March 30, 2007

Thoughts on Conversion

From a Christian perspective, salvation is not quite as simple as simply saying that one believes the Christian doctrine. One is expected to actually believe it if one's salvation is to be considered legitimate. The same is true with conversion. While many Christians might take a former Muslim who converts to Christianity at his/her word, I expect that they believe that the professed convert actually believes the Christian doctrine and is not simply making a false belief claim for some ulterior motive.

Christian Conversion

Whatever else conversion means, it means that the convert now believes the religious doctrine in question. This is considered the path to salvation in that the convert now has a chance at salvation due to his/her beliefs. I expect most Christians would agree that the point of conversion is salvation. Salvation is likely to be a prominent theme in Christian proselytizing because it is the benefit of conversion.

The Christian who seeks to convert others believes that he/she is doing them a favor. By informing potential converts about Christianity, its doctrine, and the prize of salvation, the Christian believes that he/she is facilitating others' salvation. Thus, the Christian who strives to convert others may really believe that he/she is doing them a service and that conversion is a compassionate act.

It might be helpful for a nonbeliever who is approached by Christians with conversion in mind to remember that the motive is likely to be at least partially one of genuine benevolence. In fact, I suspect that this is the primary motive most of the time. Remembering this would certainly serve me well, as I do not tend to handle such approaches particularly well.

Atheist Deconversion

From an atheist perspective, it is nonsensical to talk about someone converting to atheism. Atheists have no doctrine. There is no set of atheist beliefs to which one could be expected to convert. It would be more accurate to view atheism as a product of religious deconversion.

Some atheists do, however, talk about spreading an atheist message. Of course, this message is generally little more than a critique of religion, but this does not change the fact that many atheists seek to persuade others that a secular worldview is superior to religious belief.

Much like Christians hoping to win converts for their own good, some atheists believe that deconversion would have favorable effects for the deconverted. I count myself among them in the sense that I believe that humanity would be better off without religion. I do not actively seek to deconvert believers, but I certainly believe that deconversion is healthy and would do what I could to facilitate it in someone who expressed an interest.

Common Ground

To sum up, it appears that Christians who work to convert people and atheists who work to deconvert people have something in common. In both cases, I think our motives are primarily benevolent. Christians believe they are doing potential converts a favor; atheists believe they are doing potential deconverts a favor. Perhaps atheists could strive to be more understanding when approached by Christians promoting their beliefs. Similarly, it seems that Christians could work on their reactions when their beliefs are criticized by atheists.

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