Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Unusual Suspects - a guide to street preachers in Dublin

The fine folks at Atheist Ireland were kind enough to mention me in their latest newsletter. This had the advantage of sending some more readers to my blog and in the absence of an 'About' page I decided to recap my intent.

I talk to street preachers.

I'm glad I had this opportunity to recap. The remainder of this post will trace an imaginary walking tour of Dublin and detail some of the highlights. Is there a street preacher I've missed? Do let me know in the comments section.

Hare Krishnas
Our tour starts on Grafton Street where, if you're lucky, we'll spot one or more Hare Krishnas. Normally dressed in distinctive orange or white flowing robes with incomplete headshaves, they can be hard to spot when they work the streets. Their activities are of dubious legality. Look for casual dress, wolly hats, hoodies, or other devices to cover their heads, and an armful of books.

When to find them: Rush hours, days vary. They're sometimes active on Henry Street and O'Connell Street.
Awkward questions to ask:

  • Which is closer, the sun or the moon? (The answer will surprise you.)
  • I see you're asking for cash donations. As per section 94 of the Charities Act 2009, may I see your written permit and sealed collection box?
  • Do you agree with your founder that women's brains are half the size of men's?

After Grafton Street you'll find yourself with a pleasant stroll to cool off. Cut across College Green, through (or, more sensibly, around) the Occupy Dame Street protest, and aim for Temple Bar Square. If you've chosen a Saturday for this hike you're in luck - you'll find two separate but neighbouring groups who I will review in alphabetical order.

Alien on a Mission (and friends)
It's hard for me to speak ill of a man who has bought me tea and biscuits. Anthony interviewed me late last year and did an admirable job of allowing me time to speak and editing fairly afterwards. We chatted for an hour overall, though to maintain listener interest the interview section is kept to fifteen minutes. (I agreed to these terms.)

He is a young earth creationist, putting the age of the earth at around 7,000 years, over 3,000 years younger than can be measured by tree rings. Naturally this rules out evolution, not to mention chemistry, plate tectonics, and a whole host of other areas that form the basis of our understanding of the cosmos in general and this planet in particular.

Still, nice guy.

When to find them: Some Saturday afternoons. Dates sometimes announced on his blog.

Questions to ask: As a Biblical literalist, Anthony holds to a literal interpretation of Genesis 11, and believes that the human race once spoke a single language. This was confounded by God when humans in Babylon built a rather large tower in an effort to reach heaven. He then scattered the people and confounded the common tongue, and from this we get different nations and languages, though as you'll hear on the interview Anthony accepts that, later, Latin gave birth to Spanish, Italian and so on. We didn't get time to go into this in our chat - I'd like to hear this discussed with a linguist.

I should add that it's possible other members of his group don't share these exact beliefs.

Legion of Mary
In favour of True Devotion to Mary, they occasionally allow Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit and other trappings of conventional Christianity a brief appearance in their discussions. A Praesidium - the word 'group' apparently not carrying enough gravitas - gathers outside a small pizza shop and distributes leaflets. Upon hearing I was an atheist, a kindly, mature gent stepped back in shock and began to bless himself.

Stopping midway, he said he didn't understand how anyone could be an atheist and offered me a leaflet recommending devotion to Mary and regular praying of the rosary. He paused, thought for a moment and added a St Christopher medal.

Having received both I found myself unshaken in my absence of beliefs.

When to find them: They seem to be present every Saturday, based on a sample size of about five sightings.

Questions to ask: They are more focused on the distribution of leaflets and medals than entering into conversation about beliefs. To each their own.

Leaving Temple Bar, cross the Ha'penny bridge and continue straight (roughly speaking, don't bounce into any buildings) until you come to Henry Street. Here you'll very occasionally find a brace of foreign chaps who take it in turns to shout lines of similar lengths while holding King James bibles. I stuck around for a few minutes but beyond a preoccupation with "The Gaze" I'm afraid I couldn't really pick out their focus. Maybe it's a Matthew 5:28 reference? ("But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.")

When to find them: No idea. Pitch a tent and wait.

Questions to ask: What are you fine chaps talking about?

Wander on in bemusement until you reach the corner of Henry Street and O'Connell Street, where you'll meet something of a Dublin landmark.

You've seen Dessie, most likely standing on a small stepladder with a Madonna-style headset microphone. I have to admit to having a bit of a soft spot for the chap - true, the megaphone approach doesn't immediately win fans, but he makes a different impression in one on one conversation. He's polite, friendly, honest when there are gaps in his knowledge and willing to listen. He's also a young earth creationist, speaking regularly (and inaccurately) on evolution. I bought him a copy of The Greatest Show on Earth and explained why I think Creationists should learn about evolution. He read it and although not convinced has stopped using the phrase "just random chance".

Recently he seems to be training up two new speakers.

When to find them: Wednesday and Thursday, roughly between five and seven, weather permitting.

Questions to ask: You're on your own.

Turn right and outside the General Post Office you'll see a stall saying "There Is None Worthy Of Worship But Allah".

The opening six words have my full agreement.

