aebrownstein at ucdavis.edu
Tue Dec 21 11:59:52 PST 2004
I think Bobby's is correct that while the term proselytize is strongly
associated with religious contexts, that does not mean that the term always
has a pejorative meaning. There are obviously benign examples of
proselytizing that would be effectively described by using this term in a
non-pejorative sense. Bobby gave some personal examples. There are others.
When a Jehovah's Witness knocks on my door to discuss religion, I would
characterize his or her conduct as proselytizing, but I mean nothing
pejorative when I do so. I have never felt offended or burdened by such
encounters and have always responded politely to my visitor.
Also, there are legitimate, non pejorative reasons for using a term to
distinguish religious advocacy from political or other kinds of advocacy.
As many list members recognize, religion plays a role in a person's
identity and life that is seldom if ever matched by secular beliefs. Thus,
advocacy directed at persuading persons to change their faith urges a more
fundamental change in the person addressed than occurs in most political
debates. Further, there is a one-sided dimension to proselytizing for
religious purposes that does not exist in political discourse. Some
religions are committed to proselytizing (as Bobby notes) while other
faiths, such as Judaism, do not engage in proselytizing. Thus, from the
perspective of most Jews, proselytizing is a form of advocacy that is
always directed at them, but which is rarely a part of their own discourse.
Such distinctions are less common in political speech where all sides argue
the merits of their positions and try to get others to accept their views.
Still, I think that a term with both benign and pejorative connotations may
be understood to reflect only one of its meanings in certain contexts. The
term "discrimination" is usually employed in a pejorative way in
discussions about civil rights and equal protection doctrine, although the
word obviously has more benign meanings.
I think the same is true for discussions on this list. It is rare that we
discuss situations that involve the respectful sharing of beliefs among
individuals of other faiths. (While many of us have experienced such
interactions, there is usually no legal dispute that arises out of these
events.) Much more typically, our discussions will be directed at legal
disputes involving speech that invokes government support for a religious
message (e.g. the teaching of religious truth in schools), or an encounter
where someone is alleged to be taking advantage of their position of
authority to urge acceptance of religious doctrine, or speech to a captive
audience etc. When this is the context of most of our discussions, it is
hardly surprising that the term proselytizing will often carry with it a
pejorative meaning -- at least when it is employed by list members who
object to persuasive religious speech in these kinds of circumstances.
At 04:50 PM 12/20/2004 -0500, you wrote:
> Both Webster's Third International and the Shorter OED define
> "proselytize" as having special application to religious contexts, and
> indicates that the term is not always used pejoratively. Further, any
> religion embracing the commitment to convert others should be able to use
> the term in good faith. Why isn't the statement "Some (if not all)
> Christian religions encourage (if not require) proselytizing, while
> Judaism frowns on proselytizing." If a person's religion encourages or
> requires her to proselytize, how can the term only "apply to the other guy"?
>Robert Justin Lipkin
>Professor of Law
>Widener University School of Law
>To post, send message to Religionlaw at lists.ucla.edu
>To subscribe, unsubscribe, change options, or get password, see
>Please note that messages sent to this large list cannot be viewed as
>private. Anyone can subscribe to the list and read messages that are
>posted; people can read the Web archives; and list members can (rightly or
>wrongly) forward the messages to others.
More information about the Religionlaw