Is "preaching to the choir" a useless act, or does democracy depend on it?

Originally published at: Is "preaching to the choir" a useless act, or does democracy depend on it? | Boing Boing


I think the context, though, is that when you’re “preaching to the choir,” you’re talking to people who not only agree with you, but are also doing everything you’re already saying (hence, they take time out of their busy schedules to be churchy and stand behind you in matching robes and sign the chorus to what you’re preaching), vs. preaching to the congregation, who are the people who need to hear what you’re saying, but might not actually be doing anything about it.

It’s like the term “echo chamber” but with positive connotations.

Maybe people are just misusing the phrase.


Problem is, she’s talking about two very different groups. The ones preaching fear and hate on an endless loop do that to drown out reason. They don’t want to give enough space for their viewers to think. They just want them to listen and repeat the message, or do what they are told.


Here’s the thing: choirs are there for the sermon, usually. Like, “preaching to the choir” is literally part of the preaching process. And more broadly speaking, if you’re preaching to people who are in church, you can generally assume they’re already on board with whatever religion you’re practicing, but we still preach to them. Why?

Social cohesion. Reaffirming that your group all agrees about things is how you remain socially bonded to that group. That’s the point, and it’s definitely a point Fox News understands, because Fox News isn’t communicating information- it’s communicating identity.


Everything she said, now get the archaic & arthritic DNC to do it, or just side step those DNC f@ckers and support the resistance.


One thing I learned from social media (before I learned that it is utter trash and has no place in my life), is that for every member of the “choir” there is someone else who doesn’t know exactly where they stand on an issue and can be helped with a little factual reason. There are also allies who feel too marginalized or threatened to speak and the choir speaks on their behalf or adds to their voice.

And then there are just the fucking assholes who need to know where I stand and that if they don’t like the music we’re singing they can keep on truckin’. I’m happy to help drown them out.


I don’t have any problem with “preaching to the choir” as she defines it. That’s not what’s really happening, though. What I see from establishment Dems are sermons that are little more than self-congratulatory pats on their own backs, a definite focus on telling their stalwart pals in the choir already behind them what they want to hear (to the exclusion of the rest of the congregation in front of them), and no outreach outside the church to bring in new and younger parishioners (put plenty of attempts at poaching from the death cult temple of Mammon and Moloch across the way).


There is a lot to be said for firing up ones base.

“Preach to the choir” enough and the choir is going to go out and start preaching. At the very least you have a socially cohesive group inculcated with whatever nonsense, ready to do stochastic terrorism at the dog humanwhistle of the week.

The Democrats do the opposite of that. Instead of developing a fervent base like the Republicans have, they instead don’t listen to their base, don’t fight for them, and can’t earn the votes of people who largely agree with them because they’re too busy trying to win over Dubya voters.




“Fox ‘News’ doesn’t worry about preaching to the choir, she says, and look where it’s gotten them.”

Fox “News” is giving new misinformation to it’s viewers including ideas and attitudes that it’s viewers would likely not have come upon on their own. That’s not “preaching to the choir”, it’s teaching the choir a new more dangerous song.


The Squad and the Justice Democrats happen to be very good at this –– the rest of the dems, as usual, need to take a lesson from them.


Fox News preaches to the choir, and so do actual preachers, because they are paid to. More importantly, Fox doesn’t care about persuading anyone (unlike actual preachers). They are not a good example of preaching to the choir.

And unfortunately, similar behavior shows up left, right, and center. By telling people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear because it fills to coffers.

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This man was your president, ladies and gentlemen:

The president doesn’t have a marketing budget? Since when? Someone tell the president after him, because 45 didn’t do anything but marketing and never shut up about it! And yeah, we need marketing, we need branding, because the Republicans have that and they’re winning that war. No need to make us feel stupid about it either, because it’s just fact, we need marketing, to strengthen our existing base and to attract new people to our side. If we don’t have that, then we’ll just have the four or five political nerds who would follow democratic politics for fun. And anyone who’s that much of a political nerd is likely to want something to the left of what the democratic party is offering.


for every member of the “choir” there is someone else who doesn’t know exactly where they stand on an issue

This! We tend to forget that on platforms like this one, there are commenters that speak up, but many more who lurk, and those that speak up can influence those who never comment.


The idea of preaching to the choir is that it gives a model of behaviour to emulate. The Milgram psychology experiment (Milgram experiment - Wikipedia) showed that most people would comply with requests from an authority figure who was leading the experiment, even when they knew it was wrong. When a “hero” stepped up (I call these types “Milgram resistants”) who stood up and called out the behaviour as wrong, then people tended to be MUCH more resistant to the unethical requests in the Milgram experiment.

Preaching to the choir is an example of leading, where people are given a behavioural model to emulate, and a social go-ahead to participate in the desired activity. Greta Thunberg is a good example of preaching to the choir. Lots of people agreed with her example, but didn’t have the guts/initiative to participate in the protests until she provided an example of someone making these protests.

Preaching to the choir, and then giving examples to follow makes it possible to get that choir moving.


She has a point. The reason to “Preach to the choir” is to harmonize and synchronize. In a big-tent party, this may be problematic. But there’s a reason that all of a sudden, before the 2020 election, so many people online were suddenly talking about the sacred “suburbs” (dog-whistle for White communities), when nobody mentioned that before. It’s because it became a Republican leadership talking point, therefore a Fox talking point, therefore a wide-ranging right-wing talking point in the population at large. And the repetition gives a illusion of truth. That’s why PthC is effective.

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The need for preaching to the choir is best explained with racism or discrimination issues.

Take for example an African American talking about racism. There is good change I agree with them on most points anyway, they are preaching to the choir, but I still need to listen to the African-American viewpoint to really understand racism. You can’t understand other people unless you listen!

Same is true for any (sub)group you don’t belong to, you need speakers (writers, artists…) to show their experiences from where they sit. Talking within your own political group about issues builds cohesion and community because it builds mutual understanding.

There is problem with the term preaching of course, preaching is one person telling others. The complexities of big-tent wide social movements require a more open debate structure than standard happy-clappy-preaching.

As I understood it, there were three types of preaching:

  • Preaching to the congregation is the standard, the sermon delivered to an audience.
  • Preaching to the choir is delivering the sermon to the avid supporters, and implies not paying attention to the congregation. Think of how the choir is architecturally opposite the nave, so to preach to the choir the pastor is facing away from the congregation.
  • Preaching to the masses is going out of the church to preach in a public place, to seek converts. Think of missionaries.

It’s the first case that is most often neglected, although ironically it’s actually the most common. Instead, preaching to the congregation is conflated with preaching to the choir. Or both are Venn-diagrammed under “preaching to the converted”. And any movement, including democracy, depends upon preaching to the congregation, to reinforce and support those who have come to hear the message.

Authoritarians have an easier time of this, because they dictate from the pulpit. Socially oriented tend to reject preaching in general, as it goes against the basic tenet of letting everyone think for themselves. So it’s harder, but still valuable as offering a viewpoint to consider.


In the KGB Field Manual, “preaching to the choir” is more commonly referred to as 'brainwashing".

I really dislike the saying “preaching to the choir.” I prefer to think of it as choir practice, with the doors of the church open, ready to receive all those who want to hear the music.