Thursday, August 1, 2013

An Atheist’s Perspective on Proselytizing

Are you familiar with the entertainer Penn Jillette?

He’s not a household name in the Jim Carrey or Tina Fey or Steve Carell sense, but Jillette’s built a solid résumé over the years. He’s perhaps best known as the speaking half of the Penn & Teller illusionist team. A comedian, musician, actor and best-selling author, Jillette appeared briefly on the TV show, “Dancing With the Stars,” demonstrating there was no magic in his dancing.

Wikipedia states he’s also known for advocating scientific skepticism, libertarianism and free-market capitalism. And Jillette’s a straight-forward, unapologetic atheist, stating he’s confident there is no God. So I was surprised to view a video in which he expressed unexpected thoughts about followers of Jesus that evangelize or, as he states it, proselytize.

He described an evening following one of his comedy shows when an individual approached him, very complimentary about his performance. Then the guest, who described himself as a businessman, offered Jillette a pocket New Testament in which he’d inscribed a few notes.

Rather than taking offense, Jillette said he accepted the gift, despite his disbelief. Then in the video the entertainer observed:

“It was really wonderful. I believe he knew that I was an atheist, but he was not defensive. And he looked me right in the eyes.

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize.... If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward – and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself – how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.

“This was a really good guy. He was polite and honest and sane, and he cared enough about me to proselytize and give me a Bible.”

What a interesting perspective in our politically correct, “tolerant” society in which intolerance toward people of faith is soaring.

We often hear objections about how “judgmental” and “intolerant” and “narrow-minded” Christians (I prefer “Christ followers”) are in “imposing” their views on others. How “unloving,” the critics declare. But as Jillette points out, if you really believe in heaven and hell, and everything else the gospel message promises, why wouldn’t you want to tell others?

If we saw someone drowning and had a life preserver or a rope to save them, wouldn’t it be unloving not to throw it to them? If they chose not to grab it, that’s their problem, not ours. Or as Jillette said, if you saw someone standing in harm’s way and they ignored your warnings, wouldn’t you try to push them to safety?

The Message paraphrases Proverbs 24:11-12 this way: “Rescue the perishing; don’t hesitate to step in and help. If you say, ‘Hey, that’s none of my business,’ will that get you off the hook? Someone is watching you closely, you know – Someone not impressed with weak excuses.”

If we truly believe Jesus spoke the truth in saying He is “the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), the unloving thing is to not tell others. It’s a matter of death – and eternal life.

And if you're easily offended by those who wish to talk with you about Jesus, consider this: If you accidentally stepped in front of an approaching car on a busy street, would you be offended if someone reached out to pull you out of harm’s way? You might not agree that Jesus is the one and only way, but at least someone cares enough to tell you about it.

No comments: