Religious hecklers preaching through fear
It was a brisk fall afternoon on campus, and I had just handed over a crisp $10 bill in exchange for a foil-wrapped Korean burrito. I savored the delicious cocktail flavor, made even more precious to me knowing that I was directly jeopardizing my rent for the luxury of food cart cuisine. A fair trade, in my book. My friend and I began to look for a spot to sit down and stuff our faces with our feast, but as we walked down Library Mall, we encountered quite the crowd forming a ring.
I elbowed my way to a place where I could see what was going on, careful to cradle the burrito like a foil-wrapped baby Jesus. Soon harsh cries of “sinners!” and “hellfire!” reached my ears, as I beheld a man lurching around the inside of the circle, leather-bound book in one hand and condemning finger-jabbing from the other. There was a wild look in his eyes and a quavery, feverish tone in his voice. I looked around to see if anyone had called for medical assistance but it appeared that the man didn’t want to be helped—he insisted that he was more interested in helping us.
From his mouth spewed accusations of lasciviousness, lewd behavior and indulgence in drugs and alcohol. He accused the women of being loose and the men of being immoral, and went on to tell us our black souls could be saved through the Holy Scripture, holding aloft his small leather manual on good behavior as if beams of holy light would suddenly strike us all in the chest. Offering us salvation, he looked around at the crowd, as if to ask if his accusations were correct. A wave of laughter rippled through the gathered students, some shouting out facets of their black souls he had missed in his cross-examination. The man sighed and went over to another similarly well-dressed man with another leather-bound manual on good behavior, taking over holding the “repent!” sign and tapping him in for the next bout.
Most people have been exposed to such arguments on Library Mall or East Campus Mall by missionaries of pure heart venturing into the rat’s nest of sin and corruption. Variations on a theme are present, sometimes with a student or a community member arguing back and other times just letting the peanut gallery holler and fuel their fire. Why does this happen, though? Regardless of our views, religiously inclined or otherwise, no one here on campus is the demon that these people make us out to be. Yes, some of us occasionally enjoy each other’s company in a biblical way and sometimes some of us indulge too heavily on the communion wine—but does that make us subject to this kind of verbal beat-down?
I have always respected the beliefs of others, even when they don’t line up with my own. Being human is the right to have your own opinion and even to express that to others in a respectful manner, creating a dialogue that is lively and engaging. One of the great mysteries in life is what happens after we die, and however you want to deal with that big question is your own prerogative; I won’t judge.
So why do these people feel that it is their duty to come down to campus and just make everyone feel shitty about themselves? I mean, it usually doesn’t work because they end up looking like clowns or backward assholes, yet still their goal is to come down to our space and try to make perfectly moral and essentially good people feel bad about their beliefs; that is the only thing that sounds monstrous to me. It saddens me to see this, because I know many good, firmly Christian students on campus who are levelheaded, let people believe what they want and if you want to know how they feel or what they think, will tell you in a kind respectful manner that isn’t fire and brimstone. These idiots who parade around trying to put the fear of God in people who mostly only fear professors and midterms, while providing excellent entertainment, are a nuisance and should learn to be a little moresubtle and respectful.
So on this crisp autumn day, I sat and enjoyed the show, indulging in my burrito and the company of my fellow demons. Billy Joel perhaps put it best: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, the sinners are much more fun.”
Eli is a senior majoring in general engineering. What do you think of these inflammatory “street preachers”—offensive nuisance or valid messengers? Please send us your take at firstname.lastname@example.org.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter