Selling God

By By Beth Ranschau

By Beth Ranschau

This morning, two saleswomen knocked on my door. They were decent enough people, and as someone who has worked in sales, I was impressed by their pitch.

They began with a catchy introduction, describing what my life would be like if I switched to their product. They asked what product I was currently using, and inquired, “Wouldn’t you be happier if everyone in the world had this?”

I had to admit it looked pretty good. When I finally convinced them that I was going to be late for class, they left me with some samples and assured me they would be back this weekend to see what I thought.

“Aggressive and persistent?” I wanted to offer them a job.

But these weren’t your run-of-the-mill salespeople. They weren’t trying to convince me to throw out my Target mascara for a superior Mary Kay or Avon version. They weren’t selling the latest vacuum cleaner with safer, more efficient sucking techniques. No, they were selling God.

I’m not saying I’m not “down with God” or that people don’t have a right to express their views. People have every right to their beliefs, and to some extent, they have a right to try to convince me – and anyone else – to align with their views. But God deserves more than a sales pitch.

For many people, religion is a touchy subject. It’s intensely personal – something that affects our entire belief system and lifestyle. Religion (or the lack thereof) is part of who we are. Regardless of whether or not your religious affiliation results from tradition or arduous contemplation, those beliefs are equally important and run just as deep.

That’s why when we see anyone asking someone to re-evaluate his or her religion in favor of a “new and improved” version, we should take a pause. God is too complex to be packed neatly into a box.

Asking someone to reconsider his or her spirituality comes with a set of loaded implications: One, that the inquirer’s beliefs are right, and two, that all other beliefs are wrong. Not to mention that in the cases like those of the traveling saleswomen, these serious and personal questions are coming from complete strangers.

I understand that some religions are dependent on missionary work for their growth. I also know many people who have come to a greater understanding of their own faith as the result of such missionary work, and there is importance in that. But too often we lose sight that other people have undergone just as much contemplation and struggle to discover their own beliefs, and there is some level of disrespect when one assumes that another person’s path to spirituality is less important or even wrong because that person didn’t end up in the same place.

And this isn’t a unique practice. The women at my doorstep weren’t LDS missionaries. Many Christian faiths preach that it is important to “spread the word” and to share your beliefs with others in hopes that “non-believers” will become “believers.” Instead of leading by example and demonstrating within our own lives why our beliefs promote understanding, world peace and unity, we segregate ourselves, telling our children not to play with so-and-so down the street because his or her parents go to synagogue or a Buddhist temple – or because they don’t go to church at all. We let missionaries deal with such dangerous “non-believers.”

Perhaps a more meaningful dialogue could occur between friends and neighbors who can better appreciate and understand the perspectives of someone who is not a complete stranger. It may be uncomfortable, and there will be disagreements, but a conversation could be had among equals rather than one religious authority insisting that the new-and-improved God with a lifetime warranty is surely better than last year’s model.

Determining your religious beliefs isn’t as simple as trading in your car, and for a good reason.