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Author Topic: Prosletyzing  (Read 2199 times)
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« on: May 29, 2012, 12:27:42 am »
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I admit I have my biases, but I do believe that prosletyzing (especially if it seeks to displace an existing tradition) is an act of aggression, and that the freedom of religion includes one's religious beliefs in an atmosphere of respect. Therefore I do believe that governments have the right to restrict or ban missionary activity, and that this doesn't conflict with freedom of speech, or thought, or conscience. Furthermore I think such activity is destructive and disrespectful towards the local community, especially in light of the past and present actions of missionaries worldwide. What do other people here think?
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« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2012, 03:56:53 am »
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I tend to agree with you, though it can depend on where in the world we are referring to. As religion and cultural identity are often interlinked, proselytizing in the traditional Christian sense can be dangerous. Bhutan for example is a majority Buddhist nation, with a significant Hindu population. While freedom of religion is in existence and is practiced, the constitution forbids proselytism.
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« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2012, 09:48:56 am »
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Positive.

I admit I have my biases, but I do believe that prosletyzing (especially if it seeks to displace an existing tradition) is an act of aggression

LOL, who cares? Why should the "existing tradition" get a monopoly and any competitors not allowed in? Especially when it's used in oppression, see the the caste system in India and how many Christian converts did so specifically to escape it, oh and now the BJP wants to ban conversion altogether. Plus this mindset leads to the idea it's OK to ostracize and persecute converts, take a look at the death penalty for apostasy in Muslim countries.

I should point out the ridiculous double standard here, what Christian country prohibits proselytizing to Christians? No one flips out over western converts to Buddhism.
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afleitch
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« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2012, 09:56:11 am »
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Especially when it's used in oppression, see the the caste system in India and how many Christian converts did so specifically to escape it

You do know that the caste system in India exists outside of Hinduism? Caste distinctions exist amongst Indian Christians and is breaking down at the same rate as the caste system elsewhere. Goa was Christianised (mostly by force) since the 1600's and the caste system continued and still does. There are Dalit Christians, but being Christian doesn't mean they cease to be Dalits, nor sadly does it mean that they are not subject to the same discrimation by Christians of a higher caste.
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« Reply #4 on: May 29, 2012, 10:37:50 am »
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Positive.

I admit I have my biases, but I do believe that prosletyzing (especially if it seeks to displace an existing tradition) is an act of aggression

LOL, who cares? Why should the "existing tradition" get a monopoly and any competitors not allowed in? Especially when it's used in oppression, see the the caste system in India and how many Christian converts did so specifically to escape it, oh and now the BJP wants to ban conversion altogether. Plus this mindset leads to the idea it's OK to ostracize and persecute converts, take a look at the death penalty for apostasy in Muslim countries.

I should point out the ridiculous double standard here, what Christian country prohibits proselytizing to Christians? No one flips out over western converts to Buddhism.

BRTD, I suggest you go to India and start prosletyzing to those BJP-Hindus and then give us your views.
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« Reply #5 on: May 29, 2012, 11:01:36 am »
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Not my thing, but I have no problem with it as long as the proselytizers are polite, and not too aggressive, and don't ring my doorbell, disturbing my peace. I wish my house were designed so I could put up a locked gate to keep away the peddlers, but also the architectural layout precludes that. Still I quite enjoyed my last two encounters, one with an LDS couple trying to persuade me to vote for Prop 8 (that was where I was exposed to this churches will have to host gay weddings rap), and a Jehovah's Witness guy.  He had his Bible, and I had my Bible as literature book. Tongue   He told me after I said I was one of the few who was an out of the closet atheist basically, and he said, that in his wanderings, he runs into more and more such un-closeteds. But then it's California. Smiley Oh yes, at the end he wanted to read something from the Bible to me. I asked him if I could read it to him instead, and he accommodated me. Yes, you guessed it, the verse he picked for me to read out loud  was the one about the meek shall inherit the Earth. Was he trying to tell me something?  Tongue
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« Reply #6 on: May 29, 2012, 11:11:44 am »
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I don't mind them either. The door-to-door people are usually crazy but they can be entertaining sometimes. I always just give their literature to my atheist roommate and joke that I hope he'll convert to something.
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« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2012, 02:17:16 pm »
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LOL, who cares? Why should the "existing tradition" get a monopoly and any competitors not allowed in? Especially when it's used in oppression, see the the caste system in India and how many Christian converts did so specifically to escape it, oh and now the BJP wants to ban conversion altogether. Plus this mindset leads to the idea it's OK to ostracize and persecute converts, take a look at the death penalty for apostasy in Muslim countries.

