Why do the religious care if others believe?

This might be a GD question–if it is, please feel free to move it. Thanks!

This is also something of a naive question, I realize–and I hope I can phrase it properly because I sometimes have trouble getting my mind around it. For reference, I was raised a casual Christian of indeterminate Protestant variety. I’m not at all religious, though (not an atheist–just not religious).

So here’s my question for religious folks (or anyone, really): Why do people who follow various religions care if others share their beliefs? It seems like a lot of wars, disagreements, and arguments are caused by people trying to convert others to their belief system, but really, why? I’m not talking about people getting offended when their faith is ridiculed–of course they’re going to get upset about that. But why should you care if I believe in your particular brand of God?

Consider these points and questions:

  1. Most of the religions I’m aware of have some concept of an afterlife where believers go after they die to experience some sort of paradise.

  2. If the afterlife is paradise, then that brings up a paradox: if you can’t be happy without your loved ones, then you’ll want them to believe and thus be there with you. But if it really is a paradise, then you won’t miss them if they aren’t there, right?

  3. Do you get brownie points with your god for bringing in more souls? Even if the souls are coerced into joining up? Evangelism is one thing, but forced conversion is something else.

  4. If you’re happy in your religion I can understand why you’d want to share it with your loved ones. But if they say “no, thanks,” why do you (the editorial “you”) get angry with them? Why not say, “Okay, I tried,” and move on?

Yes, I know that a lot of these issues can be addressed by basic human nature (you’re rejecting me because you’re rejecting my belief system). But…I still ponder this question a lot, and I’m interested in hearing others’ opinions on it.

Apologies in advance if this is a bit muddled, but I hope my meaning came through.

I think only some of the religious care. When I was Jewish, I never got the impression that it made the slightest difference to us if someone outside the club believed or not - in fact Judaism makes conversion difficult. I think that’s because there is no sense that a nonbeliever will be treated by God any differently. That would imply that those who think nonbelievers are going to face some horrible punishment after death are the ones who care - for our own good, of course.

I don’t have an answer but I have a bit of an anecdote…

Earlier this year I attended a Bible class at my church (the Lutheran church where I was baptized, raised and confirmed but no longer attend). I was the only person under 50 in the class of about 10.

During one discussion, the pastor brought up the notion that people in “my” generation (the 30-and-under set, I guess) don’t particularly care what other people believe. “We” tend to think that whatever you want to believe is cool, and whatever I believe is cool too and we’re all ok. He said this was contrary to how older generations think on the topic.

I agreed with him that I do not care about other religions or beliefs (other than to be educated about them) and am very uncomfortable pushing my beliefs on anyone. I said I could not really wrap my head around the “older” viewpoint. The other, older, members of the class said they could not understand this way of thinking.

I dunno what all that means, or if it’s true…but there you go.

I used to be very religious. I wanted very badly for other people to believe in Jesus. This is because I was so incredibly happy at the joy God had brought into my life, that I couldn’t conceive keeping my mouth shut about it. If you believed you had found the cure for cancer, or depression, or some other disease that created great suffering, why on earth would you keep it a secret? There’s a reason it’s called ‘‘The Good News.’’

And to answer your question, yes, in a sense you do get brownie points with the Christian God for witnessing to others. He basically commanded it. Jesus spent his entire life on earth telling people about the way to salvation, and then all his disciples sacrificed their lives to that same effort. If the most God is asking from you is a little social alienation, can you really say no?

I think this is a major flaw that people make when trying to determine the motivation of religious zealots. Did it ever occur to you that these are basically good people who care about others, and they are making incredibly annoying asses of themselves because they care about you enough to do so? They are sacrificing their time, energy and effort because they want to help alleviate suffering.

As we all know, some professed Christians have completely different, non-altruistic motivations for this, but when I was a Christian it was absolutely because I cared so very much. I try to attribute that motivation to proselytizers because I believe the true superior assholes are largely in the minority.

I grew up in a very conservative Calvinist Protestant church, and this point here is the main problem from their viewpoint. We were taught that any of your loved ones who don’t believe that Jesus Christ is their personal Lord and Savior and that he died for their sins so they could have everlasting life - then it’s not just that they don’t get paradise. They suffer for eternity in hell, tormented by fire and demons, separated from those who they love plus separate from God’s presence, which is supposed to be the biggest loss in their hindsight.

