Even though the vast majority of believers apply rational thought processes in most areas of their lives, there is a corner of their minds, especially for religious conservatives, in which they refuse to shine the light of reason. Every scrap of information they process is run through religious filters. If it does not threaten to undermine the religious scaffold around which theyâ€™ve built their lives, then normal reasoning processes can be applied safely. If a bit of information contradicts the scaffold, then it must be rejected. Religious liberals, on the other hand, frequently bend the scaffold so that it will accommodate new information. Whatever process one applies, the fact remains that there are points at which reason and religion conflict. How one handles those conflicts determines the extent to which religious belief is harmful.
The Chaplain cites the case of a (presumed) schizophrenic who wound up killing his daughter; his fellow believers thoughts the voices and delusions that afflicted him were of divine origin, rather than the the result of deranged brain chemistry. But this kind of poisonous thinking is not restricted to small, inbred groups, as Johann Hari shows in his devastating piece on contemporary exorcism.
One blog that I read religiously(!) is Father Jake Stops The World. Today he had an interesting piece about a meeting with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church:
Bp. Katharine reminded us that there are two stories of creation in Genesis. One begins with the creative act of God, after which we are told that God looked upon creation and declared that “It is very good.” The other creation account focuses on the fall in the garden.
The divisions among Christians today can be seen to be loosely along the lines of which of these stories we choose to emphasize. Do we begin with recognizing that we were created “very good,” that the intention was always for us to be “God’s beloved,” or do we begin with the story of the fall, beginning our relationship with God with the idea “I am a miserable sinner.” Where we begin influences the nature of our conversations, not only among other Christians, but with the world, and with God.
Another way to sum up these differences among Christians today would be to suggest that there are those focused on “the depravity of man” and those who choose to focus on “the glory of God.”
Now obviously I don’t believe that either story is true. Nevertheless I think that any wise person – and certainly anyone who has had children! – will recognize the distinction between, and the consequences of, these two broad types of beliefs; between “I am loved” and “I am evil”. On the one hand, we have self-confidence and optimism; on the other, fear and self-doubt. It’s the fear that causes people to erect what the Chaplain calls “the scaffold”. ((Although to English ears, “scaffolding” would sound less… terminal!)) Fear of the world, fear based on their indoctrinated sense of weakness and worthlessness, and above all fear of being excluded.
All of this will be familiar territory to regular readers of this blog. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the idea that (dis)belief in God might be less significant than (dis)belief in eternal punishment. Almost four years ago I wondered.…
why do Christians not cut out all of that blatantly un-Christian stuff from the Bible? Cue Thomas Jeffersonâ€¦
And I guess I find it unfortunate that a kind, compassionate, thoughtful person like Jake still has to sign on to the Death Cult bits of Christianity. Fear and guilt make a lousy basis for a worldview.