The Conversion Illusion

Whenever we find something which works for us, whether it is a new found insight, religion, worldview, diet, workout program, meditation technique, etc., it is natural for us to want to spread the “good news” to others.  We do this because we are genuinely excited in our discovery of these “breakthroughs.” It is perfectly natural to feel that enthusiasm, and to want to share our discoveries with others.  That in and of itself is not necessarily an issue.  What can become an issue is when we move from simply sharing these things to subtly or not-so-subtly attempting to “convert” others to our new point of view.  Once we cross the line into attempting to convert others, we have then entered into the world of violence.  Any coercion, manipulation, attempts to “convince,” to “argue” a point, are all forms of violence, and have no place in moving humanity to a more compassionate, loving way of being. I can remember listening to a missionary at a local church.  She had just returned from overseas, from an area where she said both Christians and Muslims lived literally right next to each other.  She said they got along quite well, and said while it was nice they got along, it made it difficult to get “converts” to the Christian faith.  It is incredible to me someone would consider it a negative thing to find people of differing faiths getting along well.  What is even more sad is this missionary is supposed to be a representative for God, whose real  job is to share the genuine “good news” of unconditional Love, not a specific, limited belief system.   

It doesn’t matter how “right” we believe we are.  After all, anyone who argues a point believes they are “right,” whether or not they are actually correct.  Oftentimes we try to justify our attempts to convert others by saying it is “for their own good,” arrogantly assuming we have something they “need,” or know “what’s best for them.” Why do we do this?  On one level, it appears we are doing this because we genuinely care about others and want to “help” them, but if we dig deeper and are honest with ourselves, we will find another motivation not as “pure” as we might have misled ourselves to have.  Is it not simply an egotistical validation we are after? If someone agrees with us, or adopts our point of view, it validates our viewpoint and justifies our egos. It makes us feel good.  Is simply “feeling good” reason enough for all the violence and mischief these misguided “conversion” attempts create? If we could ask all the victims of the crusades and the Inquisition for their opinion on this question, their answer would be loud and clear. We can try to justify ourselves by saying we are not burning people at the stake nor killing anyone, but any conversion attempt, even a seemingly “harmless” spirited verbal argument is always violence, plain and simple.  The bottom line is this – any and all attempts at conversion, no matter how “well-meaning” we think we are is nothing but violence.  Conversion serves the ego and nothing more.  That is precisely why conversion is violence. Anything which justifies the ego is violence. 

 So, given the fact that conversion is just a softer word for coercion, serving nothing more than our egos, how then can we genuinely, peacefully, lovingly assist change in this world for the better?  Obviously, the old techniques of “convincing” and coercing others through reward and punishment is no answer.  Under this archaic system, people’s actions are pure hypocrisy and dishonest because actions are done to either avoid punishment or receive a reward, not because they want to do it.  This system of controlling behavior is violence because it is conflicted and the product of fear.  Anything which is the result of fear breeds violence.  Fear and violence are the same.  Only Love brings love. The problem with conversion attempts is the fact there is an agenda, a goal one is seeking.  Actions borne of agenda is hypocrisy.  Sharing love is not an agenda, and while we keep attempting to “change the world” by agenda and ideology, only the genuine sharing of Love can bring what it is we are seeking – true peace and  joy for all.  As long as the coercive and divisive ego is involved, then it’s agendas alone will be served and love will take a back seat.  Under this scenario, our world will remain unchanged, and the violence will go on indefinitely. 

This converson illusion is believed in by atheists and theists alike.  Both believe they can “change the world” if only they could “convince” others of their “good news.”  Both believe in their hearts they are well-meaning and want what is best for humanity, but both are misguided by the fragmented agendas they are attempting to promote.  Since both viewpoints only see a part and not the Whole, neither has “the answer.”  The only way this world changes is when everyone shares love together, without agenda.  This begins with each one of us as individuals.  If we do our part – genuinely share love with others without trying to change others, just sharing, we are ironically by not “trying,” promoting the Kindgom of Heaven on Earth. What it really means to “spread the Good News” is to simply share Love, nothing else.  This has nothing to do with convincing anyone who Jesus Christ is, what to believe, or any other trivial nonsense. 

The writer of the “God is Imaginary” website and author Sam Harris, both express a vision of a kind of “ideal” world in which religion and its myths no longer exist.  It is unrealistic to expect this will ever happen since religion is not just about belief in God, but is cultural as well.  Religion is as much a part of a culture’s fabric as specific foods, customs, music, sports, clothing, architecture, etc.  To expect it to simply vanish off the face of the Earth, like any other aspect of culture is simply not realistic.  That being said, it would be best if religion could simply be seen for what it is – myths pointing to the Reality of Truth without being thought of as literal fact we must convince or convert others to. Simply put, it would be best if people could see religious myth the same way they see “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter,” as stories which express truths about the human condition without being literal fact. Religious scripture, stories, and symbols are not in themselves “bad” things.  They exist as a representation, a mirror to Truth.  The problem is not so much religion as it is the consciousness of the people who follow it.  That is the entire problem. 

