This post will have three items, but all three items will revolve around a central topic. What is that topic? I guess that I’ll label it “Keeping the peace, versus rocking the boat.”
1. I just finished a book from 1988, entitled Pushing the Faith: Proselytism and Civility in a Pluralistic World. It was edited by Martin Marty and Frederick E. Greenspahn, and it had a variety of contributors who talked about proselytism. In my opinion, Martin Marty’s conclusion at the end of the book put the rest of the book into perspective, or at least it allowed me to look at the rest of the book through a certain lens. Martin opens his essay by quoting Jimmy Durante’s question of “Why doesn’t everybody leave everybody else the hell alone?” Why should people attempt to convert others to their faith? Why can’t they just leave others alone?
To proselytize or not to proselytize? That is the question. What I got out of this book (whether or not it was explicitly stated) is that there are arguably advantages or disadvantages to both paths. When people are not proselytizing, perhaps they can live together in peace and mutual tolerance. But what kind of tolerance would that be? Nancy Ammerman in her chapter “Fundamentalists Proselytizing Jews: Incivility in Preparation for the Rapture” makes the insightful point that “One of the ironies of pluralism and civility is that we pluralists spend most of our time talking to those who already understand us and agree with us”, and that “We rarely make occasion to say anything of consequence to those who might differ from our views” (pages 121-122). Ammerman observes that at least fundamentalist proselytizers are willing to talk with all kinds of people—-“rich or poor, black or white or Hispanic, Jew or gentile.” I would add that proselytizers are also willing to reach out to the lonely and to offer them a sense of community, something that may be lacking in a culture in which people simply mind their own business and let each other be. James Richardson on page 151 talks about a group that was part of the Jesus movement in the 1970’s, and it “offered friendship, a place to sleep, food, and other necessities to hundreds of young people”, along with opportunities to develop work skills (since the group worked to support itself, as opposed to asking for money on the streets). Moreover, proselytism can arguably stir the pot within a stagnant, rather dull culture. Marty on page 158 states that “One could write on the sociology of the proselytizers and find in their challenge great stimulus for communities to define themselves, for new ideas to revitalize stagnant cultures.” At least proselytizers have firm convictions and are eager to make a difference! They’re not like the congregations that Marty talks about on page 157:
“I think of Yale Professor Paul Holmer, who toured Lutheran churches. There he heard preachers decrying efforts to earn salvation, merit heaven, try to win God’s favor. He looked at smug and somnolent congregations and asked, ‘Who’s trying?”
You’d think that the book associates proselytism with such wholesome values as community and zeal, while it characterizes refraining from proselytism as having a tepid, milquetoast sort of flavor. But that’s not entirely the case, for the book talks about people who have issues with proselytism, yet they themselves are committed to community and have a degree of zeal. The chapter on Protestant attitudes towards proselytism discusses those who wanted to focus on social action and humanitarian projects rather than converting others to a specific faith. The chapter on Catholic views towards proselytism mentions a Catholic idea that Catholics should focus on relationships in their interactions with non-Christians—-in light of the inter-relational Trinity—-rather than trying to get non-Christians to believe a certain way. And there are times when a group may feel under siege and thus turn inward rather than pursuing converts. As the book notes, Judaism got to the point where it focused on its own community’s observance of the Torah instead of trying to convert Gentiles, and there have been Christian sects that have emphasized feeding the flock rather than going out into the world. These religions have zeal and commitment, even if they are not gun-ho on proselytism. My impression is that proselytism and non-proselytism have their advantages and their disadvantages, and yet one can not make broad-sweeping statements that apply to all who engage in or refrain from proselytism.
2. Conservative Elisabeth Hasselbeck is leaving The View, and she is reportedly planning to be a co-host on the Fox News morning program, Fox and Friends. I read an article yesterday entitled Fox Is Not Your Friend, Elisabeth Hasselbeck. The article talks about how The View gets a lot of viewers because Elisabeth’s conservatism creates friction on the show: “Between Rosie and Whoopi and Joy and gently condescending Barbara, Elisabeth is surrounded by potential enemies.” If Elisabeth goes on Fox and Friends, however, she’ll be around people who largely agree with her (and who, according to the author, take their conservatism into ridiculous, inane directions). The article states: “I just can’t imagine Elisabeth Hasselbeck doing that. Or being good at it. Her talent, if you can call it that, is being the oppressed one, not part of the dopey morning affirmation to the choir. She’s going to lose all her potency, again if you can call it that, when everyone around her agrees with her. Where is she going to draw energy and outrage from? [M]aybe she’s ready to have everyone nod their heads when she makes a point, but I can’t imagine it’s going to be good TV.”
