Proselytism is the practice of attempting to convert people to another opinion and, particularly, another religion. The word "proselytism" is derived ultimately from the
Greek languageprefix 'πρός' (towards) and the verb 'έρχομαι' (I come). Incidentally, proselytism is prohibited in Greece, according to the constitution of Greece. Historically in the New Testament, the word proselytedenoted a person who had converted to Judaism. Though the word proselytism was originally tied to Christianity, it is also used to refer to other religions' attempts to convert people to their beliefs or even any attempt to convert people to another point of view, religious or not. Today, the connotations of the word proselytism are often negative but this article will use the word neutrally to refer to any attempts to convert a person or people to another faith.
quote|Mark 8:34Whosoever will come after me—It seems that Christ formed, on the proselytism of the Jews, the principal qualities which he required in the proselytes of his covenant.
The first condition of proselytism among the Jews was, that he that came to embrace their religion should come voluntarily, and that neither force nor influence should be employed in this business. This is also the first condition required by Jesus Christ, and which he considers as the foundation of all the rest:—If a man be willing to come after me.
The second condition required in the Jewish proselyte was, that he should perfectly renounce all his prejudices, his errors, his idolatry, and every thing that concerned his false religion; and that he should entirely separate himself from his most intimate friends and acquaintances. It was on this ground that the Jews called proselytism a new birth, and proselytes new-born, and new men; and our Lord requires men to be born again, not only of water, but by the Holy Ghost. See John 3:5. All this our Lord includes in this word, Let him renounce himself. To this the following scriptures refer: Matthew 10:33; John 3:3, 5, 2 Corinthians 5:17.
The third condition on which a person was admitted into the Jewish Church as a proselyte was, that he should submit to the yoke of the Jewish law, and bear patiently the inconveniences and sufferings with which a profession of the Mosaic religion might be accompanied. Christ requires the same condition; but, instead of the yoke of the law, he brings in his own doctrine, which he calls his yoke, Matthew 11:29: and his cross, the taking up of which not only implies a bold profession of Christ crucified, but also a cheerful submitting to all the sufferings and persecutions to which he might be exposed, and even to death itself.
The fourth condition was, that they should solemnly engage to continue in the Jewish religion, faithful even unto death. This condition Christ also requires; and it is comprised in this word, Let him FOLLOW me. See the following verses; and see, on the subject of proselytism, Ruth 1:16, 17
—Adam Clarke's Commentary| [cite book
Author: Clarke, Adam
Prepared by: WORDsearch
CBP date: 8/15/2006 9:05:40 AM
DAT date: 8/15/2006 9:05:40 AM
Book ID: 0:39
Path: C:Program FilesCROSS SharedLibraryClarke_Adam ] Many Christians consider it their obligation to follow what is often termed the
Great Commissionof Jesus, recorded in the final verses of the Gospelof Matthew: "Go to all the nations and make disciples. Baptize them and teach them my commands." The Acts of the Apostlesand other sources contain several accounts of early Christians following this directive by engaging in individual conversations and mass sermons to spread the "good news". Evangelical Christians often use the term "witnessing" to mean discussing one's faith with another person with the intent of proselytism.
Most self-described Christian groups have organizations devoted to
missionarywork which in whole or in part includes proselytism of people of other faiths (including sometimes other variants of Christianity). Groups noted for their extensive proselytism include:
Roman Catholic Church[ [http://www.cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=20511 CWNews] ] [ [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/worldnews.html?in_article_id=502329&in_page_id=1811 Daily Mail] ]
Born again Christianity
Southern Baptist Convention
Jews for Jesus
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints(or Mormon)See the article on missionaryfor more information.
