Sunday, May 6, 2012


There are, conventional wisdom states, three things that should never be discussed in polite company: Politics, religion and sex. In the United States, however, it seems more and more like one thing, as discussions about sex almost always devolve into politics or religion, and discussions about politics and religion are becoming difficult to distinguish from one another. Because just as political discussions in the United States are strongly centered around the partisan divide between Democrat and Republican, religious discussion seems to have become just as polarized between Christianity and Atheism.

And it seems that this breakdown is occurring for the same reason in religion as it does in politics. There are, of course, more than simply two political parties in the United States. The others simply aren't large enough to be able to manage a consistent voice in any sort of national-level discourse. Oh, you're a member of the Constitution Party? Well, in most heated discussions between members of the Big Two, you're likely to be treated as simply an apostate Republican. And if you're a member of the Unity Party? Welcome to Being Completely Ignored. Population: You. By the same token, while American Christians and Atheists go at it hammer and tongs, they treat each other as the only real alternative to themselves. Buddhism? Quaint, but not really relevant. And Shintoism? The typical American response is likely to be "whattoism?" While allowance might be made for Moslems and Jews, for "normal" people you're either a Christian or an Atheist, and that's that. Also common to both topics is the idea that there is some sort of ulterior motive, if and possibly consequence And like the political parties, Christian and Atheist activists are convinced that their way of doing things can (and should) be all things to all people, represents the only path to fundamental "Truth" and is self-evidently correct, to the point where disavowing it can only be the result of deliberate rejection of what one knows to be correct, ignorance born of gross negligence, abject stupidity or "brainwashing." About the only thing that's missing from "religious" discourse that's commonly found in political debate is the proactive blaming of the other side and their worldview for what would otherwise appear to be unrelated events.

This vehement, and ultimately bogus, duality, and the zero-sum thinking that results from it, leads the activists of both sides to look for opportunities to cry foul, in the form of any news article or public discourse that demonstrates any sort of positive view of the other side. Want to garner a long thread of comments by random people on Google+? Link to an article that discusses some difference between Christianity (often erroneously termed as "religion") and Atheism (sometimes incorrectly referred to as "secularism"). Some personality trait will be ascribed to one and not the other, and from that, the sparks will fly. When a news site offers up a human interest story of someone making a personal journey that starts in one camp, and ends in the other, you can be sure, if there is an open forum, that things will quickly become heated, with ad-hominem attacks, complaints about media bias and a diligent cataloging of sins by the partisan activists of both sides. Also entertainingly common are the comments that lead with an insult and then bemoan the other side's hostility, like this little (unedited) gem from Google+:

the fool has said, there is no God, there IS a difference between religion and faith in God , it is a shame that too many "atheist's" are little more than haters of God ,and of the people who believe in God
The bitterness of Christian/Atheist partisanship isn't likely to go anywhere anytime soon. Both sides view the other with fear and loathing, and this lead to a need to prove themselves Correct, not on their own merits, but through discrediting the other. Again, the parallel to politics is striking. And it's likely a large part of the reason why these two topics part company from sex. Unless either religion or politics is involved, Jack and Jill's sex life has little to no impact on what Dick and Jane do in their own bedroom. And whatever Tom, Harry and Sally are up to - well, what happen in Vegas, stays in Vegas. But in the spheres of activist religion and politics, what other people do DOES matter. A lot. Jack voted Republican? That makes him an accessory to the alleged crimes of the Bush Administration. Jane is an Atheist? Let her sort prevail, and watch Humanity descend into amorality and decadence, provoking God's wrath.

In the meantime, those of us who are decidedly non-activist about such things stand back in bemusement, wary of doing anything that will draw the activists' attention to ourselves. Oh well. I suppose we can always talk about money...

No comments: