Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Door-to-Door, part 2

There have been a number of comments (only a few of which are actually there, the rest are on other sites or in my e-mail) about the last posting, Door-to-Door Teaching, and so I thought I would post a follow up.

While there are a number of people who expressed gratitude at my defence of this method, others, as you may have expected, expressed concern.

The most succinct, and courteous, version of the latter was as follows: How is it not an invasion of privacy? Many people feel intimidated by those who come knocking at their door when they are a stranger nowadays. It is not the same world it used to be.

While I completely agree that it is "not the same world it used to be", I do not agree with the blanket assessment that knocking on someone's door constitutes an "invasion of privacy". If they have a "no trespassing" sign, sure. Or if they have a sign on the door that requests no solicitors, or such, then of course. Leaving them alone is just being courteous.

Once again, it depends upon where you live. To make the blanket statement that "many people feel intimidated" is to ignore the reality experienced by others. This is not to say that people are not intimidated where the individuals live who expressed these concerns, just that it is not the experience everywhere.

In my neighbourhood, this is not the case. We have people going door-to-door for many reasons, like I said. Just last week we had some boy scouts come by for a bottle drive. We've also had the fire department come by to let us know of a fund raiser they were doing (I think, I can't remember why they came now that I think about it). It is part of our life in this neighbourhood. Going to people's doors is perfectly acceptable in this neighbourhood, even though we can go just a few kilometres away and it would not be the case. It all depends on the specific neighbourhood.

In the last place I lived, one of the "worst" neighbourhoods in Winnipeg (and one of my favourite), we were visiting our neighbours all the time. There were many times that we knocked on other people's doors before we had met them. And this was supposed to be one of the most violent places in the country.

When looking at the ways in which we can meet new people in a neighbourhood, there are many factors that need to be taken into account. If it is a gated community, then going to people's doors is probably not the best of methods. In other areas where it is acceptable, but the fear factor is a bit higher, it might be a good idea to put a flyer in people's mail boxes to let them know a few days ahead of time that you're going to be going to their door. You can address a lot of simple concerns with a well crafted, and short, note.

It is always good to express your concerns about a method of teaching, as these friends have done, but we must also keep in mind the realities of the neighbourhood in which we are working. Oh, and this holds true in both directions. I also have to be aware that going to people's doors is not appropriate everywhere either.

Thanks for raising the question and helping us all keep an open mind about our methods.


  1. Isn't it just a bit arrogant to assume that your neighbors require your teachings? Most people have been raised in a certain faith, and some of us have, through years of study and thought, consciously chosen our faith, or lack thereof; People generally regard their faith as the 'correct' one. While it may not be your intention, knocking on someone's door to proselytize is most easily interpreted as an attack on their existing faith. As a rational atheist myself, I hold my own beliefs, but being rational, I accept that not everybody shares my views. What I do NOT accept is others' assumptions that I, or anybody, needs to be taught a 'better' way.

    1. I'm not of the Baha'i faith, but of the Christian faith; believing that the only way to see life is found in Jesus Christ. Regardless, however, of my beliefs, it is my conviction that this approach by this faithful of his/her faith is not a bad thing, but in principle, it is noble. As people with diverse beliefs, we do not have to be hiding in the closet about them. If we truly believe that the way we hold is true, then in a civilized manner, let the outworking of the faith we hold be expressed freely, so long as it doesn't infringe upon another's freedom to have their own if they so choose. Yet this does not mean that it cannot be presented before them, so the one who the diverse faith is being presented to, might consider their views, and ask questions, and give reasons for or against the beliefs being advocated; yet why should this be hidden? It gives people an opportunity to examine, not only what they believe, but also to test their beliefs against the evidences of another individual's convictions. While I do not believe in ecumenism (an assimilation of many faiths under one established faith), I do believe that it is acceptable to express divergent views so that they might be shared for the benefiting of either side's faith. It can bring either party to ask questions, either about their own faith, or the other person's faith, causing them to ask questions; as well as seeing the implications to what we believe, and why we believe, and perhaps even root us deeper in the affirmation of what we believe, because new reasons to ground us in such things may be found. We should not have to hide our beliefs, nor is it an attack. If our faith has blessed us, we rather ought to give voice to it, that others might be enriched, and blessed by those things which have greatly blessed us, rather than keep such things which have given us joy to ourselves. For me, this, to share Christ with others, that they might see truly that He is the only way to have true life, and that it is found in Him; yet the evidences that have persuaded me, you have not necessarily been convinced of yet, seeing as you have not heard them, neither have seen them.

