Infidel: In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion;
in Constantinople, one who does.
– Ambrose Bierce
Ambrose Bierce’s definition of infidel first appeared in print something over a hundred years ago, about a decade into the 20th century. It’s pretty clear that the definition holds good today, although the modern vogue for political correctness may demand a different form of words. I’m not going to bother to attempt that.
This definition is, at first sight, a satirist’s commentary on the polarised ideology of righteousness that persists in inherently religious interpretations of the world we live in. It highlights how the same words can be applied with diametrically opposite meanings, and it’s interesting to note how little has changed in a hundred years.
Many of those religious interpretations are well past their sell-by date, yet they remain implicit in the language we speak hidden in a forgotten sub-text. At best this sub-text is founded on fear, ignorance and superstition inherited from an earlier era. At worst it validates politically expedient literal understandings of what are regarded as sacred texts, to sanction persecution and violence:
“… the land that I live in has God on its side,” (Bob Dylan).
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