I feel a certain bond with Islam, even though it isn't necessarily reciprocal. Muslims and atheists are the most distrusted groups in the United States. We hover within a few percentage points of each other. As an Irishman I know how it feels to be a figure of perhaps forgiveable suspicion when boarding aircraft to the United Kingdom. (Those days long past I should add.) It's also worthy to note that most people are blithely unaware of this faith that informs the actions of 1.2 billion adherents. I've read a translation of the Qur'an, I've made an effort to talk with Muslims, and there is much to commend that's largely unknown by the West. There are plenty who bash Islam and I don't feel my voice is needed in the fray.

Still, there's nothing wrong with bashing a specific Muslim evangelist group's tactics.

The Islamic Education and Research Academy seems to have undertaken three areas of research. An unoriginal survey on perceptions of Islam, an attempt to link liberal societies with rape (rebutted by me, and still my most popular article), and a long-running, farcical attempt to shoehorn scientific miracles into the Qur'an.

For obvious reasons I haven't attended one of their Dawah (equivalent of evangelization) courses, but from speaking to many of their people I'm led to conclude that they get a half hour briefing on embryology, the formation of mountains, Arabic, salt water and fresh water not mixing (really!), and cosmology, then spend time practising moving people onto subjects of their target's ignorance. It doesn't impress. This is a pity, because the stall is manned (and it's always men) by chaps who seem genuinely eager and hungry to share what seems to be very important to them.

When to find them: Irregular, but almost always available during Ramadan.

Questions to ask: If you can, try and steer them away from the pseudoscience and have a general, friendly chat about Islam. It's actually quite interesting.

Our final stop is within shouting distance.

The Moonies
Some members of the Unification Church find the term 'Moonie' offensive. This is a real timesaver, as it allows you to refer to them and insult them in two short syllables. If you view it as appropriate to call gays dirty, dung eating dogs who should be concerned of a coming God-mandated purge you'll enjoy reading their living Messiah's writings. Perhaps you feel the Jews had the holocaust coming as divine retribution for killing Jesus? If so you'll find allies in this faith.

When to find them: It could be hubris to say it, but I may have put them off street evangelisation.

Questions to ask: Print off a few select quotes from the article linked above and watch them squirm as they try to justify the statements. Oh, and ask about the holy handkerchief. It's a hoot.


ciaran mac aoidh said...

Have you considered hosting walking tours?

Geoff said...

I might look into that when the weather improves :)

John Considine said...

you could ask Dessie to borrow his headset microphone :)

Geoff said...

heh. He'd probably lend it to me. Genuinely nice guy when you get to know him.

Michael Nugent said...

In days gone by, we used to have the tall lady who danced in the middle of O'Connell Street, the small lady with the cross wrapped with tricolor ribbons who walked up and down O'Connell Street, and the man who used to drive slowly up and down O'Connell Street with a statue of Their Lady strapped upright on the roof rack of his car.

Them were the days!

Geoff said...

Dancing lady? I remember her well! Unfortunately we never had the chance to discuss theology.
Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

I used to love the lad ( i think he was a priest actually) who sat in a car parked in the mid section of o connell street across from the gpo and BLASTED out the rosary through speakers.

As a one time street-preacher myself. ( i havent hung up the mircophone yet buts its been a good while) i feel i should fill you in on some more sightings.

usually Wednesday afternoons (in the summer very regularly) you will find a santa like guy called mickey just in front of james joyce on Earl street. He uses a sketchboard and paints and does a clever thing with candle wax. Talks last a few minutes and the rent a crowd he brings will try to engage you.

Top of grafton street most weekends. A crowd of youngish evangelicals coming out of a city centre church will hold up a huge John 3 16 sign with no speaking but waiting for you to ask them what's happening.

In my earlier less experienced more obnoxious days i met the hare krishna fella doing his thing on grafton street. Feeling anxious to "witness for the lord" i stood next to him and tried to seek for something profound to shock him out of his heretical ways. I asked him " have you ever heard of Jesus?" He gave me a suitably scornful look. I was happy that i at least threw him off his beat...

My uncle is a street preacher. He schooled me in the ways. He is the kind of guy who sees a queue of people outside of tower records waiting in the lashing rain and thinks to himself "i love a captive audience"!!!
He likes to talk about the end times. But his main thing is that just saying that JESUS IS LORD has power. Context don't matter.
Once he brought me up to a school in finglas just as everyone was coming in. He told me to go and i did. They threw bottles at me and formed a huge crowd in a circle about ten metres away from me. I was talking about how you could get to heaven and after one guy asked me how and i roared at him "by believing in Jesus" i left feeling i had at least reached one person. My uncle took over and promptly told them that they could come out over the wall right now if they wanted to and live a different life. He is big into being free of the constraints of modern life through Jesus. I should say in case its not obvious that i do love this guy.
I'll let you know if i ever decide to have another go at it myself. I feel i have changed considerably in the last few years. Specifically i think i would dramatically change the content of my message from you can have forgiveness to what forgiveness means to ones life.

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