Empathizing With Delusional Christians
You don’t have to hang around this site very long to arrive at the conclusion that I probably have a bit of an unhealthy fascination with the dark underbelly of Christianity. People who imagine themselves influencing events on the world stage, people acting nonsensical and foolish, people pretending they can do magic, people being willfully and stubbornly ignorant… unfortunately the list goes on, and after several years of writing articles, highlighting errors, and posting crazy videos, it seems there is no end in sight of the delusional circus.
However, today I would like to take a minute and tell you that I do empathize with some of these people. Technically I would say their social and cognitive development occurred in such an environment that they lack good categories for interpreting natural phenomena and different social communities. But more simply put: in many cases it’s not their fault.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
Robey Harrison (R), a member of the ‘Signs’ Pentecostal denomination, an amalgam of Christianity and folk beliefs unique to Appalachia, anoint Betty Payne (C) with oil during an evening service at the Church of the Lord Jesus in Jolo, West Virginia, September 3.
Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA
Pastor Mack Wolford, a member of the ‘Signs’ Pentecostal denomination, handles a highly venomous timber rattlesnake during an evening service at the Church of the Lord Jesus in Jolo, West Virginia, September 3. The church hosts one of the last Signs denominations in the country, which encourages worshipers to speak in tongues and to handle serpents. Popular throughout Appalachia in the 1920s, the practice is rooted in a Biblical passage from the Book of Mark.
Found via Christian Nightmares.
There’s a lot of different directions we could go with this one but I’ll merely note that the community’s “beliefs” are influenced by their geographical and social location and are an extreme minority with Christian circles, i.e., it’s possible to have incorrect “beliefs”. (and please remember what I believe to be an extremely important distinction: beliefs and knowledge are not the same things!)
Second, I would like to share a quick story with you: I have a twin sister. For years she has suffered from epilepsy experiencing hundreds, if not thousands, of seizures that have inflicted serious physical damage. During the last 20 years, Lee-Ann has also been prayed for countless times by different faith-healers, church persons, and volunteers in prayer rooms. Over, and over, and over, and over.
Long story short: regardless of the cacophony of prayer Lee-Ann’s condition worsened. However, last year Doctors decided to open her skull and separate the hemispheres of her brain. Most shockingly to my medically uneducated brain: cracking her skull open and cutting her brain in half improved her condition!
I tell you this because of something that happened a few weeks after the surgery. One lady from my sister’s church, who had probably prayed for Lee-Ann umpteen times, when told of my sister’s improving condition said, “Praise God. It’s a miracle. Our prayers have finally been answered.”
The initial comments that went through my brain towards this person may have included some vulgarity and derogatory remarks! However, as I reflected on the situation more and more it occurred to me that this poor lady simply lacked any categories by which to understand a medical procedure–apart from prayer and the supernatural–improving a person’s health.
I believe that it is important to recognize–for the sake of empathy and better conversation– that “Cognitive development is a process of socialization…” and how “intellectual development is organized and directed by the social world over the course of childhood. Although a single instance of thinking may be a solitary activity, cognitive development as a process cannot be meaningfully separated from the social context in which it occurs.” Socialization then is the “primary system through which children learn about the world and develop cognitive skills.” (M. Gauvain and S. M. Perez “The Socialization of Cognition” in Handbook of Socialization: Theory and Research, 588.)
This is exactly where I empathize with many delusional religious persons: they were socialized in a delusional setting; that setting and the categories of intellectual non-complexity they were saddled with are not their fault in many ways. Frankly, it would be impossible for them to have any other interpretive categories entering adulthood outside of some different socializing settings of their youth, say school and friends, though this is mitigated in some religious settings by insulating against outside influences.
Furthermore, an important ingredient for any further or disagreeing development in adulthood is to take many of the epistemological and interpretive categories they are given as children and youths on ‘faith’ or trust. Combine this with the suggestion quite often that one should not ever, under any circumstances question these categories and you have a pretty lethal socialization context.
But, when I was a child I thought as a child… I grew up in a charismatic church setting. I ‘knew’ a lot of things about supernatural power and how to access the unseen force. I ‘knew’ the earth was young (the Bible, my parents, and the pastor told me: what more do you need!). I ‘knew’ the dead were raised and God regenerated limbs. These were simply unexamined self-evident facts.
But you do not have to remain ignorant forever. It is possible to gain better categories for interpreting the phenomena that occur around you. So while you can remain a product of your socialization context–and that I will empathize with, my question is: what are you going to do about it?
As an aside: think how scary it would be if the NRA and seven mountain dominionists were ever able to “take over culture” and socialize everyone into their ignorance… we could be back in the Middle-Ages in no time!