There’s this old Jewish story about a man who liked playing the violin. He had this habit, though, of playing the same note over and over. It amused him. Perhaps it gave him a deep ecstasy…After several years his wife finally got to the point where even her wifely patience was exhausted, and she said “…for God’s sake Max! Other men who play the violin, they don’t always play the same part of the string…they play up and down on the strings, and they play all the strings…not the same note over and over.” And Max looked up from playing his one note and said, “they’re looking for the Place…I found it.”
—Robert Anton Wilson
According to a 2015 Pew Research poll, the overall number of people defining themselves as Christian in the U.S. is declining.
And yet a closer look at this data reveals something very interesting.
While more “progressive” Christian denominations are shedding members, hardline conservative sects are retaining them.
This shouldn’t make sense, right? The whole point of making a Christian sect more progressive and liberal is to open a wider net to a larger amount of potential parishioners. And yet this is not what seems to be happening.
Instead, this is happening:
…churches in the evangelical Protestant tradition…now have a total of about 62 million adult adherents. That is an increase of roughly 2 million since 2007, though once the margins of error are taken into account, it is possible that the number of evangelicals may have risen by as many as 5 million or remained essentially unchanged.
So at the very least, these “conservative” Christian churches aren’t losing members. In fact, they might be gaining more members.
Why is this?
I believe that some of the most effective religions (and philosophies and political parties, for that matter) are those who “provide all the answers” and do not admit to any sort of ambiguity whatsoever.
Further, these religions (or particular sects of religions) do not encourage critical thinking…and very well might encourage instead a binary “Us vs. Them” world (cosmic) scenario.
I think that there is a certain percentage of people in the world who crave that level of “security.” They want a “party line” and they want to follow it to the letter. They just want to follow something, period. Something black-and-white.
And you see this on the Right, on the Left, the Atheist, and even in the Weird (for example, a UFO cult like Heaven’s Gate provided a very cut-and-dry binary good-and-bad playbook for their members to follow). You see this in your erstwhile Facebook friend who suddenly “comes alive” at some vaguely political thing you wrote, and suddenly leaves a 10-paragraph screed on your wall. You see this as you try to have a conversation with any person who is a “true believer” in a cause, who you are not really having a conversation with because he or she is absolutely, fanatically convinced they are right and you are wrong.
And the very worst thing you can do in such scenarios, if you have the joy of finding yourself in one, is to try to appeal to critical thinking or rationality…or, even worse, suggest a compromise. There is no compromise. Your attempts at ambiguity and a “we could both be right or wrong” outlook…a smattering of “relativism”…this is more infuriating than if you were simply the person in their Big Bad Other category.
In fact, the true enemy to the True Believer is not the Big Bad…it’s the Thinker.
Not only that…thinking is boring! It’s just not a good sell out on the open market of ideologies. It’s a marketing nightmare.
What’s “hot” is a complete pre-packaged Worldview that is always, infallibly, right (or, in the case of the Left, the “right Left”).
It’s what Robert Anton Wilson referred to as “Johnny One Note” types…people who believe they’ve found the answer to the universe…that One Note. They just want to play that one note.
I see this a lot. It’s a very seductive mindset to get into. It’s comforting. It’s comforting to believe that a very particular interpretation of God (complete with illustrated guidebook) is the “right” God; meaning, all others are wrong. And it’s strangely also very comforting to believe that there is absolutely no God, and that you are just a random accumulation of atoms that will simply “turn off” when you die; and that you know beyond a shadow-of-a-doubt that you have the answer.
But to tolerate ambiguity…to not know…
Well, as you can see: a marketing nightmare.
Many years ago, I was really sick & got into evangelical Christianity as a way to cope. It actually helped a lot. I had all the answers. I felt secure. I saw everything through that religion’s lens. I even used focused prayer to assist me in dealing with physical discomfort. Very effective.
So you see: a “Hot” worldview. Good marketing. I started reading up on some Scientology after that. That was good too. Years later, I got into the “Spiritual Abundance” movement, and read The Secret. That was good too.
It was good not to have the ambiguity. It was good to “know.” Others were still looking for their “place”…but I found it. Way after conservative Christianity, I became very interested in the issues and philosophy of the Left. That was good too. In every permutation…there was always the Certainty.
The one note. The Definition. Your “place” on the two-point binary spectrum.
The one note becomes the Universe, what Wilson calls your “reality tunnel.” The reality tunnel is subjective, but you don’t see it that way when you standing in the middle of it. You are comforted. You have the One Note.
But to tolerate ambiguity…it is our big task as a species at this point. It is how we are going to evolve. Because ambiguity is literally the building-block of our reality and our Selves. As they ask in contemporary Physics: “is it a particle or a wave?” Answer: sometimes it’s a particle, and sometimes it’s a wave. It depends on who’s looking at it. Or consider Schrödinger’s Cat.
The cat is potentially both alive and dead. It’s a paradox—bad marketing technique, to be sure.
Of course, the big joke is that what I am writing here is completely subjective. It’s based on my particular life experiences, the books I’ve read, and where I exactly am at this particular period in time.
This point-of-view that I am espousing is not even dogmatically applied to every aspect of my own life.
But it is a point-of-view that comforts me.