Sep 04 2012

A Secular Alternative to “Preaching to the Choir”?

I’m looking for a secular alternative to the phrase, “preaching to the choir.” Help?

A bit of background: I’m working on purging religious language out of my vocabulary. Unless, of course, I’m talking about religion. I don’t like the way that religion permeates the language. Religion has gotten to dominate the conversation about almost everything… and the degree to which it permeates the language, even in entirely secular conversation, perpetuates this. (I’ve written about this at greater length in my piece Some Thoughts on Godless Language, btw, if you want a more thorough explanation of this idea.)

So I’m trying to say “For goodness’ sake” instead of “for God’s sake.” When people sneeze, I say “Gesundheit” (it’s German for “health”) instead of “Bless you.” I don’t say “R.I.P.” when people die: when I want to mark their death in writing, I give their name, their birth year, and their death year. And I’m trying to not say “soul,” unless I’m specifically talking about the mistaken idea that consciousness is animated by a supernatural force.

There’s a limit to this, of course. I’m perfectly happy to use the word “Goodbye,” for instance, despite the fact that it originally meant “God be with you.” I’m not going to look for alternatives to the word “Thursday” just because it originally meant “Thor’s day.” When a religious word or phrase enters the secular vocabulary, there’s a point at which it becomes entirely secular, and loses any religious meaning or implication it once had.

And I think every atheist gets to make their own decisions about this. Every atheist gets to make their own judgments about whether a certain word or phrase has become sufficiently secularized for them to feel comfortable using it. And every atheist gets to decide for themselves whether they even care about this. I don’t use the phrase “Bless you” when someone sneezes… but I don’t get bent out of shape if another atheist does.

But I know I’m not the only one who cares about this. And there’s a particular phrase I’m trying to find a particular secular alternative for: “Preaching to the choir.”

It’s an important concept, and one that comes up a lot — the concept of talking to/ persuading people who already agree with you. Important debates go on about this concept, in the atheist movement and elsewhere. Should we talk differently to people who more or less agree with us than we do to those who don’t? Do we tend to form ourselves into a bubble or an echo chamber, where we only listen to people we already agree with and who tell us how smart we all are? Is there value in speaking to people we agree with, on topics we agree about: does it inspire people, motivate them, give them language to express ideas and feelings they were having trouble verbalizing, support and encourage them when they’re feeling tired and demoralized? (As former preacher and Atheist Nexus founder Richard Haynes said at the Atheist Alliance of America conference last weekend, “Sure, you preach to the choir — that’s how you get them to sing.”)

“Preaching to the choir” is an important concept. It comes up a lot in the atheist movement. And I would really like to find a secular alternative to the phrase. I definitely don’t think it’s become secularized, in the way that “goodbye” or “Thursday” have. And I think it carries the implication that religion is good. I think it implies that both “preaching” and a “choir” are good things, and that the problem with “preaching to the choir” is that it’s unnecessary — we should do our wonderful preaching to people who need it, and not to the wonderful choir who’s already on board. I don’t want to endorse that concept. I want to find a secular alternative.

But I’m coming up short. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and haven’t come up with anything. So I want to try to crowdsource it.



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  1. 1

    Tossing catnip to the cats?

  2. 2

    Lecturing to the faculty.

  3. 3
    TGAP Dad

    Singing to the band?
    Feeding the chefs?
    Juicing the OJ cans?
    Giving the fish swimming lessons?

  4. 4
    Alex Gabriel

    Rallying the troops?

  5. 5

    I tweeted this to you, but just in case you miss it: “lecturing to the faculty”.

    Doesn’t seem to have quite the same ring to it, but I’d love to see what some other creatives think up!

  6. 6
    Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao

    I like “gesundheit” rather than “bless you” when it comes to sneezing. Though it is a silly superstition, “gesundheit” comes across to me as “I hope you feel better” whereas “bless you” comes across as “I better give you a blessing in case you die.” It’s morbid.

  7. 7

    Hehe, I REALLY like “tossing catnip to the cats.” It gets the point across and also provokes a hilarious mental image.

  8. 8

    How about instead of “gesundheit” or “bless you” we say, “I hope you’re using a tissue”? There’s no real need to say something when someone sneezes apart from, “You better not have gotten any on me.”

    As for “preaching to the choir” how about “I’m telling you something you already know”?

  9. 9


    I think it rings just fine. It’s succinct and follows the same pattern as the original. It simply changes the context from a religious venue to a scholarly one.

  10. 10

    I don’t have my own suggestion, but I +1 “lecturing to the faculty”. The meaning is clear, it very much contains the soul of the original (yes, I did that just to piss you off, Greta :p ), and it’s succinct.

    For my own part, I mostly don’t share the motivation (I like saying “bless you”, as I feel it helps break the spell — who cares about a blessing if it is tossed around as casually as a sneeze?) but I do wish I had an alternative for the phrase “there but for the grace of God go I”. It’s so poetic, and so true — well, true in the essence of what it conveys, obviously false in the particulars. But it’s so overtly theistic… icky.

    Still, it’s important to recognize that the line which separates me from the homeless crackhead is a much thinner line than we often imagine, and also a line that we have a lot less personal control over than we often imagine. Unfortunately, “There but for a series of random events outside of my control go I” just doesn’t have the same ring to it…

  11. 11

    X to the Y is a good structure in that it presents the idea of communicating to a specific group whose relation to the group is already defined.

    Explaining logic to Vulcans?
    Selling brushes to the Fuller man?
    Selling whiskey to Jack Daniels?

    And of course “Carrying coals to Newcastle”

  12. 12
    A. Noyd

    I see at least two other people also came up with “lecturing to the faculty.” I like TGAP Dad’s “singing to the band” even more though.

  13. 13

    Speaking to my allies? Speaking to my friends?

  14. 14

    A little quick looking finds that this is a pretty new phrase, as it only shows up in 1973. It follows, though, from the older “preaching to the converted.” And George Edward Bateman Saintsbury, in The Peace of Augustans, 1916, used two phrases in one sentence that might give us an option:

    “One may be said to be preaching to the converted and kicking at open doors in praising the four great novelists of the eighteenth century.”

    I like “kicking at an open door”. It’s an established phrase, if not so common, and says much the same thing.

  15. 15

    Look, I’m arguing to the already convinced here, but I like this idea. I mean, yeah, I’m calling your baby cute and all, but when you’re right, you’re right.

  16. 16

    I’m having a hard time with thinking of an alternative to “preaching to the choir.”

    I’ve been using a lot more “Good grief!” lately instead of “good God!” or “God!” Added bonus is sounding a bit like Charlie Brown.

    I like the above “Giving the fish swimming lessons.” But I would phrase it, “Teaching the fish to swim.”

  17. 17

    “Telling lies to Republicans”?

    (Seriously though, I support “Lecturing the Faculty, despite its minor flaws.)

  18. 18
    Ted C

    “Persuading the convinced”?

  19. 19

    I prefer “Carrying coals to Newcastle,” though it suggests a pointless task, rather than trying to persuade a pre-persuaded audience.

    Perhaps, as a shout out to Tom Lehrer, ‘Joining the Folk Song Army‘? (The link goes to a YouTube video of it).

  20. 20

    I like Cuttlefish’s “calling your baby cute”, especially if you really hit the “your” in spoken English.

    And I have had some thoughts of my own on the subject of verbal responses to sneezes.

  21. 21
    Ted C

    Oooh, I like SpaceGhoti’s.

  22. 22

    A tux for the penguins?

  23. 23

    I just remembered Shakespeare’s take on it: “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw a perfume on the violet, to smooth the ice, or add another hue unto the rainbow, or with taper-light to seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”, from The Life and Death of King John.

  24. 24

    I like “lecturing to the faculty” and “kicking at open doors,” myself.

    I have this same problem with two different phrases: “Godspeed” and “Hands to work, hearts to God.” Nothing has been able to replace them in simplicity of thought or intention.

  25. 25
    Wayne Gilchrist

    Oh come on now, Greta. This one is easy.
    “Purring with the cats.”

  26. 26

    How about ‘professing to the convinced’? It even kind of sounds the same.

  27. 27
    Emu Sam

    Singing/calling/shouting in the echo chamber.

  28. 28

    Loved “kicking at an open door.”

    BTW, the Hispanics around me use a three-phase sneeze reply, since those seem to come in multiples. For sneeze one, “Salud” (health). Sneeze two, “Amor” (love). Sneeze three, “Dinero” (money).

  29. 29
    Andy Jewell

    Teaching evolution to biologists.

  30. 30
    Robert (SeraphymC)

    I prefer kicking at open doors. It’s not quite the same in structure as the original, but it’s very visceral and easily conveys the point.

  31. 31

    “Kicking at open doors” is definitely my favourite so far. I think I’m going to use it from now on.

  32. 32

    “kicking at an open door” gets my vote.

  33. 33

    It needs to be something culturally ubiquitous, like Christianity, in order to enjoy the same wide use. A description of an experience shared by nearly all Americans, or all humans.

    “Calling your baby cute” was a pretty good one since many people have children (and already think they’re cute).

    Things from nature should work.

    “Selling milk to a cow” or “Teaching dogs to bark,” though to avoid calling your audience cows and dogs, potential insults, you might try “Teaching lions to roar.” That one has some rhetorical appeal, though it would often be too grandiose.

    Teaching birds to sing, bees to buzz, etc.

  34. 34

    “Humming to the hive mind” actually, I like ‘professing to the convinced’.

  35. 35

    How about—Cheerleading to the fans—–?

  36. 36
    Scr... Archivist

    Greta, do you mean “doing something that is already done”?

    Wiktionary says there are Dutch, French, and German phrases that mean “to kick down (or push) an open door”. Is there anyone here who knows these languages and can confirm or deny this idiom?

    I think the alternative idiom would also depend on how you want to use the idea of “preaching to the choir”.

    Most of the time, this phrase suggests a statement that is unnecessary because one’s group already believes it, especially if no one else does. You could say “reinforcing the bubble” or “shouting in the echo chamber” to suggest this connotation. However, in this case I think that “preaching to the choir” is perfectly appropriate.

    The other connotation is that the statement is indeed worthy of wider distribution, but it’s not being shared outside the group that already accepts it. Maybe something like “whispering in the agora”? Or “keeping a straight close the vest”?

    Could the choir refer to people who are just there to do a job, and don’t really care what is preached? How about “lecturing cats”?

  37. 37
    TGAP Dad

    FWIW, I don’t think “throwing catnip to the cats” is really applicable as a substitute. I fact, it seems to provide the opposite meaning. “Preaching to the choir” indicates persuasion aimed at an audience of believers. The catnip phrase seems to mean providing something an audience craves, doesn’t have, and does them no good – even making them a little crazy. It’s kind of like religion!

  38. 38

    “Kicking at open doors” gets my vote, with “lecturing to the faculty” a distant second (I was thinking “lecturing to the educated” as I read your post, but I like faculty better). I’m going to try to start using the open doors one myself.

  39. 39

    This strikes me as sIlly as changing the name of French fries to freedom fries to disassociate our own national manliness from those effeminate French. (Repubs thInkIng, not mIne)Our language draws from a rich diversity of sources and religion is part of that. Some InterestIng alternatIves have been suggested but none have the turn of phrase as preaching to the choir. (And my phone has decided to randomly capalitize the letter I in the middle if words

  40. 40

    #11, actually the main distillery for Jack Daniels is in a dry county so no, you cannot sell whiskey to Jack. (Make it, yes. Sell it, no.)

  41. 41

    How about “lecturing to the already converted”?

  42. 42

    #14 MJtheProphet’s “kicking at an open door” is awesome. The imagery immediately conveys what is meant.

    For sneezing I tell people “Great sneeze!” Always gets a chuckle.

  43. 43

    MJtheProphet says:
    I like “kicking at an open door”. It’s an established phrase, if not so common, and says much the same thing.
    I think it’s the one.

  44. 44

    My inner classics geek immediately came up with “hectoring the helots” but that’s definitely way obscure.

    I like “kicking at open doors” too, although it doesn’t have quite the ring of a staged performance as “preaching to the choir” does, because that’s a two-hander – the preacher declaims and the choir exclaims (Hallelujah! Praise Jesus! Testify!) – at least in the more physically demonstrative denominations. Something that conveyed an element of the canto/respondu would be satisfying apposite.

    “waving the APPLAUSE card”?

  45. 45

    Campaigning to the convention?

    My first thought, however, was “Greta, you’re working too hard.” It’s an idiom most folks are familiar with and gets the point across.

  46. 46

    Reporting yesterday’s news?

  47. 47

    I like “singing to the band”

  48. 48

    “lip-synching to the band”

  49. 49

    “You probably know this, but..” would be my best interpretation. In general, you’re probably saying something that many followers already know / likely agree with, but it opens the door to outsiders and those not yet convinced.

    Preaching to the choir never made any sense to me anyway. The choir is too busy standing up at the front and singing on queue. That says nothing about their religiousness, and everything about them being willing to stand there and sing…

  50. 50

    i say oh gosh instead of god or goodness haha
    I like “lecturing to the faculty” or something like that.

  51. 51
    A Hermit

    I think we should just start a choir!

  52. 52
    Alan E.

    “Teaching monkeys how to eat bananas.”

  53. 53
    Hail Satan !

    I am not familiar enough with science to suggest the right phrase. It just makes sense that there is a scientific phrase in existence.

    Let the GOP rename it. They are great at coming up with names of things what are the exact opposite of what they are. For now lets just piss them off till they do. As an atheist I find religious vocabulary as insulting as as a religious person would hearing “hail Satan”. It is awfully rude behavior.

    Sneeze = Hail Satan
    Merry Christmas = Hail Satan
    God Bless you = Hail Satan

    And at the end of every presidential speech.”God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America” It is a slap in the face to Atheists 10-25% of the population. It is a government endorsement of religion and WRONG. What if he said, what if he insulted any other minority? http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1735972,00.html

  54. 54

    Barking up a/the tree, or is that too tied to futility?

    I’d like to read more posts along these lines. The blaspheming profanities, for example, are just so much fun that it would be hard to let go of them.

  55. 55
    Julie Bernstein

    Of the suggestions so far, I like “shouting into an echo chamber”, “kicking at open doors”, and “teaching fish to swim”. Haven’t been able to come up with anything better myself.

    I’ve been saying “Gesundheit” whenever people sneeze for as long as I can remember. Atheist Penn Jillette has said he’s taught his children to say “That’s funny” in response to a sneeze.

    Re #10, I’ve used “There but for the grace of God go I” to sneak in the fact that I’m an atheist along with a little humor. I use it as follows: “If I weren’t an atheist, I would say, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’” Usually in reference to my ex-husband, who was also an atheist but re-married into a Catholic family and quickly started having children (something I never wanted to do).

  56. 56
    Andy Breeden

    Doesn’t the (pre 2012 Republican) phrase “Leading from behind” mean close to the same thing?

  57. 57

    I like “giving the fish swimming lessons”, personally.

    I don’t think there’s anything about a bunch of people all being faculty that implies that they all already agree with what you’re saying.

