What’s the Worst Thing a Proselytizing-Attack Can Do, Anyway?


a self-portrait I painted, in a different decade

This happened near the end of Summer school, about four years ago. I haven’t been able to write about it until now, but my life is now separated into the unknowing part before this day, when I was so often angry without knowing why, and the part after I painfully found the truth which explains this anger. 

The three-second video above was correct — for weeks afterwards, I couldn’t handle the truth, and was having one PTSD attack after another as a result. There was a break between Summer School and the resumption of the normal school year in the Fall, and that’s a good thing, because I had a lot of “repair work” to do before I was fit to be around large numbers of people again.

All of this followed what I refer to as a “proselytizing attack.” The person aggressively proselytizing to me at me was also a teacher, and the only thing he did right was to avoid this activity in the presence of students. In another religion, one inflicted on my family, by my father,  when I was a teenager (Soka Gakkai, a variant of Buddhism), the technique he used is called shakabuku, which translates from the Japanese as “bend and flatten” — although this teacher was, of course, using a Christian version of shakabuku. My entire family was subjected to these efforts to “bend and flatten” us, during my father’s four or so years as a practicing Soka Gakkai member. Many years earlier, before I was born, he had actually been a minister in a certain Protestant Christian denomination. There were many other “religions of the year” my father dragged us to, as I was growing up. If one wishes to raise a skeptic, that method is quite likely to work, but I would hardly call it good parenting.

I tried to politely end these unpleasant after-school conversations, explaining to the other teacher that I only have two ways which work, for me, to gain confidence in ideas: mathematical proof, and the scientific method. What he was looking for was faith, a different form of thinking, and one which is alien to me — my mind simply will not “bend” in such a direction, which helps explain why proselytizing efforts of the “bend and flatten” variety never have the desired effect with me.

Polite efforts to end this rude behavior repeatedly failed. No one else was nearby at the moment I finally snapped — so I could say whatever I wanted to the other teacher, while remaining unheard by others.

“Listen,” I said, “do you really want to know how to get fewer atheists in the world? I can tell you exactly how to do that.”

He said that, yes, of course, he did want to know how to do this.

“Here’s how,” I said. “It’s simple, really. Just tell your fellow Christians to stop raping children!”

He had no reply, for, in the wake of such things as the Catholic Church’s pedophilia scandal, and similar scandals in other churches, there is no satisfactory reply to such a statement. The truth of it is self-evident (provided one does not generalize the statement to encompass all Christians, for that would clearly be false), and the message to stop the “Christian shakabuku” had finally penetrated this other teacher’s mental defenses. I then realized something that explained the intensity of my dislike for this man: he used a voice with a hypnotic quality, a trick my father also used to influence, and manipulate, others. 

I turned around, walked away, and he did not follow. I returned to my classroom, where I had work left to do, such as preparing for the next school day’s lessons, before leaving. I was also acutely aware that I was in far too heightened an emotional state to safely drive. Therefore, to calm down, I played the following song, at maximum volume, on repeat, perhaps a dozen times, scream-singing along with the vocals, as I prepared my classroom for the next day. 

After venting enough fury to be able to safely drive home, I did so . . . and listened to this song some more, along with another song by Muse, the two of which I used to scream myself into exhaustion.

I finally collapsed into sleep, but it wasn’t restful, for I was too angry — for weeks — to ever reach deep sleep. I knew only dark, emerging memories and half-memories, as well as horrific dreams that temporarily turned sleep into a form of torture, rather than a healing process. Not being stupid, I got the therapy I obviously needed, after the proselytizing-attack, and my reaction to it, caused the truth to fall painfully into place. By the time the school year began, I could once again function.

My earliest memory is from age 2 1/2, and involves surviving an attack of a type that often kills infants and young children: shaken baby syndrome. This was described as the “story within the story” told, right here, in the context of Daredevil fan-fiction. It was bad enough when that memory surfaced, but this was even worse. The only “good” thing about what I had learned had been done to me was that it was before age 2 1/2, and, for this reason, could not become a “focused,” clear memory, as my recollection of the near-death-by-shaking is. Instead of sharp memories, I was getting imagery like this . . .

. . . But the intensity of my reaction left me with no doubt about what had happened, at an age when I was too young to defend myself, nor even tell anyone else.

Years later, I even abandoned the term “atheist,” choosing  to simply use “skeptic” instead, a switch which angered far more people — atheists, of course — than I ever expected. I now realize a major reason I made that change, and it’s the fact that I have seen so many obnoxious atheists using “atheistic shakabuku” — and I am, for obvious reasons, hypersensitive to any form of shakabuku, whether it be religious or anti-religious. Humans are not meant to be painfully bent, nor flattened, and I want nothing to do with those who engage in such atrocious behavior. Whether they are religious, or not, no longer matters to me — what does mean something is, rather, their lack of respect for their fellow human beings.

