I was hurriedly walking to a meeting across my campus about a week ago when a young man stopped me and asked, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” Without waiting for me to respond, he asked, “What church do you go to?” When I told him I don’t go to church, he then asked why. I really didn’t have time to engage with him and told him I was late for a meeting, which was true. He didn’t relent. I then told him I wasn’t religious and excused myself. He tried asking me another question, ignoring that I was late for a meeting. I then insisted that I had to go and finally just walked away.
That interaction stuck with me for a couple of reasons. First, it only occurred to me after the fact that he was probably not a student at my university. Since it’s a private university, he should not have been there evangelizing. Second, it dawned on me that what he was doing was disrespectful and that I was far nicer to him than I should have been. To that end, I’ve been reflecting on the interaction and how I should respond in the future. Perhaps I’m becoming that “old grumpy guy,” but I’m actually getting tired of being nice to people who are so disrespectful of other people’s beliefs that they try to convert them to their own.*
To that end, I started to consider questions that I might ask someone who is proselytizing the next time they accost me or knock on my door. I thought sharing these might help others who think similarly about this issue. And, if you have suggestions, please drop them in the comments and, if I like them, I’ll add them to my list.
- Why don’t you respect other people?
- Why don’t you respect me?
- Why don’t you respect my beliefs?
- Why do you think everyone needs to believe what you do?
- Why do you think everyone needs to be just like you?
- How insecure do you have to be in order to want everyone to be just like you?
- Why are you opposed to diverse worldviews?
- Why do you think you’re better than me?
Here’s my suggestion: Memorize one of these so you have it on hand and ready to use.
* Full disclosure: I was a missionary in Costa Rica from 1996 to 1998 when I was still a member of the LDS Church. While I learned a lot as a result of that experience, I deeply regret now having spent so much time trying to persuade other people to believe what I then believed. Evangelism is really disrespectful of others.
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2 thoughts on “Questions to Ask Missionaries and Evangelists”
I like your questions, Atheists Of Florida is going to create a business card with one or two of these on it so we can just hand it to people when they accost us and we don’t want to engage, give them something to think about, assuming they don’t just throw it away.
I think your questions are excellent and don’t have direct additions.
Several people I’ve had to deal with who evangelize if you let them … I’ve handled with *a bit* less putting them on the spot, because I want us to keep being able to talk about other things. What’s worked well is treating religion like any other fantasy people get obsessively into, and whine obnoxiously about to non-fans. I tell them I find the entire bible unspeakably boring. They usually realize in short order that if they don’t want me to also find THEM socially unappealing, they have to stop. Even better, it does a real number on the delusion their church pressed on them, that people will respect them and admire them for yapping about their “faith.” If they bring nonsense up again, I tell them how absurd whichever thing they’re trying to drop into the conversation looks to me (as an unbeliever). It’s gotten the point across that if they want to keep having a religion, they’re better off being more careful about who they expose it to.
Your approach seems excellent for putting people _who have no reason to be talking to you at all_ in their place. What I do is more geared towards giving the odd relative or neighbor enough room to drop the script their pissy, gross religious authorities told them to follow.