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Is there a secular alternative to the phrase "preaching to the choir"?

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Can I coin one? Lecturing the experts –  James Webster Sep 12 '13 at 15:33
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I know it only as preaching to the converted. I don't think there's an alternative and see no need for one. –  Barrie England Sep 12 '13 at 15:33
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What @Barrie said. As you can see from this NGram, preaching to the choir is a relatively recent Americanism (virtually unknown in Britain). Assuming secularism is in fact "on the rise" even in America, I'd say neither version has any particular religious connotations in the minds of most speakers - both expressions are just cliches. –  FumbleFingers Sep 12 '13 at 15:36
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Lots of suggestions in the answers... if you add context where you plan to use the idiom, it may result in more or better answers –  atk Sep 12 '13 at 22:58
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@Chan-HoSuh The same can be inferred about preaching to the choir; "Why are you preaching to the choir here? Do you think they know any less about <religion> that you do?" –  James Webster Sep 13 '13 at 9:26

15 Answers 15

up vote 27 down vote accepted

The only one that I am aware of is pushing at an open door, which has been around since the 1920s and was more popular than preaching to the choir until the 1980s.

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brilliant, I am going to start using that expression. –  jhocking Sep 12 '13 at 22:44
    
This diagram shows even more clearly the popularity line books.google.com/ngrams/… But preaching to the converted was more commonly used in the UK books.google.com/ngrams/… Nevertheless, "push at an open door" has pretty much the same meaning as PTTC. –  Mari-Lou A Sep 13 '13 at 0:53
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I like this phrase too--thanks. However, "pushing at an open door" seems similar to "beating a dead horse". Neither phrase has the connotation of telling an audience something they already believe. Granted, all (including "preaching...") are essentially cautioning against redundancy. Perhaps I'm over-thinking this. –  Jeromy French Sep 13 '13 at 15:50

If you are looking for a similar idiom with no religious touch, I'd suggest this phrase: gild the lily

gild or paint the lily

To attempt to beautify that which is already beautiful (Chambers)

Another similar phrase is carry coals to Newcastle.

To take a thing where it is already most abundant

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I don't think this is particularly close to the meaning of OP's cliche. Even kicking at an open door and teaching your grandmother to suck eggs seem closer to me, and they're not that good either. –  FumbleFingers Sep 12 '13 at 15:44
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@FumbleFingers, I agree “gild or paint the lily” isn't relevant, but “carry coals to Newcastle” is. (But might have been added while you were writing comment.) –  jwpat7 Sep 12 '13 at 16:16
    
@jwpat7: You're right - "coals to Newcastle" wasn't there when I started my comment. But to be honest, I can't imagine anyone saying it with OP's intended meaning, whereas I'm pretty sure people do indeed use pushing at an open door with that exact sense sometimes. –  FumbleFingers Sep 12 '13 at 16:30
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+2: +1 for having an answer worthy of an upvote, and +1 because I'm from Newcastle =D –  James Webster Sep 12 '13 at 16:54
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Neither carrying coals nor gilding lillies gets anywhere near where "preaching to the choir" goes. –  Cyberherbalist Sep 12 '13 at 21:16

"Beating a dead horse" has the same meaning as preaching to the choir, minus the religious connotation, in that nothing is to be further accomplished by continuing. For the skeptical - reason along with me . . .

When one "preaches to the choir", the choir is already converted and therefore does not need to be further convinced (converted).