  58. 58

    Interesting — I’ve been trying to get historically ethnic/gender slurs out of my vocabulary. Such as “Indian summer” (based on the idea that Native Americans ‘go back’ on deals) “scot-free” (people of Scottish heritage are stingy) and “douchebag” (indicating that female secretions are somehow dirty). I know that the first two, at least, have lost pretty much all connotation of ethnic slurs, but I’m a language historian, and if I know, I can’t use them!

  59. 59
    Andy Breeden

    I’ve decided the correct alternative is “playing to the base.” If anyone already posted this, they somehow stole it from me. :-)

  60. 60
    Nate Adams

    I’ve always liked “You’re selling past the close.” It’s a saying that’s already existed for years but I think sums up the thought. “Look, I’m already buying from you. I’m on your side. You can stop talking now.”

  61. 61
    Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    Correcting the undeluded?

  62. 62

    Rallying the cheerleaders.
    Advertising to the sales team.
    Campaigning to the candidate.
    Appealing to the defendant.

  63. 63
    Nurse Ingrid

    Am I the only one who remembers the lovely folk song, “There But For Fortune, Go You or I”? Not sure who wrote or recorded it originally, but both Joan Baez and Phil Ochs sang it beautifully, and it conveys a much better sentiment than the icky theistic “There But For the Grace of God.”

    Tried to link to Phil’s version, which is on YouTube, but my work computer won’t let me.

  64. 64

    Make that “Pitching to the sales team”, instead of advertising… fewer syllables and a bit punchier.

  65. 65

    I like “lecturing to the faculty”.

    As for “there but for the grace of god go I”, my favorite alternative is “there but for the matrix of my causal determinants go I”. May not be poetry, but I think it has a certain ring. Not mine originally, BTW, I saw it in a comment on WEIT.

  66. 66

    Lately I’ve been trying to avoid using the expression “sure as hell”, since it means something certain, so “sure as hell” would be like saying “as flat as the Rockies”.

    Instead, I prefer “sure as shit”.

  67. 67

    I was immediately reminded of Theramin Tree’s video “Preaching to the Converted” for its interesting reasoning on the topic. Perhaps “Confirming the Converted” or “Galvanizing the (Peanut) Gallery” could work for variety?

  68. 68

    “Advertizing to the stockholders.”
    But I think “Lecturing to the faculty” is better.

  69. 69

    How about “lobbying your base?”

  70. 70

    “Lecturing the faculty”, and “teaching fish to swim” are the best I’ve seen so far. Most of the ones I can come up with (or steal from others) seem insulting to a particular group: “selling ice to Eskimos”, “giving a fat kid a Big Mac”, etc. “Kicking at open doors” is also great (funny mental image).

    However, if the phrase “preaching to the choir” is broken down to its most basic elements, it is sort of secular. A choir is simply a large coordinated group of singing people. I was in my junior high school choir (my singing career ended there), and we did not sing any songs that were overtly religious. By definition, ‘preaching’ is the act of energetically passing an opinion to others. One can say a timeshare agent ‘preaches’ the benefits of Myrtle Beach Condos!

    The current society in America seems to equate ‘preaching’ and ‘choir’ to be church-based, and to most observers, it is. I understand the dilemma. When my parents come to town to have dinner with my wife and I, they ask our permission to say “Grace” before we eat!

  71. 71

    Many of the suggestions here don’t really match the term “preaching to the converted” (my preference over choir). Some are closer to “teaching grandmother to suck eggs”. I think “kicking at an open door” comes closest to the spirit… sorry, essence… of the original meaning, it’s just a pity it’s missing the humanitarian part. I would go for that, or perhaps the literal “persuading the convinced” if you want a purely secular replacement for the original. Or maybe “seducing the wanton”? Is “seducing the harlots” too un-pc?

  72. 72

    Rachel #59,

    etymology of scot-free (scot = tax)

    argument for anti-sexist connotations of douchebag

    The etymology of Indian Summer is not as clearly an ethnic slur as you suggest either.

    If you hadn’t self-identified as a language historian I wouldn’t be nitpicking, but your chosen examples display an alarming lack of rigor.

  73. 73

    shining light into the rainbow

  74. 74

    Telling Bruce Dickinson it needs more cowbell.

    Maybe not practical, but it made me giggle :)

  75. 75

    Telling you people that there is no God is like taking sand to the beach.

  76. 76

    Smelling up the outhouse = preaching to the devout

  77. 77

    Leading the circlejerk?

    Seriously though, kicking at an open door is the best alternative so far in my opinion.

  78. 78

    Given the current season, my mind immediately goes to “Campaigning to the delegates.”

    “Lecturing the faculty” is concise and good at conveying its meaning, but it does stumble at the stage of literal applicability. Delivering lectures to faculty is an important part of academic culture!

  79. 79

    Promoting vegetarianism to vegans?

  80. 80
    'Tis Himself

    Alverant #8

    How about instead of “gesundheit” or “bless you” we say, “I hope you’re using a tissue”? There’s no real need to say something when someone sneezes apart from, “You better not have gotten any on me.”

    I prefer slapping the sneezer on the cheek and shouting “Thanks for spreading germs, Typhoid Mary.” It has the added advantage that I don’t waste my time with parties since I never get invited to any.

  81. 81

    “Explaining the word ‘theory’ to a scientist”.

  82. 82

    “Carrying coals to Newcastle” and “Kicking at open doors” are both good phrases, particularly *because* they don’t follow the structure of the original too slavishly.

    One problem I’ve had with trying to purge religious phrases from my speech is that I end up sounding like Ned Flanders, and people take me for someone extra devout who is worried about blasphemy.

    Anyway, while I like the phrases, they lack the specificity of the original. They describe a thoroughly redundant action, but do not imply that it’s speech.

    Also, “preaching to the choir” suggests that you *should* be preaching, just to a tougher audience. “Don’t tell me, tell someone who needs to hear it!” “Coals to Newcastle” doesn’t (to my ears) connote that.

    “Selling past the close” is a good one, but is *more* specific. To me, it implies that you have persuaded the audience, but can stop now. It doesn’t seem as applicable to the common case that there’s nothing to sell, you’re trying to sell the audience something they’ve already bought.

    Of the ones suggested, I like “rallying the cheerleaders”. If I may add a suggestion, how about Singing in the shower?

    It implies that the speech action is taking place in front of an uncritical audience, and if you want it to matter, you should take it to a real one.

  83. 83

    Umm… what’s wrong with “rest in peace”? After the hard work of our lives is done, what better than resting and peace? It just evokes sleep, not an afterlife.

    It would be worse if instead of RIP, people said something like, “May he be already inside the Pearly Gates”.

  84. 84
    Chris Hall

    I’m can’t get tangled up in de-Godding my language. For one thing, there’s a certain glee in using religious swearing like “Jesus Christ!” because it’s so visceral in a way that something deliberately chosen can’t be, and also because when I was a god-believing youngster, “using the lord’s name in vain” was taboo in the house. It took me a long time to push past that.

    But most of all, because it would be really inconvenient to change my first name, which means “Christ bearer.” (I do kinda love the sick irony of that.)

  85. 85

    New meaning for RIP: rot in peace. >:)
    Why yes, I like my humor dark.

  86. 86
    Hemant Mehta

    Someone on Twitter told me: “Reciting to the peer review board”

  87. 87

    Recruiting yur own members?

  88. 88

    The problem is that there are no other groups who, by definition, will accept what you say uncritically. The limitations of religion is why the phrase works.

  89. 89

    Jesus Christ!!!!!!!,

    this whole question seems like a god forsaken waste of time, but I’ll be damned if I let it pass without comment. You poor soul, don’t you have anything better to do with yourself ? Will you even allow me to post this comment or will it rest in moderation limbo for an eternity ?