I should point out the ridiculous double standard here, what Christian country prohibits proselytizing to Christians? No one flips out over western converts to Buddhism.
I don't have an objection if an individual decides to approach a church and ask more about Christianity which results in him becoming Christian. I do have a problem if organized missionaries intend to displace and disrespect the host culture, and lure converts by means of material goods.

May I remind you that in late Qing Dynasty China, missionaries were guaranteed the right to seek converts and were not subject to Chinese laws. They went around desecrating Buddhist and Taoist temples and couldn't be held responsible. When the missionaries were attacked in retaliation, their governments held the Chinese government responsible. These same things happened in Tibet of the time, which is why to this day the Dalai Lama tells his people to support the Chinese government's crackdown on evangelists.

There was one particular incident in 1898 when two German Catholic missionaries were killed by common bandits. Within two weeks the Kaiser (who wasn't entirely friendly to Catholics) sent dreadnoughts to to occupy Qingdao and demand a concession. Shortly after, every European power demanded a concession of their own. So in this case, missionaries weren't serving a religious goal. They were serving a political goal, and hence governments have a right to respond to them. It's also not entirely unjustified to accuse the converts themselves of being tools for a political cause they don't understand.

For those missionaries, I have no objections if governments take action to suppress or expel them. There's the supposed duty to bear witness in Christianity, but all religions have duties and norms which are unacceptable to various extents. If people do actions which negatively affect other people, then society has the right to regulate these actions, regardless what religion is involved.

I dare say if, say, Japan or Thailand or India were sending Buddhist missionaries to the US who were slandering Jesus and desecrating churches while hiding behind the protection of their governments, who used every retaliation against these missionaries as excuses to carve up their sphere of influence, there will be anti-missionary sentiment as well.
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« Reply #8 on: May 29, 2012, 06:14:37 pm »
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Extremely negative, although I'm not in favor of banning it.

This reminds me, my uncle once had one of these:



...solely for scaring away Jehovah's Witnesses.
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« Reply #9 on: May 29, 2012, 07:06:20 pm »
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Eh.  The friendly, well-dressed young man saying "Are you familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" isn't hurting me.

All of my bad experiences in this regard have come from Protestants, including one weird, weird Korean guy advocating the addition of "God the Mother" to the Trinity.  He smelled bad and was really insistent about God the Mother.
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« Reply #10 on: May 29, 2012, 07:15:04 pm »
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All of my bad experiences in this regard have come from Protestants, including one weird, weird Korean guy advocating the addition of "God the Mother" to the Trinity.  He smelled bad and was really insistent about God the Mother.

I don't know how anecdotal this story is, but most of the pushy Korean evangelists I've met seemed rather ignorant about Christianity when I asked them a tricky question.
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« Reply #11 on: May 29, 2012, 07:16:10 pm »
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All of my bad experiences in this regard have come from Protestants, including one weird, weird Korean guy advocating the addition of "God the Mother" to the Trinity.  He smelled bad and was really insistent about God the Mother.

Appears you were visited by a weird Korean cult: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Mission_Society_Church_of_God

("God the Mother" is their founder).
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« Reply #12 on: May 30, 2012, 04:00:24 pm »
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You cant really have freedom of the religion in any meaningful sense if you dont allow prosletyzing. It is a central element in both Christianity and Islam that you should try to convert "heathens".

But it can be problematic in some contexts. Especially small tribes of nature people, whose entire culture is based around spiritual belief systems. Personally I would also be negative to missionary activities in places like Tibet, Bhutan etc.

I think other monotheists are "fair game" for Christian missionaries and Hindus as well. Given the extremely long histoy of Christianity in India you cant really call it a foreign religion.
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« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2012, 06:21:52 pm »
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You cant really have freedom of the religion in any meaningful sense if you dont allow prosletyzing. It is a central element in both Christianity and Islam that you should try to convert "heathens".

But it can be problematic in some contexts. Especially small tribes of nature people, whose entire culture is based around spiritual belief systems. Personally I would also be negative to missionary activities in places like Tibet, Bhutan etc.

