Intellectual Curiosity Vs. Religious Orthodoxy

Examining the building blocks of life
shapecharge/E+/Getty Images

Maintaining religious orthodoxy means holding on to specific beliefs against any challenges or questions from the outside. Orthodoxy is typically contrasted with orthopraxy, the idea that maintaining the actions is more important than any particular belief. Religious orthodoxy is imperiled by too much intellectual curiosity because no religion can completely satisfy all doubts and challenges.

The more widely a person reads and studies, the harder it can be to hold on to traditional, orthodox beliefs.

One needs only look at the extent to which fundamentalist and conservative religious groups have historically denounced higher education, skepticism, and critical thinking to recognize this.

Facts vs. Faith

In Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, Dan Barker writes:

In my thirst for knowledge I did not limit myself to Christian authors but curiously desired to understand the reasoning behind non-Christian thinking. I figured the only way to truly grasp the subject was to look at it from all sides. If I had limited myself to Christian books I would probably still be a Christian today.

I read philosophy, theology, science and psychology. I studied evolution and natural history. I read Bertrand Russell, Thomas Paine, Ayn Rand, John Dewey and others. At first I laughed at these worldly thinkers, but I eventually started discovering some disturbing facts — facts that discredited Christianity. I tried to ignore these facts because they did not integrate with my religious world view.

In America today, more and more Christians - mostly conservative evangelical Christians - are segregating themselves culturally. They go to Christian stores; they associate with Christian friends, they go on Christian cruises, they use Christian media — and nothing else. There are certainly many advantages to this, especially from the perspective of those who wish to promote their religion, but there are at least as many dangers as well.

The advantages that Christians will see include, obviously, the ability to avoid the sex, violence, and vulgarity that pervade so much of modern culture, the ability to more easily exercise or express Christian values, and the ability to support Christian-oriented businesses. Conservative Christians who are most concerned about these things no longer have the demographic or political muscle to force their values on the rest of American culture, so they have to be content with forging their subculture.

It also means that Christians can more easily avoid the difficult questions and challenges which might tend to undermine orthodoxy, which is a very dubious advantage indeed. Even from their perspective, this should worry them because without facing challenges and tough questions, how will they ever improve or grow? The answer is that they won't; instead, they are more likely just to stagnate.

Self-Segregating Christianity

There are problems as well: the more evangelical Christians cut themselves off from the rest of society, the less they will be able to understand and relate to that society. This will not only impede their ability to share their ideas and values with others, which should bother them, but it will also create a greater sense of us vs. them — in other words, the separation could lead to greater polarization and stigmatization.

That's not only a problem for them, but for the rest of us as well.

The fact is, we all must live in the same society and under the same laws; if too many Christians are no longer able to understand their non-Christian neighbors, how will the two groups be able to unify for common causes, much less be able to agree on even mundane social and political issues? Of course, this question assumes that these conservative believers want to do that, and while I'm sure many do, there is no question but that some do not.

There is plenty of evidence that some are unwilling to even entertain the idea of political compromises for the sake of living jointly with other under secular laws. For them, self-segregation and the creation of a radical Christian subculture are simply one step in a long-term agenda of shifting America as a whole towards a more theocratic society.