I’ve been proselytized by Mormons, Muslims, Christians, believers in the Philosophy of Consciousness, Atheists, and even Orthodox Jews (who think I’m not Jewish enough). I’m part of The Unconvinced, the quiet but sizable population of Americans who don’t believe humanity has yet found the Ultimate Truth. If you think you have, I’ll call you a True Believer.
Convincing the Unconvinced is pretty important to True Believers. But if you want to talk about what you believe and why, can we agree on some ground rules?
1) Remember your history. The view “my faith is right and everyone else’s is wrong” is responsible for more misery, destruction, and death than any other force in human history. You may be motivated by love, but I hope you’ll understand if your enthusiasm makes me a little nervous. My people, in particular, have good reason to be.
2) Don’t confuse facts with faith. Say “I believe” or “I have faith” before you make a religious affirmation. Don’t say “There is no God”. Say “I believe there is no God”. Don’t say “Jesus is Lord”. Say “I have faith that Jesus is Lord”. Don’t say “The Book of Mormon is true”. Say “It has been revealed to me that the Book of Mormon is true”. Hear the difference? It helps us communicate a lot better.
3) Don’t confuse passion with evidence. I understand you’re a good person. I understand your discovery of the One Truth fills your life with a joy that I can’t possibly know until I’ve experienced it. I understand that you want to share it with me.
But none of that has much to do with the truth. Knowing your faith is more important to you than anything else in the world, even life itself, touches me emotionally. It doesn’t make you right.
After all, every faith tradition has passionate followers. In five thousand years of religious history, the only evidence ever offered to justify the One True Faith has been the passionate testimony of believers. Passion is important, but it’s not evidence.
4) Pray for me, but don’t tell me about it. I’d never tell someone they can’t pray for me, but why let me know? If you tell me, you’re not relying on God any more. You’re just hoping that I’ll be touched by your kindness to consider your religious views more carefully. Nothing supernatural or mysterious about that.
Telling someone you’ll pray for them is hedging your bets. That cheapens your testimony.
5) Think twice if it’s a public forum. If you were invited to talk about your faith, then by all means go ahead. But if you were invited for some other reason, then offering religious testimony insults your hosts.
I’ve given plenty of public speeches, many at the request of audiences who don’t share my religious views. Imagine if I told a crowded high school auditorium my joy in knowing that Jesus was not my personal savior. Christians in the audience would be deeply offended; I’d never be invited back. And rightly so.
6) Think twice if you’re a leader. If you serve in a position of responsibility in a non-religious organization, think about the impact of your words. What will your testimony of the One Truth actually accomplish? How will your superiors, colleagues, and subordinates react to the idea that their most deeply held values are false?
If you can agree to these ground rules, then on behalf of the Unconvinced I can offer support.
First, there’s the Constitution. The First Amendment says you have a right to free speech, even if we disagree with it.about It also says you have the right to practice your religion, even if we think it’s wrong.
But more than that, I think we can listen to True Believers more carefully than we have been. I think we can be more sensitive to your desire to proclaim the truth of your faith. I think we can be more supportive of a role for religion in public life.
After all, we Unconvinced just want to know the truth. We’re just like you.