Some Christians define "proselytism" more narrowly as the attempt to convert people from one Christian tradition to another; those who use the term in this way generally view the practice as illegitimate and in contrast to
evangelism, which is converting non-Christians to Christianity. An Eastern Orthodox writer, Stephen Methodius Hayes has written: "If people talk about the need for evangelism, they meet with the response, 'the Orthodox church does not proselytize' as if evangelizing and proselytism were the same thing." However the boundary varies from group to group.For instance the Moscow Patriarchatehas repeatedly strongly condemned what it describes as Catholicproselytism of Orthodox Christians within Russia and has therefore opposed a Catholicconstruction project in an area of Russiawhere the Catholic community is small. The Catholic Church claims that it is supporting the existing Catholic community within Russia and is not proselytizing. [cite web | last =Kondrusiewicz | first =Archbishop Tadeusz | title =Moscow's Catholic Archbishop Responds to Alexy II's Accusations | publisher =Innovative Media, Inc | date = 2002-02-15| url =http://www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=16708 | accessdate =2007-09-29 ] [cite web | last =Fagan | first =Geraldine | title =Altai officials prefer eyedrops and cattle to Catholics | publisher =Forum 18 News Service | date = 2005-08-03| url =http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=624 | accessdate =2007-09-29 ] [cite web | title =Russian patriarch renews complaints on Catholic "proselytism" | publisher =Directions to Orthodoxy | date = 2005-06-05| url =http://directionstoorthodoxy.org/mod/news/view.php?article_id=198 | accessdate =2007-09-29 ] Recently, the Balamand declarationon proselytism was released between the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches.
Islam, (see dawah) inviting people to the religion is a meritorious activity. Some religions do not accept converts at all (membership is inherited), such as the Druzeand Zoroastrians.
Unlike in the Hellenistic era, in the modern era most branches of
Judaismdo not actively proselytize to non-Jews. Some groups, however, will encourage nonobservant Jews to be observant, such as Chabad. Reform Judaismhas been known to welcome the non-Jewish spouses of already existing mixed marriages to convert to Judaism. [http://urj.org/pr/2005/051119a/] Orthodox Judaismusually discourages conversion, but persistent and sincere requests for conversion are conducted. [http://www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?AID=248165] See Ger tzedek.
In ancient times, there have been periods (especially the Hellenistic) in which Jews were more favorable to proselytizing than they are today and in one case, the people of
Idumea, forcibly converted them in 125 BC. Some historians believe that one of the major sources of the Early Christianmovements were communities of "pagans" who had been attracted to Judaism. However, with the dominance of Christianity and Islam, Jews came to avoid proselytism, since that might incite Christians and Muslims to persecute them.
Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainismand Sikhismare largely pluralistic. Hinduism as placing faith in a Vedic proclamation which states that "Truth is One, though the sages know it as many". However, Hinduism does accept reconversion of former Hindus converted into other religions on the basis that though all religions lead to the same goal, the argument cuts both ways. That is, people professing one religion who were converted to another religion were free to come back to their original religion. This 'reconversion' was justifiable since the converts' judgment - especially about their own self-discipline to fight through life's problems which is sine qua non (indispensable element) in any valid religion for realizing divinity in oneself - might have been deliberately blurred by proselytizers from other religions by fraudulent and distortionist propaganda to increase their flock sizes. Apart from distortionist propaganda against their current religion, proselytizers also exploited the materialistic problems especially disease, and quite adroitly encouraged their blaming of their parent religion, and thus welcomed them to 'embracing' the new religion, offering several allurements by charities of education and jobs, in exchange for 'professing' the new religion. One group that takes converts in Hinduism, but without calumniating other religions, is the International Society for Krishna Consciousnessalso known as Hare Krishnas.
The Sikh Gurus (spiritual teacher ) have propagated the message of "many paths" leading to the one God and ultimate salvation for all souls who tread on the path of righteousness. They have supported the view that proponents of all faiths can, by doing good and virtuous deeds and by remembering the Lord, certainly achieve salvation. The students of the Sikh faith are told to accept all leading faiths as possible vehicle for attaining spiritual enlightenment provided the faithful study, ponder and practice the teachings of their prophets and leaders. The holy book of the Sikhs called the Sri Guru Granth Sahib says: "Do not say that the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran are false. Those who do not contemplate them are false." Guru Granth Sahib page 1350.  and "The seconds, minutes, and hours, days, weeks and months, and the various seasons originate from the one Sun; O nanak, in just the same way, the many forms originate from the Creator." Guru Granth Sahib page 12,13.
Ethnocentrism of any sort (including the idea of belonging to a 'school of Buddhism' as well as evangelism and religious supremacism) is, according to Buddhist thought, rooted in self-grasping and reified thought - the cause of
Samsaraitself. The current Dalai Lamahas repeatedly argued that any attempt to convert individuals from their beliefs is not only non-Buddhist, but abusive: the identification of evangelism as an expression of compassion is considered to be false, and indeed the idea that Buddhism is the one true path is likewise false for Buddhists. Mahavira (599-527 BC), the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism, developed an early philosophy regarding relativism and subjectivism known as Anekantavada. As a result of this acceptance of alternate religious practices, the phenomenon of proselytisation is largely absent in these religions but not unknown.