A knife in the hands of an artisan is useful for carving a sculpture in wood.  A knife in the hands of a killer can bring destruction and end another person’s life.  The knife, like religious symbolism and myth, are not in and of themselves “bad” things. Both can either be useful or destructive depending on the hands in which they are weilded.  Ignorance is the whole problem.  To believe ridding the world of religious myths and symbols is the “answer,” as some atheists such as the “God is Imagnary” author and Sam Harris believe, is misguided and not a correct way of looking at the problem.  That would be like saying we should rid the world of all knives since they have the potential to be used as a tool for murder.  The problem is, if we rid the world of all knives, that would also make cutting a steak quite difficult.  The problem with this absurd way of thinking is obvious, and illustrates the point no thing is in and of itself “good’ or “bad.” Funny how both the atheist and the theist have this tendency of isolating a single “thing” or “concept” as “evil” or something to be “gotten rid of.”  Both are fundamental in their beliefs, as both athetists and theists are, at the core, the same.  Nevertheless, I still admire both of these atheist authors very much because they have extremely logical and well thought out criticisms of religion and its problems.  I agree with much of what they say, and they have valid points.  However, both are not seeing the Whole, not perceiving the Truth, and are in a sense, no better in their “solutions” for the world than their theistic adversaries they so ardently criticise.

The author of the “God is Imaginary” website has also authored another website entitled, “Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?”  In this, the author says the following…

“There really is only one solution. It is time for Americans, both religious and non, to openly discuss the evidence showing that God is imaginary. Let’s stop hiding the discussion, or attacking it. Let’s talk openly. Let us have an honest, open, rational, civil conversation about all of the evidence that we have seen in this book.

If we have that debate in an open forum, the majority of us will reach agreement that God is imaginary. The reason why we will come to that conclusion is because the evidence, as presented in this book, overwhelmingly favors it.”

In many ways I agree with the author.  I agree that the god of the Judeo-Christian tradition is imaginary, just like Zeus, Horus, and other ancient gods. I also agree that believing religious stories as literal, historical fact is delusional, as well as the fact it is not a good thing for society when the vast majority of the people within it are delusional.  The world would definitely be a much better place if it was filled with enlightened individuals instead of deluded ones.  On these points, I agree with the author.  Where I depart from the author is in his “solution” to the issue.  What he does not understand is the fact that religious belief is not rational.  People do not “come to faith” because someone rationally explained to them some ideas which made them a “believer.”  Religious belief within people has much of its origins in responding to deep-seated egotistical and emotional needs, and is also largely driven by fear – the fear of death, the fear of life, the fear of going against the grain of the majority of fundamentalist society and their peers, against family, upbringing, parents, etc.  The gigantic web of why people follow religion is quite intricate and psychologically complex.  I have been there.  I know what it is to be a fundamentalist “believer” who is terrified of change, an atheist who writes off all religion and scripture as nonsense, and I understand the mystic, who sees the unity, the Oneness of All behind the dualistic world of appearances. 

The simple fact of the matter is, people do not “convert to atheism” by logically discussing the facts of why their belief is delusional.  To suggest such a thing to someone, as this author does to his readers, is condescending.  Nobody likes to be condescended to, and so even if the author is correct, and I must agree to a large extent he is, his attempts to “convert” people to atheism are doomed to failure because his entire approach is in the spirit of convincing and coercion, not Love.  He couches his language in softer words such as having an “honest, open, rational, civil conversation” about things, but what he misses is the fact that is not how people convert to atheism.  People do not come to atheism through logic any more than they come to belief in God through logic.  When I converted to atheism at the age of 22, I was ready to hear the evidence through a religion class in college.  Nobody convinced me.  I heard the arguments.  Because I was ready to hear another viewpoint, they resonated in me, and I took my journey from there, as everyone must do.  Everyone must take their own path to Truth in their own time, and nobody can or should be forced to go any other way than the way they must.  Nobody can be forced to see.  One never sees when one is forced.  If one is “convinced” or “coerced,”  one still sees nothing, and the “conversion process” will fail to accomplish what it set out to accomplish.  Conversion by convincing is coercion, and has nothing to do with seeing Truth. 

Furthermore, this author has a fundamental misunderstanding of why people create religious myths in the first place.  To narrow the reasons down to only “fear of death” and that God is only “a proxy for “goodness,” ” is an incomplete and fragmented way of viewing the truth of why we create religious myths.  This may more accurately describe the phenomena for religious belief, but not necessarily the creation of religious myth.  They are not at all the same thing.  Religious belief is about justifying the ego, the self-concept, couched in “spiritual language” like the words “soul” and “spirit.”  Relgious myths are stories pointing to universal truths shared by the whole of humanity.  Removing specifically “religious” myths for a moment, I would ask the author a more broad question like why we create modern-day myths such as “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter,” and “The Lord of the Rings.”  To say we do so for mere “entertainment value” only is a denial of the truth of why we tell these stories.  We do so to reveal truths about human nature with imagry and metaphor because for whatever reason, human beings need to do this – to metaphorically and symbolically express great truths about our human condition.  That is the essence of what True mythology is about, “religious” or no.  It is clear from the words of Sam Harris and the author of “God Is Imaginary,” they do not comprehend the value of myth, and its importance.  They would have us do away with these stories since they are not “true,” which they mean to be not factually correct.  The issue is not the myths as much as it is the literal interpretation of the myths as historical fact, giving people something to fight about. 

The fundamental misunderstanding of fact and truth has caused more problems in history than perhaps anything else.  Perhaps better said, it is a lack of witnessing Truth, a lack of awareness which is the beginning and end of our entire problem.  And this fundamental misunderstanding is a problem for both the theist and the atheist.  Both see nothing, and therefore can solve nothing.  Only Love sees love… which can alone… bring true peace…

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