That’s the gist of an all too common question. And when looking at the daily news, there’s clear reason for asking it.
Recently we saw again what can happen when anti-Muslim Christians — this time using a film — chose to rile up anti-Christian Muslims. It’s as if both sides in such feuds thrive on the hatred of the other.
And the psychological reality is, they do.
Extreme right-wing religions play on the fears and insecurities of people growing up in a world that installs these in its children through what the late child psychologist Alice Miller calls “poisonous pedagogy.” In fact, their theologies enshrine and sanctify such childrearing practices.
“There are countless theological explanations for the motives behind God’s inscrutable counsels,” Miller writes in The Truth Will Set You Free (2001), “but in all too many of them I see a terrorized child trying hard to interpret the mysterious actions of the [punishing] parent as good and loving, even though the child cannot fathom them — indeed has no chance of fathoming them.”
Right-wing religion attempts to convince its followers that they can’t trust their own thinking, their own intuitions, and their own voices. They’re too vile, self-deceiving, lowly, fallen, finite, or just too “human.”
It strives to install the self-evaluation behind all addictions — a low self-concept. And that self-loathing is no mere misunderstanding correctable through counseling; it’s an accurate measure of who one really is.
This means people must learn to become “obedient” to something other than their own inner voice. That something might be called scripture, god, the faith, the Truth, revelation, the Church, or tradition, but the obedience demanded is really to institutions and authoritative leaders who’ll define what scripture, god, etc. are and what they teach for people who’ve been told that they aren’t capable of defining those things for themselves.
A low self-concept, one in this case enforced by right-wing religious teachings, develops personalities who need to rely on something better than themselves to feel good about themselves. And the religious leaders just happen to have that Something ready and waiting.
We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that right-wing religion idealizes “childlike faith,” or “childlike obedience” and talks about its followers as “children” of the Divine. We shouldn’t be surprised that it pushes teenage or adult-style questioning to the outside as heterodoxy, infidelity, and heresy.
And the “children” they are to be are like those they raise with “poisonous pedagogy.” They are like little ones who believe that their parents are perfect and can only love perfect parents. There’s no grown-up love that admits the flaws in others and loves them anyway.
When these religions are used in the cause of a country’s nationalism, their nationalism hates when someone criticizes their own country. It labels that unpatriotic because even their love of country resembles “love” that is immature.
And we know that just as children often think of things in binaries such as black and white, so does addictive thinking. There can be no nuance or shades of gray in right-wing religion.
There must be either friends or enemies of the faith. There’s nothing in between.
Those who are the agents of darkness are necessary as “others.” “They” make us feel righteous. “They” exist to prove we are not wrong. “They” provide the face of the enemy. “They” are easier to fight than our own demons within.
So, our righteousness ramps up and is justified in “hating the sin” that those sinners represent. “They” provide the face of fear. “They” remind us of why we need to cling to our religion and guns.
“They” keep the battle going, a battle that requires time and money. “They” keep the finances coming in to religious leaders who keep reminding us of the threat “they” pose.
And the existence of “they” brings, beyond the cash it raises, a most important psychological need for the nobody preachers like the funeral picketer from Topeka, or the Koran burner from Gainesville. It brings them the attention they failed to get from daddy and mommy.
It validates that they’re actually okay in the midst of their unbelief in the power of their god. It brings them the national spotlight that says they haven’t given their lives to something about which few people care.
To keep the sickness going, the enemy must get ever stronger, more evil, and more threatening. It must be further constructed as someone, some group, or some thing that is so awful that the only appropriate response is hate. And no matter how much they might say they hate the sin but love the sinner, the “sinner” will experience the hate as personal.
To be the object of such hate is to feel that it’s not just about what one does but also about the “sinner” one is. Ask those who suffered the inquisitions, the witch burnings, the pogroms, the Crusades, or the Holocaust.
Ask LGBT people. They’ve never bought into the “love the sinner, hate the sin” distinction — a phrase never found in the Christian Bible — unless they’ve already been taught a low self-concept by the people who justify their beliefs with the distinction. They’ve felt how much it’s the self-serving lip-service of those who want them straight.
Whatever happened to the old bumper stickers that said “Hate is not a family value?” Did the right-wing bully the rest of us into removing what was a clear statement of the issue?
Did they intimidate us by saying “You’re not accusing us of hate, are you?” And did we back down because we didn’t want to call their bigotry, prejudice, and crusades hate?
Are we afraid to talk about “hate speech?” Are we afraid to call the demonizing of the other “hate?” Are we afraid to do what might be seen as an intervention in religious addiction?
Much sickness lies behind right-wing hatred of those they see as their enemies. So we mustn’t be surprised that for right-wing religion anyone who even defends the “other” will become “other.”
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.