To those who do engage in aggressive proseltyzing, I have only this to say: please stop. Even if you played no part in it, there is no denying that abuse, by religious authority figures, has happened to thousands, perhaps millions, of people — and one cannot know which of us have such traumatic events in our personal backgrounds. For this reason, no one knows what harm proselytizing might do to any given person.

[Note: absolutely none of this happened at my current school.]

6 thoughts on “What’s the Worst Thing a Proselytizing-Attack Can Do, Anyway?

  1. Robert you write so well thank you for sharing.
    My husband is a scientist, (Bio- Physicist) and a Christian as well. He deals with this dilemma by putting on his “scientific hat” as opposed to his “Christian hat”. As you are aware that the scientific method requires a lot of doubt until you have proof. The Christian hat requires belief without proof. These are two very contradictory approaches and hence, are problematic.
    I agree with you that this overbearing “bend and flatten” approach to raising children is terrible. All that would produce is a little mindless, automaton for a human. You are a very strong person to have stood up to all this oppressive treatment and held onto your ideals.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for sharing this. Proselytizing religion, as well as non-religion, is a form of emotional abuse. In some cases, it can be considered criminal behavior such as when directed against children. It can also be subject to civil lawsuits such as in cases involving workplace harassment. It would be prudent for victims to inform perpetrators that their proselytizing is venturing into abuse, with either witnesses present or in documented form. However, care should be taken not to issue such warnings frivolously.

    Fortunately, I’ve never been emotionally susceptible to abusive proselytizing even during my parochial school years. Despite incessant preaching from the nuns and from my mother, their nonsensical rhetoric (and occasional physical abuse) fell on deaf ears. Strangely, I was able to live as a functioning Catholic (and altar-boy) without internalizing any of its theistic precepts. I don’t know why this happened, but I do feel very fortunate that it did; and, I feel great empathy for those who weren’t so lucky.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting story, especially as it introduced to me the concept of shakabuku. I wonder about those who are so certain in their belief that they are compelled to convert others. Maybe it is because in fact they are so uncertain that the only way to validate it is through others’ agreement. (Your father’s trying on different beliefs might support this idea.) Or perhaps the need to convert other people (a form of dominating them) comes first as a psychological matter, and the belief is just the means by which they can practice their compulsions.(I think that is true of at least one believer I know.

    The scientific method with the constant generation of falsifiable hypotheses and experimental testing tends not to produce such fanatics (in the original sense of the word), because uncertainty is built in. This may explain why scientists are so poor at convincing others on matters that affect worldview or public policy (evolution, public health, climate science, etc.).

    As for atheism/agnosticism I tend to incline towards Jefferson’s view: “[I]t does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But of course Jefferson knew that certain beliefs can lead to outrages (as you yourself pointed out to the proselytizer about rape): “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.” (Both of those quotes came from his Notes on Virginia)

    As for militant atheists, they certainly are smug and often quite annoying. But I have yet to see any of them suggest that society should penalyze believes (close down churches, restrict contraceptives, behead infidels, stone adulterers, etc.) Maybe that is simply because they are too small a minority to effect policial change. It is certain, however, that their efforts are often counterproductive. (I must say, however, that for both the religious missionary and the opposite kind, there are a certain sort of “follower” on which brutal psychological forms of coercion work. That’s why a “liberal” education is so essential, and why the religious authoritarian are very much opposed to it.)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. By the way, and slightly off topic, but tangentially mentioned by you: I have always wondered how mathematics fits into the dichotomy of “belief” vs. “skeptical hypothesis-makikng.” Mathematical systems have many of the hallmarks of “belief”: They begin with supposedly self-evident assumptions and then derive laws that produce increasingly complex results. (So does Aquinas.) And indeed some systems of mathematics owe their origin to religion (e.g., the Pythagoreans). But we know (I think) that no mathematical system can be both complete or consistent at its margins (although I can’t begin to defend Gödel I “have faith” this is “true” according to mathemeticians and logicians, is my trust in mathematical experts the same as those who go to confessionals for validation?). (In that respect mathematics is a lot like religion as well: Religion can “explain” much and is internally consisten, but at teh margins it becomes either inconsistent or requires a meta-explanaton.) So why does mathematics work n terms of providing intricate explanations of the physical universe? I wish I had the training and patience to explore this question.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting ideas . . . but I don’t think we would pay nearly as much attention to mathematics if it did not work — in the sense that the universe, as far as we can tell, operates under natural laws which work best as equations. These laws are consistent with mathematics, as we understand both, so mathematics has evidence, although it is evidence one step removed (via science). That’s how I square this issue up in my own head, anyway.

      Liked by 2 people

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