Faithful Doubts

As my Facebook friends could realize, I finally got around to taking the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life quiz on general religious knowledge. When they gave it as a survey/poll, Pew returned an apparently surprising result that not only did most Americans not exactly pass the really pretty easy and superficial set of fifteen questions, but those who deemed themselves devoutly religious usually did worse than the nonbelievers, atheists and agnostics. Naturally, I scored a solid 100%. My religious alienation remains evident.

I say “apparently surprising,” because the poll results made news, particularly the poor showings by folks who deemed themselves true believers. The explanation that atheists and agnostics at least took religion seriously enough to make a clear, conscious decision about it (rather than just mindlessly swallowing your parentsʼ faith) has some merit. After all, an atheist should have studied and considered the multiplicity of faiths before breasting the majority tide (currently popular and historical) of fervent belief. And too many (believers) seem to find thinking too much (sometimes at all) about their beliefs evidently hurts somehow. But I think religious chauvinism may best explain the poor showing by the devout.

The Colbert Report approached the subject from the same angle. (Sorry, I couldnʼt find the segment using the inept labeling at Comedy Central.) Reporting on the Pew survey, Stephen snarked that as a Christian he didnʼt know why he should recognize Ramadan as the Hindu god of something-or-other (or a similar but better joke). The point being that good Christians donʼt need to know about them other religions; we got all the truth we need right here under our hats. And we donʼt need to understand our own religion all that well either — you just gotta be Saved, brother. (After all, too much knowledge makes you wonder why various denominations ever split, or how other beliefs persist in the face of your personal salvation, and you might have to consider all that historical bloodshed in the name of Divine Love. Better just to presume youʼve got it all Right and let it go at that.) If I am Right and Saved, donʼt trouble me with information…

On the other hand, an old friend (briefly) noted, just as I was writing the paragraph above, in response to my Facebook post on the poll, that thereʼs a vast difference between “knowledge of facts, etc. and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Lacking the celebrated personal relationship (however briefly I might have been Saved by the AoG magician back in eighth or ninth grade, having made my trek to the front of the audience for hands-on salvation and all), I cannot accurately comment on that experience, only from the experience of that “relationship” nastily reflected back from too many Utter Believers at poor sinners like me. And the rest of the world at large. But I did note that my skepticism (and/or accuracy in answers to the quiz) offered an unintended offense, for which I do apologize. Alternatively, I have always felt that our spiritual struggles or somnolence belongs to each of us, alone, and it is the acquisitive and assertive proselytizing by and against othersʼ faiths that has caused so much ill throughout history. (I did note the easy rejection of facts for what must be a matter of faith, as well.)

Partly these reflections arise from my recent religious encounter at my uncleʼs funeral. Nothing like getting right into the midst of religious experience to wonder what you might be missing, or they clouding and neglecting. As with my friend, I did not feel an exclusionary Righteousness (what the pastor termed “judging”), but a welcoming sincerity of belief. I feel confident that particular church is probably pretty evangelical/fundamentalist in its beliefs, but if they really mean the “avoiding judging” thing, I have no issues to argue with them, no bones to pick. In fact, from my Biblical reading, thatʼs what Christians should be — tolerant, compassionate, loving. Could we imagine a Fundamentalism that embodied the actual teachings of that crucified Galilean — like Matthew 22: 37-40 (New International Version) 37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Thanks, BibleGateway, a not even liberal Bible resource on the internet.) Of course, all you have to do is check such explanatory sites as this (although I do appreciate the answers to the narrowminded oneʼs issue) to find the querulous selfrighteous nitpicking redefinitions of the pretty clear statements in Matthew. Distinguishing believers from the rest of us heathens, indeed! Talk about artificial and selfserving distinctions…

Unfortunately, if you consider the altogether radical restrictions of “neighbor” raised above, and as politics and news stories have made obvious, keeping oneʼs faithful principles from extremist, judgmental and belligerent brawling in the world must be very difficult, apparently impossible for some really selfRighteous. Pro-life murderers (and uncharged, still active poncy pimps scavenging for more anti-abortional assassins). Heartless picketers savaging homosexuals, (a “Christian” hate group, now thereʼs an oxymoron) who prance provocatively and impenitently at fallen (straight) soldiersʼ funerals. All in the name of faith. All judging and attacking instead of loving…

Such aggression instead of solicitude and compassion troubles me. And puts me off. That puffed Right behavior is merely thorough-going selfRighteous chauvinism in full attack mode against everyone but oneʼs own Saved Elect, including brother and sister believers who happen not to strive so blindly or wildly. (Some of the worst Righteous bile is spewed at Christians of more moderate views, strangely. The apparent principle must be “exactly like us or dead.”)

Thereʼs more, but this constitutes a post for today. The real issue is still facts and faith…

Of course, such chauvinism is certainly not restricted to Christianity, or even some subversions thereof. Muslim extremists provide a quick and obvious example. Fundamentalists of all stripes hug their Truth comfortably under their own belts, heedless of scrutiny or consideration, and damnation and death to all others. Itʼs pretty much the basis of any fundamentalism: me right, you dead. From this — all of bloody history results (a story Gandhi was desperate to lovingly revise; but Partition and subsequent events seem to have eroded his effect on the subcontinent and elsewhere).

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

One thought on “Faithful Doubts

  1. Now you are tackling religion AND politics?! You are very brave. You don’t mind ruffling a few feathers. I love it.

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