“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” ~Pascal
One Saturday morning I listened to the public radio quiz show “Whad’Ya Know?” while driving with my family to a nearby town. The whimsical show is hosted by Michael Feldman and features a trivia game with both audience and caller participants. One of the questions in the game this particular morning was “Who turns up the electric shock dial the highest—readers of the Bible or Time Magazine?” Since I am both of these, I knew the answer immediately: the Bible thumpers.
I knew it because I have watched myself evolve from a staunchly conservative individual with high objectives of character and moral living—my Bible leanings—to a slightly more liberal thinker who, still with his strong convictions, can now be conversant with various ideas and those who may accept no religion. So why is it that the people with the most conviction or who are the most unexposed often the most unmerciful and resistant to change? I offer a suggestion.
Perhaps a belief is to be possessed or espoused, not vice versa, lest believers (in anything) risk being driven by their beliefs and so become fanatics. People who sacrifice themselves to their convictions often become instruments of those ideas to beat others into subjection. By turning their beliefs into abject rules their own lifestyle is bound by adherence and that causes people to be legalistic toward others. It is difficult to acquaint those who are diametric and cheerless for need to always convert.
We all know someone who leans a little too far left or right. For instance, some people love money and are only motivated to gain as much as they can get; others cannot enjoy their money for the need to save it all. If you’re not running after money or hoarding every penny you can find, then you probably deserve the poverty coming your way. I watched a news story once of a woman so careful about her home energy expenditures that she turned off the heat each night in the deep of winter. Such is the case of conviction become obsession and compulsion.
When Barack Obama became President, I spoke with a black gentleman who was glad to see a black family in the White House. Yet he was so opposed to the new leader’s politic that he couldn’t relish what the moment represents in American history. It underscores a point to me: any notion, whether of faith or sport or politics or propriety or family—anything is subject to extremes, and this is the negation of true enjoyment.
More on this topic: Acting Against Your Better Judgment