  2. Dear Anonymous Rational Atheist,

    You are right that to assume that my neighbor needs my views would be arrogant. It would be like seeing something in my own mind, deciding my brain is better than my neighbor's, and then actually going around trying to make them see with my eyes instead of their own.

    Baha'is, however, follow a slightly different principle, which is: "If ye possess a jewel, of which others are deprived, share it with them in a language of utmost kindliness and goodwill. ..."

    This is a little bit different, because it is like searching through the public square and discovering an oak chest filled with treasure. To the Baha'i, the value of the gems of Baha'i teaching is not that they are of my own making, because the teachings do not come from my own mind, but their value lies in their own beauty. Their beauty come from the power of the earth and the skill of the jeweller, and it is their wondrous craftsmanship that causes me to pick them up.

    So if I have found what I believe to be a precious treasure, the urge to share it comes out a sense of love, both for my neighbor and for the gems themselves. And if I believe, like the buried treasure in the town square, that it is not my own, but rightfully belongs to everyone, then to share it becomes an obligation of justice.

    Of course, perhaps my neighbor will say, 'No, thank you, that doesn't interest me.' The rest of the Baha'i principle quoted above says: "... If it [the jewel] be accepted, if it fulfill its purpose, your object is attained. If anyone should refuse it, leave him unto himself... Beware lest ye deal unkindly with him."

    To force the issue in an attempt to persuade them to take your view is a standard practice of proselytization, both arrogant and rude. Humility, however, allows us to graciously and with great kindness, drop the issue, but continue getting to know our neighbors. (And community relationships are valuable whether our neighbors share our views or not.)

    Unfortunately, the concepts of education and teaching, have become blurred with the concepts of persuasion and proselytization.

    Baha'is believe, and perhaps you would agree, that each person must take responsibility for their own beliefs, and must investigate the truth for themselves. We should not abdicate this responsibility to anyone, nor should we attempt to usurp this right from others.

    However, would you agree that we do depend on other people for education and for information, whether it is authors, scholars, or in this case, our neighbors?

    Many, many people have not even heard about the Baha'i Faith, and until it is bigger, many people who already value the Baha'i teachings, and who would be 'receptive' to such gems, won't have the opportunity to do their own study unless their Baha'i neighbors mention the Faith to them.

  3. Hi there, Anonymous Rationale Atheist.

    I'm not sure where you picked up the idea that I, or anyone else within the Baha'i community, assume that our neighbours "require" our teachings. I've carefully read over everything that I've typed here, and I don't see where I give that impression. If I did, I apologize, for it was not intended. As you may have noticed, I've been very careful to talk a lot about courtesy, especially when talking with strangers. I would hope that others would also extend the same when they do so, too.

    As for your selection of the term "proselytize", it is a very interesting one, for in the Baha'i Faith we are cautioned from giving any appearance of what might be seen as an "attempt to proselytize and bring undue pressure upon" others. This does not mean that we are not to share, in a spirit of friendliness, fellowship and learning. Quite the contrary: we are encouraged to explore with others. If someone comes to recognize that Baha'u'llah is a Messenger of God, wonderful. But if not, that's ok, too. We can still share with and learn from them. But we are never to pressure, either through promises of heaven or threats of hell, or any other pressure.

    As soon as we presume that we know better, then there is an issue.

    When I was in China, for example, I was astonished at how much better my friends over there understood The Hidden Words than I did. And they had never read them before.

    So there is really no need to get your hackles up. I suspect that this is just a well-founded reaction to such unwarranted attacks in the past. And please, if I ever step over the line in this area, please bring it to my attention.



  4. Thank you for opening up this discussion. Here's a letter from the New Zealand NSA regarding door to door teaching from 2009.

    As well, we have a semi-official opinion from the Guardian (written by RK) here

    "In reading the minutes of the June National Spiritual Assembly meeting which the Guardian recently received he noticed something which he wishes to call to the attention of the Canadian National Spiritual Assembly.

    He feels that to distribute Bahá’í pamphlets from door to door, as prepared by [a Local Spiritual Assembly], is undignified and might create a bad impression of the Faith. No doubt, it is the eagerness and devotion of the friends there that led them to make this proposal, but he does not think the best interests of the Cause are served by such a method. Please inform them of this in a loving way."

