Activism is usually good. Some activism, however, is really bad. Unfortunately,
some of that bad activism is present at the University of Virginia.
Religion is good. Pride in your religion is good. Wanting to share it with others is
good. Being pushy about it is bad. Shoving it down the throats of others when they
clearly don't want it is bad. And looking down on those who don't want to hear it is
It has become clear that there is a contingent of very religious, usually Protestant,
Christians at the university who attempt to get self-described non-religious,
Jewish, or even Catholics to join them in Bible sessions by using very pushy tactics.
Indeed, some will engage you in conversation, unprovoked, and will insist that you
To be more precise, I was selecting my courses in the computer lab the other day
without many people around. A young man, who called himself Chris and whom I
had never met, approached me without any solicitation on my part and asked "Do
you ever read the Bible?"
First, this couldn't have put me in a more awkward position. If I answer yes, I
clearly open the door for Chris to ask me some questions and to continue a
conversation I may have never wanted to have in the first place. If I answer no, he
looks at me in disgust and treats me as if I am a heathen to be corrected and thus
offers to read the Bible with me. And if I just don't talk to him, then I'm just being
mean. No matter how you cut it, he doesn't leave you alone.
Even though I don't like the way they approach people, they certainly are free to
speak about and to practice their religion. It was when I declined to read the Bible
with Chris and his cronies that I think he crossed the line. He kept going and
offering me several meeting times and places that I had to decline one after the
other. Then after not understanding my desire not to go to Bible study, he begins to
instruct me then and there. "You have to read the Bible," and critically, no less, he
instructed. See, all along I thought I just was supposed to look at the pictures.
Chris, however, was in for more than he bargained. I protested, saying, "It is
impossible to read the Bible literally and yet have science and religion be
compatible." To that he had the really intelligent response, "Come read the Bible
with us. It'll be fun," accompanied by a very healthy smile.
I think after a while Chris got the picture, and he resigned himself to leaving me his
number, a time, and place, as if I had accepted his invitation. This incident is
certainly not an isolated one. It has happened to me four times. And talking to
many others around me about this topic suggests that I'm not alone here either.
The major problem with this proselytizing is that the goal of it is unclear. Is the goal
to expose me to other religions? If it is, we have a great religious studies
department that could do the job a thousand times better than these students. Is
the goal to convert me? If so, the assumption they must be making is that I'm
wrong. By forcing me into unwanted conversations and prodding into the sanctity of
my thoughts and what I believe--something that I could legitimately wish to keep
private, my free exercise of religion is violated by them, as they took theirs too far.
What is more, they don't tell you much above the fact that they read the Bible.
Whether in religious school, for personal edification, by parental decree, or for a
high school English class, most educated people--and by induction most U.Va.
students--have read the Bible. It is curious that just because we are familiar with the
Bible, these students think that they can use it to change our minds. The only
variable here is the company in which you read it. That suggests that there is this
company persuading you, not just informing you. Company that changes your
mind about deep religious convictions is the type of group that brainwashes people.
In truth, the mere suggestion that I should be dissatisfied with my religion and so
should convert to theirs is insulting. Underlying their actions is an assumption of
inferiority, of which we should all be greatly wary. It is that very assumption that
spawned nearly 300 years of religious wars and conflagrations that saw some of
the worst and most senseless bloodshed ever witnessed. It was that statement of
inferiority that saw the attempt at ordered extermination that devastated Eastern
By no means do I think that those who proselytize have this evil on their mind. But
what I hope they realize is that their actions have commonalities with the
assumptions that caused these great tragedies. That's why it's time for this to