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kanmalachoa

Subway Evangelists

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This Easter, I happened to be in New York City. I was sitting on the subway, and a group of young people began to sing christian pop music and play a guitar. After they were finished, one woman said that their singing had been a spontaneous expression of joy, gave a brief testimony of her having established a personal relationship with Christ, and invited the subway car to go to church, especially hers.

 

This incident raised a few questions for me:

 

1. Artistically. Is it an act of incredible artistic hubris to assume that everyone wants to hear one's music?

 

2. Religiously. Is random and public preaching an effective or appropriate expression of one's religion?

 

3. Politically. Does/should freedom of speech imply or necessitate a reciprocal right not to have to listen?

 

Thoughts?

 

 

EDIT:Finished post after prematurely posting

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They should have the right to play whatever goddamn music they please. You also have the right to 1. stop your ears or 2. tell them that they're idiots and their music and their message, quite frankly, sucks balls (if that's what you think, and it certainly seems like it).

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They should have the right to express their faith publically just as any other person of any other faith should have to right to publically express their faith. But neither has the right to harass the other whether verbally or violently. I think that most of the publics unwillingness to allow these people to profess a belief in public comes from their own insecurities either with themselves or their faith. Honestly, if you can't respect someone who is different than yourself then you have a little bit of growing up to do and are the grounding to the ideal that people of differences must remain at odds. If society could progress past this ideology and allow for a christian to profess their faith next to a buddhist (or any other combination of religions/beliefs) without anyone having to question the right to do it in public or be offended by it, we will then have taken the first giant step towards a chance at world peace.

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It's not freedom from religion.

That's not what I said. My question was really specific to the fact that we were in a closed subway car, and therefore had no choice but to listen to their music/talking. If one has a "right not to listen," it seems that right was violated. I don't have a problem with proselytizing in a private setting, nor do I have a problem with prozelytizing on a street: one can always walk away. On the subway, however, one is stuck listening for at least a few minutes.

 

They should have the right to play whatever goddamn music they please

Why do you believe that's true? I might not disagree with you; I'm just curious. It's worth noting, however, that it IS illegal to play extremely loud music in one's car at night, and forbidden to play music from speakers on a bus or airplane.

 

You also have the right to 1. stop your ears or 2. tell them that they're idiots and their music and their message, quite frankly, sucks balls

1. That doesn't solve the problem on a practical level, since it just doesn't work that well. But it also puts the responsibility on the individual to AVOID being proselytized to. Why should the responsibility be there? I don't think comparable expressions of free speech (people on the street, for example) claim the same monopoly on attention.

 

2. Of course I do. I still have to listen to it. Also, if my analysis above is accurate, I should do it in a place where they can cut me off and walk away. I shouldn't pursue the matter if they do, because that would be harassing these poor people who just want to spread some love.

 

I think that most of the publics unwillingness to allow these people to profess a belief in public comes from their own insecurities either with themselves or their faith.

Why?

 

Honestly, if you can't respect someone who is different than yourself then you have a little bit of growing up to do and are the grounding to the ideal that people of differences must remain at odds.

Respect is exactly my point. I have no problem with anybody saying what they want. I'm trying to investigate whether one has a right to walk away. Again, if these individuals had been singing on the street, I wouldn't have had the same concerns.

 

Also, spare me the condescension.

 

If society could progress past this ideology and allow for a christian to profess their faith next to a buddhist (or any other combination of religions/beliefs) without anyone having to question the right to do it in public or be offended by it, we will then have taken the first giant step towards a chance at world peace.

I think I missed an internal link here somewhere. Could you explain more comprehensively how allowing christians and buddhists to proselytize together in subway cars will uniquely bring us a giant step closer to world peace?

 

 

I'm interested in how people feel about the first and second questions, in addition to the big free speech issue at hand.

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so should there be mandatory silence on a subway? sometimes I dont want to hear the annoying kids next to me but I dont have much choice. you couldn't limit any right not to listen to only religious expression, so its kind of pointless.

