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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Can't Argue With That


One thing that comes as a surprise in Manhattan are public gatherings of various Christian groups. I have seen congregations of Mennonites singing gospel in Washington Square Park. We now have two Christian groups that come to the park weekly - one group on Monday nights, the other on Wednesdays. And on a regular but infrequent basis, I see the Quakers in a silent vigil under the Washington Square Arch in the Village.

In our current society, particularly in a city such as New York, one has to admire any effort to make a statement through silence. This city is just screaming with competition for the eye and ear - what is the likelihood that anyone will pay attention to four Quakers in a silent peace vigil?

This Quaker group is based in nearby Stuyvesant Square. The brochure being made available is titled Quaker Silent Witness for Peace and Nonviolence. In it, they make their antiwar case with quotes from Gandhi and Martin Luther King, two leaders both charismatic enough to effect tremendous change through nonviolent activism. In a violent world, the gentle demeanor and unprogrammed tradition of the Quakers is refreshing and appealing to many.

I recall seeing a fundamentalist evangelical Christian on a regular basis in Washington Square Park on Sunday afternoons, where he would set up an easel with various pages of information, tables, and charts, building an argument for the existence of God. He came well-armed, not only with the Bible but also with books from many spheres of study, including works such as those by evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould. This may come as surprising, but this man knew that to have any credibility here, he would have to come with a knowledge of contemporary science and skills for lively debate.

Regardless of preparation, however, he was in the center of an intellectual community and the NYU "campus." He had his work cut out for him - I saw him battle once with two theology students. (I also once saw a group of Christians who encountered a rabbinical scholar.)

On one occasion, I approached him, told him I admired his courage, but asked why he would proselytize in an area known for its iconoclasm and extremism - one where he would likely encounter many agnostics, the non-religious, or atheists. Certainly he had chosen the worst place to go. To the contrary, his response was that his mission was to save souls and, in considering where he would be most needed, Greenwich Village would be one of the best places. You can't argue with that...

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Many times I saw them standing quietly under the arch at Washington Square Park, but I didn't pay attention. Your story reminds me and I would admire their work either.

Thérèse said...

Way to go.

Steffe said...

Each to his own I guess. As an atheist I do find religious people kinda weird.