Religious extremists are awesome when they argue

Religious extremists are awesome when they argue May 19, 2016

It’s always fun when different branches of Christian extremism get into fights with each other. Back when I was a believer, in-fighting between Christians was a source of major embarrassment, a lot like bickering in the Labour Party is a source of blushes for its supporters. Evangelicals believe it’s their divine mandate to convert the whole world, and that job is made a lot harder when they can’t even maintain a coherent public position. At the same time, if unbelievers convert to the wrong kind of Christianity, that could be as much of a disaster as if they stay unsaved.

This is a major headache for the people who see themselves as God’s PR team. Do you let false doctrine slide in the name of church unity, or do you fight it in the name of Truth? You don’t have to study the history of religion to know that Christians have chosen Option B frequently and vigorously.

Kenneth Copeland. Image: Screenshot from Kenneth Copeland Ministries. Creative Commons.
Kenneth Copeland. Image: Screenshot from Kenneth Copeland Ministries. Creative Commons.

A member of the Facebook group Accelerated Christian Exposed just posted this video. It’s a clip of the prosperity gospel big cheese Kenneth Copeland, but it’s been posted by another Christian who says Copeland is a false prophet (which he is, but not for the reasons this person thinks). This video is meant to prove that by alleging that Copeland calls the Holy Spirit a motherfucker (sorry, a M. F.) while praying in tongues.

Because this person likes wasting our time, even at 2:24 the video is far too long, and the relevant bit is at 1:25.

Copeland starts speaking in tongues and, like everyone speaking in tongues, is just spewing random noises, and a few syllables in, says something that sounds like “bumba fugger” which, if you are possessed a determination to hear it the right way, might possibly sound like “motherfucker”, in the same way that with the right suggestion you can hear “Here’s to my sweet Satan” when you listen to Stairway to Heaven backwards. As conspiracy theories go, this is a good one: the video maker wants us to believe that Copeland has built up a huge empire by fooling people into believing that he’s a prophet, but he (for no reason whatsoever) would risk blowing his cover by subtly inserting “motherfucker” into one of his sermons.

I’ve written before about the site “Christian Rock: Blessing or Blasphemy”, in which a fundamentalist Christian gets really het up about contemporary Christian music, accusing some of evangelicalism’s biggest stars of taking drugs, preaching false gospels, and worshipping Satan. Both this Copeland video and that website demonstrate an extreme version of the style of argument I learned growing up in conservative Christianity. It’s intellectually dishonest, and aims at trying to win the argument by any means, up to and including distorting the truth. At its extremes, as in these cases, the truth gets so badly distorted that everyone (except the person making the argument, apparently) can see what’s happening.

This is an extreme form of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias makes people analyse information that supports their position less carefully, while they subject stuff they disagree with to the most minute scrutiny. Then when they find the smallest error, the extreme confirmation bias sufferer will magnify it and make it out to be a fatal flaw.

I was never taught to argue this way. I suspect if I’d been pressed to reflect on it, I would have said that distorting the truth this way is wrong. Even so I still did it all the time, in arguments on various subjects. There are old blogs of mine archived online (I’m not telling you where), in which I use arguments like this to try to discredit bands I didn’t like. My guess is that this is just the style of argument that I’d observed in the Christian subculture I grew up in, and I copied it. What is bizarre is that when this style of argument was aimed at me (as in the case of ‘Christian Rock: Blessing or Blasphemy’), I could see that it was unfair, but I still turned around and used it on other people.

You see this style of argument on creationist forums often (sadly, it does not come exclusively from creationists). Confirmation bias is something that affects everyone, but conservative religion has mastered it to an Olympian degree.

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