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to answer your question 2, no I dont think its effective. They come off as pushy and annoying, and I think it may actually hurt more than it helps.

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Yes, they probably do have a right. And, yes, they definitely should have a right. Don't get me wrong here- I get pissed by it too, and have been known to engage in verbal battles with street evangelists.

 

I'd say that the right to express an opinion is always going to trump the right to NOT be exposed to an opinion (and yes, I'll grant you slander, libel, limited instances of hate speech, etc. as exceptions). My main point here is that I think that it is a far, far better thing to endure some annoyance on a subway or a bus than it is to start poking holes in the first amendment.

 

So, to sum up: the right to free speech is greater than the protection from free speech.

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What youre advocating is just as much a religion and faith as they are. You rejecting them playing their music and preaching would be advocating a form of agnosticism or atheism.

Here's a quote from Darwin's best friend ("Ardent Apostle") Thomas Huxley

"I beg you once more to recollect that I have no right to call my oppinion anything but an act of philosophical faith."

So really you want to have a religion of unbelief in God and suppress their right to express themselves. Your views would just be oppressing their views, so they have every right to express their beliefs and preach, if you denied them that then you are denying them their religion because the Bible commands them to do that.

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so should there be mandatory silence on a subway? sometimes I dont want to hear the annoying kids next to me but I dont have much choice. you couldn't limit any right not to listen to only religious expression, so its kind of pointless.
Not necessarily silence, but there's certainly a difference between two people talking to one another and a public announcement intended to be heard by all. Many subway systems allow music/performance/speech in stations and on certain areas of platforms, yet disallow such expression in the cars. The idea of the captive audience was touched on earlier and is a valid point. While in a station, people who do not wish to hear the message (in the same manner as a sidewalk) can walk away. In the train car however, there is no such ability -- riders have no choice but to hear the message unless they can drown it out with expression of their own (which brings up even bigger problems). I'm certainly not asserting a "right not to listen", but it's important to remember that the first amendment is not absolute; and it's not absolute for a reason. You have the right to speak generally, but not everywhere or at all times. The right to speech is not a right to be a nusiance.

 

I think bans on active (as opposed to passive) public expression in areas such as subway cars are reasonable to protect riders from the trap of the captive audience, to prevent the conflicts that would inevitably arise if two (or more) speakers both wished to get their message out in the time between stations, and to keep public transportation viable (those who can might take other forms of transportation if they thought it likely that they would be told to convert every time they got on board the subway or bus). If these announcements were allowed, then marketers would flood the system with salesmen delivering product pitches to people all day long; it would be the perfect form of advertising, one that can only be escaped by not riding the subway.

 

Should there be silence in subway care? Of course not. But nor should there be prosylitizing, merchandising, or steel drum performances.

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The idea of the captive audience was touched on earlier and is a valid point. While in a station, people who do not wish to hear the message (in the same manner as a sidewalk) can walk away. In the train car however, there is no such ability -- riders have no choice but to hear the message unless they can drown it out with expression of their own (which brings up even bigger problems).

QFA. I hadn't had time to get back to this thread, but Ian summed up the distinctions well.

 

What youre advocating is just as much a religion and faith as they are. You rejecting them playing their music and preaching would be advocating a form of agnosticism or atheism.

That's a ridiculous argument. A rejection of christian music and preaching is neither an advocacy of agnosticism or atheism. That said, I'm not even advocating a rejection of christian music and preaching, just in this very specific forum. Ian articulated the aspects that make this forum uniquely bad above.

 

So really you want to have a religion of unbelief in God and suppress their right to express themselves. Your views would just be oppressing their views, so they have every right to express their beliefs and preach, if you denied them that then you are denying them their religion because the Bible commands them to do that.