    I’m off back to the unelect of the slyme pit

  90. 90

    seducing the willing and eager
    cheering up the pep squad
    reading to the book’s author
    encouraging the manic boy
    handing a soda to the hyper kid

    (okay the last couple probably go beyond the concept at hand)

  91. 91
    Ubi Dubium

    Flashing the nudist colony!

    I also like kicking at an open door.

  92. 92
    john wood

    Speaking as one who was raised in a family always active in the church, everyone is missing the point. The preacher who is preaching to the choir is doing a bad job. He is perceived as being timid, therefore directing his comments to those who will be receptive.Preaching to the choir is not something that any good communicator should do. No secular substitution is needed.

  93. 93

    Pandering to your base.

  94. 94
    Lance Armstrong

    De-converting Hitchens.

  95. 95

    I submit “Selling to the sold”, without looking to see if that’s already been suggested :P

  96. 96

    I think Jay nailed it.

  97. 97
    Sara K.

    My family already often uses the phrase ‘you’re trying to open an open door’.

  98. 98
    TGAP Dad

    IIRC, “R.I.P.” is short for the Latin “requiescat in pace” (“reck-wee-ESS-cot in POCK-eh”). Which actually translates to, er, “rest in peace.” Oh piss it…

    (I just KNEW that those three years of Latin would come in handy someday…)

  99. 99
    Tuppy Glossop

    No historically ethnic/gender slurs here. From the Oxford Dictionaries:

    Indian summer: noun

    a period of unusually dry, warm weather occurring in late autumn.
    a period of happiness or success occurring late in life.

    Scot (as in scot free): noun archaic

    a payment corresponding to a modern tax, rate, or other assessed contribution. Origin:late Old English, from Old Norse skot ‘a shot’, reinforced by Old French escot, of Germanic origin; related to shot

  100. 100

    I second george.w’s “Explaining logic to Vulcans” suggestion. :)

  101. 101

    Explaining evolution to Richard Dawkins
    Alas, Andy Jewell (30) beats me.

    It can be nicely varied in different circumstances:
    Explaining mate to Nakamura.
    Explaining scales to (your favourite classical musician).
    Explaining the guitar to Jimi Hendrix (or whoever).
    Explaining the alphabet to (your favourite writer).
    Defending Atheism+ against Jen McCreight.

    Singing to the birds, flashing to a nudist and De-converting Hitchens also should do.

    @37 Scrut: In Dutch kicking at open doors doesn’t have exactly the same meaning – the stress is on what you say, not on the audience.

    @93 John Wood: I agree. The Dutch meaning of preaching to the choir certainly has a negative meaning. That’s why I never had problems with it. Still it’s fun to think of an alternative. When using a secular version we should make sure to stress the negative context.

  102. 102

    Promoting feminism towards Ophelia Benson.

  103. 103

    While doing my best to capture what I understand is …”tell you something you already know.”

    “Read to the author.”

    “re-’Wiki’ the Wiki.”

    “Light the lamp at noon.”

    “Sing you to sleep/boredom.”

    “Count to the clocks.”

    Some minor alternatives to those suggested…

    “Lecture the board/commitee.”

    “Nip the cats.”

  104. 104

    One more alteration to one above…

    “Count ‘Tiks’ to the ‘Toks’.”

    Okay, I’m done. ;)

  105. 105
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Speaking as a chorister, in my experience the choir is usually composed of people who are paid to be there, or who volunteer because they love to sing, or who volunteer to repay a debt (eg the church lets us practice in their hall for free.) And most of them are apatheist to atheist.

    Yeah, this is Australia. We usually use the phrase “preaching to the converted” over here. (Same religious connotations as the US phrase, I realise.)

  106. 106
    Charles Sullivan

    Giving gold to King Midas.

  107. 107

    teaching a Klingon to fight (bonus points if you say it in Klingon)

    saying things your audience already agrees with

    making your case to the witness

    wasting your time

  108. 108

    Rachel @59, I suspect the term you’re thinking of is “Indian giver”.

    On topic, my first thought was “selling coal to Newcastle”, as some have already suggested. But I like some of the new ones people have come up with.

  109. 109

    I’m not sure I see why a secular alternative is needed for “preaching to the choir”, as the religious aspect of the phrase is being used purely as a metaphor for something non-religious. It isn’t literally about preaching or choirs, any more than “carrying coals to Newcastle” is literally about coals or Newcastle.

    But if you really want a secular phrase for the practice of needlessly persuading the already-persuaded, how about “preaching hate to the RNC”?

  110. 110

    Sorry, make that “selling hate to the RNC”.

  111. 111

    I like lecturing to the faculty. Although personally I don’t really think that this specific example is a terribly important one to supplant.

  112. 112

    I rather like “haranguing the platform”.

  113. 113
    Jack V

    I feel like “preaching to the choir” covers a spectrum from “I already agree with you, you don’t need to go on” to “she’s trying to convince people, but only people who already agree seem interested” to “she’s deliberately inflating an impression of consensus by soliciting greater agreement from people who already agree”.

    And it may be more useful to see which concepts need a metaphor and which don’t. I think if you’re explaining something and worried someone may already know, “you probably already know this” may be enough by itself.

    If someone is being deliberately self-referential, that’s exactly when the echo-chamber metaphor is appropriate, indeed, better than “preaching to the choir” because its more specific.

    And then we’re left with the middle case, of someone trying to reach out but failing to get far, when I think something like “kicking an open door” is appropriate, because it’s clear they’re trying hard but futilely, not trying something inherently futile.

  114. 114

    I like ‘teaching fish to swim’ for general colloquial use. ‘Kicking at an open door’ is also pretty good.

    ‘Lecturing to the faculty’ should be kept for more specialised occasions – it might sound a bit elitist to some audiences.

    Dislike ‘taking coals to Newcastle’ and similar because they are only pointless, no wrong audience implication. “Selling ice to Eskimos” is not only out of order for obvious reasons, it has entirely the wrong connotations. It’s often an accolade for high level selling skills, not a waste of effort for someone too oblivious or lazy to choose a harder audience as “preaching to the choir” is.

  115. 115

    “And I think every atheist gets to make their own decisions about this. Every atheist gets to make their own judgments about whether a certain word or phrase has become sufficiently secularized for them to feel comfortable using it. And every atheist gets to decide for themselves whether they even care about this.”

    Thank goodness! Because this:

    “I’m working on purging religious language out of my vocabulary. Unless, of course, I’m talking about religion. I don’t like the way that religion permeates the language. Religion has gotten to dominate the conversation about almost everything… and the degree to which it permeates the language, even in entirely secular conversation, perpetuates this.”

    Sounds like an Orwellian nightmare. And the assertion that ‘this language perpetuates this’ is asserted with exactly the evidence that Hitchen’s would use to dismiss it – None!

  116. 116

    Teaching to the taught.

  117. 117
  118. 118

    “Lecturing to the Faculty” falls oddly on UK ears (it can also be a genuinely useful part of an academic’s job, so loses the connotation of pointlessness).

  119. 119
    Pope Bandar bin Turtle

    How about Wanking to the fluffer?

  120. 120
    Ray Moscow

    ‘Affirming reason to the rational’?

  121. 121

    I thought the coals went to Coventry!

  122. 122

    “Lecturing the Masterclass”?

  123. 123

    Now that I’ve read some other suggestions, I like “kicking at open doors”. But I do agree that it’s missing the connotation of “sincere effort misdirected”. Should we have been kicking something else to better effect?

    “Lecturing to the faculty” doesn’t work for me, as the faculty of most academic institutions are constantly dropping in on lectures, workshops, thesis defenses, etc. They seem to delight in controversy, especially if there are free sandwiches. You could tweak it to be more clearly redundant but it already suffers from being a bit of a mouthful.

