Bruce Gerencser is a former preacher turned atheist who writes the worthwhile Fallen From Grace blog. In a post this week, he explores the issues I raised when I wondered about the pros and cons of atheist and former preacher Jerry DeWitt coopting the stylistics of his Southern Pentecostal preaching background for advancing the cause of atheism:
Dan waves the red flag of warning and rightly so. Preaching, particularly certain styles of preaching, can be used to manipulate and control. Dan wisely warns about making an end-run around reason. Far too often preaching is nothing more than the reinforcing of “this we believe” and “we shall not be moved from this we believe.”
People are not taught to reason or to think for themselves. They are taught to believe. They are taught when reason suggests something that runs contrary to the received truth that it is to be rejected. Just have faith, people are told.
As a preacher turned atheist I can not turn off the speaking skills I used to ply my trade for 32 years. They are very much a part of who I am. The best I can do is be mindful of the power of the skills I have and make sure I use them in such a way that people are not only moved but instructed. I need to be aware of the power I have to manipulate people with my words. Self-awareness of this will keep me from falling back into using the tricks of the preaching trade to elicit the desired response from those listening to me.
That said, I want to put a plug in for passionate, pointed, challenging public speaking. Quite frankly, the atheist/humanist movement needs a bit of life pumped into it. I have listened to many speeches/lectures/seminars/debates that people told me were wonderful. Well-known atheists and humanists, aren’t they great? Uh, no. B-o-r-i-n-g. Dry. Monotonous.
Some speakers are better off sticking to what they do best………writing books and magazine articles. Leave the public speaking to those who do it well. (or go back to school and get some public speaking training)
What was the power of movement for racial equality in the 1960’s? Baptist preachers who had powerful, moving public speaking skills. Yes, their words were packed with meaning but it was the delivery of those words that moved a nation.
The atheist/humanist movement in America needs people who have the ability to passionately move people to action. I would rather suffer a bit with Jerry Dewitt’s preaching style (and I am not a fan of the Pentecostal style of preaching) than listen to well-educated, boring men WOW me right into an afternoon nap. We are in a battle against religious zealots and theocrats and we need speakers who can stir and motivate people to action.
Some atheists and humanists naively believe that knowledge is all that matters. Like Joe Friday, they think if they just give people the facts they will see the error of their way. Don’t get me wrong, knowledge is important. Way too many people become an atheist out of anger or disappointment with the Christian church. Just like the Christian zealot, the atheist should KNOW why he believes what he believes. Or as the Bible says, be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within them. But, at the same time, we should not divorce our beliefs from our emotions. Some things matter…..and if they matter, our emotions should be stirred,motivating us to act accordingly.
UPDATE: Bruce Gerencser has quit his blog. When you go there you simply get the following message now:
Welcome to fallenfromgrace.net This domain was recently registered at namecheap.com. Following is a message from the owner of this domain.THANK YOU!I have reached a point in life where it is time for me to stop blogging and move on to some other things I want to do in my life.I want to thank you for reading this blog over the past 3 years.I know my decision to stop blogging will upset some people and cause others to rejoice. I can’t please everyone and most days I can’t even please myself. This was a difficult decision for me to make and one I hope you will understand.Bruce Gerencser