I didn’t particularly care for the article’s insults of the hosts on Fox and Friends, even if Fox and Friends is not a show that I care to watch. I’m just not a fan of dehumanizing people by calling them stupid, whether that’s done by the left or the right. But the article is on to something, in my opinion: There is something that’s admirable about a person going into the arena and allowing his or her beliefs to be challenged, especially when that person does not have too many people backing him or her up. My brother is a conservative Republican, and yet even he expressed some admiration for Bob Beckel, a liberal co-host on one of the Fox News programs. “I do have to give him one thing,” my brother said, “Beckel is going up against a table full of conservatives!”
Speaking for myself, I’m not the sort of person who enjoys debating. I used to be, back when I thought that I had all the answers! Nowadays, I’m not as effective of a debater because I believe that most issues have shades of grey, plus I’m not as quick in coming up with snappy comebacks as I used to be. Moreover, there are many times when I would like to write what I think and feel without being nit-picked, or challenged just because I’m not in the same place as somebody else. Still, there are occasions when I enjoy watching a point-counterpoint debate between the left and the right.
3. In my posts here, here, and here, I wrote about Connie Marshner, who was a conservative activist during the 1980’s. I recently watched two C-Span videos of Connie Marshner from the 1980’s. In this video, dated to December 19, 1984, Connie was interviewed about her thoughts regarding Ronald Reagan’s coming second term as President, and she offered insights about the importance of family and social issues. In this video, Connie debates pro-choicer Kate Michelman after a 1986 Supreme Court decision regarding a Pennsylvania abortion law. I’m assuming that it’s this case.
I really loved the first video, but I didn’t care as much for the second video. In the first video, Connie Marshner calmly and methodically explained why preserving the family is so important: because it teaches kids the values that will be important to them and to society later on in life. She recognized the importance of a support system in terms of helping families—-and she didn’t just talk about relatives helping out, but also ways that society can assist parents in raising their children: the government having a tax system that does not discriminate against marriage or take a large portion of a family’s earnings, health insurance policies for businesses that acknowledge the importance of looking at the family, and businesses allowing women some flexibility so that they can spend time with their children at home, while also having a job (but Connie expressed disagreement with the government mandating this). I also appreciated her discussion of the importance of lifting the poor out of poverty, allowing them to have a greater stake in society. Connie endorsed enterprise zones as a way to provide employment to people lacking employment opportunities or experience, and she also expressed support for the earned-income tax credit (which, nowadays, it seems, a number of conservatives oppose). Moreover, I enjoyed her politicking, as she described her impressions of Congressman Richard Armey and the (then) new Senator, Mitch McConnell, as well as discussed the past challenges of working with the Reagan Administration, where the Deaver-Baker-Meese trio tended to set the agenda. Although Connie did the vast majority of the talking during that interview, I felt that I was watching a conversation, or a dialogue, if you will. My opinions probably differ from Connie’s, in a number of areas. For example, I think that I can believe in family values, without embracing a social conservative agenda that stigmatizes homosexual relationships, opposes schools passing out condoms, and advocates some acknowledgment of religion by the public schools. I also would prefer to supplement the social welfare system with things like enterprise zones, rather than opposing the social welfare system. (I’m not sure if Connie is completely against welfare, however, or merely wants to reform it). Still, in watching this interview, I felt that I was seeing a thoughtful analysis of the issues.
Connie’s debate on C-Span with Kate Michelman, however, was very combative, on both sides, and I thought that the debate generated more heat than light. I thought that both sides made fairly decent points. Connie was excellent in terms of her cerebral analysis of politics and the law. Michelman was better in terms of emotional arguments, as she described the challenges of single women who become pregnant and lack a support system to help them. But, in my opinion, Michelman was not that good of a debater, at least in that particular debate. There is a part of me that relishes seeing political combat, as one side scores points against the other side. But there is also a part of me that would like to see dialogue. I’m not so much talking about the two sides agreeing with one another, but rather each side thoughtfully engaging the other side’s concerns and arguments. Of course, there are people who see value in confrontation and polarization because it wakes people up: in this debate, Connie said that she was happy that she made a pro-choice caller angry because that shows that she (Connie) was doing her job! She may have a point there. And yet, there is a part of me that would like to see more of what Mike Huckabee mentioned when he was advertising his radio talk-show program: more conversation, less confrontation.