Friday, March 21, 2014

Evangelism: Five Issues to Notice with Overly Fanatical People

This needs to be prefaced with a statement: I, an atheist, am not making this as an attack on any specific group of people or any religion or faith. Over the past couple of days, I've found that after yet another attempt at social media, the old monsters of yesteryear are creeping up on me again, and now the same issue that came before has arisen: inundated with religious and political posts. Posts for Jesus, posts for pro-life, posts for and against same sex marriage. Of course as a gay man, I am happy to see any support for our side, but sometimes it gets to be too much, both on social media and in real life. Here are five issues I've happened to notice with people being evangelical about their personal beliefs and causes, especially on social media.

1. They are overly obnoxious.
 You're a born again Christian? Muslim? Hindu? Just became an atheist? That's good and dandy, my friend. So, you feel like sharing that with everyone else? Hey, my hats off to you. Here's the deal, though: No one needs to hear about it every three hours. Congratulations on finding something that works for you, but there's no need for you to treat your new found path like it's the best thing since someone thought it would be a great idea to take a photograph in front of their mirror with a cell phone. There is also no need to continuously remind everyone around you that you are now a [insert here] and that it is wonderful and great and that life suddenly has meaning. Please... it had meaning before. Now, it just means something different to you.
2. They become preachy and judgmental. Theists, I promise you that this is not aimed at you. When I first became an atheist, I was so vocal about everything, it became difficult for me to think about anything else but starting a fight with anyone that said these buzzwords: God, prayer, and for some reason, "come on." When we find something that works for us, we have a tendency to go overboard at first, changing everything about ourselves to fit our new outlook on life and then beating others over the head with it, trying to convince them that they should try it, too. Remember that even though your personal beliefs have changed, the things that made your friends and family the good people you know them to be has not changed and that you should be smart to remember that. Because if you don't, this tends to happen:
3. Friendships are ended or people lose touch. Hey, that's life for you. As we grow older, our beliefs change, our minds change, we mature, we become open minded, closed minded, more political, less political, and everything else that comes with mental and physical evolution. But when our beliefs begin to form our mindsets and change our lives, it can come at the expense of people we once knew as friends. A year ago, I made the conscious decision to cut ties with a friend that, despite her being a great person, was very anti-gay. I, myself, am gay - as I've mentioned before - and while I still loved her as a person, we dove deeper into her beliefs and I realized that the opinion she had of me was not one that I considered to be that of a friend. This happens with a lot of us. As I started to become more vocal about my sexuality, many of my old friends and family stopped talking to me. Losing contact with individuals who do not support your beliefs isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you should really make sure that you know what you are giving up and ask yourself if you are giving it up for the right reasons. You should also be prepared to take scrutiny and criticism as you come forward with controversial or contrarian viewpoints.
4. Inability to hold a normal conversation. Sorry, my good man or woman, but not every greeting, expression, or figure of speech is a segue into a long-winded spiel about how organic dairy products are the absolute best thing for an unstable digestive system. Don't let your ideals consume your life to the point where the only way you can carry on small talk is if you are debating something that you hold near and dear. Learn that the Earth revolves around more than you and your own subjective ideals and values. It's like, "Okay, Laurence, we get it. You want gay marriage legalized in all 50 states. I asked you what you wanted for dinner, man. Turn the crusade mode off long enough for the pasta primavera to cool down."
5. It can easily become disrespectful and rude. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a belief system that you are proud of and that you think other people should hear about. I think that prominent atheists are doing a fine job of spreading the gospel of non-belief and theists are doing the same for their beliefs. The dilemma lies in the manner in which one goes about it. If someone politely asks you to stop preaching or proselytizing, or expresses a lack of interest, that is the cue to stop. That does not mean that you should dismiss what the person said and proceed to impose your subjective worldview unto them. One of the things with our beliefs - or lack thereof - is that we can convince ourselves that we are right and that our personal truth is the be all end all point, so no matter what the other person says, they must hear our firm but sincere diatribe because they are "misguided." One of the worst feelings in the world is to feel like you are being condescended to, especially when it's something you greatly believe in.
Theists and atheists, lend me your ears. I come not to denigrate my brothers and sisters, but to remind you of these simple essentials. Evangelizing isn't necessarily bad, but try to do so in moderation. Get the other person's permission before you go ranting and raving about the joys of Allah, or the mystical powers of Buddha, or the salvation of Jesus Christ, or the freeing joy and wonder of being an atheist. Yes, I am biased towards my own atheist background, but even I know how some religious people feel when someone tries to say that they should not be allowed to be open about their faith; I know because I've said similar things in the past... and a few times in the present. We as a people just need to follow a basic principle: Believe what you want, but don't impose it on others, and don't impose it on our laws. Just because I don't live by any holy doctrine doesn't mean you should have to do the same or that our laws should prevent you from doing so.And just because you follow a certain doctrine does not mean our laws need to reflect your personal beliefs. That's when things start getting dicey, friends. Okay, I'm done.

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