Sunday, November 18, 2007

Religious Conversions

Today my sister came into town from Texas so that we could celebrate our cousin's birthday. It turns out Neko-chan has been hiding something from everyone. While we sat at the restaurant eating our dinner, she announced that she has converted to Christianity.

At first I thought she was joking. After all, she was raised in a Buddhist temple. Her father is a priest, for heaven's sake! The last time she visited, she told me that she had made some friends at school who invited her to their weekly bible study. It's one of those college student groups where the kids get together and make it a sort of social get-together after they read a chapter or two from the Bible. She liked going because they were really nice and friendly and fun to hang out with but she assured me that she had no plans to convert. Apparently between that visit and this one, something changed.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. I believe that everyone should be free to change their religion or religious affiliations if they want to. I know what it's like to feel obligated to stay with a religion because you were born into it, so I would never criticize her for converting. Still, there's something a wee bit unsettling about this. I just don't know how to articulate what it is that I'm feeling.

One of my brothers converted to Islam earlier this year and it didn't bother me at all. He had shown an interest in doing so some years ago but never went so far as to do it. When he told everyone in the family after he recited the shahada for the first time, I made sure I let him know how much I supported his decision. Somehow, this feels a lot different though.


Michael said...

Here's a quote you might appreciate:

"We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart." - H.L. Mencken

bint alshamsa said...

Thank you, Michael. I do like that one!

Oolon Colluphid said...

I can understand why you feel unsettled about this, over and above other types of conversions. In my opinion, dawah as a Qur'anic requirement may well be what rescues Islamic proselytization from being as disturbing as Christian proselytization. The Muslims I know do talk to me about their religion, but our acquaintances and friendships are formed in other contexts, so there's no sectarian groupthink going on. I get an honest and frank range of perspectives on Islam that more or less replicates the range of opinions to be found among Muslims, always excepting the sects that don't allow converts at all like the Druze.

What makes Christian conversions like the one you describe different, in my opinion, is that there is sectarian groupthink, and it usually is of a much more conservative kind. These people do not make friends then talk religion, they make friends in order to talk religion. It's a psychological trap that they spring on many people, and they're successful in creating a loving and mutually supportive atmosphere while making it clear that all of this is very much contingent on you assenting to their narrow conservative sectarian beliefs.

I used to be a member of a group called the IDEA Club, when I was studying for my undergraduate degree. I was invited in by one of its members, ostensibly to talk about science (it stands for Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness). However, every officer of the IDEA Club had to be a practicing Christian. It was a venue for proselytization under the guise of a scientific discussion, and when they decided that they couldn't convert me either to ID or Christianity, but I was coming dangerously close to 'converting' some of their members to accepting science, I was purged from the club.

Richard Webb said...

Nothing is for ever you know.

I was persuaded that I had to be a born again Christian to go to Heaven, and I really believed it for a while. I know better now, but I don't regret all the Bible study that I was forced to do.The knowledge has stood me in good stead.

Be happy for her, love her, and wait.

Lisa Harney said...

I find Christianity unsettling simply due to how its used to dehumanize large swaths of humanity just for the sake of having an enemy to galvanize the worshippers. Also, a willingness some leaders have to lie and misrepresent scripture in order to name those enemies.

There are progressive Christians, but that's slim comfort when Focus on the Family encourages teens to advocate for their right to bully GLBT students.

At least, that's what goes through my mind when I deal with my Christian relatives...which would be all of my relatives.

Don said...

Why is it different w/ your sister?

DaisyDeadhead said...

I know what you mean, some conversions seem so right and good, and others... you just think oh no.

IMHO, these feelings we have are the manifestations of varying levels of spiritual awareness, based on things we are largely unconscious of in the material world.

In other words, we can somehow feel when a spirit is centered or when it is uncentered, and that is what we are actually responding to.