When one beats a dead horse, no additional beating will make the horse any deader, so there is no need to continue beating it. (poor beast)

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Except in many contexts I've seen and heard, "beating a dead horse" is used around a strong disagreement that's almost become an impasse, as in, "Let's move on, we're beating a dead horse." If you were preaching to the choir, there would be no need to beat the dead horse, because everyone would have agreed with you from the outset. –  J.R. Sep 12 '13 at 19:56
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I do not find beating a dead horse in any way related to trying to convince people who are already convinced –  mplungjan Sep 12 '13 at 20:41
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But beating a dead horse is an expression of frustration when you try to convince someone or get someone to do something and it just doesn't happen. I have only EVER seen/heard Preaching to the choir used by someone to tell someone else they need not go on with some complaint or try to convince them of something they completely agree on... Frank to Joe: "I really think we should fix the bugs in our product". Joe to Frank: "You are preaching to the choir, man, I tried getting the boss to pay for that but it's like beating a dead horse" –  mplungjan Sep 12 '13 at 21:11
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flogging a dead horse and preaching to the choir are similar in the sense it is pointless to pursue an action further but the difference is the direct object (people) of the two idioms. In the first, the people have a different opinion to the person making the proposal; in the second, the people share and already agree with the proposal being made. –  Mari-Lou A Sep 13 '13 at 0:36
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Kristina, you say they have the same meaning, but then you give two different contexts and in each context only one is appropriate but not the other. So how can they convey the same meaning? –  Chan-Ho Suh Sep 13 '13 at 5:23

Coining some of my own, because why not? Maybe they'll catch on.

  • watering the ocean
  • running up an escalator
  • lending money to the bank

And one other idiom that means the same thing and comes from the same etymology but is secular is "on the same page" - which is what a choir and the preacher need to be if they want to get things done together.

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Ha, after recent events in Europe, "lending money to the bank" is probably no longer correct. –  Nat Sep 12 '13 at 21:10
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Lending money to the bank is otherwise known as making a deposit to one's savings account. –  Cyberherbalist Sep 12 '13 at 21:17
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On the same page is actually the better idiom. "No need to convince me, we are already on the same page" –  mplungjan Sep 12 '13 at 21:25
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I inferred that your escalator is running down as I run up, but they do go the other way. Indeed, to escalate is to go up. –  James Webster Sep 13 '13 at 6:50
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But I do like watering the ocean as an alternative –  James Webster Sep 13 '13 at 6:50

I've mostly seen the phrase used to convey agreement with an opinion.
I think

You had me at hello.

might be a suitable replacement.

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Okay I kind of love this. –  Kyle Hale Oct 10 '13 at 14:50

All secular situations which involve non-rational belief can be regarded, at least metaphorically, as a religion. When people have chauvinistic beliefs about something being superior to something else, they are sometimes said to have "religious" beliefs.

"Preaching to the choir" is in fact a phrase that used in secular situations. It is effective because religion is perhaps the best metaphor for deeply rooted beliefs which are not rationally based.

If you use the "preaching to the converted" variant of this phrase, then it loses some of the religious trappings, because the image of the choir (people singing in church) is absent. Chauvinistically promoting anything is a form of preaching, and conversion is not strictly religious. For instance, one can succumb to preaching, and thereby convert from Android to iPhone.

How about a political equivalent? Someone seeking political support can be said to be wooing the caucus. If someone already has the unanimous support of those people, she is "wooing her supporters".

Sales and marketing? "pitching product to its users".

Civil liberties? "Bringing a {sling shot|BB gun} to an NRA gathering. (Those you are preaching to have already hold even more extreme versions of your view.)

What if the intended meaning is in fact "passing along rational information to people who already possess it" rather than preaching beliefs? "Look, what you're doing here is like teaching fractions to engineers. Tell us something we don't know".

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"To preach to the converted" is older than "to preach to the choir" and actually makes more sense. A priest/vicar/reverend/pastor doesn't deliver a sermon to the group of singers but to his congregation. If anything "...to the converted" has greater religious meaning. –  Mari-Lou A Sep 13 '13 at 1:03
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@Mari-LouA I think the implication is that it's a church choir, which are often among the most devoted members of a congregation. The details differ from converted, but the connotation is the same. –  Bradd Szonye Sep 13 '13 at 2:26
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@BraddSzonye I took exception to the claim that preaching to the converted has somehow fewer religious connotations; "it loses some of the religious trappings". Nothing of the sort. Those who attend church services are generally those who already believe in what is being preached. The choir sings hymns, and are mainly composed of young impressionable boys. Well... in the catholic tradition they are. :) –  Mari-Lou A Sep 13 '13 at 2:55
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@Mari-LouA - Yes, but if you preach to the choir, then they can sing your praises – in tune, even. ;^) –  J.R. Sep 13 '13 at 10:21

persuading the persuaded - I thought I made it up but googling shows it was the title of a book review on sermons.

