants to move this thread to GD, I won’t object”. You should never throw them a bone, it only encourages them. :wink:

I used to try to unconvert the religious - ever since my friend’s dad deconverted two Jehova’s Witnesses - but now realise it’s a very rude and pointless thing to do in real life. On the boards I think it’s a different matter, and of course indulge in arguments that I never would with my friends and acquaintances. Which are also pointless, but interesting.

Luckily in Britain (and Ireland), a minority of people are practising religious, and it’s almost social death to witness, so it rarely comes up. I’ve got a friend in Ireland who is post-Catholic deist (thanks, cosmosdan) and enjoys a good drunken argument, and we shout at each other occasionally about it, but it’s all in good fun.

Growing up catholic and becoming agnostic after some soul searching “Cause no one can really know for sure one way or the other” I’ve come to the conclusion that whether your Atheist, Christian, Jewish, Islamic, etc. it all comes down to ones beliefs. And everyone is entitled to believe what they want to especially if it’s going to make them sleep better at night and get through the day.
And I have absolutely no problem with people stating their religion with the preface “this is what I believe” and I see no reason to argue with them.
What I do have a problem with is people stating their religion as “this is how it is, this is truth. Not only for me but for everyone.” And I think witnessing is a by-product of this.
It goes back to the whole “I’m right, your wrong, think what I think” mentality that denies the fact that what works for one might not work for another. It’s just arrogant and ignorant to come to one’s own set of beliefs and then decide it should apply to everyone.

I wouldn’t actively witness to anyone ever, because I know that I wouldn’t want someone else to tell me that what I believe is wrong either. They very well may be, but that’s my problem. If someone were genuinely interested in my religion or wanted a calm debate about it, I would agree, but other than that, no.

Witnessing just makes people think they are smarter than everyone else because they managed to find the one correct path, while all the simps are just waiting for you to enlighten them. Not my style.

Yes, I try to convert on occasion, but only when the subject comes up and only if I feel like being an asshole and/or the person in question deserves an encounter with an asshole.

Scientologists are by definition in the latter category.

I pretty much go with my local church’s take on this.

First, witness by your own personal example.

IF someone seems to want to talk about religion, by all means do so; don’t pass up the opportunity.

My synopsis and paraphrasing–But don’t get in people’s faces, don’t go where you’ve not been invited, don’t abandon your principles just to be one of the gang, either.

And DO NOT get into a biblical debate with Mormons unless you really, REALLY know the bible! (This last was NOT a slap at LDS people, it is a compliment)

I didn’t mean to taunt them; I can see how my words could now be taken that way, in light of the way the original thread’s gone, the Pit thread inspired by the moving, and the one or two GD threads (!) inspired by the Pit & Original threads. If anyone perceives me as having taunted then, I apologize. That said, what I meant in my OP in THIS thread was that my giving implicit consent to a change in forum was a mistaken, as it encouraged the thread to change into a debate.

Never discuss it, and no-one has tried to discuss such things with me for a long time. (For the record, I am an atheist.)

My sister, who is born-again (but not, I think, particularly evangelical) has an attitude that I highly value, which is a lot like the one expressed by LiveOnAPlane. Her church focuses on each person improving his- or herself and their relationship with God, rather than worrying about who else is sinning or who doesn’t have the right sort of faith. This is how we can still have a good relationship, since if she were that other sort of person she would be constantly worrying about how I am going to go to hell for eternity. Instead, she says that she isn’t an expert in the bible and that what happens to me is between me and God.

Exactly, or anyway between me and my conscience.


No, I don’t bring it up. I think I brought up one time to a friend that my church has a tennis group because he was looking for some people to play with. That as extreme as I’ll go.

No, I don’t try to convert others, and I very seldom discuss religion. I have been known to leave conversational groups because of it - nothing good ever seems to come of those discussions, so I’d just as soon not participate.

One of the funniest things I ever saw was during a “Constitutional Challenge” my law school held. The topic was “book banning” and one of the panel members was a soccer mom who was actively trying to get a book banned from public schools. (I don’t remember the title of the book we used as an example - it wasn’t the book this harridan was trying to get banned, anyway.)

Never quote the Bible at someone who knows it more throughly than you do. The moderator of the forum was our Constititional Law professor, who was also a minister (Unitarian, I believe). He tied that silly biatch in knots!

No. Despite some of my past behavior here, I avoid talking about religion like the plague with most people. I almost never open up with someone unless I am 150% sure they’re at least as big a Godless infidel as myself. It just isn’t worth the aggravation, otherwise. I generally don’t want anyone to know I’m not a believer, because I was sick and tired of the “But how can you not” thing about the second time I ever heard it. I generally don’t give a dry squat what other people believe in so long as they keep it out of my face, which, I now know from family reunions with my wife’s Bible-thumping extendeds, is something many evangelical Christians are simply incapable of doing.

