Thursday, October 13, 2005

Working for the flock

At the beginning of every quarter (especially fall), university campuses become beehives of activity, with students running all over it. Almost always, at around this time there is a rather unique, but definitive event. On a few days, in the morning, you’ll find a bunch of (almost always) middle-aged men, smiling and handing out bibles to people as they rush to class or work. They are everywhere, polite and friendly.

What I call “soft” proselytizing.

Now, though I personally dislike against any kind of religious proselytizing, I understand that it is a free country, and this right is guaranteed. So, if some one wants to proselytize, and increase his or her flock, he/she has every right to do so (with out using “force”).

But I have always felt extremely uncomfortable with this happening on University campuses, and even more so outside school campuses. I understand that organized religion needs young, fresh blood, and that the younger minds are more impressionable, so the youth will remain the “target” in this effort.

But, to me, educational institutions should be places of learning, and questioning, where people develop independent thinking and reasoning. Universities should also encourage and develop greater religious tolerance. So, while learning about different religions (in a comparative religion class) is perfectly fine, I do not feel any sort of religious proselytizing is OK.

Especially in these increasingly intolerant times.

But what do most people think about religious proselytizing on university campuses?


Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sunil
I have always felt that it was wrong to proslytize to children because that is the exclusive right of parents. But once they are of age to make up their own minds, there is no harm in people talking about religion. I don't like the pushy ones who won't let you go. But if they just hand out a bible and smile, there's no damage done.

Some of these preachers are somewhat entertaining. There was one guy who was nick named "Brother Bob" who would walk around and preach in a very loud voice and be very dramatic. The students would gather and think it was a great show. I doubt he converted anyone.

Anonymous said...

see, anyone selling anything - idea / product wants to "catch them young" - therefore them flocking on to university campuses...

going by what you say, these guys are not being overbearing - just a "chance maarne me kya jaata hai" types - and with the students too, is unlikely the majority will suddenly discover religion - if anyone does show an interest, he/she is most likey to have always had an interest in religion...?

but on a broader principle level, am against anything being "sold" on education campuses...

Anonymous said...

Sunil, recently there was an interesting discussion on Sepia Mutiny on conversation. I found one comment particularly insightful.

Sourin Rao said...

I'm sure there might be billboards and advertisements for commercial products on the campus. This is just another product that someone is pandering. Whats the difference ? Just like the starbucks on the campus giving out free samplers of their new mocca, maybe.

The thing is that these religious types are everywhere, sermonizing, preaching, proselytizing. Again this is free speech issue isnt it? As long as they are not harassing anyone, its OK. Personally, I think its a load of crock, but others might disagree with me. And thats OK.


The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

I agree. As long as people are not being too pushy and getting in people's faces I think it's ok. The touble starts when people don't leave you alone.

I remember in my first job, a secretary whose faith I will not mention, who kept asking me whether I wasn;t afraid of Hindu gods as they were all so scary with skulls and swords and why I didn;t want to worship a more peaceful loving one. I once got a half hour lecture in the Ladies Loo why I should convert!

Anonymous said...

I too think it's okay, and it shouldn't be banned or anything. After all, this sort of proselytizing exists in the society, and I don't think it's a great idea, asking, though mildly, for some sort of insularity for our educational institutions from our society. At the same time, one genuinely hopes that people belonging to institutions of higher learning are relatively less receptive to 'soft proselytizing', making it a less attractive place for proselytizers to stick around.

Anonymous said...

Its not only on University Campuses. My better half was jumped upon by a bible dumper at a travel stop on the NY Thruway. She was checking out some sunglasses at one of those carts and he commented on how nice she was and then went into a sermon about god and BS.....

For her it was her first encounter with such types. I knew exactly what was coming the moment the guy opened his mouth but could not warn her in time :)

Also living in brookly I am used to old ladys who knock on my door on saturday morning at 8 am (urrrrgh!!). They are Jehovah's Witnesses and trying to get their flock to grow. I just dont answer the door, because I dont want to say something nasty to old ladies.

Sunil said...

All very fair comments, thanks. As I said, I just wanted to see what most people felt. Though i don't like it, like I said, i don't think there's any thing particularly wrong with it (when they're polite and non-violent) as it is a part of freedom of expression. But is like a new product given free on campus.....same difference. Somehow though.......i still like to keep religion a relatively personal thing. And somehow.....i don't like it being on educational campuses. Any where else seems more fine.....

Vikrum said...

Hi Sunil,

I liked the post. I agree with Michael that the students on college campuses are adults and therefore they are free to reject or accept whatever is thrown at them.

It's interesting that you bring up religious converters because there are many other groups who "recruit" at college campuses.

A few questions:

- How do you feel about anti/pro abortion groups on campus? I went to Cornell, and every year a group of anti-abortion activists would set up shop, plant crosses in the ground (representing aborted babies), and show photos of aborted fetuses. Is this free speech or is this crossing the line?

- How do you feel about military recruitment? At many American law schools there is controversy because the U.S. military officially does not accept gays.

- What about recruitment for organizations like the CIA or NSA?

Sunil said...

agreed Vikrum, very valid points.

Colleges are really a breeding ground for any kind of recruiters. And you get every kind of them.

I hadn't really thought too hard about it.....but you've made me.

I guess any kind of recruiting is just like a "job fair" on campus, and these are just different "business interests" working.

Put it that way......and's totally fine..

Again, I might disagree with a bunch of things (like the anti-abortionists or military recruitment on campus), but then, i think they're entitled to do it. I think i largely made that clear in my post, and i was just seeing what kinds of opinions are there.

But it just comes from a slightly different environment i had in college (it was a government college) in india.

The military doesn't go from college to college (at least in the big state colleges) recruiting. There aren't any religious congregations there, nor are there proselytizers. I don't think the Indian intelligence agencies ever recruit straight from college.

And the students were largely passive about most issues (i don't know if that was a good thing at all), since their only priority was getting a good degree and finding a job.......

So, it was a very different atmosphere. I came here (some 5 years ago) to find campuses a bed of activity for every one. It was exhillarating and yet sometimes disturbing at the same time.

gawker said...

I would like to ask the bible guy what is the point of handing out bibles, and if he believes in everything the bible has to say. I would like to know what he hopes to accomplish by standing there. And I would like him to explain to me in scientific terms how everything that is described in the bible occurred. That is what I think I am entitled to if he stands in my place of learning, handing out bibles.

Iyer the Great said...

I also feel that religion should be kept out of the campus. Religion is not like any other product the other commenters were talking about. It certainly has to be treated differently.


PK said...

I am not comfertable with religious proselytizing and conversion.There is always an emphasis on their religion being Superior/better/leading to heaven or God or Supreme Being.I believe this is nonsense. All religions are basically same and one can acheive the same ends following any religion.Religious proselytizing and conversions has evoked very strong reaction and resentment,resulting in hatred and violence against followers of other religions.Atrocities arre committed and wars faught for proselytizing.Parsis dont proselytize nor convert anyone to their religion.You are Jorastrian by birth only.Parsis were never target in religious riots.Even during partition period, Parsis were not attacked in Pakistan or in India.(Bapsi Sidhwa's *Ice Candy Man*).