I wrote about Rejecting Division a while back, and explained my approach to handling the ideas of people who I don’t necessarily agree with. But how can we practically work together when we have such different ideas of what is right and good? What if we don’t even have common goals?
In that article, I mentioned that I was told nothing in my life matters other than becoming a Christian again. I’d like to explain the mindset that leads to such a statement because it illustrates why religions in general are almost impossible to work with. It’s why our politics are so polarized, why radical Muslims kill people, why many tyrants throughout history have ordered the slaughter of dissenters. The mindset is not unique to religion, but when it feeds off the dogmatic nature of most religions it easily grows into something monstrous.
This mindset, I think, is “the ends justify the means”, or “might makes right”. Both of these are readily apparent in Christian beliefs. When God told Abraham to kill and burn his son as a sacrifice, apparently Abraham saw nothing wrong with this and went along with it right up until he was stopped at the last minute. This is explained as a test of Abraham’s loyalty to God. Never mind that the Bible says over and over that God can see your heart and every thought and desire. Never mind that according to the New Testament, God doesn’t test or tempt anyone. Rather than getting mad at Abraham for being so willing to murder his only son at the request of a deity, God praises him for his faith. Apparently those wicked nations that were condemned for child sacrifice were just killing their kids for the wrong gods. Sure, Abraham didn’t actually go through with it, but he was going to, and that’s what he was praised for.
What better example do we have of “might makes right” than a God whose words define good and evil, merely because he is the most powerful being? He is supposed to be unchanging, yet for the early Israelites it was supposedly morally right to kill friends and family who followed a different religion, while these days most Christians will condemn Muslim extremists for doing that very thing. Morality based on the Christian Bible is hopelessly relativistic; anything that God says is good, that’s what is good, even if it contradicts something he said a few thousand years earlier. Even if he tells you to murder your son.
It’s almost like God is created in the image of man and his rules are defined by his followers. Old laws get left behind as society grows and changes, and new ones are born when a large enough group of Christians decide they don’t like something and need to control it. If the end goal is all that matters, and whoever has the power gets to decide what is right or wrong, then anything that contributes to the end goal of the person in power is right. Anything that threatens it is wrong.
This is how some Christians do horrible things in the name of their religion. They might have varying ideas of what the end goal is, but it’s generally to convert as many people as possible, which of course means maintaining a position of power so they can control the people. Sometimes the desire for power becomes the end goal, and that is a terrifying thing when the ends justify the means. When you believe that God approves of your methods merely because you’re trying to achieve what you think he wants you to do…well, you can become as much of a monster as you are willing to be. This is why I see Christian Reconstructionism as one of the most frightening religions. They would literally kill me if they had political power, for several reasons.
My dilemma now is that I prefer to find common ground rather than fight over differences, and yet people like this have no ground in the real world that we can get together on. Thankfully, most of them don’t fully believe or understand the concepts their religion is based on. They still eat because they get hungry, they still work and take care of their children. As much as they try to reject the importance of this life (aside from what goes on inside your head, because belief in God is all that matters!), they can’t escape it. They’re like people rushing to a vacation destination, getting furious at slow traffic and delays, and totally missing the beautiful landscape they’re driving through.
Perhaps not everyone will listen if I try to point out the landscape they’ve blinded themselves to, but I know some will. I know most of us can find common ground even if it’s just in small things like the scent of flowers or the beauty of a sunset. Once we have a connection, we can build on it, finding things we all value and ways to collaborate on them. Perhaps we can agree that poverty is a negative thing, and instead of fighting about the right way to fix it (the “Biblical” way, for Christians), we could incorporate all the different ideas and perspectives into a workable solution.
Many Christians will, of course, object to this because they think anything apart from God is evil. If I feed a starving child, and I don’t think the Bible is true, I’m doing something evil. If I sacrifice myself to save the life of a Christian, but I don’t think Jesus was God, I did something evil. It’s a symptom of the mindset I described, where nothing in this world really matters aside from your opinion about God. It’s a major obstacle to working together, because often this sort of Christian will entirely ignore the command of his Bible to strive for peace with all men. Or perhaps they think peace means dominating the world with their special club and excluding everyone who disagrees with them. Plenty of them seem to think that pursuing peace with Muslims means killing them all.
Excluding people because they have different perspectives is like leaving baking soda and salt out of a cake because they aren’t sweet. Complex problems require complex solutions, and no single ideology is going to fix everything. We should talk less about differences of opinion and more about similarity of values. To that end, I’m going to shift focus from the harmful aspects of religion and discuss the strengths of some moderate forms of Christianity in my next article.