I’m looking for a secular alternative to the phrase, “preaching to the choir.” Help?
A bit of background: I’m working on purging religious language out of my vocabulary. Unless, of course, I’m talking about religion. I don’t like the way that religion permeates the language. Religion has gotten to dominate the conversation about almost everything… and the degree to which it permeates the language, even in entirely secular conversation, perpetuates this. (I’ve written about this at greater length in my piece Some Thoughts on Godless Language, btw, if you want a more thorough explanation of this idea.)
So I’m trying to say “For goodness’ sake” instead of “for God’s sake.” When people sneeze, I say “Gesundheit” (it’s German for “health”) instead of “Bless you.” I don’t say “R.I.P.” when people die: when I want to mark their death in writing, I give their name, their birth year, and their death year. And I’m trying to not say “soul,” unless I’m specifically talking about the mistaken idea that consciousness is animated by a supernatural force.
There’s a limit to this, of course. I’m perfectly happy to use the word “Goodbye,” for instance, despite the fact that it originally meant “God be with you.” I’m not going to look for alternatives to the word “Thursday” just because it originally meant “Thor’s day.” When a religious word or phrase enters the secular vocabulary, there’s a point at which it becomes entirely secular, and loses any religious meaning or implication it once had.
And I think every atheist gets to make their own decisions about this. Every atheist gets to make their own judgments about whether a certain word or phrase has become sufficiently secularized for them to feel comfortable using it. And every atheist gets to decide for themselves whether they even care about this. I don’t use the phrase “Bless you” when someone sneezes… but I don’t get bent out of shape if another atheist does.
But I know I’m not the only one who cares about this. And there’s a particular phrase I’m trying to find a particular secular alternative for: “Preaching to the choir.”
It’s an important concept, and one that comes up a lot — the concept of talking to/ persuading people who already agree with you. Important debates go on about this concept, in the atheist movement and elsewhere. Should we talk differently to people who more or less agree with us than we do to those who don’t? Do we tend to form ourselves into a bubble or an echo chamber, where we only listen to people we already agree with and who tell us how smart we all are? Is there value in speaking to people we agree with, on topics we agree about: does it inspire people, motivate them, give them language to express ideas and feelings they were having trouble verbalizing, support and encourage them when they’re feeling tired and demoralized? (As former preacher and Atheist Nexus founder Richard Haynes said at the Atheist Alliance of America conference last weekend, “Sure, you preach to the choir — that’s how you get them to sing.”)
“Preaching to the choir” is an important concept. It comes up a lot in the atheist movement. And I would really like to find a secular alternative to the phrase. I definitely don’t think it’s become secularized, in the way that “goodbye” or “Thursday” have. And I think it carries the implication that religion is good. I think it implies that both “preaching” and a “choir” are good things, and that the problem with “preaching to the choir” is that it’s unnecessary — we should do our wonderful preaching to people who need it, and not to the wonderful choir who’s already on board. I don’t want to endorse that concept. I want to find a secular alternative.
But I’m coming up short. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and haven’t come up with anything. So I want to try to crowdsource it.