2009-06-17

Can a fundamentalist believer avoid pejorative language among friends?

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by Neil Godfrey

(slightly edited 18th june 2009)

A strongly religious friend of mine recently wrote me, in kindness, that she understood I was not the first to decide to stop following God. This may have been the only way she knew how to express something she wanted to raise with me and maybe she had no awareness of how judgmental, pejorative, such a statement really is. Did I really knowingly, with arrogance or bitterness, turn my back on a great divine power, regardless of whether I thought such a phenomenon was worthy of worship or not? Yet that’s clearly what is implied.

Because I wanted to find a way to keep our friendship on an even keel over time, I replied that no, there was no question of my choosing not to follow God, but rather, that after much study and thought, I realized the only way I could be honest with myself, and true to the best lights I had sought out, was to no longer accept the existence of God. I concluded that each of us has to walk according to the lights we have, and we are all at different places in our life’s journey.

To recast that decision, that at the time was for me a matter of integrity, and even at the time involved considerable personal cost, into an assertion that “I chose to no longer follow God”, is judgmental.

I do not address my believing friends by telling them they are superstitious, or deceived, or too closed minded and fearful to investigate their faith rationally. To do so would of course be, well, rude and judgmental. I might think such things in a general sense of many believers, but there’s a difference between addressing these issues in a general or public way on the one hand, and in addressing friends in normal day-to-day getting along on the other.

If my religious friends wish to preach a jeremiad, let them do so on a street corner or from a soapbox in a park or at their keyboards. But to bring in the pejorative language when communicating with friends only runs the risk of losing those friends over time.

Maybe part of me is becoming more sensitive as a result of living in truly multi-cultural and multi-religious Singapore. The only people I have heard of here in the news (where Buddhists and Hindus and Moslems and Christians truly do rub shoulders daily, and where the State has even decreed national holidays for each of the religions’ holy days) who have gotten into trouble over their religious practices are a couple Christians who were penalized by the courts for distributing offensive literature to peoples of other faiths (especially Moslems).

By no means do I recommend Singapore as a model society for others to follow, yet nor can I deny the good things about Singapore. There is something very encouraging about living in a society where, for most part, the different religious and ethnic groups do generally express respect, even harmony, living and working together. At least publicly there is no sign of pejorative statements made against one another. The government even has a positive option for atheists or any nonreligious people who have to fill out official forms identifying their religious status: “Freethinker”.

Now that might be the better way to approach my friend next time the pejorative language emerges. “Nope, officially you are a Christian, she’s a Buddhist, he’s a Moslem or Hindu, while I’m a Freethinker”.

In a three-way discussion with my friend, I did ask our other colleague if she was also a Christian. She replied, No, I’m a Freethinker! It has a very nice positive ring to it.

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Neil Godfrey

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0 thoughts on “Can a fundamentalist believer avoid pejorative language among friends?”

    1. Yeh. I think so many fundamentalists see every encounter as another battle or opportunity to witness. There are no real friendships in this world for them? I try to remember when I was one of them. The moment I was out of “The Church” all those friendships I had believed in dissolved to nothing.

      1. Well friendship with the world is enmity with God, right, so there you go. No matter how many calls to love and compassion from the more progressive and sensible Christians out there, the Bible too well equips the rest of them for the contrary. It’s a simple matter of potent in group ideology.

        One friend from the church I left actually had the balls to call me a demon. *jaw drop* It was as sad as it was funny. I would have liked to continue talking to him.

        Ben

        1. Demonization is a literal process then 🙂 But there must be more to it than a few verses in the Bible. There are other verses there too that could just as easily modify how they treat outsiders generally. No different from the Koran. Most Moslems do not dwell literally on the few verses that are used to justify violence by a relative few. There must be other social/cultural/psychological things at work that influence people to select and respond to certain passages as they do.

  1. I guess we could line up the lists of verses that might recommend one way or the other, but the in group verses are pretty extreme and one of the issues is trying to reconcile the two lists succinctly. You see various Christians struggling back and forth and back and forth trying to convince even other Christians to lean one way or the other. For every call to peace there is an equally justified call to be divisive that always seems to apply. I hear many of the same verses justifying earthly sociopathic behavior used over and over and over again. So I think it’s a combination of natural human tribalism, extreme verses, the difficulty in easily reconciling these verses with more humane approaches, and the path of least resistance people are threatened. I mean this purely on the social level and not in any call to war kind of way.

    Ben

    1. Maybe the further one feels removed from the mainstream the more extreme the rationalizations required. The Gospel of Mark is (as per Mack’s study on GMark) the Christian beginnings of these anti-social mindsets. Some commentators seem to think we are witnessing the swan-song of the power of fundamentalist Christianity in the west, and if so, I suppose many fundamentalists are feeling even more threatened, and extreme positions are all the more “necessary” therefore. Maybe, but I’m only surmising.

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