What’s Wrong with Preaching to the Choir?

George Williamson

So you’ve just come from a meeting of your secularist group, at which there was a great discussion with plenty of questions and thought-provoking commentary. You bump into an acquaintance, and you tell her about the wonderful time you’ve had. Intrigued by your enthusiasm, she asks you about the group, and you describe its purpose as the sharing of views between individuals of a secular bent. Alas, your acquaintance finds this rather uninteresting. She comments: “It sounds nice, but aren’t you really just preaching to the choir?"

Maybe it’s not very harsh as criticism goes, but this remark stings a bit, and not only from whatever is implied in the religious metaphor. In a meager four words, your acquaintance has dismissed the worth of forming and participating in a group such as yours, and it seems unlikely that she can be counted on to increase the membership. No longer riding high on your enjoyment of the discussion, you wonder if the remark doesn’t capture some truth about the sort of group in which you are involved. True, your group doesn’t stalk the streets, confronting other beliefs on every corner (for which you are grateful). Everyone in the group does share roughly the same perspective on many topics. The comment implies that such groups as yours are perhaps self-indulgent or self-congratulatory, even engaged in an unseemly form of intellectual onanism. Your acquaintance seems to think the whole thing is just a pointless exercise.

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