Don’t confuse people for their religion

5 Apr

Earlier this morning I got into a small facebook argument about conservative Christians and sexuality when one of the people involved said:

“it’s important not to confuse these people with their religion.”

I can provide the full discussion for anyone who wants to make sure I’m not taking this out of context, but the way I understood what he was saying was that an individual (or group of individuals) who claim to be X should not be confused with X when they don’t actually follow X.

For example earlier this week a crazy lady tried to attack a painting saying that it was homosexual and evil for showing two women with their breasts exposed. Now this lady is crazy, there’s no doubt, but she claims her motivation is her religious views. There are plenty of conservative religious people (across all faiths, but primarily Christianity and Islam) who view the human body and any form of sexuality as evil.

When the person in the afore mentioned facebook argument said not to confuse people for their religion, he was saying that although these people claim their views on sexuality are Christian and are rooted in the bible, they’re not, and as such we should not confuse these “Christians” for being “Christians.”

But that just begs the question: What is a person’s religion if not the sum of their personal beliefs?

A group of “Christians” who would ascribe to said crazy lady’s views on the human body would undoubtedly say that they were Christians and that anyone who did not view the body as evil were not “true” Christians. The term Christian is essentially a useless term as it means whatever anyone wants it to mean. (Which royally pisses me off because any attempt at making words useless and thus making it harder to communicate concepts/ideas just reeks of 1984 style new-speak; but I digress)

If group X claims they belong to religion Y, and that their beliefs come from religion Y’s holy book, book Z, but nobody in group X has read or cares to read book Z, then isn’t their religion just whatever group X wants it to be?

Sure, their sexually oppressive version of Christianity might not be what Christianity is to you, but it is their version of Christianity and they’re going to call themselves Christians.  Are they wrong? They sure as hell think you are. Who’s right? Well nobody since it’s all “just a matter of faith and interpretation.”

In reality you can’t “confuse people for their religion;” whatever they say their religion is, that’s their religion. The 9/11 hijackers were Muslims, so too are the Muslims who say what the 9/11 hijackers did was despicable and un-Islamic. Abortion clinic bombers and the Westboro Baptist Church are Christians, so too are the liberal, gay-friendly, pro-choice Catholics. They all claim the same meaningless title to describe their radically different faiths. This in turn just inhibits our ability to discuss them and the views they have because the moment you use the term “Christian” to talk about the Westboro Baptist Church, another “Christian” with a different definition will jump up and scream that you’re generalizing and mis-representing the “true” Christians like them. (But I guess for some people muddying the water and making it harder for us to express ideas by requiring extremely specific, legalistic language is a good thing. Personally, whenever someone tries to inhibit the discussion of ideas, that’s a sign that they’re automatically wrong.)

How else are we to discuss these people if not by the meaningless title they choose to call themselves? Should we adopt an ever expanding system of Christian 1, Christian 1a, Christian 1b, etc? That would be impossible to keep track of, and yet again everyone would argue about what classification they get. Perhaps if we copied how we classified various animals by Life-Domain-Kingdom-Phylum-Class-Order-Family-Genus-Species and created a similar system for religious belief? Maybe then we can stop confusing lions for mammals and Christians for Christians.

5 Responses to “Don’t confuse people for their religion”

  1. ashley April 5, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    For me it’s that there are two things, there’s this somewhat amorphous idea that’s Christianity and then there are widely varying individuals called Christians. I think Christianity is evil, but for the most part don’t think Christians are evil. And then evil Christians can be divided into people who are evil because of fairly reasonable interpretations of the bible/scripture (WBC), which reflects back on Christianity a great deal, and people who are evil for insane reasons they try to connect with Christianity, which reflects negatively primarily on themselves (the murderer of George Tiller).

    But yes, its the scotsman fallacy.

    • taosprophet July 12, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

      Ashley,

      Would you please define the term you use “evil”. This is evil, that is evil. What is evil???

      Please clarify your terms.

      Love,
      John Michael

  2. Matt Oakley April 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    My young friend I’ve been reading your work for a while now.
    You are dead on sir.

    Keep your cool and keep up the good work.

  3. Jason Adams April 6, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    The only thing that can be said to be true of all Christians is that Jesus fits somewhere into their worldview in a positive way. Other than that, it’s a completely useless term for trying to get at what a person really believes.
    Which doesn’t mean your criticisms are invalid if you point out something a Christian does that appears motivated by their religion. “Not all Christians are like that” doesn’t end the conversation.
    On the other hand, criticising nutjobs like the WBC as if they represent anyone other than themselves is probably less useful than criticising nutjobs like Pat Robertson that people actually listen to.

  4. whilstwhile May 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    Let’s put it this way, if a group of people wanted to call themselves democrats, but they were supporters of all of the following: pro-life, small government, laissez faire economics, flat tax, no welfare, no government-funded medical care, drilling oil off shore and in Alaska, Textualism(sic. Scalia’s term), member of the tea party… would that mean that now democrats could now be characterized by those standards? Or would we say that group of people was not a fair representation of what democrats are and are not truly democrats?

    Personally, I would go with the latter, saying they are confused and not true representatives of democratic ideals. I would go so far as to say that they are truly Republicans and most likely Conservatives. Just because they are confused about what being a Democrat means, does not mean the definition of what a Democrat is can change for them.

    Likewise, there are certain characteristics, ideals, standards, etc that make up what Christianity (or any religion) is. If a person wants to know what Christianity truly is, I would suggest they read the Bible in order to get a right understanding of the religion. For example, in the Bible it does mention the element of love quite often, so we can quite simply surmise that if there is a branch of people calling themselves Christians that preach that we are supposed to hate everyone, hate ourselves, hate God, hate life, we can conclude those are a confused group of people, and not a true representation of Christianity, just as those people that called themselves Democrats were not a true representation of Democratic ideals.

    Granted, Christianity is a very complex religion (as are most religions that have been around for centuries), and so it may not be as easy to discern when a group of people are correctly representing Christianity or not.

    What is important is to have at least a basic understanding of Christianity if one wishes to surmise whether a person is truly representing these Christian ideals or not. If one knows nothing about Christianity, it would be rather difficult to figure out which Christians are promoting true Christianity and which are not. To return to my example of the political parties, if I knew nothing about Democrats, then I might be inclined to think a person saying “laissez faire economics is a Democratic ideal” was telling the truth. Likewise, if a person knows nothing about Christianity, they might be inclined to think Westboro Baptist Church is a true representation of Christianity.

    All that being said, if a person calls himself a Christian and presents a viewpoint that is obviously not Christian, I would say you could still label him as a “Christian” for ease of conversation. For example, if you wanted to discuss him with a friend, you could say “I was talking to this Christian fellow…” but if you wish to discuss the viewpoint of his that was not Christian, it might be helpful to say “he expressed this view that wasn’t a typically Christian view.” I say that simply because, as a Christian, it can be tiresome when a person wishes to try to point out to me how stupid or impractical Christianity is by putting forth a viewpoint they gleaned from some confused Christian. Then I have to say “That is not even a viewpoint supported by the Bible, and here is why I know it is not.”

    I mean that would be like me saying “Evolution is stupid, because I didn’t evolve from an ape.” People that actually believe in evolution tend to know that humans did not evolve from an ape, and I imagine it gets tiresome having to tell Christian after Christian that we did not evolve from apes, but instead that we simply have a similar ancestor with apes. Evolutionists don’t want to be represented by people that say “We evolved from apes.” Likewise, Christians don’t want to be represented by people that say something that is a blatantly false “Christian” belief.

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