Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Certainty, Religion and Politics

There is a friend of a friend on Facebook, whose posts I occasionally see because the friend, my friend, not their friend, occasionally comments on them.   This person (the friend once removed) appears to be a rather conservative Christian, and with strong right-wing political views.

This person also, in my opinion, comes across as rather arrogant and judgemental.  It may well be that in reality they are not, but come across badly in writing.  It is a documented problem in the internet age, and probably well before that in letters, that because we lose tones of voice and facial expressions that might lighten a sentence or phrase, we often appear far more certain, arrogant and unpleasant than we mean to or realise.

Nonetheless, taking this into account, this person comes across rather badly to me, and has a habit of mixing their politics and their religion.  They're American, and this seems to be more of a tendency on that side of the Atlantic than over here.  Now, obviously one’s religious beliefs will inevitably colours one’s political opinions; indeed I think they ought to.  Calls to leave your religion ‘in the temple’ display a ludicrous failure to understand what religion is, but that’s a rant for another day.

However, this isn’t merely a case of the former colouring and influencing the latter, but a complete intertwining of the two, to the extent that this individual has often asserted, either explicitly or implicitly, that one cannot be a genuine Christian and hold anything other than right-wing opinions.  To them, the one flows seamlessly from the other.  I am uncertain whether they think that this opposite is also true.  Presumably their political opinions colour their interpretations of scripture to some extent, either consciously or subconsciously.

The individual in question comes across as having an absolute certainty in not only their religious beliefs but their political opinions.  They are not only correct, they are Right; divinely endorsed and incontestable.  And this absolutely terrifies me.

The spiritual pride that states ‘I am a genuine Christian, and if you disagree with me, even in matters other than theology, then you are not a genuine Christian’ is staggering and extremely dangerous.  It’s a certainty that admits of no error, no argument and no opposition.  ‘If God is for me, who can be against me?’  It is even worse than the more common error of assuming that everyone who disagrees with you must be stupid or uninformed.

Now, my own politics are a sort of wishy-washy mediumish moderate left-of-centre, but I will admit that I have in the past caught myself thinking ‘How can anyone hold right-wing views and still claim to be Christian?’  However, I’ve had the self-awareness to recognise the thought for the dangerous and idiotic self-indulgence that it is.  Am I really so clever as to have figured out the Correct Beliefs, both political and religious, that elude everyone else?  Have I been given privy information, or direct access to the mind of God?  My religious beliefs colour my political and social beliefs, and in turn they must inevitably colour my reading and understanding of scripture, and my understanding of what sort of being God is.

However, I do not make the mistake of thinking that if you disagree with my politics, you must be a false Christian.  I do not even think that you must be a false Christian if you disagree with me theologically.  I may disagree with your opinion, and think you mistaken, but I hope I retain enough self-awareness to realise that I am not possessed of all the facts.  Not only do I not know all the answers, I don‘t even know all of the questions.  But then, neither does anyone else, and I shouldn’t think that my opinion necessarily counts for less than theirs either.

We are all groping for answers in a sea of uncertainty and doing the best we can with the information available to us individually, and none of us can or should be sure of the ones we arrive at, even if they seem to be backed up by all facts and logic.  We should definitely be extremely careful about claiming that our political and social opinions are the only ones with divine backing, if only because of the implications it makes about everyone else.

Your religious beliefs should affect how you treat others, and how you believe others ought to be treated, affect how you think the world ought to be, and inform your ideas of what is good, what is right, and what should be done about what is not.  We shouldn’t be overly certain about our theology, and as a result, we shouldn’t be overly certain about anything that stems from it either.  By all means do, say and believe what you think is right, but we should never forget that we might be wrong.

I’ll end with a quote from Wesley; “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”

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