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How *not* to preach

November 10, 2008

I already wrote last time that I have some reservations against personally doing certain missionary work, but even beyond these reservations, I think a much more important point is that there are good ways and bad ways to try to convince people of something.

Somehow, people of all religions, political persuasions, you name it, have gotten this idea that if you just badger and insult your opposition and point out how wrong they are, they will be so gracious and decide to join your side!

In their minds, you can do this:

A: *here I am, Person A: the unconverted. I’m minding my own business and my life is pretty awesome!*

B: “HEY A! Your life is in terrible doom! But…I can fix this! Just drop what you’re doing and come with me and you’ll be fine.”

A: “Oh wow! Thanks B! I don’t know what I would have done without you — I suppose that even though my life seems pretty awesome, you’re right, and really I couldn’t see that it actually is terrible! But now, I’ll do what your group says and make my life really awesome.”

B: ā¤

A: ā¤

Needless to say, this doesn’t work. This is, in my opinion, the worst way to try to convince someone of anything. Here’s what actually happens:

A: *here I am, Person A: the unconverted. I’m minding my own business and my life is pretty awesome!*

B: “HEY A! Your life is in terrible doom! But…I can fix this! Just drop what you’re doing and come with me and you’ll be fine.”

A: “I dunno…my life seems pretty awesome…why should I believe you?”

B: “You’re looking too narrowly. But that’s ok, because that’s how life works! Fortunately, my side is much more enlightened with yours so we have the right deal and we can see that your life is down a bad path, even though you can’t!”

A: “So…can you show me this bad path? What’s evidence of my future ruination.”

B: “Well, really, you just have to trust me. This ruination will surely happen, but it can’t really be detected so well. But the joy we can bring you if you join us will surely happen to…you just have to trust me.”

A: “My life is good already; I’ll pass.”

B: “So you’ll risk certain ruination!

A: “What gives you the right to come into my life with this nonsense? Goodbye B.”

B: “…he’s just too prideful to see!”

Indeed, what actually happens is that Person A ends up with a lowered view of B. Even though B undoubtedly is acting in A’s best interests (although A cannot see this!), A feels that B is creating a problem out of nowhere and then trying to offer a solution for this problem that came out of nowhere.

It could be different in several ways…for example, if A noticed something missing in his life and B could see this, then B could offer whatever thing he has to help A. But then, A would clearly recognize that …something…is amiss in his life. Or…even if A feels his life is ok, if B lives in a way that radiates an excellent life, then A can see this and then wonder, “What does B have that I don’t?”

I actually don’t direct these to LDS missionaries so much as I direct it to non-LDS Christians’ actions towards Mormons. They insist that pulling Mormons away from the Joseph Smith hoax will save their eternal souls, and that they must be so blunt because Mormons just can’t see that they’ve been deceived. But instead of simply living in a way that is more excellent than the way Mormons live and making Mormons so envious they just want to jump ship, really…they have to bring people down.

But really, this is laughably ineffective. When people have done this to me, I have instantly become apologetic. Even though in many instances, I recognize that some criticisms of the church might possibly be well-reasoned, the manner in which people preach and proselytize is so off-putting that I must be against it. Even if I recognize that I’m wrong on a particular instance, I will not be sympathetic to my opposition.

A long time ago, I read several blog entries about this idea of Mormons deconverting out of Mormonism and simply leaving Christianity as a whole. (I’m too lazy to link to all of them, wah wah) (p.s. 2: if anyone says “how can mormons leave Christianity as a whole; they never entered to begin with?” die in an internet fire). I agreed with a lot of the reasoning for such a thing (it’s been my path, after all)…but I think the common thread is that even if a non-Mormon Christian were to convince someone that Mormonism is false, they have not convinced them that their brand is true. In fact, their actions have convinced otherwise…I know I would want nothing to do with what they have to offer.

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15 Comments
  1. Wow, thanks for all the links!!!

    I just read all of your articles, and I think you have a fantastic new blog here! I’d like to add you to the blogroll of Main Street Plaza — I assume I should categorize you as “post” and not “TBM,” right? Or am I misreading? (If you’re “post,” I’ll add you to Outer Blogness as well, as soon as blogrolling is working again…)

    Also, if you’re interested in writing for MSP, we’d welcome a post or two or more… šŸ˜€

  2. šŸ™‚ My first comment is from *the* Chanson; what an honor!

    I’d definitely love being added to Main Street Plaza’s blogroll, and you’re reading right; I think I should be in the “post” category and probably be in the Outer Blogness.

    I’ll have to consider writing for MSP in the future; thanks for the comment.

  3. Sarah permalink

    Hey,thanks for ‘How not to Preach’. I just had my first born again missionary experience in the middle of a grocery store. I was shocked and appalled at the audacity that a stranger would have to approach me and insult everything I believe in and then ask, ‘Is there any way you would reconsider being Mormon?’ I got online right away looking for some answers on who these crazy people are…if you have any good places to look I’d appreciate the help. Not that I really plan to find answers to why they act like that. Such a contrast from our missionaries message of families and eternity. I’m with you, what do they have to offer that is better than what we got?

