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Religious Conversion

Today I was in the center of Melbourne and I saw two stands run by Muslims advocating their faith. They had a selection of DVDs and brochures to give away and seemed friendly enough for anyone who wanted a chat. I think that this is a good thing, if the majority of the Australian population would think of the Muslim minority as people who give away DVDs rather than as potential suicide bombers then it would be a great benefit for society.

Then I saw a Christian stand which had placards indicating that Jesus loves Muslims, which is fine. One of the workers on that stand then gleefully told me that there had been a Muslim stand in that area but the Muslims departed when they arrived. It would be good if advocates for the various religions could work together to promote positive things that they all agree on (generally related to being nice to other people). When they seem to be essentially bullying other religious groups into leaving the area they aren’t making a good case for a kind and caring god.

The Christian who was so happy about the Muslims departing then tried to convert me. He started by talking about a mobile phone not being able to appear from nothing which was the start of an utterly stupid argument about creationism. That was stupid firstly because it’s obvious that evolution doesn’t apply to consumer electronics, if I leave a phone lying on top of another phone overnight I’m not going to get some little phones appearing as a result.

But the bigger stupidity is in even promoting creationism in the first place. Advocating creationism is essentially claiming that god is so incapable that ze can’t manage an evolutionary process. An all-seeing all-knowing god of infinite intelligence could just create a plasma cloud that will form into a solar system and evolve life. People who argue for creationism don’t believe in a capable god, they believe in a being that resembles a god in the way a “magician” resembles someone who can actually perform magic. Arguing for creationism is arguing for a limited being which probably isn’t worthy of worship (why worship space aliens who are probably only a few thousand years ahead of us). Regardless of the scientific evidence (which is strongly in favor of evolution) just logically thinking about the issue in regard to what a being with infinite powers might actually do suggests that ze could just as easily create or evolve all life and probably wouldn’t care about what we believe. Genesis should be taken as metaphor because it’s obvious that nothing that’s taught in a year 7 science class could be taught to your typical stone age goat-herd, but even if it was taken literally it’s not specified as a required belief (as opposed to a belief in a single god, repenting sins, and other beliefs which are required).

The greatest stupidity however is the fact that even if it made any sense to promote creationism it wouldn’t make sense to do so immediately. Any time you want to convert someone to a set of beliefs it’s a good strategy to start with the ones which will seem least wacky. I can have have a conversation with Christians about positive things which we generally agree on such as donating to charity and trying to do good things in various ways. But when they start with the stupid stuff I walk away.

When the weather is better I plan to interview representatives of the various religious groups who are trying to convert people on the street and rate them according to how wacky they are. I’ll be a little limited in my ability to review them by the total lack of any right to free speech in Australia (our laws are much the same as those in the UK). But I should still be able to give them a reasonable review.

9 comments to Religious Conversion

  • neonsignal

    Interesting to see the watchmaker argument updated to the 20th century. Though as Hume pointed out nearly 300 years ago, a watch [or mobile phone] could equally be seen to be an argument for polytheism (amongst his other criticisms of such analogical rhetoric).

  • Perhaps both sides of the argument are correct, but the answer lies somewhere beteen them. How about creation through evolution? And that that process is still ongoing.

  • Franco

    “One of the workers on that stand then gleefully told me that there had been a Muslim stand in that area but the Muslims departed when they arrived.”

    ^– That doesn’t look like bullying. Or is it? Did they use physical violence? Did they threaten it?

    Apart from that, sorry, but it really seems a “I was bored so I argued with (insert religious people here) so I can be reassured I am smarter”.

    I am a non believer: if you don’t agree with [christians|muslism|etc.] and find them “wacky’ and ‘stupid’, why bother debting with them?

  • Sam

    As an open-minded believer in something, I appreciate the very reasonable (and reasonably skeptical) approach you apply here. People who expect others to be intelligent, even when they disagree, and treat each other with respect, are generally much more effective proponents of their views. Thanks, and I look forward to reading your upcoming reviews of these ones.

  • So this guy was telling you the true name of the one true god is “Samsung”.

    Make sure you find some Scientology folks too in your “collection”. Anything that thinks we come from space aliens and we’re all hopping aboard their giant space-ship if you pay me now has to be worth something.

    Not that I find most other explanations any better though.

  • etbe

    neonsignal: Yes there’s lots of problems with that argument. Polytheism is one of the many reasons why proof of creationism (if there was any) wouldn’t be proof for any particular religion. Also proof that our planet and life on it was created wouldn’t be proof for any divine being. Lots of things that are described as miracles in the Bible are less impressive than our modern technology might appear to stone-age people.

    Romane: Exactly, an omnipotent being that wanted humans could just start evolution.

    Franco: They could have politely asked the people who were there first if they wanted company and chosen another location if the answer was “no”. I didn’t bother debating them, once they started with creationism I departed.

    Sam: Thanks.

    Craig: I plan to talk to some Scientologists. I’m really wondering if they will seem to be the least reasonable in this regard. The Scientologists are really good at hiding the wacky stuff. I’ve read the Fishman document etc and all Scientologists that you meet will flatly deny that sort of thing.

  • Franco

    “Franco: They could have politely asked the people who were there first if they wanted company and chosen another location if the answer was ‘no’. I didn’t bother debating them, once they started with creationism I departed.”

    In your post you used the word “bullying”. It now seems that the christian dudes just distributed their propaganda material near another, islamic oriented stand; the islamists decided to relocate, without any violent act (phisycal or psychological) ever occourring. You might want to correct your post, as accusing someone of bullying without proof is not fair, even though you don’t agree with their beliefs.

  • etbe

    Franco: They gloated about the Muslims leaving. If they had said something like “this was the only suitable spot we could find, it was a pity that they didn’t feel like sharing” then my impression would have been very different. Instead they stated that the Muslims had been running a stand there for some time (I think that they said weeks) and that they deliberately set up next to them which encouraged them to leave.

    There was no shortage of spots in that part of the city, in fact due to the poor weather there were many good spots that were available. The Christians could easily have demonstrated how much they care about Muslims by choosing a spot 50 meters away. Putting up a sign about Jesus loving Muslims and then gloating about displacing Muslims from their chosen spot seems a bit hypocritical.

    I think it’s interesting how every time someone calls out bad behavior there will be people rushing to the defense, particularly when it’s bad behavior by someone from the majority group.

    If I wrote about Muslims gloating about Christians leaving an area to get away from them in a similar manner would you ask me to change my post? I’ll write about it if I see it.

  • Franco

    “If I wrote about Muslims gloating about Christians leaving an area to get away from them in a similar manner would you ask me to change my post?”

    If you kept using the word *bullying* (which you used in this very post), I would call you out, yes.

    Setting up a stand in a public place to share your beliefs, whichever they are, isn’t a bad or evil action. Putting your stand near another one with different opinions isn’t either (you could argue it could stir some controversy, but that’s beyond the point).

    *Bullying* means using violence, threatening violence or intimidating another person/party.

    From your report of the facts, the Christian dudes didn’t do any violence/intimidation/threatening, hence telling “they seem to be essentially bullying other religious groups into leaving the area” is plain _wrong_.

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