Since I started doing interviews, I’ve answered the “preaching to the converted” question more than any other. It seems to me predicated on an unthinking use of the terms “preaching” and “converted.” It’s not as if all preachers, including for instance John Donne, were merely dispensers of predigested, soundbite rhetoric and cliche; good preachers are gifted articulators of the thorniest, juiciest, most dangerous, most contradictory problems, dilemmas, controversies.
It’s not as if the “converted” are always only Moonies lacking any sort of spiritual liveliness or freedom of thought. Quite the contrary. The converted, the congregation, united by certain beliefs, share amongst themselves bewilderment, despair, hope needing amplification, confusion needing examination and elucidation, and avenues of interesting and productive inquiry. Lockstep congregations are a sure sign of a moribund faith, of the absence of anything Divine. A good preacher rattles her congregants’ smugness and complacency, and congregants to do the same for the preacher. Good preachers are exhilarating to listen to, and the converted have a lot to think about. So this “preaching to the converted” question doesn’t address all religious practice, or all theater — just crummy religion and inept theater.