January 21, 2009

Motives for Door-to-Door Proselytizing

Trap-door.
Trap-door. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Long-time readers will know that door-to-door proselytizing is one of my pet peeves. It is a subject I have addressed here many times, including descriptions of means of deterrence I'm using. As much as I detest it, I admit finding the phenomenon quite fascinating. I think this is because it is difficult for me to comprehend how an adult could become convinced that anyone has not already heard their Jesus drivel repeatedly. A Christian, Daniel, recently left an intriguing comment on a post I wrote on Christians witnessing to atheists back in June of 2008. I am now wondering if proselytizing may be associated some sort of impulse control problem.

Here is Daniel's entire unedited comment:

Nobody likes it when you show up at their door. I get mormons and JWs just like everyone. I dont need points so thats not why I do it. My religion does tell me to, but thats not my primary motivation either. I respect your beliefs and recognize the strength one must have to get through this life unassisted. However, I just cant keep it to myself though you wish I would. Since people like me absolutely have to anyway, I will keep your don't do list in mind( except for the "dont do it" part) He can do many things for you Shawn. I am living proof. I have a question for you: Do you really find fulfillment in any of these things on Earth? I have done every drug and almost every other self-satisfying thing you can imagine. All it left me with was emptyness. If you really are truly satisfied and fulfilled, and have reached the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, then I can't do anything for you. I would still be your friend, but wouldn't waste my time on telling you stuff you don't want to hear. It takes a stronger person than me to be an atheist, and I respect that. I used to think of atheist as like free-agents in pro sports, but your post makes sense in that you have thought it over and chosen atheist, instead of just being atheists by default. Do you guys vote for Obama mostly? Is that a dumb question?
I'd like to set aside the last bit about about Obama and focus on the portions relevant to proselytizing. Daniel acknowledges that it is annoying when someone shows up at his door to proselytize. He does not enjoy hearing from Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses either. And yet, Daniel himself engages in door-to-door proselytizing.

How does he justify doing something that he knows others dislike? He denies that it is about the magic Jesus points or even because his religion tells him to do so (although he acknowledges that it does). Rather Daniel says, "...I just cant keep it to myself..." (sic). When it comes to proselytizing, Daniel just can't help it.

Of course, I am not seriously suggesting that Christian evangelicals have any sort of impulse control disorder. Proselytizing is a voluntary behavior which these individuals, including Daniel are perfectly capable of controlling. I do not for a minute think that Daniel intends to claim that he cannot regulate his own behavior in this regard.

From his comment, it sounds to me like Daniel searched for fulfillment in many unproductive places before finding the solace of religion. Now that he has done so, he feels tremendously better and wants to share his experience with others in the hope that it might help them. I do understand this urge and can think of secular versions that I have experienced personally. In this way, I can relate to Daniel's experience.

Sadly, Daniel does not regard himself as strong enough to face life free from delusion. Not knowing him, I'm in no position to say that he's wrong about this. Perhaps he will be so someday. I suspect there are many Christians out there who feel the same way.

The thing is, whether we focus on Daniel's proselytizing or an analogous secular scenario, it is exceedingly difficult to help someone who does not want to be helped. By showing up on their doorstep to preach at them, all one really accomplishes is making them less likely to seriously consider one's message.

I appreciate that Daniel says he respects my beliefs, but I would rather he mock my beliefs and instead respect my person, my property, my privacy, and my stated desire not to be bothered by evangelists at my door.

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