Intra-faith divisions are certainly among the most dangerous elements of religion. Sunnis vs. Shiites. Catholics vs. Protestants. Orthodox Jews vs. secular ones. To outsiders, these factions look at best shortsighted and at worst fundamentally flawed.
I have heard several people who identify themselves as Christians say that because other people who identify themselves as Christians do not believe in such and such, or donât agree with so and so, or havenât done whatever, that they are not really Christians, and some even contend that these counterfeit or phony or somehow not qualified âChristiansâ (with their scare quotes) will burn in hell. Sometimes the differences they cite sound at least theologically significant, sometimes itâs too subtle or esoteric for me to fathom, and sometimes it sounds like they just donât go to the same particular church.
To me as an outsider this is bizarre and ridiculous. On the news I hear Muslims dismissing other Muslims as ânot good Muslims,â or ânot true Muslimsâ for disparities only they can comprehend. How can theists of any flavor ever hope to attract outsiders when so many differences are cited as disqualifying all the others but their specific variety of religion, differences that seem indistinguishable to anyone not already inside their camp? From the eyes of the uninitiated, their micro-controversies discredit them all as a whole.
We have several terms that non-god-believing folks use to identify themselves to emphasize other aspects they feel are important. Is there a looking down the nose from those using one term toward those using another? Do humanists look askance at freethinkers? Do skeptics roll their eyes about brights?
Has anyone ever been accused of not being a true atheist by another person calling himself or herself an atheist?