A few years ago, when on a bus in Jerusalem, I was approached by a Christian missionary. I was rather surprised, since my outer appearance, being that of an ultra-orthodox (Jewish) believer should, I think, have given her pause. But it didn’t. Well, I didn’t mince my negative response. My belief in G-d and Judaism did not come to me by chance; I became a believer as part of a long and thought-out search for the Creator and truth. The lady who approached me was young, and so I tacked her up in my mind as a young enthusiast who did not have the astuteness of an adult (to realize that I am a rather poor candidate for conversion).
People mean well. Those of us who have a firm and fierce belief in G-d, often find ourselves wishing that we could share that belief with the rest of mankind. Just as the ex-drunkard wants to tell the man sleeping in the gutter that AA is a better path, just as the liberal democrat may have trouble conceiving that anyone could logically arrive at the decision to vote for McCain…. We are, the “true believers”, people with a message to share. The question of course, is if we really should approach people who have not asked or expressed any interest in our doing so. I would say “no”. In fact, I suspect that approaching people who have not expressed any interest, is giving that person the message that we think he is stupid, or without values, and is in itself one of the best ways to make them want to avoid becoming "religious".
Now, in case you are wondering what brought this post on, it was an incident on the bus on Tuesday. I was returning from swimming class with Ricki, when a non-religious woman started screaming at a religious woman to mind her own business, and that each person has the right to believe as she sees fit. To tell you the truth, I was crinching with embarresment. Now I don’t know what the religious lady said, whether it was an exhortation to dress more modestly (not that the appearance of the non-religious woman was that improper), or if she approached her about a matter of faith. [And since I was not privy to the initial exchange, I held back and did not offer my 2 cents.] And then, this incident reminded me of the many times at a retreat, an orthodox woman** will ask a non-religious speaker how is it (considering their experiences, etc) that they have not come to believe in God. I always groan when this happens. This is often embarrassing for the speaker (sometimes), takes the audience off-topic, and gives the speaker the feeling that he is only being viewed as “non-religious”. In the same category I place bloggers who comment on a blog of someone who does not believe, “You don’t know what you are missing.”
While it is true that some people do things by rote, and arrive at their beliefs solely by an emotional process, this is surely not true of everyone. And let’s take a look. Have you EVER seen a person so addressed stop and say: “Oh, Gee, I never thought of that before. You are so right!” Never. Not once have I seen this occur. Do we actually suppose that by exhorting or attacking someone in public, that we will cause them to love us and our way?!!???
If we really believe that our way is right, that it is a self-evident truth, we need not push it on anyone. Not on kids who have fallen off the path, and not on any non-religious people we meet. We have to assume that they have reasons for their choices in life. We only have to act like “menchen” (good, ethical people), in a way that causes others to sit up and notice: “Hey, He is a great person. I want to be like that.” Because not only is this the proper way to behave, but if anything will change our friends, this is it.
** There is always one “bird” like this at every retreat…….