So someone who honestly believes in this would have a tough time morally justifying saying “oh well, I tried, at least I won’t miss Mom after I die, cause I’ll be happy in heaven!” I remember feeling terrible when I was in grade school and my friend explained to me how she didn’t believe; I even invited her (sometimes successfully) to attend Vacation Bible School at church with me during the summer so maybe she would experience that moment of belief and acceptance of Jesus, because obviously I sucked at conveying how important this was. (Didn’t work.)

On preview, what olives said. For truly devout Christians, it’d be like hearing on the news that there was a bridge out (but not actually seeing it with your own eyes), and you knew your friend was going to be driving into town over that bridge. You trusted the news, and so you begged and begged your friend to please not take that route, because you knew they’d die, but the friend waved you off and said it wasn’t true, he’d be fine.

See, that’s the part I don’t understand. I can certainly understand why you’d want to share your “good news” with your friends and family (and anyone else willing to listen). That part I get. The part I don’t get is why some (not implying you, but some) would get angry or actively hostile with those who say, “thanks, but no thanks.” My spouse is more religious than I am, and he’s told me essentially what you have: that God wants his followers to witness. That’s fine. Depending on the witness, it can be annoying sometimes, but it’s fine with me. But if, after I say, “Thanks, I appreciate the thought, but I’m really not interested,” I would prefer that the witnesser wouldn’t get angry with me and tell me that I’m going to Hell if I don’t accept Jesus. Why should he care at that point? If I’ve heard the news and choose to reject it, that’s not his fault. Is God really going to fault him if he doesn’t manage to forcibly convert me?

ETA: This is especially true when the witnesser is someone who doesn’t even know me, and who doesn’t have a stake in whether I go to Heaven or Hell–I’m not going to be part of his paradise one way or the other, really.

Perhaps this is somewhat simplistic of an answer, but as is generally the case with belief systems (not exclusively religions), agreeing that it’s just as well for someone else to believe differently from you questions the validity of your own belief system as being universally and exclusively right, and since, in most cases, one’s belief system is an integral part of one’s self-definition, it questions by extension your own validity, and often value, as a human being. Thus, the attempt to spread your belief is in fact the attempt to justify your self-definition.

olivesmarch4th’s explanation is a great one on an individual level, but I don’t personal enthusiasm over a good thing covers the “war and repression” end of the spectrum. Something else is needed to explain how killing me because I don’t share your religion is a thing of kindness.

The cultural relativism that most of us under 40 were raised with permeated every part of our lives, religious education or no. It’s this idea that there is no “right” answer for many many things. There’s your answer and my answer and if I was raised with your experiences, I might very well have come up with your answer, too. This is expressed outright in neopaganism as “many paths on the mountain of enlightenment”. No one’s path is inherintly right or wrong for everyone, it just works or doesn’t work. And it might work for one person, but not another, but that’s okay.

But that’s a revolutionary idea. So revolutionary, in fact, that we can’t really grok the thinking of those who thought before it. But a lot of it comes down to: some things are right and some things are wrong. If there’s right and wrong then someone must be wrong here. And I know it’s not me, so therefore it must be you. And if you’re wrong, you’re bad, you don’t have a right to express your wrongness and lead other people down the path of wrongness, and it’s really for everyone’s good that I shut you up. I can do that by stopping you from teaching your wrongness in my neighborhood, I can prevent you from distributing your wrong information to my children, or I can kill you.

And, of course, money. Churches have made a lot of money over the years sacking towns and putting all that gold to use in the name of the lord.

None of the answers explain things like the inquisition. Or an incident I read about a week or so ago about a Hindu mob in India that burnt all the religious items in the house of a Christian and threatened to burn down their house unless they converted on the spot. The Koran says it is the duty of every Muslim to bring Islam to the entire world and he is encouraged to murder if necessary. On the other hand, not only do Zoroastrians not permit conversion, but you are second class unless both parents were born into the faith, although technically only the father is required. And, oh yes, the Mormons perform mass posthumous conversions of everyone they can find the names of.

  1. re: Paradise and lost loved ones. Most people I’ve talked to about this seem to feel that, in heaven, they’ll be pretty much the same, just in heaven. They don’t think of it as a grand, collective one-ness with god and all that, or that there will be any loss of self, and even if they do, then Person A may feel an even more desperate need to get Person B to heaven because, once Person A dies, there won’t be anybody around to continue that project.

