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Bay Area Atheists/Agnostics/Humanists/Freethinkers/Skeptics Message Board › Psychology of Proselytizing

Psychology of Proselytizing

A former member
Post #: 1
I am interested in seeing research done on the psychology of proselytizing. I'm particularly curious about the needs some have to sell faith-based versus fact-based ideas. I mean, the pushers I have come across seem to need me and others to accept their fairy tales as some form of validation. They just cannot get the same sort of high by learning something that may be complex and based on the scientific method or historical events and then explaining that complex "ah ha" moment to someone else. This seems more subtle than the crude needs of bullies, coercive types, and manipulators. Those types of proselytizers certainly exist, but I'm more interested in the "benign evangelist" or whatever. Is anyone aware of work done in this area? Thanks, Lynn
A former member
Post #: 1

I wish you the best of luck. While I could imagine that there's a psychological basis (or perhaps a personality type or definition) for an evangelist, it is my experience that the line is blurred between the passionate salesperson and the ardent disciple. If it can be said that a job description, or career of any kind, will naturally produce the types of people who, by and large, excel in those fields, then it seems to me the tele-evangelist is much like the used car salesman, the colporteur is akin to the Fuller brush man, and the missionary is analogous to the agnostic / atheist lecturer-author.

That said, the campaigner for justice, such as the abolitionist, suffragist, civil rights marcher, church-state separationist or environmental activist, to name a few, can be seen as a proselytizer, fully convinced of the righteousness of their cause. I would like to believe that each of us is, or can be, a champion for something we believe in, and that, in being an advocate for an honorable cause, we would strive to persuade our friends and fellow citizens of the virtue of the truths we hold dear. We are all potential apostles. But of course, we may offend, without even realizing it. Each of us risks being labelled; so be it ... convictions are very troublesome things to have!

A former member
Post #: 2
Thank you Tom. My sense is that there is something going on in which the proselytizer gets a bigger kick out of selling something based on faith than if it were based on science or fact or whatnot. Hard to put my finger on it. Almost like some proselytizers need to know that they were successful in selling BS. Of course, there are different levels of believing their own BS, and some are devout. But my sense is many are flakes who don't really know what they believe, but seek out and are reinforced by a power trip of selling a story. Like, did you get a big rush as an adolescent when telling you little siblings or cousins or neighbor kids about how cool the solar system is? Or did you get a bigger rush in telling them a fabricated story about, say, how several kids were killed by something vicious and mysterious over there in those woods many years ago, and that they never found out what did it. I'll be honest and getting the little ones to believe the latter was more fun. But maybe I'm off on a wild goose chase. Lynn
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