General Heresy is a column dedicated to investigating, and making public, different faiths and philosophies, as well as religions and related organizations and events.
Just the other day, I found myself in a huddle of cigarette smoke, exhaust, and apathetic, if not vapid, people, waiting for a bus at the Dufferin station on Bloor. Typically, I find one tends to be battling for position on the sidewalk, avoiding a dangerous spill onto the street, but in this hazy shade of a winter evening, there was a swath of sidewalk cut; a wide berth left around a short and weathered old man, preaching, rather brusquely, of rapture and salvation.
With notes in hand, it did seem like a rather rehearsed performance: aggressively pleading with the relatively inattentive crowd to accept Jesus as saviour at this most holy time of year, before his angels come to cull the chosen few from this world of sorrow.
I listened closely, carefully trying to piece together his reasoning for us sullen lot to repent and kneel before the king of kings.
What I understood from him was that, because Jesus died for our sins, we should repent and believe…a weak argument in my opinion, for why should I, who never asked someone to be crucified in my name 2,000 years ago, have to bear the burden of that cross today in faith and worship?
Still interested, genuinely, in the situation in which I found myself, I was surprised, having had conversations recently regarding the supposed aggressive and sometimes violent reaction of non-believers to their deeply ‘caring’ Christian counterparts, that not only did people not rage, but people hardly moved at all; hardly deigned to listen.
Just as I had turned to my partner, with whom I’d been standing, waiting for the bus, a young man of about 24, finally broke the stillness of the crowd with a
“Hey buddy, can’t you move along and preach somewhere else? We’re tired of listening to you. You’ve said what you’ve had to say, so move along. We don’t want to listen anymore”
Instantly charged with a conviction that only a challenge can inspire, the preacher turned to the young man to talk him down. What followed was a brief but awkward exchange of damnation and disdain from the two men.
In the end, the young man gave up and continued to wait for the bus, forlorn, as the preacher quickly wrapped up, after considerable demoralizing verses from Revelations, with a strangely sincere expression of love for everyone – thus his need to preach our horrible destruction without Christ – and an appreciative thanks for our time and consideration.
From the depths of the crowd, a single, feeble “thank you” could be heard. The preacher nodded in what I understood to be acceptance and bittersweet victory, having touched, noticeably, two people, though of seemingly divergent opinions.
In the wake of the Cole Montalvo story I covered in November, I was very pleased to see the rather mellow tone this confrontation took, in comparison to the events at UTC. I noticed how it is possible to preach without need of security here; without worry for your safety. I also noticed how possible it is to speak out against what’s being preached, without consequence, though I think the soapboxer doesn’t so easily step from his perch for discussion, and is more willing to maneuver the disagreement into a ‘who’s louder than who’ match.
I suppose whether it’s the warmth of the fireplace, or the warmth of the lake of fire you’re looking forward to this holiday season, the great notion one can come away with from this experience is that we can be civil in disagreement, and we can say what we wish, because we, as Canadians, have a freedom to speak our minds, and I’m happy to see that it is a freedom people exercise in a beautifully discordant harmony.