Sunday, May 04, 2014

Sunday school: we've become less sociable, but Facebook et al can turn the tables still

Once again, some controversy in a Sunday School lesson.  It was centered on the story of Jonah, the Whale, his disobedience, his journey to Spain by sea, his being swallowed up and then vomited by a whale (not likely, and hardly free fish), and the idea that his presence on the boat bringing him back made him a liability other seamen on the boat.  The teacher said that the story is a preview of the “Great Commission”.  And the walled city of Nineveh was precursor to modern day Mosul in Iraq.

What was interesting, though, was the whole topic of evangelism, and the whole idea of going out and recruiting people, by barging in on them.  The Mormons make young men do that as part of their missions – proselytize. Jehovah’s Witnesses can be mentioned. 

I can remember being “approached” even by a particularly persistent member of MCC back in Dallas in my first year there in 1979.
The underlying point is that we have become a less sociable people.  Salesmen are seen as seedy, as people who weren’t smart enough to create content.  My father was a salesman, but a specialized “manufacturer’s agent” who sold glassware wholesale to department stores along the mid-Atlantic. (Williamsburg was one of his favorite places.)   People don’t want to be disrupted.  In fact, life insurance companies typically ask perspective agents in screenings if they are willing to buy anything from door-to-door or telephone sales people.

Some in the class seemed to feel that evangelism is different – that recruitment to save people should be viewed differently than contacting to sell people things.  But religion, in psychological terms, is itself something that is “sold.”

If fact, I don’t take telemarketing calls, and rarely respond to people when approached in public places.  There is so much of it, and it has gotten so desperate, that I shut it out.  That would seem like a horrible job to have.  Yet, fifteen years ago, I used to do this, as with ballot access petition for the Libertarian Party of Minnesota, mostly in 1998.  Starting in 2002, I worked in a phone bank for the Minnesota Orchestra for 14 months.  It was a good experience.  In the late fall of 2003, after returning to DC, I tried to sell subscriptions by phone for the National Symphony.  At the time, it sounded like a logical use of some background in music.  But you really can’t sell your own personal relationship to music to people in the real world – except by performing and sometimes composing it.  You stay “in the moonlight.”   

Have social media made people less sociable in person?  It’s a very mixed picture, because social media is very useful in “recruiting” people itself,  and it is very effective in attracting help for seemingly deserving beneficiaries of very specific causes.  For all the social conservatism of the time in which I grew up, we really were quite immune to the needs of others very different from us. That has definitely changed, even if I personally have not. 
Update: May 6, 2014

The Supreme Court has ruled, on conservative-liberal lines, that incidental prayers at local government functions are OK.  ThinkProgrss claims this blows the separation of church and state (link). The Court apparently thinks this is not proselytizing.(of other people's religious agendas).  This is not "saving souls", as they would say in Dallas. The case is Town of Greece NY v. Galloway, and the slip opinion is here.   
I can remember back at MCC Dallas, around 1980, some of Rev. Joan Wakeford's sermons were listed as "evangelistic". "The Lord wants your body and mind" she would say.  I would sometimes cringe.  I wanted to be my own person. She had arrived from Apartheid South Africa.  

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