Tuesday, 11 May 2021

How Religions Cause Divisions

'Healing' crystals

Photo credit: Hasan Can Devsir/Unsplash (CC-BY)
Pagan 'metaphysical' shops navigate threats from Christian critics

An example here of how religion divides communities through bigotry and intolerance and by reacting to competition in the market place of gullible fools to exploit.

In fact, the latter could be seen as an example of how religions control their victims in order to prevent hybridization with other wackadoodle cults, in the same way genes control diverging gene pools to set up barriers to hybridization and so cause speciation to go to completion. Religions are acting like meme pools in a Darwinian competition, and so tending to cause divisions and barriers to social peace and harmony.

This example is that of Heron Michelle, a purveyor of 'pagan metaphysical' objects such as crystals, jewellery and herbs allegedly with mystical properties, from a shop, The Sojourner Whole Earth Provisions, in Uptown Greenville, North Carolina. She and her shop have attracted the hostile attention of the local fundamentalist Christians. Ironically, the trouble came to a head after a festival on the last day of April, ostensibly organized to bring the whole community together following the Covid-19 lockdown.

As part of the festival, Heron set up a table outside her shop and offered to do tarot readings for anyone interested in that sort of thing. Fairly soon though, she had a visit from two young men dressed in identical green t-shirts who wanted to 'share the Gospel of Jesus' with her. She explained that she already knew about Jesus and had been baptised into three different Christian faiths but found none of them 'took'. She now believes she has found the 'love that Jesus was trying to bring to the world' outside of Christianity. She also told them that in her faith, proselytizing was regarded as a cardinal sin.

After patronising her with more preaching, the pair eventually left to re-join their large group who had been moving through the festival talking to other shop keepers and festival-goers, trying to win recruits for their cult. Afraid of what was going to happen next, Heron folded up her table and stopped offering tarot readings.

After the festival was over, things turned ugly and menacing. The entire green t-shirted mob of fundamentalists turned up outside her shop physically blocking the entrance and standing and staring at her through the windows.

This is not the first time that Heron has faced crowds of hostile Christians. When she first opened her shop in 2008, the local church organized a boycott and a crowd of women vandalized her shop by paining crosses on the windows. They then stood outside chanting about demons.

In 2017, Philip Brown, a local street preacher who travels around preaching through a bullhorn and harassing other metaphysical stores, set up outside her shop and began preaching, so she engaged him in a discussion about the Gospels. It was soon obvious that she knew them better than he did. Nevertheless he posted his recording of his 'work for Jesus' on You Tube.

According to this report in Religion News Service, these attacks by fundamentalist Christians on metaphysical stores are commonplace:
Vandalism, protests, harassment and regular proselytizing are not uncommon for metaphysical shops. In 2010, Rondell Gonzalez, the owner of Pye’Wackets, south of Anchorage, Alaska, found a 7-foot cross attached to her store’s sign. In 2015, someone tossed a gasoline bomb through the storefront window at Shooting for the Moon Spiritual Development Center, in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. (It failed to explode, and the attackers were never identified.)

In Minnesota in 2016, metaphysical shop owner Bonnie Gurney filed a cease-and-desist order to stop a local woman from posting protests on her store’s social media page, publicly burning store fliers, blocking the shop entrance and harassing patrons, telling them to “repent.” In 2019, a newly opened metaphysical shop in Staunton, Virginia, was shut down, reportedly after the property owner belatedly realized his renter was a metaphysical shop.
Clearly, fundamentalists who go to these lengths to suppress any alternative superstitions, have something to fear from them. Their own faith in the truth of their beliefs must be on shaky ground for them to fear alternative views. It's not just Atheists whom they fear but anyone who might put them in danger of wondering if they could be wrong.

This was found, in a piece of research by Cory L Cook, Florette Cohen and Sheldon Solomon, published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, entitled What If They’re Right About the Afterlife? Evidence of the Role of Existential Threat on Anti-Atheist Prejudice. Human knowledge of death gives ris to:
...potentially paralyzing terror that is assuaged by embracing cultural worldviews that provide a sense that one is a valuable participant in a meaningful universe.
Anything which might cause a believer in one of these worldviews carries the risk that their terror will reassert itself, so hostility to other religions is a simple matter of terror management in response to an existential threat. In their research, which focussed on the relationship between believers and Atheists, the authors found that thinking about death made the believers more hostile to Atheism and thinking about Atheism made them more aware of the issue of death. It seems that any other set of ideas that don't include some sort of hope of survival after death, is an existential threat to fundamentalist Christians and evokes the same terror management response.

As these attacks on alternative metaphysical beliefs show, it's not just Atheists who attract the hostile attention of fundamentalist Christians. The worst thing you can do to a fundamentalist is make them wonder if they could be wrong and the response is often aggression. This is why they have developed all manner of mental gymnastics for rejecting any evidence, or logical reasoning you can offer them that might cause them to have self-doubt, and why they are so susceptible to frauds and charlatans who sell them cosy platitudes and disinformation intended to reinforce their cosy certainties and comforting freedom from their terror of death.

This tendency, in Christianity especially, to build barriers to shut out alternative ideas and to divide society up into mutually hostile camps, each distrusting the others, has resulted in over 30,000 different Christian churches in the USA alone.

Truly a house built on sand and a faith standing on the shaky ground of absent evidence and a book full of internal inconsistences and contradictions. No wonder so many fundamentalist Christians are also gun nuts, opposed to any restrictions on their right to carry weapons of mass destruction. And no wonder the USA with its very large evangelical Christian population is also the most violent, divided and intolerant of all developed economies, in contrast to the countries of Europe with their large and growing populations of non-believers and rapidly falling numbers of believers.

In Darwinian terms, what these cultural memeplexes are doing is ensuring their survival in the human meme pool by rigorously excluding any potential rivals for the human resource they all depend on and preventing any dilution of their dogmas with which they recruit and retain members who are themselves looking for a means to manage their potentially paralyzing fear of death.


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