When it comes to matters of faith, belief, and morality, I’m in favor of open dialogue. I think discussion can lead to persuasion – or at least understanding – much more effectively than lectures. I think tyranny of ideas and indoctrination by force may change behaviors, but not minds or hearts – as Fountains of Wayne put it, “they can tell me what to do, but they can’t tell me what to feel” – and that’s where true conversion has to happen.
Here’s a little story (courtesy of my sister) that illustrates the pitfalls of trying to push your beliefs on someone who might not be entirely receptive:
A priest, a Pentecostal preacher, and a rabbi all served as chaplains tothe students of Northern Michigan University in Marquette. They wouldget together two or three times a week for coffee and to talk shop.One day, someone made the comment that preaching to people isn’t reallyall that hard. A real challenge would be to preach to an animal–maybeeven a bear. One thing led to another, and they decided to do anexperiment. They would all go out into the woods, find a bear, preach toit, and attempt to convert it.Seven days later, they all came together to discuss their experience.Father Flannery, who had his arm in a sling, was on crutches, and hadvarious bandages on his body and limbs, went first. “Well,” he said, “Iwent into the woods to find me a bear. And when I found him, I began toread to him from the Catechism. Well, that bear wanted nothing to dowith me and began to slap me around. So I quickly grabbed my holy water,sprinkled him, and he became as gentle as a lamb. The bishop is comingout next week to give him first communion and confirmation.”Reverend Billy Bob spoke up next. He was in a wheelchair, had one armand both legs in casts, and had an IV drip. In his bestfire-and-brimstone oratory, he claimed, “WELL, brothers, you KNOW thatwe don’t sprinkle! I went out and I FOUND me a bear. And then I began toread to my bear from God’s HOLY WORD! But that bear wanted nothing to dowith me. So I took HOLD of him, and we began to wrestle. We wrestleddown one hill, UP another and DOWN another until we came to a creek. SoI quickly DUNKED him and BAPTIZED his hairy soul, and just like yousaid, he became as gentle as a lamb. We spent the rest of the daypraising Jesus.”The priest and the reverend both looked down at the rabbi, who was lyingin a hospital bed. He was in a body cast and traction with IVs andmonitors running in and out of him. He was in really bad shape.The Rabbi looked up and said, “Looking back on it, circumcision may nothave been the best way to start.”