Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Street preachers

You know, I once pondered what makes street preachers tick, but I came to the conclusion that no matter what, they will never be convinced that street preaching is (a) Annoying to most people, (b) ineffective as a form of converting people, and (c) just makes the preachers look like idiots, most of the time.

For about 10 years, every saturday night, in Harvard Square, cambridge, a local group of evangelicals decided to preach in what they considered the den if iniquity. Harvard Square, in Cambridge, MA, is the center of Harvard University, and is a thriving shop and restaurant district. At night, street performers of all types show up. When the preachers showed up, and started screaming at everyone, most people considered them an annoyance. At first, they were ignored.

Then they began to use personal tactics -- singling out people from passersby, and yelling rude things at them -- suggesting one woman was a whore, or that a boy in a leather jacket was a satanist. This would start shouting matches, and occaisionally caused people to walk over and sock them in the face. One young man, after hearing his girlfriend referred to as a whore (because she was apparently dressed like one), walked up to the preacher, and asked "Did you just call my girlfriend a whore?" The preacher started to explain that "if she dresses like a whore, then the Bible says..." but was interrupted when the young man pushed him and cussed him out.

Then the preachers decided to start using a bullhorn because apparently, screaming volume wasn't loud enough -- they wanted people a block away to hear them. They didn't just use the bullhorn to save their throats from going hoarse from yelling; they actually yelled into the microphone at the same volume, which made their voices irritatingly piercing, and difficult to understand. It was at this time that many of the local people had enough of them. Shop-owners and restaurant owners complained that people in their establishments complained about the noise, and asked them to please stop. The response from the preachers was to whine about having a right to be there and that they were warning everyone about Hell, which was far more important than listening to music and making money.

This is how I see street preachers. They are attention-seekers. They want people to notice them, and they get off on being the center of attention. When a street preacher perceives that he's not attracting the attention he seeks, he gets louder and more obnoxious until people simply cannot politely ignore him. They become disruptive because they need attention, and normal everyday people do not want to give them attention. They believe that their message is so important that no amount of reality checking will make them stop. If ignored, they will just say that the Bible says that people won't listen because they don't want to hear the truth. If heckled, they will say that the Bible predicts that people will heckle you. If shoved, spat on, struck, or otherwise assaulted, the bible tells them that that will happen to -- obviously whoever wrote those parts of the Bible had those types of experiences!

Every negative aspect of their preaching will just be spun into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and they will just say "I guess we're doing the right thing!" Sometimes they even count assaults like merit badges, and even point out bruises and scars received while annoying people, the way old soldiers display their battle scars to young people. They are proud of being a public nuisance. The more public disruption they cause, the more their own beliefs are justified.

None of them ever considers that being a public nuisance is a negative thing. None of them ever consider that constantly hearing loud, angry, screaming voices amplified, for long periods of time can actually have a negative effect on people. None of them ever consider that perhaps it's a better idea to avoid violent confrontations, and avoid getting personal and making people angry. None of them ever consider that young kids seeing this awful display of anger and verbal abuse might be negatively affected.

The bottom line is that these types of street preachers are lousy neighbors, plain and simple. Nobody minds their message, in fact, many people are probably of the same faith. If your neighbor and his family stood on their porch every day, and screamed at everyone that walked by, and generally was loud and disruptive all the time, even when people were trying to sleep, neighbors would not like it, and if calling the cops didn't work, people would move away.

An interesting side not to this is that I am a street musician myself on occaision. I play a loud instrument -- bagpipes. Bagpipes are very loud, and they can be heard from several blocks away sometimes. When I perform, I try to pick an area that is in the middle of a public park, far enough away from shops, homes, and places where people have to be for long periods of time. I do this out of consideration for others. If there are other performers nearby, like guitarists or people playing soft instruments, I usually warn them, play a few toots from my spot, and then go over and ask them if I was far enough away to not interrupt their performance.

