When it is wrong to be right as a Christian or other God-fearing believer?

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by Neil Godfrey

I’m not saying it is right to be wrong, either, by the way. The following is a stream of consciousness thing, thinking aloud . . . I have never really tested the thoughts before to know if they do hold.

I have sometimes said that I see the mainstream orthodox versions of religious faiths as sharing a responsibility for the extremists associated with their brand of religion: the murderers of abortion doctors and manslaughterers of those needing medical care and murderers of those of the wrong ethnicity, faith, politics and real-estate. I still think that is the case.

At the same time I have found myself feeling a tad uncomfortable working with mainstream religious groups in social justice causes. Not that I dislike the people involved. Many of them are fine and sincere and good company and it’s encouraging to see them doing more than just praying.

But there’s still something wrong and a line in Gilad Atzmon’s The Wandering Who? caught my attention and reminded me of part of why even mainstream religion is not a healthy thing and why its perpetuation gives respectability to the same ways of thinking and valuing that can be turned so easily to criminality.

The ethical subject is engaged in a constant dynamic ethical exercise rather than a symbolic acceptance of a given rule. (p. 63)

That is, when we live by principles, or rules, that are inculcated or imbibed from a source external to us, we are not living a truly ethical life. It comes down to the old adage, Principles or People. If we choose to live by external sets of precepts we are failing to the ethical life of self-reflection that leads us into identifying ourselves with fellow-humanity and acting accordingly.

Likewise mainstream religion gives social respectability to faith in the occult. Occult technically means things hidden, such a spirits or a God. Once we accept such a faith as socially respectable there remains no way to control the nature of some of the gods that some people will embrace. We are giving respectability to irrational beliefs that can have dire consequences.

What I found slightly discomforting about our mainstream religious partners who joined with us in some of our activism was that they were clearly acting “as Christians” because it was their “faith” to do so, and their obligation to “perform good works”. There seemed to be a certain patronizing at work. It was as if they were needed in order to be sure the genuine ethical message was broadcast. We were simply doing it because we felt and cared for those we were trying to help. We had no thought of being “a light” to “witness” to “God’s/our love”. That was self-serving bullshit and in a sense hypocritical.