Most of the doors remained closed. Either nobody was at home, or they saw us coming and didn’t feel like answering. In these cases, we simply pushed our pro-life literature through the doors, or into the mailboxes.
Many (perhaps even most) of the houses had “No Junk Mail” signs on display. This didn’t deter us. After all, leaflets advocating for the right to life of the unborn child were hardly “junk mail”. So we stuffed them through anyway-- although I always felt rather sheepish about this, fearing the wrath of a householder who caught me in the act.
Of course, it could be argued that pro-life literature and appeals for charitable donations don’t fall in the category of “junk mail”. But let’s say I had been posting flyers for a Chinese restaurant or a pizza parlour. Is it really right to pull up the drawbridge against such materials?
Money makes the world go around. Society expects everybody to try to pay their way, to make something of themselves, to pull their weight. With the exception of the occasional left-wing radical, we all tend to salute enterprise and wealth creation as a good thing. But these are pretty much impossible without advertising. Is it really consistent, then, to take such a hostile attitude when people are trying to promote a business or service? Is “junk mail” such a bad thing if it gives somebody a job, if it greases the wheels of the economy even a little?
Indeed, our attitude to advertising and salesmanship is often contradictory-- especially in the case of Christians. Very often I’ve been bemused by the spectacle of some Catholic commentator thundering against consumerism and commercialism-- and then hardly drawing breath before pitching his or her own book, speaking tour, or YouTube channel!
But it’s not just a question of commercial advertising. I worry that contemporary society has become so privatized, so preoccupied with minding one’s own business and repelling anything perceived as intruding upon one’s privacy, that our public life is in danger of withering away. It is with nostalgia that I read of the well-attended street meetings which were a common feature of Irish politics in the early twentieth century. Today, by contrast, every election and referendum campaign brings the usual complaints against campaign posters, and we even hear regular calls to have them banned. (Personally, I love the colour and sense of occasion these posters create.)
Christians especially have a stake in this question. We have all become familiar with attempts to push Christianity into the private sphere-- a nurse told to hide the cross she wears around her neck, a hospital under fire for putting a Christmas crib in a corridor, even rumblings that the display of religious symbols in Catholic schools might be considered “discrimination” against children from non-Catholic backgrounds. Christians are required by their faith to evangelize, and yet we increasingly face a society which resents any “imposition” of religion outside the church and home. You can pray and worship in private, we are told, but if you try to witness to Christ at work, in education, or in most other places, you are hit with that awful, now-ubiquitous word: “Inappropriate!”
And then there is the matter of political correctness. The range of opinions which it is safe to express in general company, or even on the internet (unless you are shielded by anonymity), seems to grow smaller by the month. Careers can now be destroyed by a single tweet or injudicious remark, often expressing an opinion that may have been considered utterly ordinary within recent memory. Meanwhile, the more aggressive strands of feminism seem eager to discourage men from making any romantic overture to a woman outside the safety of a dating site. “Inappropriate!”
Do we really want the public sphere to become a bullet-ridden no-man’s land? Isn’t it more healthy to accept that if we want to have a flourishing public life-- where people can express the full range of their humanity as they go about their daily business-- we are all going to have to hear each other out, to be a bit more tolerant of perceived offence, and to put up with the occasional intrusion into our beloved privacy?