About the last thing in the world I want to be like is those people. I resond to their “Oh, you’re a scientist? Well, what do you think abouts” with a “Well, gosh, I’d really be interested in your take on it if you don’t mind.” Just put them up on the soapbox. Easiest trick in the world. You’ll practically have to drag them off with a truck once they’ve taken their customary station, and they forget about ten seconds into the speech that they were even interested in what you had to say, if they ever were. Feel free to glaze over. Nod occasionally to feign consciousness.

Again, why would I want to be like that?

This is the most militantly athiest I’ve ever gotten in public: I was trapped on a ski lift with a fundie who pummelled me, his captive audience, with tales of the Tribulations and the need to be Saved. I listened, silently, until he asked me if I knew what Hell was like. “A lot like being stuck on this chairlift with you, I’d imagine.” was my reply, if I recall my precise wording correctly.

The refrain: Why in Hell would I want to be like that guy?

No, if ever I was was really interested in changing someone’s mind for the “better” I gave that up not long ago, and wouldn’t have done it to your face in any instance. Too afraid, and probably for good reason. Now just too tired and out of any real hope in the majority of my fellows to care. Just leave me alone, that’s all I ask. I’m more than happy to return the favor.

Believe it or not, no. :slight_smile: There are some people at work who are quite religious, based on stuff in their offices, but they don’t talk about it and neither do I. The last batch of JWs who came to my door ran like hell when I told them, nicely, that I was an atheist, so they didn’t stick around.

Yeah, I work to convert others to the creed of Mind Your Own Business And Leave Me Alone. I do my best to set a good example.

It was something I did occasionally when I was a know-it-all college student, but now I look at it as a phase I’ve outgrown.

There will be some cliches. You’ve been warned.

I witness, but I won’t beat people over the head with it. I believe that faith is something that one just has to have, not something that I can “convince” anyone to have. I believe that the Bible is the wod of God, and I take it seriously, especialy the Great Commision. At the same time, I understand that nagging and saying “If you don’t devote your life to Jesus Christ, you will spend eternity in the fiery pits of Hell,” isn’t the way to convert people to Christianity. It’s best that I just try to live a life of faith and good works and try to show the transforming power of Christ in my life. That is the only effective way that I know of to “witness.” I make it clear to others that I’m always available to talk about Christianity in general and my path specifically.

The point is that I don’t think I should be trying to convince people to become Christians. That is a personal choice, and the best I can do is try to share how and why I made the choice.

Disclaimer: I am an imperfect, unworthy human being. My views on matters theological is hardly mainstream, and it’s very possible that I’m wrong on any number of fronts. But I believe in my soul that I understand the “big picture” and am advancing the will of God as best I can. God bless.

Catholic, I don’t try to “convert” anybody since I see faith as a gift from God, not from a human being (like all gifts, it may or may not be available at all times and you can take it or leave it).

If anybody wants information, that I’ll give, trying to mark the difference between my personal beliefs and those of the Church.

Nope, I don’t try to convert anyone to my belief system, for all the good reasons already given in this thread. However, I will engage in debates with my family members when they try to convert me. The exception is my grandma. We have a long history of heated arguments on the subject, but I’ve recently decided that since neither of us is changing the others mind, and my atheism upsets her so much, I’m just not going to take up the gauntlet anymore. She really believes I’m going to hell, and she wants to save me. If she were dying, I’d tell her anything she wanted to hear to ease her mind.

I was raised in a protestant, fundamentalist church, and attended their church school for 6 grades, which means I’m pretty knowledgeable about Biblical basics. I also went to Marquette University (a Catholic university that requires students to take theology classes), so I’m conversant with various redactive theories about the Bible. That said, these days I fluctuate between Deism/agnosticism and atheism. Obviously, I don’t witness, and I respect the beliefs of others though I may not share them.

I’ve never had anyone actively try to witness to me, either, really. The closest time I can think of was when we had dinner with a young couple - they were very active in their church, he was going into the ministry, and their faith was a very large part of their lives. I supposed they witnessed a little, but more of a “this is how it works in our lives” sort of way, rather like Mayo Speaks! and Roderick Femm’s sister seem to do. It didn’t offend me at all.

All the time, by not trying.*

I try to convert people into knowing that atheists ain’t bad people. By being a nice, friendly, “good” person someone would want to relate with. (As opposed to a shrill harpy-type who beats people over the head with their personal philosophy.) If anyone asks, I am happy to explain my beliefs, why I believe what I believe, and what personal journeys I have been through. I don’t wear my philosophy on my sleeve, but I don’t hide it, either. I feel that the single most important thing we can do (as atheists) is to show folks that we don’t have horns, don’t kill babies, don’t drink the blood of our fallen enemies, etc.

In other words, I don’t prosletize, but am very happy to get into debates / conversations with anyone who asks.

If this atheist thing doesn’t work out for me, maybe there is a future for me in Zen…