  4. Sarah, thanks for the story; I’m sorry that happened to you.

    one issue is that many of these guys have this kind of idea of “tough love” that they think justifies their behavior. So they will pull out whatever scripture that they think backs up their badgering…because in the end, they think it’s all justified if it brings someone to who they think is the “real Christ” (as opposed to “another Jesus”, as they think)

  5. nktrygg permalink

    “Even though B undoubtedly is acting in Aā€™s best interests”

    um, sorry, no B is not

    B is violating the Prime Directive of non-interference

    and B is not acting in anyone’s best interests to assert that his belief is true when he lacks any evidence

    and the other scenario is

    Person A – hey, living my life, being a good person and minding my own business

    Person B – sorry, you don’t know what good is and unless you worship my god in the way I do, you will suffer a terrible afterlife

    Person A – really? How can you know this when I’ve never heard of such a thing

    Person B – it’s all here in the book that god wrote and he wants you know know and worship him to avoid the fate he has in store for you if you don’t

    Person A – well, your god sounds like a real bully, so that alone makes me want nothing to do with him – and second, if it’s so important to your god that everyone know, then why is he incapable of making himself known on his own instead of going through other people, don’t sound very competent to me.

    Person B ——–

    I dunno, what can you say to that?

  6. Interestingly enough, this kind of dialogue is something that (although I wrote about it long before I saw your post with the “Double Platinum rule”) I would use precisely to counter your double platinum rule.

    Firstly, a “prime directive of noninterference” would not be accepted by someone who believes in positive duty (as would be someone who accepts the golden rule or double platinum rule). The “prime directive” isn’t “do no harm” but “actively do good” (and what is up in question is: what is the good?)

    We and B simply have a disagreement on the evidences available (and what would qualify as evidence) of a belief system, so that similarly would be inconclusive in showing whether B is acting in A’s best interest or not. The critical point is that B is CERTAIN that s/he is acting in A’s best interest, and we don’t have much to convince him or her otherwise.

    As to your scenario, I may have responded either to my article or yours on your site, but B could easily respond, “You know, A, I used to think the same way about God. And it says here that God’s way are not man’s. The natural/sinful man will hate everything of God, and think he is evil. So, I understand where you’re coming from. But when I got saved, and learned to give my life to God, I realized he was looking out for my best interest.”

    A already has the response, as you posted, “Why is he incapable of making himself known on his own instead of going through other people?”

    B’s response would be, “But God isn’t incapable. Rather, he works on his own time scale, choosing whom he will touch and the methods he will reach them. His working through people is not “inferior” or “incompetent,”. Alternatively, even though people preach, people can do nothing to convince people of God. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit — that can come over a person at any time, via any means — that convinces people. Since you (and I) don’t know his time scale, it’s silly to say that he will not reach you or that it is impossible.”

  7. nktrygg permalink

    Oh ha,

    but if the holy spirit is what it takes to really convert a person and that’s on god’s unknowable timetable

    then people preaching at non-believers are actually interfering with not only god’s timetable, but also with god’s plan for person A and when they are supposed to convert

    of course, my actual response is that the preaching person still has to define what god is and prove it exists before any claims about god’s plan and word, etc can be evaluated

    and right now, there’s more evidence for Big Foot than any deity.

    I am so glad I stumbled on your blog – it was through the tag for platinum rule

  8. Not necessarily so. After all, it could be “within God’s plan” to have people spread the word, while at the same time divine intervention is what converts people.

    When you have an unknown will of god that can expand to fill any purpose, it’s not tough to try to challenge that.

  9. nktrygg permalink

    Ah but if the will of god is unknown

    then how can anyone claim to do an action on behalf of god or in accordance with god’s will?

    One of the interesting things to be about believers is how they determine which god is the right one.

    After all, there’s thousands of currently practiced religions before you even factor in all the ones that had faded with the civilizations that worshipped them

  10. “General will” vs “specific will.”

    When people say “the will of God is unknown”, they mean the specific will. They will usually concede that a general will (e.g., God wants people to return to him, etc.,) is very well known and revealed.

    I don’t think believers need to spend much time determining which god is the right one. It doesn’t seem like a process of elimination. Rather, while it seems that many people just believe in the one of their upbringing (or the one of their society), when people evaluate/reevaluate, the criteria is often which gods (or god) “speak out” to them. I know a guy who is now pagan (at least, I don’t really know how to correctly describe his beliefs, I guess)…because he realized that certain of the “old” gods/goddesses (the ones we suppose have “faded away”) resonated with him.

  11. nktrygg permalink

    so belief in any god is either giving into the peer pressure of your locality or just not outgrowing what you were raised in

    or picking one that personifies whatever you already believe and just need to create an authority or excuse for.

    that makes sense on many levels as the underlying factor, not that people do this.

    It seems to me that people should trust themselves to honestly be their own authority,

    in some ways, it seems like believers are closet humanists – they just aren’t willing to be honest that it’s all coming from them – and instead are hiding behind deities, tradition, ritual

    which is harmless until it imposes or impacts on other people who aren’t participating in the particular flavour

  12. no, that isn’t always the case.

    After all, people who didn’t grow up believing can have some experience that makes them believe…and similarly, people can convert between religions.

    I have talked with many believers…not saying they are all the same (of course not), but some of them are adamantly not humanist. They are pretty cynical of humanity and humans, so the need for a perfect god outside and above humanity makes sense to them. They aren’t “hiding behind” deities…and in fact, would argue that atheists are “hiding away” from god.

    So isn’t it funny how both sides can mischaracterize the other completely out of ignorance?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Pathos, Ethos, and Logos « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  2. Why I Almost Went on a Mission at Mormon Matters
  3. Argumentative | Main Street Plaza

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