I think other monotheists are "fair game" for Christian missionaries and Hindus as well. Given the extremely long histoy of Christianity in India you cant really call it a foreign religion.
Prohibiting proselytism isn't against freedom of religion. After all, it doesn't affect a person's desire to worship, or read holy books, or observe a moral code. It's also a central element in Christianity and Islam to wage wars against unbelievers, kill undesirables such as gays, and subjugate women. Is it against freedom of religion to forbid these practices? Whatever people do in their private life is their matter. Once they start affecting other people, then society has the right to reasonably regulate these actions.

The second point conflicts with the first point. And why do Tibetans and Bhutanese have any more entitlement not to have missionaries harassing their lifestyle? Doesn't this apply to everyone? In my opinion, freedom of religion includes the freedom to practice religion without harassment from those who don't respect them. If that means Christian evangelists aren't allowed to visit remote villages and denigrate the local spiritual belief, then so be it. Honestly I don't have sympathy for missionaries who are killed or kidnapped in around the world, because they knowingly put themselves in danger doing something purely for their greed.
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« Reply #14 on: May 30, 2012, 06:33:35 pm »
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You cant really have freedom of the religion in any meaningful sense if you dont allow prosletyzing. It is a central element in both Christianity and Islam that you should try to convert "heathens".

But it can be problematic in some contexts. Especially small tribes of nature people, whose entire culture is based around spiritual belief systems. Personally I would also be negative to missionary activities in places like Tibet, Bhutan etc.

I think other monotheists are "fair game" for Christian missionaries and Hindus as well. Given the extremely long histoy of Christianity in India you cant really call it a foreign religion.
Prohibiting proselytism isn't against freedom of religion. After all, it doesn't affect a person's desire to worship, or read holy books, or observe a moral code. It's also a central element in Christianity and Islam to wage wars against unbelievers, kill undesirables such as gays, and subjugate women. Is it against freedom of religion to forbid these practices? Whatever people do in their private life is their matter. Once they start affecting other people, then society has the right to reasonably regulate these actions.

The second point conflicts with the first point. And why do Tibetans and Bhutanese have any more entitlement not to have missionaries harassing their lifestyle? Doesn't this apply to everyone? In my opinion, freedom of religion includes the freedom to practice religion without harassment from those who don't respect them. If that means Christian evangelists aren't allowed to visit remote villages and denigrate the local spiritual belief, then so be it. Honestly I don't have sympathy for missionaries who are killed or kidnapped in around the world, because they knowingly put themselves in danger doing something purely for their greed.

First point is the overall principled argument.

Second point are my personal feelings regarding what is desirable and what isnt.

There are several problems with your line of reasoning, but I am too tired to go into that right now.
The fact that you can even suggest, that it is a central element of Christianity to wage wars against unbelievers and kill undesirables shows that you are either ignorant about Christianity or are an extremely biased atheist. I suspect the latter. So it might not be worth it debating you on this subject.
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« Reply #15 on: May 31, 2012, 01:15:55 am »
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There's quite a bit of absurdity going on here, first starting off with the idea that some events from over a century ago reflect greatly on today and that it's common for missionaries in a modern context to desecrate Buddhist and Taoist temples, that many people would object to governments treating any who would do so any more harshly than locals doing so, and that their own governments would protect them in an instance. Even if it did happen today, it's more of an argument against desecrating other religions' temples than against missionary activity in general. And of course the even more absurd premise is what was described as a "central element" of Christianity. It's safe to say the central elements of Christianity is what Jesus advocated, so to say so is basically to say that Jesus advocated waging wars against unbelievers, killing "undesirables" and subjugating women.

Now the idea that some religions and practices get some type of special status is a pet peeve of mine, though one that applies moreso to local issues, and has come up on this forum before. For example take the many people who weren't Jewish, much less Hasidic Jews, who got all bothered by me suggesting that NY Jew accept Christ, yet when jmfcst told non-believers like opebo to do so all the time everyone just laughed it off as jmfcst being jmfcst. Similarly I once got in a debate with patrick1, who isn't Jewish, over whether it's OK for Jewish families to get offended by their kids becoming Christian converts (not even referring to the Messianic Jews who I understand are seen as dishonest, just vanilla conversions who would likely be ostracized by the people being discussed, who are a very small percentage of Jews.) Now while I'm not fond of targeted conversion efforts toward non-Hasidic Jews (like Jews for Jesus), I fail to see how someone from a Jewish background joining some Christian church is anymore offensive than someone from a different Christian or non-religious background.

