Recently I came across an evangelist trying to give me some section of the gospel. As I politely made clear that I was uninterested, I suddenly the remembered the far less polite manner in which I would have responded a few years ago. Like a lot of cocky left young men, I probably would have responded somewhat aggressively, perhaps shouting something deeply unholy, and then gone away happily thinking that I had outraged his delicate Christian sensibilities (as though these people are not, by necessity, massively thick skinned.)
Yet as such memories rushed back I was left with a certain sense of shame. It’s not that I’ve stopped thinking that religion is a load of rubbish. Just that I have gained a new found respect for people who go out on the street and proselytise.
I want to live in a society in which a great variety of opinions not only exist, but also get said and shouted and heard. If this means that I have to go through the hassle every so often of saying ‘sorry mate, I’m not interested’, then that is a price well worth paying.
Yet perhaps more importantly, it’s a question of what places we want our streets to be. Should they simply be spaces that we use to shop and to get to work. I quite like the idea that, in addition to people trying to sell me shoes, or sell me an ipod, there are also people who are trying to sell me a world view. Put another, our public spaces should be spaces for human beings – that is to say spaces that do not simply enable us to work, and to consume, but also to ponder the grander questions of ethics, morality and existence. They should be spaces in which we are stimulated not simply to deal with the world that stands immediately before us, but how we imagine it to be and how it might or should be. This, after all, is what it means to realise our humanity.