One Dimensionality

I have noticed a disturbing trend among the faithful (one that I am deeply thankful is not universal): a proclivity toward seeing the world only in terms of black and white. To these pitiable sheep, that which does not fit neatly into their preconceptions must therefore be interpreted as bad. God, after all, is said not to be the author of confusion, so if something is confusing or otherwise aberrant, the obvious conclusion is that evil is afoot. In such a scenario, the believer has no recourse but to retreat to the comforting ignorance of childish simplicity.

Religions teach their adherents to categorize everything into discrete boxes, which can be understood as the sacred and the profane. In terms of classical definitions as laid out by Durkheim, the sacred is that which a religion holds to be special—significant and “above” mundane affairs. By contrast, the profane is everything else, encompassing both the spiritually neutral and the purportedly unclean. It speaks volumes that this word has come to bear a negative connotation in contemporary parlance; to call something profane is now to suggest that it necessarily stands in opposition to the sacred.

With such beliefs, it can come as no surprise that so many refuse to see the world in hues of grey. In an environment where any given thing is either inherently good or inherently bad (for example, the fundamentalist Christian tendency to see that which glorifies God/Jesus as good while everything else is worldly and thus bad), we should expect a polarization of thought. It’s precisely this simplistic approach that bothers me so much about believers of this stripe.

This tendency becomes incredibly dangerous when, as is so often the case, the believer’s preconceptions are inaccurate—the pernicious belief that nonbelievers are intrinsically immoral, for example. When such a simpleton encounters a challenge to this misconception, they are expected, in keeping with the social pressures imposed by their faith, to respond with pugnacity. To doubt anything is to doubt all; questioning the wisdom imparted upon you by your betters is nothing short of an affront to God himself.

Allow me to say it in no uncertain terms: this dogma is deeply immoral. Such a person is incapable of moral reasoning in their present state. It is human nature to be curious, to question, to wonder. Such religions demand that we not only demolish this urge, but to apologize for even feeling it in the first place. Tis better to be a simpleton, the message clearly reads, than to seek any truth that has not been expressly approved by the appropriate theologian.

Fuck that.

The world is not black and white. In attempting to force the rest of humanity into these narrowly conceived narrow minded boundaries, one can only spread the disease of misinformation and mistrust. The doctrine of “they are not like us, for we alone are special in the eyes of our god” is nothing but a tactic of dehumanization, meant to justify the abuse and oppression of the unbeliever. Anything an outsider says must be immediately reinterpreted in the grammar of  the faith. The proponent of this doctrine communicates to all who would disagree, “I do not need to know your perspective, for my god has told me that you are a tool of the Great Enemy, and until you seek my truth, your ideas are without merit.

Yet those who fall victim to this barbarous predisposition will rarely see that their words have this effect. The faithful are taught to compartmentalize and juggle contradictory beliefs with the most astounding of alacrity. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” in one moment, but in the next, “the sinner is the tool of Satan, so he cannot be trusted.” To the credulous, the only form of compassion is that which comes inscribed on the pages of a centuries-old collection of fables. One can be no more permitted to see the contradiction in the message than in the doctrine that spawns it.

Until the non-believer embraces ours, the one true religion, he is to be kept at a distance. His ideas are not to be attended, for he cannot not know that he is but an unwitting pawn of the devil. Take heart, however, for God’s word is true, and in sharing it with the heathen, you will surely open his heart to the Lord. Speak, then, but do not listen.

It is perhaps the do not listen that carries the most weight in that message.

And why should they listen? They are told incessantly that they have the only knowledge that truly matters in the world—their religion is the single most important facet of existence and their faith the only noble purpose. They need only repeat their mantras until the infidels are gone or converted, then God will smile upon them. To understand the unbeliever is only acceptable insofar as it allows you to more swiftly reach this end. One certainly must not dare to see the world from another perspective, for such a thing invites doubt, and doubt leads to ruin.

Their beliefs separate them from the rest of reality, and they profess that this is exactly how they prefer it. Knowing nothing about the world outside, they preach a message of superiority, but this claim must never be critically evaluated, lest one risk offending God, for which the punishment is eternal torment. Thus they seek their naïve comfort in the illusion of a dichromatic world; their indoctrination becomes a tool to bleach away all color, yet the world resists their attempts to sanitize it so. Ours is a world filled not with black and white or even shades of grey, but instead with marvelously bright colors.

The colors must not be seen.

Christianities and the Scots

One very fascinating phenomenon I have noticed is that many American Christians* seem to think that their own brand of Christianity is either the only one or the only correct one. It seems to be only a very small minority of believers who approach the matter of religious belief with an attitude of openness toward others’ beliefs. Here are the three trends I’ve identified so far, in order of least to most frequent (YMMV):

  1. Yes, someone who believes something else is still a Christian, and their religion is still valid for them, but I disagree with their position on X. Instead, I believe Y.
  2. No, people who believe X are misinterpreting the Bible. Their beliefs are wrong. A true Christian knows that Y is true, not X.
  3. Christians believe exactly what I believe.”

This third group is especially perplexing because it seems the least defensible position. I usually encounter this in the following way:

Me: “What do you mean when you say that?”
Them: “X
Me: “That’s interesting. I’ve known other Christians who believe Y.”
Them: “Oh no, Christians believe X.

Now I’m not just making stuff up when I tell them that other Christians believe Y. When I say something like this, it’s only ever because I have heard people claim Y to be their interpretation. A response similar to 1 or 2 I could understand (not necessarily accept, as I’ll explain shortly), but this? It smacks of pure ignorance. This is the naïve assumption that “I am the average Christian. Most Christians believe exactly what I believe.”

Have these people never even heard of other denominations? Are we saved through works or through faith? Is confession necessary? What books comprise the Bible? Is the Bible inerrant? What is the nature of God (e.g., trinitarian, unitarian)? What is Jesus Christ’s relationship with God? What is the Holy Spirit? What are angels/demons/nephilim/Elohim? What’s the deal with Mary? Is there original sin, and if so, what does it mean? What is the nature of free will? Can salvation be “lost?” What are the “end times?” What the hell is hell?

Each of the above questions is answered differently by different denominations, and this is only a sampling of the dramatic differences between sects. No matter what your answer to any one of those questions is, there is another significantly populated church that expressly disagrees with you!

Someone who answers my questions about the differences between denominations with example 1 is fine in my book. I usually genuinely like these people. Aside from their implicit enabling of the more fundamentalist types by creating the atmosphere in which batshit thrives, I have no problems with these people (okay, that’s a pretty big aside—still, I’m ready and willing to overlook this obstacle in favor of appreciating the larger person—a character trait that many denominations expressly state their god lacks).

Someone who answers my questions with example 3 are clearly ignorant about the world. I don’t really know how to handle being in a position to teach people about their own religion. As an atheist, this strikes me as deeply ironic.

Finally, someone who answers my questions with example 2 is clearly an ignorant asshole who needs to read up on the No True Scotsman fallacy. “Christian” is an umbrella term that denotes a wide range of denominations. The only unchanging central tenet to Christianity is a belief in Jesus Christ—all the rest is denominational. All of it. Every other detail. You don’t get to rename your own denomination to “Christian” and then unilaterally declare all adherents to other denominations “non-Christian” for not belonging to your own personal church. Nope. Sorry. You can’t do that, your priest can’t do that, and the fucking Pope himself can’t do that. Fundamentalist douchebags keep trying this, and it really pisses me off.

And I’m not even a Christian. I’d be doubly pissed if I were.

* Yes, I'm aware there are fundamentalist asshats in other countries, but I've encountered far fewer of those.