3 & 4. re: Brownie points. See, this is one of my pet peeves about evangelism. I remember reading something in teh New Testament about “go to a town, try three times to give the people there the message, and if they don’t convert, leave, knock the dust of that town from your sandals, and don’t ever go back.” They may get brownie points for success, and if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, but then STOP and go somewhere else. They never go somewhere else; they keep knocking at my door over and over again…

The big picture that you’re running into is that, of the religions you hear about in the newspapers as causing trouble, most of them have the idea that they are RIGHT and the other religions of the world are WRONG and people who believe the RIGHT thing are going to heaven and those who believe the WRONG thing are going to hell.

Re. the last point - Mormons say they offer them a posthumous chance at baptism into Mormonism, for the spirit to accept or reject as they wish - in case the spirit finds out that Mormonism was really the One True Way and never had the chance to believe, regrets not believing, etc. This practice, when brought up on this board, tends to have discussions that dissolve into nasty arguments.

As for the violence issue, some religions/religions factions/assorted nutjobs within said factions believe that if you don’t convert to their general religion or subset of one, you are wrong, and evil/controlled by some being of evil, and should be shunned/persecuted/killed. That’s not entirely what the OP was looking for, but this sort of feeling that you might actually be a bad person or a bad influence on the devout person can in extremes lead to this other bad behavior.

Yes, exactly, but why should they care if a bunch of people who believe the wrong thing go to Hell? Maybe I’m cynical, but it seems to me like a lot of people in our society don’t really give a damn about anyone outside their own circle (except in an abstract way.) It’s the whole Monkeysphereconcept (check it out–it’s a good read, and very insightful IMO). If you believe X and I believe Y, and you’re convinced with all your being that all the Yists are going to end up burning in Hell for all eternity, so what? Most people aren’t altruistic enough to care about it unless the Yists in question are their own friends or family.

But this is precisely what makes such proselytizers such assholes- I have spent quite a bit of time getting myself to believe what I believe- through hard work, research, study, etc.

I expect others to do the same.

When I am approached on the street by a panhandler- doesn’t bother me. I know why they are doing it- they want money. So I either give it to them or I don’t. The end. We are both no worse off, and perhaps better.

Conversely, when I am bothered at home or chased down the street by someone who will not be ignored shouting the glories of god - I gotta admit, it is irksome.

Polite folks who only approached on the street and took a headshake for an answer I care less about.

Because they were told to.

Once they have learned that Other exists in their society, they need to make sure that everybody understands that Other is wrong and not to be tolerated. Some religions deal with this by trying to convert Other, some by trying to kill them. Failing to discourage the belief in Other introduces the possibility of infringement on their own beliefs.

The various Christian groups also have the added kharma that they’re supposed to love everybody.

Is this exclusive to religion, though? Think about how much time and energy we spend here and in GD trying to convince other people we’ve never even met in real life that they’re wrong and we’re right. Humans want to be RIGHT. There’s no “because”…it is its own goal.

'Sides, you leave 'em alive, there’s always the chance they’re going to invade and have their way with your daughters and then your grandchildren will be raised to think wrong thoughts. Better to kill 'em now and…uh…let God sort it out. :wink:

Some of it is an interpretation of these biblical passages:

Not to dissolve this thread into a debate, but I’d suggest substituting the words “stalkers” and “love” in like so:

I think this is a major flaw that people make when trying to determine the motivation of stalkers. Did it ever occur to you that these are basically good people who simply love someone very much, and they are making incredibly annoying asses of themselves because they love you enough to do so? They are sacrificing their time, energy and effort because they want to bring you happiness.

Someone can believe their own motivations to be good all they want, but at the same time no has to mean no or you’ve got something scary on your hands.

That is a perfect analogy. Really.

Money. More converts means more people putting money in the collection plate.

Well, being a liberal Catholic, I personally don’t believe non-Christians will necessarily go to Hell. I believe Jesus is the best path up the mountain, but that God will go out of his way to make other paths work as well.

With that said, when I do witness or proselytize, it is because I think the other person could benefit from knowing Jesus like I know (or think I know) Him. The healing love, the forgiveness and compassion, the all around holy fire that one feels when one is seeking God, all of these are few and far between in this world. Of course, to non-religious people that last sentence will either sound like crazy-talk or religious psycho-babble. With all that said, the occasions where I feel it is appropriate to witness are few and far between, as I feel being pushy and overly overt about such matters does more harm than good. Usually it just scares the listener.

Most of all, I love good theo/philo discussions, so more often instead of preaching I’ll try debating or just having a conversation. That seems to work a lot better than saying “Jesus LOVES you. Why dont you BELIEVE?!”