Evangelism: Ordeal rite or Annoyance?

A lot of people have been talking about evangelism this last while - it started with a fairly harmless post by Jason and then it kinda took off from there. Gordon makes an interesting observation too. I got thinking about how I feel about being evangelised at - be it by reborn Christians, Scientologists, Hare Krishnas or any other people who feel they might have some good news they want to blast at me. Something struck me about the evangelising of these people - and it is something that both endears their efforts and annoys the crap out of me.

The more fanatical forms of evangelising are rarely about the soul of the person that the efforts are directed at. The focus, really, is on the one who is doing the evangelising.

And with that remark I mean to say - that people who go and stand on street corners with a megaphone and bible are not there because they care about the souls of the passers-by, or because they think they will catch any that way. No, this kind of evangelism is much closer to a kind of subversive act directed against what they perceived to be a corrupt hegemony. It is part protest, part performative devotion. They know they are pissing off people and making fools of themselves and that is the whole point. It is the very ordeal and the shaming in the eyes of the hegemony that becomes the quintessential expression of faith and commitment to their conception of the divine. It could quite plausibly be compared to a mystical ordeal rite of some sort. And for that I respect these people. They are really going out on a limb and scrambling their own social conditioning, and in that scrambling I think they are trying to find illumination and transcendence. I find that admirable, I really do.

What then irritates me is that this is all about them. And while they are screaming about my soul and damnation and whatnot they don't care all that much about my soul - it is their soul that is seeking salvation through what they believe is this act of radical, if irritating, devotion. And this is all happening at another's expense in some sense. People at the receiving end of this are props in their self-orchestrated psycho-spiritual drama.

Naturally this is talking about the more radical and annoying forms of evangelising and not the more subtle forms that we all engage in with our own blogs, words and actions on a daily basis.


  1. Is this to say that every religious/magical act is ultimately about self-interest?

  2. Not what I was getting at. I am talking here about hard evangelising of the sort where people knock on your door, shout at you through a megaphone, corner you in a public space - that kind of thing. These almost become ritualised expressions of devotion and self-sacrifice, which are about the spiritual condition of the evangeliser more than concern for the target. Probably there are exceptions but in general that has been my impression.

  3. Wow, this is a really unique but highly sensible perspective on that. When you put it in that light, it makes a lot more sense and can also give me a context to put that action into. Having once been a Christian fundamentalist (first Southern Baptist, later Pentecostal), I can testify that actions like that, which require a person to "make a fool of himself" can actually be quite liberating in a sense, even if it's at the expense of others.

    Of course, they wouldn't see it that way, but I suppose it doesn't matter. What you've said about it makes a lot of sense.

  4. I actually never thought of these sorts of actions in terms of expiation or a purposeful self-shaming. Thanks. This is a valuable shift in my perception.