Written After Midnight

Sleep-Deprived Ramblings

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

The Problem of the True Believer

Several months ago, I wrote a short piece for skepticfreethought.com about the issue of the ‘True Believer’ mentality all too present in the church. I’d like to revisit that problem today. I still constantly hear fellow Christians respond to instances of intolerance with the assertion the the offending party isn’t “really” Christian, or at least that they only represent an extreme, fringe minority.
The main reason this claim bothers me is that it’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if these extremists are representative of the whole church or not. They are still using religion to promote hatred and discrimination. Even if this only occurs in a single member of our entire community, this is not something we should view complacently. Instead, such an appalling situation should spur us to action; not for the sake of exonerating ourselves, but for the sake of those being mistreated. That is our first responsibility, not rhetorical exercises.

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt 25:40)

The second reason the prevalent attitude of “True Believer” status is detrimental, is that it promotes division not simply between denominations, but in individual church communities. There are plenty of churches (if not entire denominations) that hold other church groups as heretical or ‘sub-christian’ because of ideological differences. There are still more individual churches that divide themselves into cliques because someone disapproves of their fellow members; because they see them as somehow less deserving of the title ‘Christian’ than themselves.
On an individual level, this state of mind rapidly creates an elitist attitude that in it’s least extreme treats others with contempt, and in it’s most extreme seeks to purge any particle of dissent or disagreement. Regardless of our opinions of our fellow Christians, we do have responsibilities to them. The first is to acknowledge that they are in fact a part of our community. The other is to respond to differences with humility and compassion. Disavowing each other when disagreements occur, whether they are insignificant or about core beliefs, accomplishes nothing beyond self-validation that we are a tiny minority of the pure in an rotten world. It absolves us of the obligation to question our own part in conflicts, or to recognize our own imperfections.
This is not a tendency specific to the church. It is a human reflex to prefer one’s own group or sub-group. If we are to overcome this tendency, we must remember that we are human; that we are all imperfect beings, and we see the world imperfectly. We need each other to show us our blind spots, and we can’t accomplish this by cloistering ourselves.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matt 5:23-24)

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No True Scotsman and Morality

In my previous post, I tried to address the problem that exists (in my opinion) when intentions are considered more important than actions. Tonight, I’d like to start a discussion about actions and belief. Not about how belief influences actions, but about how we view the importance of each in regards to moral reasoning, especially in terms of religion. I don’t have any experience with any religion other than Christianity, so forgive me if this is narrowly focused.

Over the past few months, I’ve participated in some intense conversation about morality and religion, specifically Christianity. I don’t think in general terms, this is a conversation that will ever cease in our culture, which is a good thing in itself. Every ideology, even sub-ideology, must have dissent if it is not to become tyrannical. But what bothers me is a question I never even thought of before joining CFI.

The question is about belief and moral behavior; which is more important? I’ve heard fellow Christians make the claim that an action done for the glory of God is inherently more moral than an identical action done for earthly reasons. This sounds an awful lot like an assertion that Christians are inherently more moral than non-Christians, simply because of the beliefs they hold.

This doesn’t sit right with me. I’m no theologian or philosopher, but (leaving our checkered history aside) shouldn’t we be more critical of our actions, not less, if moral goodness is our aim? Why should our reasons for acting matter more than the result of our actions? How can we dismiss others who do good in this world as morally sub-par, simply because they do not hold our beliefs? We believe in a forgiving God, but does that mean that we are therefore not answerable to our neighbors? My opinion is that we are answerable; no more or less than our non-religious neighbors.

What troubles me the most, is the dismissive nature of the above statement. It says that we don’t have to question our actions, or listen to outside criticism, if we are members of a church. It smacks of the same prejudice in history that said women were incapable of complex thought, or races other than white were sub-human.

If we are going to dismiss any moral thought or theory that doesn’t come from ourselves, simply on the grounds that it doesn’t come from ourselves, then we’ve admitted that it isn’t moral goodness we’re seeking, but supremacy .

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