Friday, 17 June 2011

Of Necessary Words, and Words Needless



Fred Clark, the excellent liberal Christian blogger and hellhound-shooer who writes at Slacktivist, has posted a particularly fine article on the uses and abuses of evangelism, Use Words If Necessary. It has plenty to say that holds just as good even for readers who, like me, are no flavour of Christian at all, and dislike being 'evangelized' quite a lot. A taster, from the sub-sections:

1. Evangelism is hospitality.
"Hospitality means opening up your life to share it with others..."

2. Evangelism requires relationship.
"Without relationship, it’s not really evangelism, merely sales..."

3. Listen.
"Like improv, evangelism is usually more about listening than it is about talking..."

4. Your story is not an argument.
"...the only way to tell a better story and still have it be your story is to start living a better story..."

5. Disciples, not merely converts
"'Therefore go and convert all nations,' Jesus did not say... He spent three years working to make 12 disciples and, for all that, he still only had a success rate of 91.6 percent..."

Pure brilliance. Really worth reading, for anybody who ever feels the urge to convince anybody else on any of the Big Questions at all.

And I fancy these rules might apply to political enthusiasms, no less than to religious ones.

Yes, there is an obvious problem with this. Since politics is ultimately about dominance structures and who gets - or doesn't get - to coerce whom, there are clear issues with making oneself as vulnerable on that territory as Clarkian evangelism would seem to require. And there is undoubtably something squicky about the idea of treating politics more like a religion than it tends to get treated already.

But might that instinct not just be putting the cart before the horse?

Might the very problems Clark tilts at in Use Words not be better described as, "Religion's getting a pass for treating itself far too much like politics, already?"

Welcome. Community. Listening. Honesty. - And that final special quality which I find hard to put one word to, but which cares more to kindle a kind of agency, than to foster a kind of compliance. Aren't these fair starting-points for trying to spread ideas about how fellow-humans might, in fact, successfully live together?

I'm a libertarian, for Pete's sake! I partake in a movement which is supposed to be all about agency, persuasion, diversity of mind, and humility of method. And then I read an article like this, and I think about the approaches I see and hear used to promote my ideals. Or some of those I've employed myself.

I measure the one against the other, and find the comparison just the tiniest bit sobering.

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