The recently completed presidential campaign in the United States saw a major debate about the role of #Religion The purpose of organized religion (and not only in regard to the position of the candidates regarding Muslim migrants in American society). There was also a smaller but no less important debate about the role of the Evangelicals in the campaign, and particularly in regard to their reactions to the statements and behavior of eventual President-elect Donald Trump. Yet there should be another debate on the role of all religions and how they attract converts in a modern world which should be discussed openly and completely.

Proselytizing today

Even in Italy, essentially the central country of the Catholic Church, we have regular visits from the local representatives of other local Christian denominations, just as they were a part of life in Australia before I came here six years ago. In all these cases I ask these persons to respect my right to my belief, just as I respect theirs. Unfortunately there are some who then become insistent and even my pretending not to speak the language does not help. Within a day or two an Italian, or English speaker walks up to our door for a discussion. I often wonder what would happen in any Protestant country, and particularly modern-day United States, if the local Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist communities began behaving in this way. I have little doubt the reception by some would not be friendly.

In recent years we have seen the forced mass conversions to Islam in the Middle East and Africa on the part of ISIS, Boko Haram and other groups which justifiably horrified the world. In addition, it was not so long ago historically that Christian missionaries pressured locals in third world countries to convert to Christianity in order to receive assistance. Neither of these two methods of behavior is acceptable, yet we still tolerate groups going door to door because part of their religious duties is to seek more converts.

In addition to the door to door #preaching (if only all major religions practiced what they preached), we also see international television stations broadcasting the message of various denominations around the world, not simply to their faithful, but in the hope of finding new members for their denominations. The proof of this is in the material that is freely available to those who ask and it would be naïve to think that it serves any other purpose.

The Christian churches have the call to preach and convert as part of their scriptures, but is there truly a place for such behavior today? Especially in a world already destabilized by other religious groups that have become ever more active in various regions. The regular clashes between Muslims and Hindus in Pakistan and India are only a part of these activities outside the open belligerence of ISIS.

Individual freedom

In a modern society every individual should have the freedom to be able to peacefully practice their faith, or even not to have one if that is their choice. Nobody should be subject to visits by people who think that their basic beliefs are mistaken and who want to put them on the proper path of a particular faith. Basically, conversion should be an act of individual freedom and not subject to the behavior of third parties.

Peaceful co-existence within communities can only come with the acceptance of the different faiths and to understand that different beliefs do not automatically mean that they do not share basic concepts of human behavior and values. In fact, this behavior only gives cause to the fanatics of every group to increase their own activities.

What now?

Every modern society is based on the basic principle of mutual respect between its members. Are we really certain that proselytizing is respecting the other faiths in the world?