I learned a useful new word today from Karen Armstrong’s recent TED Talk about religion. This word comes from the Quran, which dismisses religious opinion as:

zanna — self-indulgent guesswork about matters that nobody can be certain of one way or the other but which makes people quarrelsome and stupidly sectarian

I’m glad to have found this, because there needs to be a single word to describe the sorts of arguments I hear all the time about religion, especially in the fundamentalist circles. It is unbelievable the petty arguments that I hear, and that I’ve participated in.

For example, there is significant controversy over whether Christians will be called up to heaven to be with God before the final seven years of Tribulation, or whether they will have to endure the Tribulation before being called up. This issue is quintessential zanna: People have divided up into “pre-trib” and “post-trib” camps over an issue which has absolutely zero bearing on Christians’ behavior.

Another example is the King James Only controversy, wherein one camp believes that God specifically protected the Textus Recepticus (the Greek and Hebrew source materials for the King James Bible) from copy errors, and the other camp believes that modern archaeologists have discovered better Greek and Hebrew source texts. This issue has literally divided Christian fundamentalists into two separate factions, when all the variations between the two texts could fit on a single piece of paper. It is absurd.

Of course, this behavior is hardly new for Christianity. The Arian schism in the second century AD (where people argued vehemently for decades over whether Jesus was the same substance as the Father, or whether he was of a similar substance as the Father) threatened to tear the early church apart. Century after century, Christianity breaks into smaller and smaller factions, usually over the weakest of differences.

Zanna, all of it. Paul calls it “carnal” –fleshly, unholy behavior. Enough.

When we fight over zanna, we substitute love for one another (by which all men are to know that we are his disciples) for animosity. We trade the peace of God for unholy conflict.

But the worst thing about zanna is the fact that while we argue over the things we cannot know, we neglect the things that we do know. We neglect the Golden Rule. We neglect our duties to the poor and the fatherless. We neglect the kindness and humbleness that Christ exemplified. People die lost and alone while we argue over metaphysics.

It’s time for peace. It’s time to come together and to admit that we all worship the same God. We all want to live in peace here on Earth, and we all ought to be kind to each other while we’re down here. Let’s stop guessing at the details of the divine plan and start doing what we all know we should be doing instead.

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