Opinion: Misguided faith

David Chen

David Chen

By Alex Dunkel

Religion is a deeply personal experience, with both private and communal elements. Religious freedoms are protected by our Constitution, and rightfully so. No government or group of people has the right to tell others what to believe. However, there are groups who pervade society and do just that. Unlike the countless, well-mannered, “live and let live” Christians, many of the Christian youth groups, zealots and missionaries utilize immoral techniques and justifications in their attempts to convert people to their faith.

From my personal experience over the course of eight years on campus, I have come to realize how sly, superficial and manipulative some of these organized groups can be. Though they will welcome anyone among their ranks, they primarily prey upon specific groups.

At the beginning of each school year, the campus is flooded with new students, many of whom are looking for new friends. Though loners are often targeted, the hardest-hit community is international students, particularly the Asian community. Christian groups will approach them with smiling faces and offers to join social activities.

This “hospitality,” however, can be shallow. Upon luring these trusting people into their social web, they continue to seduce them with friendly gestures while slowly pressuring them into their faith. The process varies between groups, but the general technique is largely the same.

Christian beliefs and social activities are mixed. If the inductee expresses a lack of knowledge about the religion, members will seize the opportunity and quickly flood them with religious information. However, if the inductee expresses a lack of interest, they aren’t barred from the group. Instead, contact is maintained with the individual with the hope that loneliness will lure them back.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

If peer pressure fails to convert the inductee, a more disturbing and far less humane method is adopted. This involves subtle intimidation and the threat of damnation. For those few remaining non-Christians who have not been threatened with damnation by proselytizing Christians, the best proof of this lies with the mentally handicapped – the next most frequently targeted group. Unlike most people, who would justify adoption of their newfound faith in their words, many of the mentally handicapped resort to reiterating – nearly verbatim – the words used by their Christian converters.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but condemning someone to Hell for not adopting your faith is pretty heartless. In fact, I feel it makes you worse than Hitler. At least Hitler eventually ended his victims’ suffering with death. The Christian religion, however, condemns those who don’t adhere to their social standards to an eternity of pain and suffering. For those of us who don’t call ourselves Christians, we don’t particularly care what’s written in the Bible; whether proclaimed by man or deity, it is immoral. Moreover, adopting a religion simply out of a fear of retribution (Hell) or hope for a reward (Heaven) is a perfect example of operant conditioning, much like that used on small children or animals. True morality does not expect rewards nor require threats.

Regardless of what may be perceived as a good intent, the actions of these proselytizing Christians are hurtful and demoralizing. Furthermore, their actions objectify the people they target. It is not rare to hear a proselytizing Christian talk about his or her need to convert as many people as they can during their life. Viewing each new convert as a token for admission into Heaven or as a prop to boost one’s importance “in the eyes of God,” is horribly selfish and dehumanizing.

I’m not accusing every proselytizing Christian of this, but those who are guilty should re-examine what makes them Christian. For everyone else, and particularly those targeted by proselytizing Christians, it is important to remember that real friends accept you for who you are, not for who they want you to become.

Alex Dunkel is a University employee. His column runs alternate Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected].