“I’ve always disliked and mistrusted this carnival shill approach to the church—and yet heaven knows we see it often enough. Does it really work? I don’t think so, but more than that I think it’s all wrong. Because for one thing it’s so unworthy. I don’t mean by this that it’s too informal, too much in the marketplace, too “popular;” I do mean, quite simply, that it’s cheap.
Obviously, when you talk about such things as God, religion, the church, man’s soul, to a great many different people, you much necessarily do so in a great many different ways and on a great many different levels. But none of these levels can be—or at least none of them should be—in any sense flashy or false or vulgar, because if they are—no matter what the apparent justification—you run the very serious risk of making God, religion, the church, and man’s soul seem just a little bit of the same. It’s all very well to suggest that this really doesn’t matter so much, that what does matter is that, as a result, the people come in, but I think that’s a great mistake. I know they come in—and often in considerable numbers—in response to such techniques. That’s not surprising.The gaudy, the meretricious, frequently have a powerful and immediate seductiveness: at a fair or a circus, the children invariably make a beeline for those horrible puffs of pink candy. But what is surprising is that we sometimes take comfort from this: I know priests, for example, who will point with great pride to statistics proving the value of such appeals. So many appeals, so many souls for God: QED. Of course what the statistics don’t do so well is to measure the depth, the strength, and the duration of the faith of those who do so come in—or in other words, they tell you absolutely nothing about the only thing that counts. And—still more—while there are all sorts of statistics to tell you about how many souls these tactics have brought in, there are no statistics at all to tell you how many they may have kept out. Who knows, for instance, who can even guess the number of those who, with every sympathy, with every goodwill, have tentatively approached the church only to be repelled by vaudeville antics at their first point of contact? As I say, we have no statistics for that at all; if we had, they might not be so comforting.”
Edwin O’Connor, The Edge of Sadness