Here's another example, let's imagine some gay rights activists pamphleteering and protesting the following places of worship and making an effort to encourage people to leave, assuming that all of the specific examples are vocally anti-gay:

-A conservative evangelical church
-A Catholic church
-An LDS Temple
-An Orthodox synagogue
-A mosque

The first one would probably receive nothing but acclaim in liberal circles, the next two probably mostly positive but would have some accusations of how they sound just like general bigotry or saying they should just go after the conservative evangelicals exclusively even if the latter two are just as vocally anti-gay, and the last two probably would be just as condemned and praised. But if all five are equally vocally anti-gay, what is the difference? I just can't stand any double standards. So in a nutshell, I see absolutely no reason why evangelizing to people in remote Buddhist or traditional religion villages is different than the streets of some secular or mostly other Christian denominations city.
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« Reply #16 on: May 31, 2012, 12:44:33 pm »
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I just can't stand any double standards. So in a nutshell, I see absolutely no reason why evangelizing to people in remote Buddhist or traditional religion villages is different than the streets of some secular or mostly other Christian denominations city.
The difference is that in some cases you would destroy an entire culture or way of life. Thats why I am sceptical when we are talking about, say, kastom villages in Melanesia or Bhutan.
If you believe in human diversity as a valuable thing in itself (which I do) leaving some highly original and fragile aboriginal cultures to develop without missionary activity makes sense.
Otherwise I generally agree with your points about double standards.
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« Reply #17 on: May 31, 2012, 06:05:43 pm »
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It violates the "don't bother me" part of the "people can believe what they wan't as long as they don't bother me" form of religious tolerance, which I more or less subscribe to.
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« Reply #18 on: May 31, 2012, 06:24:03 pm »
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I just can't stand any double standards. So in a nutshell, I see absolutely no reason why evangelizing to people in remote Buddhist or traditional religion villages is different than the streets of some secular or mostly other Christian denominations city.
The difference is that in some cases you would destroy an entire culture or way of life. Thats why I am sceptical when we are talking about, say, kastom villages in Melanesia or Bhutan.
If you believe in human diversity as a valuable thing in itself (which I do) leaving some highly original and fragile aboriginal cultures to develop without missionary activity makes sense.
Otherwise I generally agree with your points about double standards.

I don't really agree.  Forcing people to continue to participate in brutal theocracies like old Tibet or Bhutan (which present friendly tourist-friendly faces to the West while continuing feudal, repressive practices) is pretty abhorrent to me.  How do you fit people like Tibetan Communists who were enthusiastically supportive of Chinese annexation and had fought against the Dalai Lama's oppresive theocracy for decades into this "nature preserve" system for lamaist theocracy in order to encourage human diversity?  It really demeans the people of Tibet to force them to live under Buddhist theocratic rule whether they continue to accept Buddhism or not just to keep humanity diverse on a religious map.

