Evangelism is Violence: Why we need to change the way we talk to each other about beliefs.

evangelism is violenceReligions should not treat evangelism as persuasion because persuasion is violence. When you use rhetorical techniques to forcibly change a person's point of view, you are forcing your will to usurp their own and this process often involves trickery. Think of how accustomed we've become to that trickery as acceptable. Watch a commercial or political ad and you will see that we tolerate rhetorical trickery on a daily basis. These are acts of deception and violence. I propose that all persuasion has a root in some form of deception. The most effective kinds of persuasion and those most valued by our cultures are the kinds that are less obvious. Persuasion sits on a proverbial slippery slope, ethically and morally.

I believe that our cultures are bubbling forth with a desire to no longer tolerate these levels of persuasion. The recent popularity of new media and communication platforms is an expression of this. Twitter, for example, has forced efficiency in terms of transmission, but INCREASED frequency. Social mediums in general have exhibited a desire on the part of the public for greater transparency in communication.

Martin Buber favors non-coercive, non-manipulative communicative influence. I would assert that this relies too much on the communicator’s subjective opinion concerning the boundaries of coerciveness, and manipulation. It is a step in the right direction in that it recognizes the inherent violence located within rhetorical persuasion. For generations, we've developed cultures that value the ability to persuade through rhetorical means, and have become as a species very adept at masking our persuasive attempts, making them indistinguishable from efforts of pure communication in the shape of information transmission as a part of dialog.

My solution to this ethical problem is to favor more communication rather than less. The dialog is a ping process. I ping you with what I believe. You return ping what you believe. The process of internalizing the beliefs of others is a private act and should not be directed by the other but rather the self alone. Persuasion interrupts this process and inserts a foreign agenda. Our cultures have traditionally favored a "less is more" mentality about communication because of the often dire circumstances around which the need to communicate evolved ("You! Stab Bear Now!) We still have these circumstances and yet there are other circumstances, such as matters of belief or emotional attachment, when a greater frequency of communicative "pings" is required for successful transmission.

Quite simply, I feel that too much emphasis has been placed on the efficiency of communication, favoring less communication by volume per communicated artifact. This is an anomaly that exists, in my opinion, not as a result of communication best practice, but as a byproduct of our attachment to the use of technology in communication - a shift I believe that occurred when cultures moved form predominantly oral communication to predominantly written communication (the entrance of writing is the entrance of technology.) Because of the nature of technology and machines in general, efficiency is highly valued. Communicating more in less space is more efficient for the technology but not necessarily more effectively communicative (Twitter solves this problem by increasing frequency, remember.) Most uses of technology in communication have forced the communication process into a cost/benefit analysis in terms of transmission, therefore some of the information initially intended to be transmitted is lost (signal depletion.) When the nature and purpose of the communication is inherently changed by the efficiency decisions forced upon the communication process, mis-communication occurs

I would contend that persuasion need not exist at all, especially in the context of evangelism (for any religion or belief.)

My maxim has become: "there is no persuasion, only dialog and patience."

Ethical communication is not deceptive, nor is it coercive. It allows for the existence of variety in human perspective and respects the necessity for transparency. When one has the desire to persuade, one must communicate that desire to the intended "persuadee" in a transparent manner. Dialog can then continue to occur without rhetorical persuasion techniques in play and, through patience, free will can play out its course. The purpose of dialogue is not persuasion. The purpose is information transmission. I transmit my point of view to you and you transmit yours to me. If, in doing so, my point of view is altered, it is not as a result of persuasion but as an act of free will on my part. This is the intended role of evangelism. Transmission of the "Good News," not coercion into assimilation. Just because we CAN persuade, does not mean that we SHOULD.

I take this method as being exemplary of the type of behavior God has exhibited toward humanity. It is well within the boundaries of God to persuade humanity to behave or believe a certain way. The truth we see exhibited in terms of his behavior toward us (as recorded in Biblical history and elsewhere) is a behavior of patience rather than persuasion.



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    My father and I have many discussions in which he starts, "I'm going to try to persuade on this issue". As much as I disagree with my dad, that act alone gives me a head up on what he is doing and generally we can have a good discussion.
    We have to have mutual respect for each other for rhetoric of persuasion to disappear.

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    I don't know about calling it "violence", but evangelism does tend to be rude and presumptuous in my experience. But, the evangelist only has as much power over me (e.g., to do me harm) as I give him. So, to quote Josh Thomas (Aussie comedian), "As an atheist, having a Christian threaten me with hell is like having a hippie threaten to punch me in my aura." Barring criminal action (e.g., ACTUAL violence), there's nothing they can really do to me that I cannot control in some way.

    As for the dialogue vs. evangelism/persuasion issue, in some instances there is a place for persuasion. Say, if I come across someone that looks like they are about to jump off a bridge, the right thing to do is persuade them to step down and get help. The thing is, with some of my old friends from my days as a fundamentalist Christian, they have re-engineered the situation in their heads as exactly that. I am standing on the edge of a bridge over hell, which is just as real a place to them as France is to me, and they try to get me to step down and get help. So when we talk, they use every device of persuasion available to them, while I try to have a respectful dialog about evidence. And in the end, we both say what we think is right and respectful to the other, and we both end up frustrated with the other. It's like a language barrier -- the fundamental assumptions about the universe are too different. The ground rules for dialog can not be established.

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    i don't know if i buy the "persuasion is violence" argument. I'd argue that violence is a form of persuasion- "Say/do this or i hit you with a rock" is pretty persuasive. But the idea of conversation is based, in part, on persuasion. Our court system is based on the idea that the most persuasive argument wins.
    If I have a belief, and that belief is sacred to me, and I truly think that by convincing you of my belief I will make your life better, isn't it immoral of me to NOT use persuasion?
    This, i think, is why logic and critical thinking are so important. The burdon of detecting fallacies, intellectual bullying, and rhetoric is, and I think should remain the burdon of the listener, not the speaker. If you as an individual wish to remove all trace of persuasion from your communication that may be a worthy cause, but i fear you'll always wind up being ignored, and your wonderfuly thought out, well crafted logical masterpiece will reach few ears.

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