The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Saturday, February 22, 2003  

How Not to Proselytize

I'm a fairly religious guy -- lately, at least -- and the quintessential "cafeteria Catholic," if you will, and I won't feel badly about that no matter what the likes of William Bennett, William F. Buckley Jr., Rod Dreher, and their ilk may say.

(I'm sure by now at least some readers have heard about Bennett cheating on the pop quiz recently given him by CNN's Wolf Blitzer. If you missed it, Charles Pierce has the goods. The Pope was not speaking "ex cathedra," Bishop Bennett asserted, no doubt impressing Blitzer and most of the audience -- watching and cheering, as is the case with virtually any program on CNN these days -- at the Pentagon. What I'd like to know is whether Bennett actually believed what he was saying -- in which case, he can no longer, to the extent he ever was, be taken seriously on matters Catholic -- or whether he knew he was fudging -- in which case, he's just another right-wing liar.)

Several articles I've read in various Catholic books and periodicals over the past few months suggest that I have been woefully inadequate in evangelizing, sharing my faith with others, and urging friends and colleagues to examine Catholicism with an eye toward perhaps one day converting.

Guilty as charged. Look, it's just not my thing. I believe everyone will find his own way in his own time, led not by his fellow man, but by God.

Twice this week I was reminded of my discomfort with proselytizing, at least as it is most commonly practiced in contemporary American society.

At a certain intersection in Center City Philadelphia there stands a middle-aged woman, all day, and all day alone, pressing religious tracts upon passersby. Although I admire, in an odd way, the strength of faith that motivates her, I have doubts about her effectiveness.

And, frankly, I wonder about her sanity. (To be fair, I often wonder about my own.) With her eyes glazed over, she constantly mutters under her breath -- including several words that I doubt her Lord would be pleased to hear -- and expresses righteous indignation, nay, contempt, toward some who cross her path. I feel safe in assuming that hers is not a church to which I would care to belong.

And yesterday, while taking care of some errands I was stopped by a young woman who appeared to want to ask me for directions or the time. I was wrong.

"Do you know Jesus?" she asked me.

I paused, and, not having blogged anything particularly snarky that day, my sarcastic streak emerged: "You mean the guy who owns that electronics store on Walnut Street?" I responded.

She was not amused. But then, neither was I.

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