The mendacity and sheer nastiness

So pointless obsessive punitive hostility and meanness can repel religious believers. Close-up acquaintance with the strenuously devout causes people to back away. That’s good to know.

Writing from New Orleans, where he was covering the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, [Stephen Bates] said: “Writing this story has been too corrosive of what faith I had left: indeed watching the way the gay row has played out in the Anglican Communion has cost me my belief in the essential benignity of too many Christians. For the good of my soul, I need to do something else.” Bates, who says he still regards himself as a Catholic, said he was turned off by the intolerance he saw towards gays and the self-righteousness of Christians who “pick and choose the sins that are acceptable and condemn those – always committed by other, lesser people – that are not.”

Interesting – Desmond Tutu has just been saying much the same thing.

“Our world is facing problems – poverty, HIV and Aids – a devastating pandemic, and conflict,” said Archbishop Tutu, 76. “God must be weeping looking at some of the atrocities that we commit against one another. In the face of all of that, our Church, especially the Anglican Church, at this time is almost obsessed with questions of human sexuality.”…Archbishop Tutu referred to the debate about whether Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, could serve as the bishop of New Hampshire. He said the Anglican Church had seemed “extraordinarily homophobic” in its handling of the issue, and that he had felt “saddened” and “ashamed” of his church at the time. Asked if he still felt ashamed, he said: “If we are going to not welcome or invite people because of sexual orientation, yes. If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God.”

Indeed. The thought has crossed my mind once or twice, that surely even Anglicans have better things to worry about than The Great Homosexual Menace.

Stephen Bates elaborates in the New Humanist:

The vehemence even in the mainstream denominations could be quite startling and bizarrely tunnel-visioned. Graham Dow, the Bishop of Carlisle, has come to public notice for suggesting that the recent floods were God’s judgement on a sinful nation, but not only is he not alone…but they are not his weirdest views. An earlier book he wrote on demonic possession shows he believes devils enter up the anus…and the signs of possession include wearing black, inappropriate laughter, inexplicable knowledge, Scottish ancestry or relatives who have been miners. You may laugh – inappropriately – but Dow used to be an Oxford college chaplain, indeed once prepared Tony Blair for confirmation, and has risen to be a diocesan bishop.

Blimey. This is the Anglican church. I’m…surprised.

What really surprised me was the mendacity and sheer nastiness with which the feuds were conducted and, of course, the certainty with which such people knew that God was speaking directly to them and – funnily enough – endorsing whatever action they had decided to take. It is a hermetically sealed, deeply insecure view of the outside world and it does not just infect Anglicans, but many denominations…The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, believe that those outside their inner circle will be ground to dust on the last day (remember this the next time you open your front door to them) and will only cooperate with the police in child abuse cases if the molestation has been independently and simultaneously witnessed by two elders, which may be setting the bar a little high.

The certainty is the thing I keep barking my shins on. The two-step. The carefree move directly from belief that God exists to confidence that the believer knows all about this God and what it wants the believer and everyone else to do – the complete failure to notice the rather obvious fact that even if there is a ‘God’ we know nothing whatever about it – that absence of evidence may (to the determined) be no bar to belief but is certainly an obstacle to pretensions of detailed and coercive knowledge. So what do you end up with? The combination of mendacity and nastiness with self-righteous certainty. You get a toxic brew, that’s what you get. Ask a religion reporter.

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