Views on proselytism
Legitimate versus illegitimate proselytism
The difference between legitimate proselytism and illegitimate proselytism may not be definable. What one person considers legitimate, another may consider improper or even illegal. Proselytism can include:
*No attempt to convert others unless they specifically ask about one's religion
*Providing physical benefits in hopes that recipients will be open to listening
*Providing physical benefits only to those willing to listen
*Providing physical benefits only to proselytes
*Forcing people to become proselytes
Illustrating the problems that can arise from such subjective viewpoints is this extract from an article by Dr. C. Davis, published in
Cleveland State University's "Journal of Law and Health":
According to the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Jews for Jesus and
Hebrew Christiansconstitute two of the most dangerous cults, and its members are appropriate candidates for deprogramming. Anti-cult evangelicals ... protest that “aggressiveness and proselytising ... are basic to authentic Christianity,” and that Jews for Jesusand Campus Crusade for Christare not to be labelled as cults. Furthermore, certain Hassidic groups who physically attacked a meeting of the Hebrew Christian “cult” have themselves been labelled a “cult” and equated with the followers of Reverend Moon, by none other than the President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. [http://www.religioustolerance.org/cult_art.htm]
Propriety of proselytism
Views on the propriety of different types of proselytism differ radically. Some feel that
freedom of speechshould have no limits and that virtually anyone, anywhere should have the right to talk about anything they see fit. Others see all sorts of proselytism as a nuisance and an intrusion and would like to see them restricted (either completely or to a limited arena). Thus, Prof. Natan Lerner of Tel Aviv Universityobserves that the issue is one of a clash of rights—the perceived right of a person to express his or her views versus the perceived right of a person not to be exposed to views that he or she does not wish to hear.
Some don't mind preaching but are concerned if the speech is accompanied by physical benefits (e.g., a
soup kitchenthat provides food, but only under the condition that the recipients listen to an evangelical discourse) or new converts are given physical benefits not available to those who don't convert. Others are concerned if the preaching is aimed at childrenwithout the knowledge and consent of the parents.
From a legal standpoint (international, India and United States), there do appear to be certain criteria in distinguishing licit from illicit proselytism:
International Covenant on Civil and Political RightsArticle 18 states:
#Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
#No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
#Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
#The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
The first amendments to the constitutions of United States and India provide that all people have:
* the right to have religious beliefs (or not) (
Freedom of Religion);
* the right to form organizations for the purpose of worship, as well as for promoting their cause (
Freedom of Association); and
* the right to speak to others about their convictions, with the purpose of influencing the others. (
Freedom of Speech).
By the same token, these very rights exercise a limiting influence on the freedoms of others. For instance, the right to have one's religious beliefs presumably includes the right not to be coerced by the government into changing these beliefs by threats, discrimination, or similar inducements.
Islam, the Qur'anstates"Let there be no compulsion in the religion: Surely the Right Path is clearly distinct from the crooked path." ( Al-Baqarah, 2:256) which is taken by most Muslims that force is not to be used to convert someone to Islam.
Limits on proselytism is a combination of what is considered legal (and this varies from country to country) and what is considered moral (and this varies from person to person).
Some countries such as Greece prohibit all proselytism, some such as Morocco prohibit it except for a particular religion. Some restrict it in various ways such as prohibiting attempts to convert children or prohibit offering physical benefits to new converts.
Religious groups also draw lines between what they are willing to do or not do to convert people. For instance the
Catholic Churchin Ad Gentesstates that "The Church strictly forbids forcing anyone to embrace the Faith, or alluring or enticing people by worrisome wiles." The World Council of Churches in [http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/wcc-commissions/joint-working-group-between-the-roman-catholic-church-and-the-wcc/25-09-95-challenge-of-proselytism.html The Challenge of Proselytism and the Calling to Common Witness] states the following: (Note: this document uses proselytism in the negative sense only.)
19. Proselytism as described in this document stands in opposition to all ecumenical effort. It includes certain activities which often aim at having people change their church affiliation and which we believe must be avoided, such as the following:
*making unjust or uncharitable references to other churches’ beliefs and practices and even ridiculing them;
*comparing two Christian communities by emphasizing the achievements and ideals of one, and the weaknesses and practical problems of the other;
*employing any kind of physical violence, moral compulsion and psychological pressure e.g. the use of certain advertising techniques in mass media that might bring undue pressure on readers/viewers;
*using political, social and economic power as a means of winning new members for one’s own church;
*extending explicit or implicit offers of education, health care or material inducements or using financial resources with the intent of making converts;
*manipulative attitudes and practices that exploit people’s needs, weaknesses or lack of education especially in situations of distress, and fail to respect their freedom and human dignity.