PS: I highly recommend A Tibetan Revolutionary: The Political Life and Times of Bapa Phuntso Wangye.  Bapa Wnagye was a Tibetan communist instrumental in helping Mao's takeover of Tibet, and fought for pretty much his entire life against the benighted Lamaist theocracy his people lived under.  He considers himself a fervent Tibetan patriot and thinks that the Chinese invasion was necessary to help modernize Tibet (though he regrets the Han chauvinism in Beijing and was arrested for years by the PRC at one point).  There's a great story in the book about how he, as a young man, saw a woman thrashed in the streets for selling the monks alcohol, and how she was being thrashed by the very monks who she sold it to.  The systematic hypocrisy and violence of the theocracy leads him into a lifelong campaign to free the Tibetan people from benighted lamaist rule. 
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« Reply #19 on: May 31, 2012, 06:50:43 pm »
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It's definitely true that the noble savage attitude among too many well-meaning western liberals is holding back progress in many parts of the world. But regardless, any changes which should occur in these traditional societies should in general be the task of their own people. Outside intervention against the general will of these societies will only create resentment and create more problems than they solve. What path Tibet and Bhutan (and other such "traditional" societies) should take is generally their own business, and definitely not the business of unwanted Christian evangelicals who travel the world hoping to "save" people. If as a result of these changes, the powerful Lamas lose power and are driven into exile, that is also not anyone else's business (though the current PRC leadership haven't completely let go of their dark past); no one in Ireland or Quebec or Spain miss the days the Catholic Church dictated to politicians.
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« Reply #20 on: May 31, 2012, 10:53:06 pm »
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Proselytizing should certainly be allowed as a matter of freedom of expression, but the idea that there are no situations in which it's undesirable or culturally damaging strikes me as a little suspect. Then again, I'm completely obsessed with memory, diversity, and identity, so I would think that. I'm realizing more and more by the day that my views on the subjects of cultural history and (real or perceived) protection or assimilation are...uh, most other people would probably consider them really strange, and I'm starting to despair of ever finding a school of social theory that doesn't seem somehow, either definably or indefinably, wrong to me on this.
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« Reply #21 on: May 31, 2012, 11:00:22 pm »
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So Nathan do you think there are undesirable circumstances in which one would convert to Episcopalianism? (Ignoring obvious cases of sham conversions for reasons of personal gain, but rather simply due it to being "culturally damaging".)
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« Reply #22 on: May 31, 2012, 11:03:49 pm »
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I'd be rather ignorant of Anglican history if I didn't. Then again, that's because I think the way Christian proselytization is usually done is fundamentally flawed and has been for some centuries.
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« Reply #23 on: May 31, 2012, 11:11:49 pm »
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Proselytizing should certainly be allowed as a matter of freedom of expression, but the idea that there are no situations in which it's undesirable or culturally damaging strikes me as a little suspect. Then again, I'm completely obsessed with memory, diversity, and identity, so I would think that. I'm realizing more and more by the day that my views on the subjects of cultural history and (real or perceived) protection or assimilation are...uh, most other people would probably consider them really strange, and I'm starting to despair of ever finding a school of social theory that doesn't seem somehow, either definably or indefinably, wrong to me on this.

Nathan, I understand where you're coming from, but there's serious conflicts between cultural preservation and individual autonomy IMO.  Even without proselytizing, you'll have cases where people flat-out reject the culture and faith of their people and turn to an alternative, whether a foreign religion or something like Communism that has a similar function of leading people to renounce their traditional religion and join an international community opposed to it.  Should these people be denied that autonomy?  I really don't see how unless we go with an Afghan-style "apostasy=death" line.
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« Reply #24 on: May 31, 2012, 11:24:32 pm »
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Proselytizing should certainly be allowed as a matter of freedom of expression, but the idea that there are no situations in which it's undesirable or culturally damaging strikes me as a little suspect. Then again, I'm completely obsessed with memory, diversity, and identity, so I would think that. I'm realizing more and more by the day that my views on the subjects of cultural history and (real or perceived) protection or assimilation are...uh, most other people would probably consider them really strange, and I'm starting to despair of ever finding a school of social theory that doesn't seem somehow, either definably or indefinably, wrong to me on this.

Nathan, I understand where you're coming from, but there's serious conflicts between cultural preservation and individual autonomy IMO.  Even without proselytizing, you'll have cases where people flat-out reject the culture and faith of their people and turn to an alternative, whether a foreign religion or something like Communism that has a similar function of leading people to renounce their traditional religion and join an international community opposed to it.  Should these people be denied that autonomy?  I really don't see how unless we go with an Afghan-style "apostasy=death" line.

Not at all. I'm not even opposed to the sort of proselytization that's being discussed. I might for various reasons think of it as undesirable or dangerous to various aspects of human diversity that I value (I'm with politicus on that particular subject), but I do so, shall we say, quietistically, with the understanding that keeping intact the right for people and ideas to move freely in the world is equally if not even more important. I lack either the ability or (fortunately) the inclination to force the rest of the world to be obsessed with the things that I'm obsessed with.

I've been rereading Stanley Hauerwas's excellent (and upsetting) book Resident Aliens, and I think that it articulates a set of ideas that could be applied to a lot of different types of cultures that are (or perceive themselves to be) under stress, or even--and I think this is actually a lot more important than any individual culture--to the idea of a diverse, humane, organic set of human cultural traditions itself. That'd be a lot better than trying to force hundreds or thousands of genies back into their bottles, or banning proselytization (which as poorly-done, ill-advised, and damaging as it can be and often is I don't think is really in and of itself the main culprit in any of these discussions), or restricting travel and trade.
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