I've never seen street preachers show even that much courtesy towards others. Do they think that anyone who is not with them is just another hell-bound person who doesnt' deserve common courtesy? I don't know. All I know is what happened one day when I was playing. The city has a first-come, first served rule for performers. This means that if you arrive and start playing, other people who want your spot have to move, or wait for you to leave. The street preachers know this, because they have to apply for permits just like musicians. So I was playing my pipes, and a small number of street preachers started gathering nearby. When all were present, they started their preaching. I couldn't really hear them, since my pipes were loud enough to cover their screaming.

Then one of them walked over to me and asked me to talk. He asked if I'd stop playing my pipes, because they couldn't be heard with their bullhorn. I asked him if he knew what the city's policy was on street performances. He said no. I asked him if he had a performance permit, and he said yes. I asked him if he recalls the first-com-first-served clause from the rules. He tried to say that they were different from street performers, and that theirs was a special case. I asked him what was wrong with moving further away, after all, I moved to the spot that I was in so that I wouldn't disrupt a juggler a hundred yards away. He then said that the spot they chose was chosen because they wanted the best traffic. I told him that I'd like to get a lot of traffic by me, too, but I had to walk a quarter-mile away from the spot I wanted, because I didn't want to interrupt the juggler, or the guitar players. I attempted to compromise, by suggesting that they simply wait for my act to end in helf-an-hour, since I can only play for about an hour before I get tired, and my instrument gets too damp to work. He refused, and I said I'm sorry. So he walked away, and they continued their show. While I was packing up to go, the preacher who was speaking at the time noticed me, and commented over his bull horn "It's about time you stopped! Ladies and gentlemen, some people think they can drown the word of the Lord from being heard!" I even heard someone call me a tool of Satan. Interestingly, most of the music I play is actually religious music from the middle ages and the renaissance era!

Oh, the irony. but man, what a bunch of priggish jerks street preachers can be.


Jason said...

Good God yes.

They think they're doing good by "preaching the word in season and out". But they are turning people away from their message! They are doing harm to their own cause. Just more evidence that they don't actually care about the people they claim are going to Hell. They just care about their egos!

I saw video of a street preacher at Mardi Gras (Doug of verandoug fame, actually), and a young man calmly tried to explain that to him. Doug yelled into his bull horn that the young man was trying to keep the message of God from the people!

Oh, the irony is thick today.

Now I'm angry. I think I'll throw my computer out the window. Thanks.

GamingAsshole said...

My brother deals with street preachers all the time. He has tons of stories, and they keep getting wilder and funnier. They also all claim to have had jobs in hardcore pornography...strange.

David W. Irish said...

So Naturally the main thrust of their message will be porn! I noticed that former alcoholic street preachers will nearly always turn every speech into one about alcoholism, and every former sexual pervert will speak mostly about sexual sins. It's very predictable. I'm willing to bet that Ray Comfort is a former sexual sinner, since that seems to be the focus of most of his speeches. It's either that, or he just thinks that sexually-themed messages will sell better.

David W. Irish said...

By the way, is everyone aware that most of the people who are on Ray's blog are actually employees of his ministry? I took the liberty of going deeper into the WOTM website, and most of these people seem to be mentioned in various parts of his ministry as workers.

It's no wonder that they all seem to avoid the more sensible responses from atheists -- it's difficult to argue against things like facts and documentation. I'm willing to bet that Ray has asked them not to respond to certain people.

Jason said...

Are you kidding me?!?!?

Can you provide some links?

GamingAsshole said...

Wait, he gets his employees to pretend to be normal forum users? Geesh...

As for the certain group of preachers that come to my brothers workplace, they have conflicting stories on their pornography experiences, such as first staring in hardcore pornography, then just watching it, then making it, etc etc.

GamingAsshole said...

Oh, woops. Just talked with my brother. Apparently this group of four preachers don't have conflicting stories, they just had different roles in hardcore pornography. Still, kind of weird to use porn to try to convert people. I mean without actually giving them the porn.