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When it comes to grabbing desperately at every conceivable modicum of power, religion can get pretty creative. Most religions have methods of control and manipulation that have been passed down and improved upon for centuries. Using little more than a precise mixture of threats and promises administered early and often, they can convince people to sign their entire lives away. They have the use of fear down to an art form. What’s more, it’s all done under the guise of altruism.
One particularly effective method is that of uniting people against a common enemy. It’s a simple concept. Give people an enemy to fight, and they’ll band together. This phenomenon has all kinds of benefits to those in power. The more afraid people are, the stronger their sense of unity. The more they’re looking to an external enemy, the less they look within the group. The more dire the potential consequences, the more willing people are to listen to authority. All of these are survival traits that have arisen through hundreds of thousands of years of tribal living, twisted to fit the needs of those who wish to remain in power.
Christians are lucky enough to have permanent enemy: Satan. Unfortunately for the church, Satan is a little difficult to pin down. I suspect this has something to do with his imaginary nature. At any rate, the fact that Satan isn’t an entity that can be directly battled makes him an inconvenient villain. To get people to really come together to rally against a common enemy, it has to be someone or something that they can see. It has to be something that poses an immediate threat, and it helps if it’s something that people can envision themselves defeating. Seeing as how the Devil is apparently going to be bound to a lake of fire by Christ or God at some indeterminate future time, it’s hard to use him as the unifying force that the church so desperately needs.
Which leaves… well, everyone else. “They”, unlike Satan, make for the perfect enemy of all god-fearing people everywhere. “They” are everywhere! “They” are your neighbors, your coworkers, that nephew that the family doesn’t talk about anymore. Satan’s still in the picture, of course: he influences “them” in some vague, indefinable way. Nevertheless, “they” are a group of people that pose a tangible and immediate threat to all good Christians everywhere. And, of course, the more nebulously defined your categories of “us” and “them”, the more effective these categories are. After all, if the line between “us” and “them” is a fuzzy one, then people will have to steer well clear of it to avoid being mistaken for the other side. The church takes full advantage of this fact, and they do it well. After all, they’ve had several millennia worth of practice.
“Us vs. Them” permeates every facet of religious life. It’s the wrong time of year to go off on the “War on Christmas”, but it’s a perfect example. Late December is a time when the world is, according to some, divided into those who celebrate Christmas and love Jesus and those who want to abolish Christianity and all that it stands for. It often seems like a mere lack of Christmas spirit is enough to get people up in arms.
Another thing that comes to mind is the movie “The Book of Eli”. Spoiler alert to those of you who’ve missed out on this little gem: Denzel Washington is protecting the last King James Bible in the world. Apparently, there was an apocalyptic religious war, during which most of civilization was destroyed. People died, other people went blind, and America was laid to waste. Society collapsed. Yet, somehow, the few struggling survivors managed to find the time and energy to go about the country destroying every copy of the Bible except for one. Their drive to destroy Christianity was so great that they were able to visit every home, bookstore, library, and hotel room in the entire country, just to stomp out a religion that they blamed for the apocalypse. Now, I’m not saying people wouldn’t blame religion- I certainly would, if it played a significant part in the war. Blame is one thing. Systematically eradicating millions of copies of a book in preference of finding a dependable source of food, water, and shelter and rebuilding society, on the other hand… That’s crazy talk. The ragged remnants of humanity have better things to do than waste their time breaking the Guinness World Record for burning books. The fact that this idea seemed plausible not only to the people making the movie but a large portion of the audience is just further evidence of how successful the “us vs. them” strategy can be.
There is no singular, unified force acting to destroy or overthrow Christianity. It’s a myth. It’s nothing more than a very successful scare tactic to keep people in line. There are people who don’t like Christianity specifically, and there are people who don’t like religion in general. There are many people, myself included, who try to take steps to keep other people’s religious views from dictating how I live my own life. There are also a lot of people who don’t care. Christians who believe that all non-Christians are out to get them are seriously underestimating the power of apathy. None of this stops the church from crying persecution at every turn, but to my ears, it sounds an awful lot like crying wolf.
Johanna is a member of Connecticut Valley Atheists. The views expressed in this posting are her own and do not necessarily represent those of Connecticut Valley Atheists or its individual members.