COLUMN: Student antagonists more annoying than street preachers
While awkwardly power walking to class, I hear the proselytizing of damnation and hellfire from an aloof vantage point. As my perception becomes more acute, I see an ever expansive crowd of student body circling the Unity Garden, proselytizing the proselytizer. The street preacher circus has come early to campus this semester.
The crowd largely consists of two camps — the saved and the damned — both gawking and mocking a street preacher and at times, each other. Two thoughts come immediately to mind: “Why on earth do people choose to engage with this fatuousness?” and two, “Those who engage with such fatuousness are often as vexing as those whom they oppose.”
In regards to the former, reasons vary amongst each opposing camp. In terms of the saved, I can only speculate, since these lost souls have already been found. Usually, this is a futile attempt to correct an error in the proselytizer’s message or to debate the specifics of scripture.
Two points come to mind as an outside observer: “Do the converts really expect to persuade the fanatic proselytizing of this clown — much less promote an edifying discussion?” and two, “the division that has resulted from such bickering is precisely why so many ‘potential’ converts disavow religion.”
Then there is the other camp — the atheists, agnostics, skeptics or whatever preferred label (We get it. You don’t believe in God. Join the club). These are the types who commonly universalize the mentally questionable as an accurate caricature of all religion. Worse, much of the arrogance goes undeserved as soft-pitched objections such as “Who made God?” or “But what about evolution?” are served, allowing the opposing underdog to bat yet another home run.
I understand some people’s presence is merely for the show, and do not mean to antagonize the antagonists. I, too, get hooked by the metaphysical freak show at times. It is hard to refuse free peanuts.
May I propose an alternative reaction that preserves the integrity of both camps? Rather than engaging with the lunatic fringe, I encourage fellow students to ignore these desperate cries for attention.
Street preachers are callow, narcissistic bores who seek attention by intentionally provoking heated emotions. These are the same people who would be best selling pencils from a cup. Those who flock to these types are commonly referred to as “The Fish” — a demeaning equivocation that has the connotations of a mindless captured trout. The mere act of engaging with proselytizers feeds into an agenda that is attempting to be undermined.
If you really want to win an argument with a street preacher, try ignoring them.
The argument could be made that proselytizers provoke awareness and promote fruitful dialogue amongst the student body. However, such extremes need not be taken at a university — a breeding ground for the market place of ideas. More civilized discussions can be found in any intro to philosophy course, library or coffee shop.
Undoubtedly, the street preacher circus is bound for a second act this semester. I encourage fellow students to preserve their intellectual integrity by not purchasing tickets to this years show.
Nathan Cranford is a philosophy senior.