    It isn't clear if the Guardian is objecting to going door to door or to the delivery of pamphlets door to door. It could be argued either way.

    In any case, we need to exercise tact and wisdom since in many places a door to door teaching campaign would not be effective and may even have negative consequences.

    As well many Baha'is are uncomfortable with the idea and not willing to participate in such teaching campaigns.

    Each Baha'i has a unique role to play and that is the beauty of unity in diversity. It is ideal to honor each individuals strength and to respect differing teaching styles instead of pressuring everyone to an obligatory and uniform method.

  5. I didn't intend to come across as particularly strident, perhaps I do have some latent issues with previous visits by Jehovah's Witnesses. Let me state that I have never encountered Baha'is going door-to-door, and as religions go, I feel it to be one of the most tolerant and non-offensive. [Sorry if this sounds in any way patronizing, I bear you no ill will, but there are basic tenets of all religions with which I disagree, but that's a whole 'nother topic.]

    I do not question your motives; I myself have recently started writing a 'bible' of sorts, opining on what I feel are common-sense ways and ethics of living. I figure I'm just as qualified as the majority of the 'self-help' quacks out there, i.e: not at all, so why not? So I have a 'jewel', too; and am making some little effort to share it.

    My issue with the door-to-door approach is that it gives the impression that one has, indeed, decided that one's brain, or the concepts therein, are better than one's neighbors', else why would one be so forward in expressing said concepts? Note that I do not believe that your intentions are such, but that this is the impression going door-to-door could bring. Countless anecdotes and stand-up routines show a general cultural antipathy for door-to-door 'salesmen' et. al. Add to that a perceived attack on existing faith, again regardless of your good intentions, and the situation is even less amicable, especially if the person answering the door is an adherent of one of the more strident and fundamentalist faiths.

    My 'jewel' I intend to share by internet publishing, or if the interest is there, conventional publication. Search engines will index it, word-of-mouth is sufficient marketing as far as I'm concerned. [As I found this blog, for instance.] If it actually makes money or not, I care not a whit, but I will make it available to anyone looking for it. And that's the distinction: They'll be looking for it, not being interrupted by the doorbell for it.

    I sincerely hope you do not make a policy of teaching door-to-door; I believe it would demean and belittle your faith, and you would gain the same infamy the Jehovah's Witlesses currently enjoy. In my opinion, you'd be better off holding forth in public fora, announcing occasions via free PSAs, and a wider presence here on the 'net, where those interested in your tenets are free to peruse them. Why do you think I'm reading a religious blog in the first place? All faiths have positive aspects which I wish to explore as I contemplate life, the universe, and everything.

  6. Some Baha'is explain that, "...“proselytization”, which means to put undue pressure on someone to change his Faith. Baha’is are strictly forbidden to proselytize."

    The first part which contains the typical Baha'i definition of “proselytization” is not accurate. Here is the normal definition for proselytize (and I challenge you to post it here): proselytize |ˈpräsələˌtīz|
    verb [ trans. ]
    convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another : the program did have a tremendous evangelical effect, proselytizing many | [ intrans. ] proselytizing for converts | [as n. ] ( proselytizing) no amount of proselytizing was going to change their minds.
    • advocate or promote (a belief or course of action) : Davis wanted to share his concept and proselytize his ideas.

    It has nothing to do with putting undue pressure on anyone.

    The second part is correct: "Baha’is are strictly forbidden to proselytize."

    Sadly Baha'is constantly and systematically proselytize.

  7. Hi Anonymous. The problem with the definition you quote is that it is the current abridged definition that is, sadly, coming into common parlance. It is not the original meaning, which strongly implied coercion or bribery. This is one of the major problems we have with illiteracy and the shifting meanings of terms far beyond what they originally were.

    My favorite example of this is still the term "peruse". Most people think it means to skim over in a light and cursory manner, and this understanding is moving into the dictionary. The problem is that what it really means is to look deeply into something and explore its depths.

    Just because there are some who are ignorant of a definition and do not use a word incorrectly, that does not change the meaning of the original phrase. It changes the current use of it, and causes tremendous confusion for those who do not look deeper into linguistics.

    Baha'u'llah, like all the other Founders of the religions, has strictly prohibited the coercion of others in matters of faith.

    We are, however, strongly encouraged to share information. Just not with pressure.