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A reader has asked us for some advice. His acquaintance is a wannabe evangelist, not professionally trained in the subtleties of that craft. This fellow just won't leave our friend alone. He will not take no for an answer. He just doesn't get it, causing our friend to lose sleep over it. Sound familiar?
Our reader takes it one step further: "He pretended at first to be a friend, then progressed to trying his damnedest to induct me into his religion. It finally dawned on me that he views me as emotionally vulnerable to his sales pitch because of my [rough] childhood."
I suggested that it's time to get tough, to let him know, in no uncertain terms, that such behavior is unacceptable. The bottom line is that this is a form of bigotry, because the evangelist is acting as if he is somehow superior to the person being evangelized.
This superiority complex lies at the core of evangelism. I seriously doubt that this attitude has anything to do with you being in any state of vulnerability: evangelicals tend to see the rest of us as being flat-out inferior to them simply because we're not one of them. This clannishness brings their behavior into the realm of bigotry: it's as if they are a privileged few, and the best we could hope for would be to be like them.
Since you previously engaged with him, perhaps out of politesse, do you now owe him an audience? Not any more than the woman who flirts with a guy and lets him buy her a few rounds, only to discover that he's a jerk. If he doesn't respond to her kiss-off lines, she starts getting rude with him.
It's one thing for a religionist to express her or his opinion, or even try to persuade me to go along with that opinion. This is fair play in the marketplace of ideas. But two behaviors cannot be tolerated: being condescending about it and refusing to stop when asked.
Most professionals are trained to avoid both behaviors, but the amateurs can get rather pesky. When they insist on inflicting their religion on me, I see it as harassment borne of bigotry and respond to it as such.
First I confront them and ask why they act this way after I've asked them to stop. It's here that they unwittingly display their sense of superiority toward me -- almost always by trying to justify their behavior. Although I can demonstrate to them that they are putting on an air of superiority, only the most arrogant among them will admit that this is what they're doing. Many won't see it. They can't, because in their minds they are doing the right thing. This is the dogma showing its colors.
Once I've told them to stop, once I've established why it is that I want them to stop, they tend to change the subject or call me a weenie for being unwilling to take on their arguments -- inevitably suggesting that they just won the debate! No! I'm not even in this discussion by choice! I've been trying to bail out for some time, now!
If they keep it up after I have made a good case that to continue constitutes harassment, then I proceed along those lines, responding to it as harassment and getting help if need be. If that's what it takes and if that's what it's worth to get some sleep at night, then that's what I do.
Copyright ©2001 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon