Apophenia against the Theology: How American Christianity Sees Patterns Where None Exist

Apophenia against the Theology: How American Christianity Sees Patterns Where None Exist November 16, 2023


Welcome to the curious world of apophenia, the psychological phenomenon where people perceive connections in random or unrelated things. It’s not just a quirk of the human brain; it’s a cornerstone of American Christianity. Today, we dissect this psychological spectacle to uncover how it has fueled power structures, perpetuated nonsense, and generally made a mess of what should be the simple teachings of a Middle Eastern carpenter named Jesus.

What is Apophenia, and Why Should We Care?

Apophenia is the mind’s way of making sense of random data by detecting patterns, whether they’re in star constellations or your morning toast. However, when applied to religion, the risks outweigh the fun. Imagining patterns in theological thought can lead to harmful distortions, providing a fertile ground for exploitation and extremism. It’s not all fun and games when your brain’s penchant for pattern recognition ends up validating someone’s manipulative agenda.

Biblical Whispers or Wishful Thinking?

Consider how the Bible has become a playground for eisegesis—a form of interpretation that’s more about personal feelings than actual text. For example, some interpreters claim that Noah’s ark harbored dinosaurs or that David and Goliath is an allegory for modern-day capitalism. This doesn’t just stretch biblical interpretation; it’s a full-blown contortion act. By reading our own biases and desires into sacred texts, we’re essentially telling God, “Your divine inspiration was neat, but let me improve upon it.”

When Divine Patterns Go Horribly Wrong

Apophenia thrives in the unchecked imaginations of religious fanatics and opportunistic politicians. From pastors mapping out ludicrous end-of-world scenarios to politicians citing Bible verses to justify discrimination, when divine patterns go rogue, they don’t just stray off course; they crash and burn spectacularly. And let’s be honest, if God wanted to tell us the world was ending, I doubt he’d use a series of obscure, cryptic verses to deliver that message.

America’s Special Sauce of Pattern Recognition

The unique cocktail of American individualism and consumerism takes apophenia to another level. Now, not only are we finding patterns, we’re commercializing them. Your neighbor’s cousin’s pastor had a revelation, and now it’s a self-published book selling on Amazon for $19.99. That’s right, in America, even divine insights have a price tag, and the Holy Spirit apparently offers bulk discounts.

The Real Casualties: A Stray Flock

This pattern-seeking madness has real-world consequences, shifting the focus from social justice, economic inequality, and compassion—the core principles Jesus advocated for—towards non-issues and spiritual elitism. In a society plagued by division, the last thing we need is to distort religious texts to create further isolation and injustice.

The Power Play: Pulpit Edition

Ah, the allure of power, that intoxicating drug that has church leaders hooked. They see a congregation hell-bent on connecting imaginary dots, and voila, they now have a perfect recipe for spiritual manipulation. Create enough chaos and confusion, and you can make your followers believe, and consequently do, just about anything. It’s a grim reminder that the more things change, the more organized religion stays depressingly the same.

Time to Ditch the Scavenger Hunt

The point here is simple: Jesus’ teachings were straightforward. Love your neighbor. Help the poor. Fight for justice. No secret codes, no hidden messages. If you find yourself scouring texts or sermons for mysterious patterns, perhaps it’s time to redirect that energy towards actions that make a tangible difference in the world. After all, true spirituality is measured by deeds, not by your ability to connect non-existent dots.

And there it is, an unpacked look at how American Christianity is entangled in a web of apophenic chaos. It’s time we reconsider how we approach our faith and focus on the essential teachings that were never hidden or encoded, to begin with.

About Stuart Delony
My hope with Snarky Faith is to incite change no matter how big or small. I want to cultivate conversations that help people to look for new ways to live out their faith. I'm also one of the weird ones who think that God still moves today - we're just looking in the wrong places. You can read more about the author here.

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