Preaching To The Choir

Sometimes I wonder if it is necessarily a bad thing that most preaching is preaching to the choir.  Aside from the fact that I am frequently a member of the choir in a literal sense, I tend to find that most of the books I read are aimed at a very narrow audience that knows who they are and is pleased to have books that are written just for them.  Authors do not always appreciate finding a larger and unappreciative audience.  For example, I have recently had conversations with a writer whose work I particularly dislike who helped edit a large collection of generally leftist articles about the Simpsons and was upset (at me) that when her book finally drew a book review it came from someone who had read her book and loathed it.  Writers, understandably, like to receive praise from others and dislike negative reviews, and this requires hitting a target audience that is appreciative rather than finding people who take one’s writing seriously but view it with considerable distaste.

We live in a very divided world where people want to speak their opinion, regardless of how harsh it is, but are unwilling to listen to negativity coming from others.  I speak for myself as much as (if not more) than for anyone else here.  And that dynamic between wanting to speak but not listen and having one’s mind made up but wanting to tell others what one thinks tends to create a great deal of bad blood and a great deal of hostility wherever people are free to both read and give their opinions on various matters.  Regardless of whether one wants to speak to those outside of one’s own safe spaces of people who think and act a lot like you do, it is far easier to talk to those who already agree and are inclined to charitably interpret one’s comments than those who disagree strongly and are unwilling even to patiently listen to something that offends them or views them in a remotely negative fashion.  The lack of willingness to hear something that is contrary to what one thinks or believes makes instruction and conversion a very difficult task.

There are a great many reasons why it is easier to preach to the choir than to the unconverted, or to the unwashed masses that exist outside of one’s own circle.  We have a shared common history and a shared language with fellow insiders that makes communication easier because a lot can be assumed and does not need to be explained or defended.  We already have a positive view of the people we are communicating with and this makes such communication more enjoyable and pleasant.  When we are communicating with people who are not like us and who do not like us (and who we may not happen to like either), less can be taken for granted.  What is obvious truth to us may be equally obvious rubbish and nonsense to them (and vice versa).  What seems to us an obvious move from A to B seems to others like a wild leap from A to Z that simply does not follow.  Other people simply may not be familiar with the language that we use to describe things and may disagree with the way we label and define things.  They may view our perspectives as irrelevant if not offensive to their own, and all of this makes it more difficult to deal with them.  We can, if we are savvy in such matters, draw our conclusions from their premises (similar to what is done in the book of Jude, for example), but that takes a lot of work and most of us are simply not willing to put that much work into our communication with others.

In this context, where speaking to outsiders may be unpleasant because they do not appreciate what we have to say and we do not know how to speak to them in a way that gets our point across without leading to massive negativity and because we may not want to deal respectfully with them, it is little surprise that the vast majority of our communication amounts to speaking to the choir.  To encourage the converted, one needs only to share experiences and languages and beliefs and to have positive feelings for the people that we are communicating with.  Even an intensely awkward soul such as myself can muster these qualities every now and again.  But to deal with those who do not understand things as we do and use unfamiliar language to speak about their thoughts and beliefs and who have wildly different perspectives as we do are people it is difficult to speak productively with even when we want to do so.  And we frequently do not want to do so.  And so we preach to the choir instead, because we enjoy it more and because it is easier to do, and because we may not be equipped to handle any more difficult task than that.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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