enter image description here

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One related phrase that could be considered is surrounded by yes-men, meaning that a person's close advisers and confidants are unlikely to object to a stated plan or offer any contrary opinions. It's often said of leaders, and it's sometimes considered a root cause of some bad decision-making or downfall.

This phrase can be found in several books; here are a couple examples, one from a social theory textbook:

This leads to what is ordinarily characterized as sycophancy, or being yes-men. A phenomenon frequently observed in hierarchical organizations, an executive surrounded by yes-men, is the natural result.

and one from a biography:

The last thing LeMay wanted was to be surrounded by yes-men, and he never once reprimanded anyone for speaking his mind during a debriefing.

Some authors have expanded the phrase to include both genders:

A leader knows he is in trouble when he finds himself surrounded by yes men and women telling him how brilliant he is. If people think I'm brilliant, I've obviously chosen the wrong people!

Both phrases – surrounded by yes-men and preaching to the choir – can mean someone is quite unlikely to encounter any contrary opinions when proposing an agenda.

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I made these up:

To hold forth on yesterday's news.

To propose the theory of evolution to a roomful of evolutionists.

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Your second suggestion is perfect for the O.P.'s needs – and funny as hell. –  J.R. Sep 13 '13 at 10:14
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Can be less tautological: "Proposing evolution to a biologist". –  MSalters Sep 13 '13 at 11:05

You can also consider that this behavior is just plain

Harping

See the verb form

Generally, the only people that hear someone 'harping' on an issue are those within a community (choir/experts/converts) since they care about related topics and are not isolating themselves.

Thus 'harping' is inherently preaching to a choir.

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etymonline shows that noun and verb harp is related to Old Saxon harpa, “instrument of torture”, which is entirely different from the etymology I'd imagined (ie like that of harpy, from Greek Harpyia, “snatchers”) –  jwpat7 Sep 12 '13 at 17:35
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Harping is not necessarily preaching to the choir. Someone who harps is just going on and on about something and won't leave it alone - it does not necessary mean that the audience of the harp is already convinced. –  Kristina Lopez Sep 12 '13 at 17:54
    
Many in the 'choir' are agnostic in regard to issues that community / topic faces. If you're staying around, it's very often because you are so involved. –  New Alexandria Sep 12 '13 at 18:52

Not quite the same connotation, but somewhat similar teach your grandmother to suck eggs and perhaps close enouh to what you are looking for.

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Given the way the word suck changed over time, that phrase has the risk of having a sexual connotation. –  Christian Dec 17 '13 at 19:21

In the media in Australia a currently popular metaphor for this is like being in an echo chamber.

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An environment where much preaching to the choir takes place is a nodding shop.

Our committee was once a nodding shop, but now members, like myself, truly lead our work.

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How about "punking to the mosh pit"?

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As I’m not a native English speaker, I may be taking the meaning of ‘preaching to the choir” in incorrect way. But from the alternative proposition of “lecturing the experts” by James Webster placed immediate below your question, a cliché, “(Don’t try to) teach your grandmother to suck eggs” occurred to my mind from among very limited stock of my English vocabulary.

By the way, we have a cliché “釈迦に説法-Shakani seppo - preach to Buddha” as a counterpart to “preaching to the choir” (if it corresponds to “lecturing the experts”). It means a Buddha’s disciple tries to teach Buddha the dharma – truth of the universe, which is superfluous effort.

In Japan, we often starts a debate with saying like “This might be ‘Shakani seppo’ to you, but Japanese constitution prohibits entry to war under any circumstances in Chapter 9,” to a hawk.

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