17 September 2010

Taking the Hot Dog

During the great famine in Ireland, there arose the saying "Taking the Soup" to describe Catholics who denied their faith and became Protestants in order to get something to eat. I'm not sure that this is 100% historically accurate, and it could just be an apocryphal story, but I guess it could make sense given the situation- faced with starvation, and even worse the starvation of our children, who wouldn't sign up with the team that was giving away free food ? A few days ago, we awoke to a very colorful door hanger on our front door knob offering a free hot dog if we attended a local church fair.

Maybe there really isn't anything new under the sun.

Two things in life make me very nervous- clowns and proselytizing. Maybe I was approached by a proselytizing clown on the playground as a youngster, who's to say. I became a Buddhist as essentially an unrestricted free agent- I found a faith that dovetailed nicely with my own view of the world and where I want to end up. Nobody approached me, harangued me or dragged me to the Sangha kicking and screaming. I merely did my own years of research and made the decision on my own. My Buddhist beliefs are intensely personal and I feel that I greatly benefit from them in my life. That being said, I would never, and have never, approached a friend, family member or stranger and told them I had this great conversion that they needed to try as well. Just as importantly, I have retained a deep respect for other faiths and those that follow them- nobody has all of the answers and the only thing I know for sure is the limits of my own ignorance.

I've had my share of experience with front door religious recruiters over the years- earnest, well scrubbed Mormons, serious looking Jehovah's Witnesses and just plain old good folks out trying to get new members for the local church. Anyone coming to my front door is treated with respect, an invitation to have a cup of coffee (or juice for the LDS guys) and I'm happy to hear them out and take their literature. After a few minutes they realize they are dealing with a born again Buddhist who is asking too many obscure questions, they glance at their watches and head for the door. One gentleman pointed out that I was going to Hell unless I converted to his faith, right then on the spot. I genuinely admired they guy for his ability to get right to the point and thanked him for stopping by.

What has always confused me about religions that come to your front door is based on this simple argument that I always fall back on- "If your faith is so strong, so all encompassing and all knowing that I should switch my beliefs, why do you need to go door to door in order to spread it ? Shouldn't it be self evident ? Why are you out on the street effectively selling your faith ? If your particular brand of faith is so strong, the people must be pouring through the doors on Sunday morning, right ?" For the missionaries, I know there is the component of trying to save my soul in order to justify their actions. My soul is just fine where it is, thanks. "How's yours ?" It is very rare to have one of these people actually engage in a two sided conversation and it becomes apparent that they are merely rattling off a script that they are trying to follow. They aren't making the rounds because they are interested in intellectual discourse- they are on a mission and if you're asking too many questions, you're just slowing things down.

These conversations usually end with polite goodbyes and a hand shake. I actually read whatever literature is left, because I'm always interested in different faiths and views of the world. Who knows, maybe someday I'll switch faiths again. Come to think of it I'm getting hungry....now where's that flyer ?


  1. Curiously, I've never seen any good proselytism in action.

    Here's my favorite discussion about souls:

    Bart: You shank! How could you tell on me?
    Milhouse: Well I don't want hungry birds pecking my soul forever.
    Bart: Soul? Come on, Milhouse, there is no such thing as a soul. It's just something they made up to scare kids, like the bogeyman, or Michael Jackson.
    Milhouse: But every religion says there's a soul, Bart. Why would they lie? What would they have to gain?
    [Reverend Lovejoy, in his office, works a change sorting machine]
    Bart: Well, if your soul is real, where is it?
    Milhouse: [motions to his chest] It's kind of in here. And when you sneeze, that's your soul trying to escape. Saying "God bless you" crams it back in! [gestures up his nose] And when you die, it squirms out and flies away.
    Bart: Uh huh. What if you die in a submarine at the bottom of the ocean?
    Milhouse: Oh, it can swim. It's even got wheels in case you die in the desert and it has to drive to the cemetery.
    Bart: [sighs] Oh, how can someone with glasses that thick be so stupid? Listen: you don't have a soul, I don't have a soul, there's no such thing as a soul!
    Milhouse: [smug] Fine. If you're so sure about that, why don't you sell your soul to me?
    Bart: [pause] How much you got?
    Milhouse: Five bucks.
    Bart: Deal. [writes "Bart Simpson's Soul" on a piece of paper]
    There you go: one soul.
    Milhouse: [sly] Pleasure doing business with you.
    Bart: Any time, chum...p.

  2. If you had stayed a few more years in Wash PA, you would have met the proseltyzing varsity. I lived in a new housing plan which seemed to attract every soul catcher in sight.