Good people can believe outrageously false things.
For example, a certain good man was able to believe, earlier this week, that:
- COVID-19 should in public policy be treated like a flu epidemic.
- The closings aimed at controlling the pandemic hit small businesses unnecessarily hard because politicians and the media hate small businesses and want them to fail.
- Existing drugs can cure COVID-19, but they are suppressed because the pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession know that they can make a lot more money by pretending that far more expensive medications yet to be invented are needed.
This is all batshit loony stuff. Insane conspiracy theories. Shocking.
The person who told me these things is a good man, friendly, generous. He holds a responsible job. He plays positive roles in his family, his church, his neighborhood. But he is deluded in ways that betray not only a stunning inability to acquire commonly available, solidly attested information from our environment, but also an even more galling capacity for believing—with no evidence, only because others say these things—the worst imaginable things about, for example, the entire medical profession and the entire news journalism profession.
How did this happen? What has been done to this man to make him believe such falsehoods and disbelieve the readily accessible truths that contradict them? What can I or anyone do to help him out of this epistemological hall of mirrors in which he is trapped?
Should it not take the most corrupted and cynical soul in existence to believe, for example, that the medical profession as a whole is deliberately suppressing reliable existing cures for COVID in hope of reaping greater profits from novel, proprietary pharmaceuticals? And yet this good man professes earnestly to believe exactly that.
I suspect that his ability—his compulsion—to believe such venomous lies derives from the ways in which fundamentalist American Christianity has taught its adherents to believe the worst about the vast majority of their fellow humans. How ironic that the earliest critics of Christianity commonly accused Christians of being atheists and haters of humankind. They were not. But in these latter days we have people who profess to be followers of the God who is love and who at the same time have somehow become the haters of humankind that their distant forebears in the faith were falsely accused of being. For is it not obvious that willingness to believe horrible things about people, and whole classes of people, with no evidence is a potent form of hatred?
And Christians given to such hatreds are in a certain sense atheists. How could it be possible to believe in a God who “so loved the world,” and who is not willing that any should perish but that all should gain eternal life, while simultaneously believing such wretched—and hateful—untruths about entire classes of people within that world? I do not think it is possible. At least is should not be possible.
But I hasten to state again that this man appears to me, apart from these things that he said to me today, to be neither a hater of humankind nor an atheist. Quite the opposite. So:
- He is not stupid, but he believes things that only a fool could believe.
- He is not a hater, but he parrots lines that only a hater could voice.
- He is a loving and loveable person.
Which means, I think, that he embodies mind-boggling, soul-twisting contradictions. This appears to me to be true in general of Christians who support Donald Trump. Donald Trump is the chief spewer of the lies that they believe, but the responsibility for their accepting these lies does not lie solely with Donald Trump. Trump is accountable for Trump. Trumpists and Trump himself are accountable for Trumpism. In a very real sense Trumpism is practical atheism, because it denies the grace of God. It refuses to accept grace, inhabit grace, and extend grace to others.
Christian Trumpists are therefore walking, talking contradictions. I don’t know what to do about these people. How does one best love them? I want to know. We need to know.
5 thoughts on “How to love our atheist (in a sense) neighbors?”
You force upon us, sadly, one of the more important questions of this current moment. It is one we can no longer turn a blind eye to. I began smelling the caustic potency of Q several months back and posted about it then. But, it seems to be attaching its mental tentacles onto a multitude of “Christian” minds inputting and sucking out with a voracious fervor that is almost terrifying — were one not to believe in a God whose throne is established in heaven, whose kingdom rules over all. I found your post so helpful I am going to be alluding it to it liberally in my own. I take it you won’t mind. Thank you for opening Pandora’s Box. Mine will be titled, “Conspiracy Theories Creep In On Soft Paws, Corrupt, Corrode and then Destroy.” Thanks for thinking hard and deep, and seeking to develop what Harry Blamires wrote about in one of those highly influential books I read in my youth: “The Christian Mind.”
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I am expecting many conservative Christians to apostatize to QAnon, or to sink into syncretism with QAnon. Why? Because it is clear from the content of their capitulation to Coulter, Hannity, Metaxis, and Trump that they are completely unarmed to resist. If you have fallen for Trump, there is nothing solid to keep you from falling for Q.
When I was in college (not a Christian college) in the early ‘70s, in an Old Testament survey class we had a professor who delighted in telling us about JEDP, I think in hopes of rattling our conservative cages. We didn’t trust him; we called it the heebie-jeebie theory and didn’t buy it. In seminary we had professors who explained to us that the gospel writers didn’t always agree on all the little details and that that was all right. Their names were David and Gordon and Ramsey, and we trusted them, and we bought it. A lot depends on how much you trust whoever you are listening to.
I think “listening” is the key concept here. Readings in spiritual formation taught me that if I practice listening to God over time (often years) and invite him to speak into my life, every so often he does! Or when a new idea comes along, we can be more open to wondering if we should pay attention to it than if we never practice listening (to God or to anyone else, for that matter).
And then, in direct answer to your question, we keep on living our own lives as someone who loves God and loves them. (How else could we become trustworthy?) We love them like we would love anyone else, and then we pray that God would enable them to hear what they need to hear. Because changing people’s minds is rarely a human capability. And then we wait. And wait. And if God chooses to use us or answer our prayers, so be it. And if not, so be it. As Dallas Willard says, “We are not in charge of outcomes.”
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Thanks, Phil. Very good words.
My pleasure. You’re the one doing all the hard work every day. If I thought that much I’d probably hurt myself.