History of proselytism
Since the collapse of the former
Soviet Unionand the rise of democracyin the Eastern Block, the Russian Orthodox Churchhas enjoyed a revival. However, it takes exception to what it considers illegitimate proselytising by the Catholic Church (even though the Catholic Church had been set up in Russia before the Soviet Block severely limited the contacts of Catholics with the outside world), the Salvation Army, Jehovah's Witnessesand other religious movements in what it refers to as its canonical territory. [http://www.catholic-church.org/church-unity/r_c_t_e.htm] Greecehas a long history of conflict, mostly with Jehovah's Witnessesbut also with some Pentecostals over its laws on proselytism. This situation stems from a law passed in the 1930s by the dictator Ioannis Metaxas. A Jehovah's Witness, Minos Kokkinakis, won 3,189,500 drachmas (US $10,600) in damages from the Greek state after being arrested repeatedly for preaching his faith from door to door [http://www.hrwf.net/html/0804courtfinal.htm] . In another case, Larissis vs. Greece, a member of the Pentecostal church also won a case in the European Court of Human Rights.
*Lists of proselytes
Fate of the unlearned
*cite journal | author=C. Davis | title=Joining a Cult: Religious Choice or Psychological Aberration? | journal= Cleveland-Marshall Journal of Law and Health| year=1996 | volume=11 | url=http://www.religioustolerance.org/cult_art.htm
*cite web | title=Russian Canonical Territory |url= http://www.catholic-church.org/church-unity/r_c_t_e.htm
*cite web | title=Human Rights Without Frontiers Int. | work=European Court Final Judgments on Religious Freedom Issues 1964-2001 |url= http://www.hrwf.net/html/0804courtfinal.htm
* [http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1847259_1847281_1847274,00.html?cnn=yes YouTube Gets Religion]
* For a discussion of some of the legal aspects of defining illicit proselytism, see the article [http://www.law.emory.edu/EILR/volumes/win98/lerner.html Proselytism, Change of Religion, and International Human Rights, by Natan Lerner, PhD]
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
Look at other dictionaries:
Proselytism — Pros e*ly*tism, n. [Cf. F. pros[ e]lytisme.] 1. The act or practice of proselyting; the making of converts to a religion or a religious sect, or to any opinion, system, or party. [1913 Webster] They were possessed of a spirit of proselytism in… … The Collaborative International Dictionary of English
proselytism — index persuasion Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 … Law dictionary
proselytism — 1650s, from PROSELYTE (Cf. proselyte) + ISM (Cf. ism) … Etymology dictionary
proselytism — [präs′ə li tiz΄əm, präs′ə līt΄iz΄əm] n. 1. the fact of becoming or being a proselyte 2. the act or practice of proselytizing … English World dictionary
proselytism — This word (from the Greek prosēlytos, meaning a convert [from Judaism]), in general, refers to the theory and practice of making converts; however, in contemporary use, proselytism often has the negative connotation of enticing converts from… … Glossary of theological terms
proselytism — proselyte ► NOUN 1) a convert from one opinion, religion, or party to another. 2) a Gentile who has converted to Judaism. DERIVATIVES proselytism noun. ORIGIN Greek pros luthos stranger, convert … English terms dictionary
proselytism — noun Date: circa 1660 1. the act of becoming or condition of being a proselyte ; conversion 2. the act or process of proselytizing … New Collegiate Dictionary
proselytism — proselytical /pros euh lit i keuhl/, adj. /pros euh li tiz euhm, luy /, n. 1. the act or fact of becoming a proselyte; conversion. 2. the state or condition of a proselyte. 3. the practice of making proselytes. [1650 60; PROSELYTE + ISM] * * * … Universalium
proselytism — noun The practice of proselytizing or the state of being a proselyte , See Also: proselyte, proselytic, proselytisation, proselytization, proselytise, proselytize, proselytiser, proselytizer … Wiktionary
proselytism — prosÂ·eÂ·lytÂ·ism || prÉ‘sÉªlÉªtÉªzm / prÉ’s n. conversion to another religion or opinion … English contemporary dictionary