"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." --Blaise Pascal (17th Century mathematician & philosopher)
A friend sent me this quote, and it inspired a great deal of thought about how religious conviction can give birth to extreme hatefulness and cruelty. Some of us are regularly surprised and astounded at the spectacle of just how vicious "God's servants" can be to those who don't agree with them or those whom they consider to be heathens. Even more unsettling, many of them are able to do it with a smile and a soft voice. We wonder: How can they justify this kind of speech and behavior?
In attempting to understand this phenomenon, I was able to draw upon my own experience as a Fundamentalist Christian (I'm no longer a Fundamentalist). This enabled me to identify several key components of the reasoning that allows some of us to be hateful and cruel with joy and gladness in our hearts.
First, it is essential that the person regard him/herself as God's servant. As God's devoted servant, one is expected to follow God's lead. If God hates something or someone, then I should too. If God regards something or someone as an abomination, then I should too. If God intends to destroy/damn something or someone, then I should too.
But how do you get around the fact that God is supposed to be the personification of love? By believing that God is entitled to love or hate whatever or whomever "He" pleases! And an essential corollary to that belief is that God never makes mistakes or errors. Hence, if something seems illogical, contradictory or inconsistent, it's because I (or you) don't understand it. That way you can avoid asking yourself questions like: Is it possible for love to hate? Isn't love the opposite of hate? Are things like mercy, compassion, kindness and gentleness compatible with condemnation, cruelty, meanness and harshness?
Next, as God's servant, I am "His " agent or representative. Hence, I am obligated to defend and enforce "His" position. I am obligated to see that "His" will is carried out. I am obligated to do "His" work. And one should always carry out God's work with happiness and joy! God is not mean-spirited or cruel. Therefore, I cannot be mean-spirited or cruel if I'm carrying out "His" will. This is starting to sound like circular reasoning isn't it?
Third, right is right, and wrong is wrong! And God has CLEARLY delineated which is which! There is no such thing as extenuating or mitigating circumstances.
Fourth, it is essential to denigrate and dehumanize the object of your scorn or persecution. I'm saved, you're damned. I'm one of God's elect, you're a heathen - a sinner. I'm one of God's children, you belong to Satan. I'm enlightened, you're deceived. God's ears are attentive to my prayers, but "He" doesn't hear theirs. God cares about what happens to me, but "He" is indifferent to the people of this world. In other words, an object of God's affection is confronting an object of wrath or indifference.
Fifth, if I fail to speak up, that is tantamount to denying God. Does that mean that Christ was guilty of denying God when he refused to speak during his trial? Does God need me to defend "Him" and "His" agenda?
Finally, what if a twinge of guilt manages to penetrate the defenses erected by all of these notions? If a voice inside my head is telling me that I'm being cruel and hateful, how can I squelch or suppress that? Remember, doubts and second thoughts are planted in our minds by Satan. Hence, what appears to be pity or compassion may be wickedness creeping into our minds! (What does it mean to sear one's conscience?) After all, I'm only quoting God's Word (Satan can quote Scripture too).
Several objections to these notions now come to mind: 1. Just because you claim to be doing God's work doesn't mean that you are. 2. You can still be wrong even when you're sure you're right. 3. If Satan really has deceived the whole world, that includes you. 4. Even if you have God's Holy Spirit, you can still make mistakes and sin. 5. Just because something is done in God's name that doesn't mean that "He" has approved or sanctioned it!
Still, I have to admit that it's not very likely that this little post will prick anyone's conscience. Acknowledging the points made here would mean that the individual engaging in such behavior is wrong. It would be an admission of guilt. It would make their speech/actions unchristian. It would mean that the person had been acting in the capacity of an Antichrist!