    “Selling to the sold” has the merits of being fun to say, and matching quite closely the meaning and cadence of the original phrase. It suffers a bit in that “the sold” takes a bit of mental gymnastics to embrace. A bit like “the exception proves the rule” or “it beggars belief”.

  124. 124

    since you’re on it, what do you think about removing ‘layperson’ from the vocab? It’s always irritated me when scientists refer to non-professionals as laypeople. This comes directly from religious vocabulary and is still current at least in the Episcopal church. I’ve been told it’s less common in other churches though. It grates when I hear it though.

  125. 125

    tbell1. Layperson is a much more difficult problem. It, along with the expression “layman’s terms”, has a really specific, neutral use to describe a person’s status in relation to a topic as well as to some people. It’s the “second” definition in all dictionaries I’ve seen. The “first” meaning is always given as the religious one.

    All of the alternative words you can find in dictionary or thesaurus give various flavours that can be seen as negative or misleading in relation to particular people. Amateur, dilettante, nonprofessional, untrained when referring to an interest or activity in science or archaeology can give quite the wrong impression.

  126. 126
    [email protected]

    How about something like, selling Greta sexy shoes?

    I wonder if that captures the spirit you’re going after a bit more? Because yes, you already like/want/have shoes, like the choir already has religion. But that doesn’t mean it’s futile to show you more. Even if you can’t/won’t buy, you and the seller are going to get something out of the interaction.

  127. 127
    Robyn Slinger

    I thought that ‘kicking an open door’ suggests stating the obvious, while ‘preaching to the choir’ means explaining something to someone who is already convinced. So you can preach to the choir with very elaborate arguments.

    I’m not too fond of ‘carrying coals to Newcastle’, because not everyone is familiar with English industry.

    ‘Teaching fish to swim’ is quite refreshing.

  128. 128

    How about preaching to the choir? Our lack of belief in god doesn’t break the metaphor of someone preaching to people who almost certainly already believe what one says.

    Do we need secular alternatives to “God damn it” now? Goodbye? So long? Are we no longer allowed to say zounds?

    When did we become the atheists from south park?

  129. 129

    I wouldn’t worry about superficialities and instead concentrate on getting things correctly and then advocating for them. What to say when someone sneezes is a trivial matter of no consequence. What to say when someone says global warming is a hoax or that angels exist is not.

    Focusing on trivial matters that no one cares about makes people around you think you are a glib and superficial person which undermines anything of substance you might want to convey.

  130. 130

    If “Carrying coals to Newcastle” requires too much context for a woefully ignorant Colonial audience to grasp :-), another possibility is Selling ice to Eskimos.

    It doesn’t have quite the same connotation of an uncritical audience as “preaching to the choir”, but it does imply speech specifically, and that you’re trying to persuade an audience to accept what they already have lots of.

    It does imply “go sell it to someone who needs some”, which is a significant part of the original.

  131. 131
    David Smith

    If not already on the list somewhere:
    Cheering the home team

  132. 132

    “making your case to the witness”
    “teaching fish to swim”
    “kicking at open doors”
    “carrying coal to Newcastle”

    I’ve read the “Preaching to the Choir” phrase as someone doing work to the wrong audience. Choirs are there to sing and not necessarily to attend the service (in which case they’d be in the pews and not the choir loft; yRmv). Given that reading, the four suggestions above are the most apt. I like the “teaching fish to swim” the most. It’s punchy, apt and requires the least mental effort (or other knowledge) to understand. It also has a -ing which helps mirror the feel of the phrase.

  133. 133

    I think this is already in use, but, Playing to the orchestra.

  134. 134

    “there but for the matrix of my causal determinants go I”

    hahahaha Gregg, thanks, not really what I was looking for, but mighty entertaining nonetheless :D

  135. 135
    David L Smith

    FWIW, I vote for some variant of “teach a fish to swim”

    introduced in comment #3 and promoted by many.

  136. 136

    I like “teaching fish to swim.”

    My one original idea was “Blaspheming to the unoffended.”

  137. 137
    Subtract Hominem, a product of Nauseam

    Chris Hall @85

    I’m can’t get tangled up in de-Godding my language. For one thing, there’s a certain glee in using religious swearing like “Jesus Christ!” because it’s so visceral in a way that something deliberately chosen can’t be, and also because when I was a god-believing youngster, “using the lord’s name in vain” was taboo in the house.

    Rather than de-godding that particular expostulation from my language, I’ve taken to over-godding it and changing the deity referenced as “Christ!” every time I say it (e.g. “Horus Christ!” “Venus Christ!” etc.). I’d like to think that it conveys the point that I don’t take the god or the christhood seriously.

  138. 138

    Shouting into the echo chamber?

  139. 139

    As a SubGenius, I have built-in phrases. Thank “Bob.” Thank “Connie.” Preaching there is preaching, but it is also known as “ranting.” Saying something after someone has sneezed is unnecessary. They just sneezed; they didn’t have an attack.

  140. 140

    Arguing in agreement – it’s not precisely the same concept, but related.

  141. 141

    In Quebec, swearing is almost always using religious language. A long and particularly offensive curse is “Jesu Criss de Calisse de Tabarnack! (Jesus Christ of the chalice in the tabernacle!) My husband is always shocked if I use these words. Using English swears goes unnoticed. My husband;s 91 year-old granny said “fuck!” regularly.

  142. 142

    Subtract Hominem says:
    Rather than de-godding that particular expostulation from my language, I’ve taken to over-godding it and changing the deity referenced as “Christ!” every time I say it (e.g. “Horus Christ!” “Venus Christ!” etc.). I’d like to think that it conveys the point that I don’t take the god or the christhood seriously.

    LOL, that’s exactly the way I do it. I’ll make it as ignorant as possible, depending on the company, like “Jesus H fucking Christ!” or “Fuck Jesus in the asshole!” and “Bloody Christ!”
    I actually try not to say stuff this bad when my devout Christian friends are present, but most don’t seem to mind.

  143. 143

    In my country we never used that phrase anyway, so we already have a handy one: “Speaking to the converted”. Which, yes, I’m sure, had religious connotations at one stage. But one can be converted to any cause.

  144. 144

    Reasoning with the reasonable

    Elucidating to the lucid

  145. 145
    John the Drunkard

    Too late to catch up with everyone.

    A comedian who’s act goes over the audience’s head used to be said to be ‘cracking up the band.’

    How about: ‘debunking to CSICOP?’

  146. 146

    Overall.. the options of “teaching fish to swim” seems pretty close… or “lecturing the faculty” maybe.. but I’m not sure either is a perfect fit..

    In terms of meaning, my unerstanding of “preaching to the choir” has a few different components.

    1. It’s about persuasion/control. The preacher is trying to persuade/control/direct the group to do something/know something.

    2. The connotation is negative because the act of preaching to the choir is wasteful in that the receiving group already believes/knows the preaching and is in agreement about it.

    Thus–it’s a kind of redundancy that is unnecessary.

    Both the fish and faculty examples sort of get this–they at least cover the redundancy part because it is assumed that fish already know how to swim and that the faculty don’t need to be lectured.. (although I do find that debatable considering how narrowly focused and ignorant so many faculty members are of so many things outside of their specialty… anyway.. different argument..)… but I’m not sure they really get the persuasion/control aspect so much.

    Teaching a fish to swim will not make them under your control more.. in fact–they will just get away from you more.. (although they already could..) and lecturing at the faculty doesn’t get at the fact that even if you do lecture a faculty–you still might not persuade them at all–they will probably just ignore you… So the power dynamic is not the same…

    Thus.. there’s still something left to be desired..

    In any case–I actually like “preaching to the choir”–in that I’ve always interpreted this phrase in a highly negative way. Preaching is an attempt to persuade from a position of supposed authority–and it is not the same as making an argument. It is about persuasion by any means necessary..

    A choir is a captive body–or at least they often were captive bodies–and were obviously subservient to the preacher–in that they had no choice but to be present for the preaching.

    Overall–this does not paint a rosy picture. Anyone who is “preaching to the choir” is not only abusing their authority–but they are doing so in an incompetent way in terms of their own subjective goals.

    This makes them dumb… and I’m not displeased at all to have such negativity connected to religious ideas.

  147. 147


    “Explaining logic to Vulcans”

    I’m using that one forever now.

  148. 148
    Ani J. Sharmin

    My views of religious language are divided. In some ways, I think it can help to give religion a special status (when, for example, saying certain phrases is expected).On the other hand, there are many times when religious language carries a certain historical meaning or reference one might want to convey, either because the discussion is about religion or just because of a reference to a work of literature.

    I also think that some of the other commenters make a good point that there is a certain negative connotation attached with “preaching to the choir”. Part of renaming it might also require a change in the connotation, if there are situations when it’s meant to be taken as something that can be done in a good way (e.g. motivating people to get involved) if done correctly.

    Anyway, here are my suggestions:

    Fangirling with the fandom
    Defending Sirius Black at Immeritus
    Explaining “Hogwarts, A History” to Hermione Granger
    Teaching archery to Odysseus
    Explaining the tyranny of Heaven to Lucifer (not entirely sure if you’d count this as secular, but I felt like adding a Paradise Lost reference)

  149. 149
    Rebecca Hensler

    Kicking an open door is doing something that is unnecessary, trying over and over again to accomplish what is already thoroughly accomplished. That’s different from talking to people who already agree with you. For one thing, the door doesn’t give you applause and stroke your ego when you kick it. Lecturing to the faculty is closer, but then again, usually members of any given faculty disagree vehemently and argue bitterly.


    As for sneezing, I have taken to saying, “Sneeze you!” It is both literally true and pleasantly confusing.

  150. 150
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    I thought talking to the band was the secular alternative.

    Ghastly thought: Tweeting your followers.

  151. 151

    Vamping on Christian’s above

    Selling tuxedos to penguins.

  152. 152
    Samantha M

    My favorite is “persuading the convinced”, partly because it has the same cadence and also because it means the same thing.

  153. 153

    My contribution:

    Stumping to the Campaign Staff.

    I like Lecturing to the Faculty, too, though I’m sure someone like PZed would raise more than a skeptical eyebrow at the implied assumption that the rest of the faculty agrees with him on a given topic…

  154. 154

    I like kicking in an open door.

    However, I have a side proposal. Can we try and make ‘preach to the choir’ a pejorative term? Give it a negative spin of wasted effort and vapid, substanceless nonsense?

    Because I tend to use it in that sense. You know. ‘You’ve got to do more than preach to the choir now. You need evidence.’

  155. 155

    Alternatives to R.I.P.:
    1) R.I.F. = Remembered In Fondness

    2) Y.W.B.R. = You Will Be Remembered
    3) T.Y.M. = To Your Memory
    * I like them because they are future thinking and present focused rather than the unknown.


    My preferences for alternatives to ‘Preaching to the choir’
    1) Lobbying your base
    2) Advocating to the claimants / plaintiffs
    3) Persuading the convinced (Perfectly accurate but lacking the analogy)
    4) Pitching to the sales team

    * I think many of the others were too narrowly or specifically typecast, or they did not completely and accurately convey the point, or they had negative associations (Such as maniac)… so personally, these are the one I would stick with.

  156. 156

    A variation on ‘Lecturing to the Faculty’, which I like, and only offered for its ‘rhyming appeal’, might be ‘Lecturing to the Loyal’ though by ‘loyal’ here I mean to ‘a skeptical mindset’.

    I appreciate the word ‘loyal’ might not fit well here as it somehow has a religious taint, but, nothing ventured…

  157. 157

    I’d like an alternative to “God bless America”. Watching the DNC the past two days really drove home how far away we still are from having atheistic higher profile elected officials. It’s really bumming me out.

  158. 158

    How about “teaching to the textbook”, that is repeating the things which should already be known.

  159. 159

    So many good ones already out there, but how about something simple like;

    “Stating the obvious,” I think it implies that if it’s “obvious,” the group you’re speaking to already accepts what you have to say and needs no further argument.

    As an alternative (only because I’m part of a particular culture), “Lecturing the Academy.” Very similar to another suggestion of “Lecturing the faculty,” which is probably more easily understood; but I think the word “academy” makes it more powerful.

  160. 160

    My mother would often say, “but that’s bringing coals to newcastle” where others might say “preaching to the choir”.

  161. 161

    As all the usages you’ve mentioned here are in fact secular to one degree or another dependant upon whom you ask and when, and all are simply more effective, evocative (of more than simple religious notions) and elegant than any of the proposed alternatives I’d say your work here is done. As you point out, our power of choice in usage extends to our actual you know, usage. That is, words don’t just “become sufficiently secularized” WE MAKE them so. Plus I can’t see any reason why a colourful, rich, living language should be controversy/contradiction free. Seems, to me, best if folks entertain at least some curiosity about what we REALLY mean. Best, Joel

  162. 162

    A word or two from Geramny:
    “Kicking at open doors”, (or more closely “Runnig (i.e. breaking) down open doors”/”Offene Türen einrennen.”) has been mentioned quite often. That is a common expression here

    But i’ve got a new one. Which is probably the oldest of all: The second most common phrase is probably “Bring owls to Athens” (“Eulen nach Athen tragen”). Even more obscure than “Bring coal to Newcastle”.

    And there is an accepted alternative to saying “Gesundheit” after somebody sneezed: saying nothing. The idea is that sneezing is seen as somewhat rude. It would than be even ruder to point out this first rudenes to everybody else.

  163. 163

    How about, as others have said, just use “Preaching to the choir?” I, too, am an outspoken atheist, but, I think, if our goal is to encourage perspectives to broaden, it’s best not to come up with different terms that’ll likely cause the true meaning to be lost.

  164. 164

    Well the general intent of the phrase is trying to raise an issue with which the other person(s) already agree with. How about something along the lines of “Arguing with your own echo”? Or there’s the being on board with the same idea. “Press-ganging the crew”? … Too nautical?

  165. 165

    Convincing fish to swim.

  166. 166
    John the Drunkard

    Running down the list, I think ‘selling ice to Eskimos’ is by far the best. It scans and sounds well, is not too long, and can be rendered more PC as ‘selling ice to Inuit.’

  167. 167
    Happy Heyoka

    I personally use it with the meaning of “that’s a misdirection of effort” and that it says something about the one doing the “preaching”; the “waste of time” also pretty common usage too, I guess.

    “Throwing rocks in the Grand Canyon” (from a Robin Williams sketch)

    and my two (originals?)

    “Selling shoes to Imelda Marcos” (obscure, I know)

    and since I didn’t start with the salacious…

    “Selling boner pills to bonobos”

  168. 168
    John Stumbles

    I grew up with “preaching to the converted” and only came across the “choir” variant in recent years.

    From sports one could say “playing at home” (as opposed to “playing away”). (Or perhaps “playing to a home crowd” or “playing in front of a home crowd”, to make the metaphor more explicit.)

    Or for a really sycophantic or unchallenging audience how about “Practicing in front of the mirror”?!

  169. 169

    Wasting your Time

  170. 170

    I agree with IXU. Cleansing language always makes me nervous, unless it’s to remove blatantly offensive words (the n-word, f’rinstance). Rest in Peace, for example, implies nothing religious or spiritual, so I don’t understand why that phrase is so offensive.

    And wouldn’t it be better to keep religious or spiritual phrases in our language, if only to understand how religious metaphors and terms were such a big part of discourse? I’d prefer not to scrub history out of English. Seems more than a little Orwellian.

  171. 171

    The other part of “Preaching to the Choir” that I don’t think has been mentioned is not only that you are talking to people who already probably agree, but also people who are there to agree. They are a choir. Choirs take direction and do what they are told. It’s not even a guaranteed honest agreement when you preach to them.

    And “selling ice to Eskimos” is actually a compliment. It means a person is so good at sales that even Eskimos can be compelled to buy something they already have in abundance. I don’t think it works here at all.

    And no, I don’t have any alternatives of my own. :( I tried to think of something from theater or opera, where there’s a chorus/ensemble that also has to take direction, but I can’t come up with the right verb for it.

  172. 172

    Rest in Peace, for example, implies nothing religious or spiritual, so I don’t understand why that phrase is so offensive.

    Rest in Peace very strongly implies belief in an afterlife to me. We don’t “rest” after death – we just cease.

  173. 173

    Priming the echo chamber, as in, “Well, that’s just priming the echo chamber now, innit?”

    Hey, it sounded good until I started typing! Anyways, this is quite a relevant quote(Wikipedea):

    How it impacts online communities

    Participants in online communities may find their own opinions constantly echoed back to them, which reinforces their individual belief systems. This can create significant barriers to critical discourse within an online medium. The echo chamber effect may also impact a lack of recognition to large demographic changes in language and culture on the Internet if individuals only create, experience and navigate those online spaces that reinforce their world view

  174. 174

    Okay then, chewing on the same bone.

  175. 175

    ‘i may be rerunning golden girls but’

    tv related. tv, something that takes a heck of a lot of science to work, yet shows reruns of things that are way out of date, rare good new stuff(mostly utter crap sold as the greatest idea), lot of infomercials for things that are useless, possibly dangerous, but ya just gotta buy… perhaps too easy to relate science to religion with it, might work.

  176. 176
    Poor Lurker

    Funny to hear you’re against preaching to the choir, since reading the first hundred or so comments only two of them showed any kind of opposing viewpoint. Well here’s mine.

    This is the kind of thing that makes people think atheists are weird, unrelatable, and maybe even cult-like groups of people. For absolutely no good reason you are decrying the use of words like “soul” which is often used to describe the important aspect of a thing, and consigning that word to the most narrow religious definition possible.

    Instead of dampening the effect of religion on your culture, you’re making it stronger. You’re making atheism divisive against the general, secular-but-not-atheist culture. You’re making arbitrary distinctions between words based only on their psychological impact on you.

    And you look like a harsh, uncaring fool when you refuse to make basic statements of sympathy like “Rest in Peace.”

  177. 177

    I can’t believe there are atheists defending the meme that dead people need rest or indeed need our concern at all. When a person dies the legitimate direction for concern is those still living — those harmed by the loss. Ideas like “your loved one is resting in peace” is both dishonest and harmful and need to be replaced with honest assurances, e.g., “your loved one lived a good life” (if this was the case), or “your loved one is no longer suffering” (if such a person was in fact suffering before death). Why is honesty so fucking hard?

    Sounds like an Orwellian nightmare. And the assertion that ‘this language perpetuates this’ is asserted with exactly the evidence that Hitchen’s would use to dismiss it – None!

    Multiple commenters claiming this is Orwellian? That language doesn’t perpetuate memes? Smh. How do ideas persist if not through expression (chiefly language)? Fuck, some of you are uncritical. And then the idea that preserving harmful ideas (by using language uncritically) is more important than stopping the harm (perpetuating wrong beliefs)? Absurd.

  178. 178

    I can’t believe there are atheists defending the meme that dead people need rest or indeed need our concern at all. When a person dies the legitimate direction for concern is those still living — those harmed by the loss. Ideas like “your loved one is resting in peace” is both dishonest and harmful and need to be replaced with honest assurances, e.g., “your loved one lived a good life” (if this was the case), or “your loved one is no longer suffering” (if such a person was in fact suffering before death). Why is honesty so fucking hard?

    Sounds like an Orwellian nightmare. And the assertion that ‘this language perpetuates this’ is asserted with exactly the evidence that Hitchen’s would use to dismiss it – None!

    Multiple commenters claiming this is Orwellian? That language doesn’t perpetuate memes? Smh. How do ideas persist if not through expression (chiefly language)? It should be trivially obvious that using religious language perpetuates religious memes, and normalizing religious language perpetuates religious privilege. What kind of evidence is necessary to convince you, skeptic? Fuck, some of you are uncritical. And then the idea that preserving harmful ideas (by using language uncritically) is more important than stopping the harm (perpetuating wrong beliefs)? Absurd.

    I thought the ethics of belief was settled among atheists, so disappointed yet again.

  179. 179

    Oh noes, power outage made me think my first attempt hadn’t posted, so I tweaked and tried again!

  180. 180

    And you look like a harsh, uncaring fool when you refuse to make basic statements of sympathy like “Rest in Peace.”

    Jesus Christ. Don’t let it bother you, deary, but we’re not sheep. Every time you say r.i.p., or poor soul, or it’s a miracle, it’s an expression of your ignorance and inability to accept that we are not living in the bronze age and still think the world is ruled by faeries and goblins.
    Our thinking has evolved and our knowledge is based on facts and understanding of how things really work. “He/she’s in a better place,” for instance, makes a person look childish and unable to deal with the reality of death. It is a platitude and cop out, and the grown-ups here are tired of your cop-outs, your inability to grasp reality and think for yourself. It helps keep your pretty little brain in self imposed ignorance.
    It also means that you are afraid of change, and that you are unable to perceive reality, two things that scare the shit out of you.
    It means that accepting the realities of death, and life, are to be avoided at all costs. Why are you so afraid of facing reality? Oh, yeah, you need to be shepherded around like stupid sheep, and you are proud of it. Anything to avoid thinking.
    I get it now.

  181. 181

    LOL, don’t worry, Sheesh, it can’t be said enough!

  182. 182

    Hey Mikmik, thanks, that helped lessen my shame from the double post :)

    But, to the topic, I should say that I really liked the phrase upthread singing in the shower when the intended connotation is preaching to an uncritical audience. I like teaching the fish to swim for the case of preaching to the already converted audience. And I like kicking at open doors for the case where the preaching is simply useless (whether because the audience is already swayed or will not be swayed). Rallying the troops seems to be useful for Greta’s purposes of encouraging the already persuaded.

  183. 183

    A substitute for “There, but for the grace of god, go I.” as was requested upthread:

    There, but for the soporific qualities of the dark, chill, abyssal waters that extend the dreamtime of dead Cthulhu in R’lyeh, go we all!

  184. 184

    God Almighty! (see what I did there?) why would anyone indulge themselves to this extent? There are way more important things to do than ‘cleanse’ the language of perfectly harmless & useful phrases because of their original connotations, which mostly no longer apply. Anyhow I thought it was “preaching to the converted”.

  185. 185

    Thanks Paul! I bet there’s way more important things to do than post on blogs, too! Maybe, if you can do more than one thing at a time, we can too!


  186. 186

    There, but for the grace of God, go I = That could’ve easily been me. Or, “the only difference between myself and them is where we were born.”

    Paul, there are more important things to worry about than what a bunch of people on a thread, on some blog, discuss. You see what I did there?

    Jesus fucking christ almighty. You see what I did there?

    Maybe if you were a second class, oppressed and belittled and sneered at, or even under threat of violence by some unthinking, unaware dipshit that gets his attitude reinforced by the little things in everyday language that the unfeeling fuckwads thinks insist that we “don’t get uptight over nothing,” you might have the understanding of an emotionally competent adult.

    Try telling the shit you peddle to women when you make jokes about being bitchy today, or must be on the period, or call her ‘honey’ or ‘dear’, try telling them about the fucking incessant reminders every 30 minutes that they are not worthy of respect, all the while scared shitless of spousal abuse and getting raped. No fucking respite, or place to feel safe without being reminded of their inequality and threat to violence because they aren’t taken seriously enough to respect their fucking situation. It’s like being spit in the face, or reminded that you aren’t far from it happening, 20 – 30 times a day. I don’t know numbers, but it must be multiple times higher for some women, and possibly less for some. I don’t know, I’m only a man that can only imagine what a shitty ride that must be sometimes, and by saying “Don’t be so sensitive” you are denying their genuine feelings and fears and reminding them that you, yourself, are one of the goddamn ostriches that doesn’t want the responsibility of making the tiniest effort at respecting others.

    I can’t fucking stand it when athletes pray to god publicly, but that is my problem. It only makes me shake my head in wonder that these suppose mature and sophisticated individuals are so fucking stupid that they still see the world as it was seen >2000 – 4000 thousand years ago, when people blamed angry spirits and angry gods for everything bad that happened, and that they must be doing something wrong and deserved every illness and catastrophe that happened to them, being so unworthy and ignorant. Furthermore, they subjugated their whole life trying to appease a fucking imaginary deity that wasn’t fucking real.

    That’s what fucking pisses me off about words with religious connotations and the fucking irrational thinking that they endorse every time they are used. They are the death of rationality by hundreds of thousands of little cuts.

    Telling atheists to stop being so sensitive, by a vast majority of society, while exclaiming that we, WE, are infringing on their rights by saying “evolution” or pointing out that they aren’t the only nimrods that worship some imaginary stone age nightmare(punishing and angry god), so why should their fucking cruel fuckstick of a god get unlimited precedence over all the others. They deny that everyone else should get the respect to practice verifiable truth, and express an uncountable variety of opinions, in a fucking free society.

    No, the retarded intellectual development in these spoiled cry-babies see equality and empiricism as oppression, all the while the dumbfuck godsheep think they have the right to tell everyone what is appropriate for everyone else, and by not having unfettered freedom to disdain and judge others, is an imposition on THEIR ‘freedom’ to practice their religion, and that we are really Satan’s army of heathens and blasphemers.

    As we see our fucking precious planet, and precious lives systematically, physically destroyed by blatant psychotic thinking, yes, I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE OFFENDED AT WHAT THE SUM OF COUNTLESS LITTLE REINFORCEMENTS ACHIEVE, and that is the destruction of my place to live, and my right to think.

    See what I did there? ;)

  187. 187

    LOL, Sheesh! Beat me to it again, damn it.

  188. 188

    Haven’t read most of the comments, but I’ll suggest/support “shouting in an echo chamber.”

    (“In” is snappier than “into,” I think.)

  189. 189
    (name deleted)

    The content of this post has been deleted. It was posted maliciously by someone claiming to be Jen McCreight, and using her image as a Gravatar. It also used deeply offensive racial and religious slurs, which are not tolerated in this blog. -GC

  190. 190
    (name deleted)

    The content of this post has been deleted. It was posted maliciously by someone claiming to be me, and using my image as a Gravatar. It also used deeply offensive racial and religious slurs, which are not tolerated in this blog. -GC

  191. 191

    Jen & Greta, I think that’s one of the reasons Pharyngula forces a login/registration for comments – WordPress won’t allow a new user to register or change to the same email address as an existing user.

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    Or you could just change to a new seekrit email address for your own logins and assign your current gravatars to those new addys, and then change the gravatars on your current addys to cute litte troll dolls.

  193. 193

    Or alternatively, just get everybody on FtB to add “j********” to their moderation filters?

  194. 194
    Moni Hayes

    Singing to the birds

  195. 195
    Greta Christina

    A reminder to everyone of my comment policy: Comments in this blog should not include personal insults aimed at other commenters. Critique ideas and behavior; do not insult people. Thank you.

  196. 196

    Howling at your own pack.

  197. 197

    Catering to a crowd might work, in the sense that the crowd wants to hear something, and a speaker provides what they want. It sounded like a good idea at first, now I’m not so sure.

  198. 198

    It’s a difficult phrase to work with because it has two separate meanings.

    When “preaching to the choir” means trying to get enthusiasm built up behind an idea, I like “playing to your audience”. You’re there because people already are familiar with your work and appreciate it.

    When “preaching to the choir” means repeating your message in an echo chamber where your message has already gone about as far as it can go (and you feel like you’re not really doing anything more for it by keeping it in the echo chamber), “restating the obvious” seems to fit.

  199. 199

    ‎”Trying to find a secular alternative to “preaching to the choir.”, You sound like a born again christian trying to purge her vocabulary of ungodly language. Maybe while you’re at it she should get rid of the economic system that protestantism opened the door to and allowed you to live a comfortable non-disease/war/rape infested existence. O wait, you’d have to admit religion did good in the world

    That’s against new atheist dogma i 4got mahbad.

  200. 200

    Great question – something like:

    Evolving with the Darwinists
    Deducing to the Sherlockians

  201. 201


    “preaching to the choir” is insulting and more in accord with “Tell me something, I don’t no.” or, “I already know that.”,which are the equivalent in a secular sense. We can not have the god zing in it. The best alternative would be: “You are lecturing to the faculty.” However, as a humanist A+ Atheist, I insist on saying very simply, “Yes, I agree.” or, “Yes, I have reached a similar conclusion.” I like these because they exceed the passive demeaning aggression that is loaded into the statement, “You are preaching to the choir.” Just like religion and its veiled social-toxins,It needs to be completely replaced, like our children replace our ancestral primates that lived in hordes. With hope for a better future, we should love one another.


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    My delayed answer is “sending newsletters to the membership”. Because when I worked on posting events to the newsletter for a local social justice organization, I felt like I was “preaching to the choir”.

  203. 203
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Another way of saying “we agree” without saying ‘stop lecturing me!’ is “We’re singing from the same songbook” or “We’re both on the same page.”

  204. 204

    A bit late to this, but what about:
    “Teach evolution to Darwin?”

    “…are we teaching evolution to Darwin or are we…..”

  205. 205
    Alan G. Humphrey

    “Leading fish to water” was my first thought, but then I was thinking about something meaningful to this group and came up with “deconverting atheists”, which is similar to a previous idea using Hitchens.

  206. 206

    You’re trying to persuade the persuaded.
    You’re trying to sell me my own stuff.

  207. 207

    Shouting in the sounding box

  208. 208

    How about “lecturing your support group”?

  209. 209
    Steve Caldwell

    “Selling weed to Harold & Kumar”??

  1. 210
    Three random bits « Masks of Eris

    [...] Christina’s looking for a secular alternative to the phrase “preaching to the choir”: spaking the good word to the “wrong” audience, or anyway the audience that least needs [...]

  2. 211
    “Cheering to the Pep Squad” — My New Secular Alternative to “Preaching to the Choir” | Greta Christina's Blog

    [...] to everyone who chimed in with suggestions for a secular alternative to the phrase, “preaching to the choir.” Lots of people had very good suggestions, and if (like me) you’re trying to get religious [...]

  3. 212
    Blogathon for SSA Week: Secularizing “Good Angel/ Bad Angel” » Greta Christina's Blog

    [...] last time I wrote about this, I was looking for a secular alternative to “Preaching to the choir”: the one I liked [...]

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