“The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.” -Thomas Aquinas
About 10 years ago, I worked at a small company that had 6 or 7 employees. It was my first real job after graduating from university. My political ideology was somewhere in the neighborhood of liberal, and my coworkers were more conservative than me. This sometimes led to interesting conversations, but for the most part, we had civil interactions, and I would describe it as a functional and professional work atmosphere.
One of my coworkers was quite zealous about his religion, and one day, he alluded to me that he suspected the reason why the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen) referenced Bealzabub (the devil) was because members of the band made a pact with the devil, trading their souls for mainstream success.
I asked if he was serious, and he said yes.
“Really?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied.
“You really believe,” I said, “that a band traded their souls for success, and that one of the terms of the trade was that they mention the devil in a song?”
“Yes,” he said again.
Even when I was a Christian, this was batty. It seemed at the time, and more so now, breath-takingly, mind-numbingly stupid. Though I saw it as a benign position at the time, I don’t believe this mindset is harmless anymore.
It is born out of the same vein as witch-hunts and inquisitions, and borrows from the strategies of generations earlier by inventing an arbitrary moral framework that makes uncompromising demands and punishes infinitely.
He managed to invent a holy war that no one else was fighting and invented facts to justify his war. It’s the cheapest sort of character assault, and gives moral justification to zealous believers to suspend their logical faculties and commence mob mentality.
Religious indoctrination exploits this device by creating an unnatural standard of behavior, forcing us to question our innate capacity to tell right from wrong, creating a suspicious and inconsistent framework for assessing morality, and then employing a carrot and stick system to selectively reinforce the standard when it’s convenient. If someone has the audacity to violate this standard, the faithful are justified to employ punishment.
My coworker’s idea deserves ridicule. It doesn’t deserve respect, and it doesn’t deserve to be put on some pedestal as an example of a faithful believer willing to suspend reason for the sake of defending their religion in the face of (non-existent) persecution and moral depravity.
Ideas like these are dangerous, not simply because they’re the intellectual fodder for religious extremism, but because the doctrine that gave rise this nonsense celebrates its own intellectual dishonesty, and builds movements around it. It’s what extremism looks like. In this case, my coworker integrated religious extremism into a popular culture reference, and called it a reasonable conclusion, while presupposing moral authority.
The fact that my co-worker was willing to share this idea at all, let alone in a workplace environment, raised serious questions in my mind of whether he was fit to remain unmedicated, let alone play an integral role in the small business for which we both worked. As it turns out, the business did not remain a business for very long (for reasons outside both our controls).
As a non-confrontational midwestern Lutheran, I let my coworker’s claim slide, and vowed to steer clear of conversations like that in the future. I wish I had it to do over again, because I might have raised the issue that his claim looked a lot like the preamble of some witch-burning manifesto. Or maybe I’d challenge his arrogance in spouting extremist nonsense about a person who wasn’t even alive anymore. Or maybe I’d explore to see what other things he’d invented to suit his agenda. Or perhaps I’d question his inclination to raise such hogwash at work.
I think it’s important to push back against this nonsense, because it’s not right, it’s not decent, and it’s not moral. People who say shit like that are hypocrites, and this extremism amplifies when people have the luxury of isolating themselves in like-minded communities.