That's not at all what I want. I was very clear above: proselytizing in churches and on streets is fine; proselytizing on a closed subway car is not. Likewise my views are not oppressing their views. First, I'm neither atheist nor agnostic; I'm christian, but that's largely irrelevant here. What is relevant is that I would have the same problem with an atheist, buddhist, muslim, or jew loudly plugging their beliefs on the subway. The Bible does not say "Go ye forth and play musically uninteresting songs on closed subway cars." Even the most conservative interpretation of the Bible would be more than satisfied by a little old fashioned bible thumping on street corners. Heck, if you really want some high profile christianity, you could even donate some extra cash to Rick Santorum this fall: he'll need it.

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i'm more interested in the second question, the one about whether it's a good idea from the evangelical perspective and i think the answer is a pretty hearty 'no'. perhaps it's just my experience, but the folks who i've noticed out 'evangelizing' on the street or in subways are always talking from a pretty...shall we say...zealous perspective. they're typically yelling, and usually yelling things that meet most ost the following descriptions: accusatory and damning (of the listeners), punitiive, rigid, etc. now maybe it's just me but when i encounter someone in public who starts screaming at me about how i'm a bad person and will be punished for it unless i listen to them, i typically stop listening before the "unless i listen to them" part of the speech act is reached because quite frankly they've made themselves seem crazy. encoutering strangers with inflammatory yelling is going to make you, and your faith, seem outlandish - like some sort of fringe group of extremists. that's the best way to be sure noone listens to your message, which is exactly the opposite of the goal of the speech act in the first place.

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Yeah, my favorite is the guys who just stand there calling women whores on street corners. Its always fun to engage in verbal battle.

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now maybe it's just me but when i encounter someone in public who starts screaming at me about how i'm a bad person and will be punished for it unless i listen to them, i typically stop listening before the "unless i listen to them" part of the speech act is reached because quite frankly they've made themselves seem crazy. encoutering strangers with inflammatory yelling is going to make you, and your faith, seem outlandish - like some sort of fringe group of extremists. that's the best way to be sure noone listens to your message, which is exactly the opposite of the goal of the speech act in the first place.

Alienating people has never been a good way to make them like you. This raises a few questions for me:

 

-What about the effectiveness of a kinder gentler approach like I encountered on the subway? Songs and an invitation?

-Is there a self-perpetuating aspect of the speechifying you describe? Do those people genuinely want to be listened to, when that would eliminate the source of their self-righteous anger and feeling of superiority?

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i think the convergence of a number of factors makes even kinder street evangelism at best minimally productive and at worst counter productive. first, you've got some tendencies in the general public that aren't helpful 1.distrustful of other people (especially strangers) 2. generally hurried, and because of those two put together we're all more likely to blow someone off than stop and listen to them. same reason street petitioners don't get much traffic. add to that the associative problem (this i think is the biggest problem) where even though they may be "nice" in their actual approach, their means are so strongly associated with crazy assholes that people just assume they are a crazy asshole and turn them off. i mean really, even if those subway folks had the best message in the world what do you think most of the people in those subways thought? i'd bet "crazy assholes" because they never eeven listened to them, never got past the method of delivery. finally, in my experience even when people do listen to you if you're ranting on the streets it's almost exclusively out of amusement. most of the people are looking for a laugh, perhaps to make fun of the evangelist. i don't know that i've ever experienced someone actually approaching a street/subway evangelist with an open mind. i feel like i had other ideas for factors that play into this at the begining of the post, but it's 2am so they seem to have abandoned me.

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1. Artistically. Is it an act of incredible artistic hubris to assume that everyone wants to hear one's music?

 

2. Religiously. Is random and public preaching an effective or appropriate expression of one's religion?

 

3. Politically. Does/should freedom of speech imply or necessitate a reciprocal right not to have to listen?

 

 

1. Artistically, I think it is hubris. I feel the same way when I hear someone's music blasting out of their car.

 

2. Effective and appropriate might be different. It probably isn't very effective. Although the musicians probably aren't looking for mass conversions. If they had the occasional person say "I liked your music, where's your church?", they would be happy, even if they alienated a couple of hundred people in the process.

 

As for appropriate, so long as it isn't illegal, I don't think it's inappropriate.

 

3. I think the subway authority could probably ban the music if they wanted. They could impose time, place and manner restrictions on music. But the restrictions would have to be content-neutral. I think it would be difficult to enforce, but maybe the regulation itself would discourage musicians.

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In my experience, yeah, its incredibly counterproductive. But, of course, that's really not what many of them are after. I think that there is something to be said for the suggestion that many of them do not, on a subconscious level, want a positive response, but rather enjoy the feeling of superiority which they grant themselves whilst preaching.

 

But yeah, I have never been moved to switch religions due to public (or private) evangelizing, proselytizing, or preaching. In fact, they tend to reaffirm my belief that no one has a true fix on religion at all.

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If they had the occasional person say "I liked your music, where's your church?", they would be happy, even if they alienated a couple of hundred people in the process.

 

 

this is sort of disturbing. do a lot of evangelists and or proselytizing types think like this?

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this is sort of disturbing. do a lot of evangelists and or proselytizing types think like this?

I believe so. I don't mean that they are actively trying to alienate anyone. Most people would probably ignore the musicians. Or they would be moderately amused by/entertained by/annoyed with the music, but they would forget about it after a short while. On the other hand, if a small percentage of New Yorkers were interested in their singing and as a result joined their congregation, that could still be a lot of people. And the worth of a single soul is great in the eyes of God.

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2. Religiously. Is random and public preaching an effective or appropriate expression of one's religion?

 

-Not defending anything in this post.

 

The answer to your question is found in society. Would it have been okay for some crazy guy to come on the subway and freestyle about how he likes potatos? Of course not. Oh wait... yes, it is okay for me to rap about potatos on the subway. Pretty much everything we do is worshiping something. Whether it is wearing your favorite band's shirt, or blaring your 'gangsta' rap out of your catrillion watt amp in your motor vehicle. It is your right whether to take those "billboards" into account or avoid them at all costs. It's not wrong to express your beliefs publicly as long as your name isn't Fred Phelps.

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Oh wait... yes, it is okay for me to rap about potatos on the subway. Pretty much everything we do is worshiping something. Whether it is wearing your favorite band's shirt, or blaring your 'gangsta' rap out of your catrillion watt amp in your motor vehicle. It is your right whether to take those "billboards" into account or avoid them at all costs.

I'm not sure why I'm responding to this, but it's the captive audience that's significant, not the worship. Ian and I have both made that pretty clear.

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I'm not sure why I'm responding to this, but it's the captive audience that's significant, not the worship. Ian and I have both made that pretty clear.

 

 

There are different elements involved here. I can speak to this because I am a subway evangelist. I will touch on a few.

 

1- There is the issue of obedience, if one is "assumedly" and truly called to evangelize in this manner. If someone is doing it on their own, that is another matter.

 

2- There is the issue of wisdom, and God is no fool. Given there is a somewhat captive audience, a subway evangelist, in my experience, would not be lead by the Spirit of God to remain long in a subway car, maybe for one short stop or two at most. The message doesn't need to be long.

 

3- There are at times, specific people God intends/desires for to hear the gospel message. God intervenes when and where we least expect it.

 

4- Jesus, Paul and other apostles spoke in synagogues besides open public places. The message and teachings were not well received by all, and many were offended. The nature of the gospel often calls the messenger into places where they are not welcome or well received. This is the prophetic aspect/role of the evangelist. Consider the Old Testament prophets,. i.e. Moses, Jeremiah. The prophet/messenger must overcome the fear of persecution/rejection/harm and deliver the message nonetheless. It is not an easy call.

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I "lol" the above post, and not the literal loling, the mocking, sarcastic lol.

 

 

...and cross-apply everything from above. The captive audience is the problem, not the message.

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