Commenter “Another Matt” frames competition within religious groups in an interesting way:
You all know my background by now. I’ve never been involved in a Roman Catholic Church, but my experience with fundamentalism as a child is almost identical to what kag1982 has described here. There are several simultaneous things going on here, but what I’m hearing kag describe sounds most like the kind of hypercompetitive situation that results when you have a lot of people who think their calling as Christians is to “win at Christianity.” In that kind of environment, anyone who joins the community is a threat, since it could turn out that one of the members is better at it. If you’re in the competition, it’s imperative to find out as much dirt as possible about them in order to have something to use if you happen to fall out of gold-medal contention.
I do have the RC equivalent of this in my family as well. One person in particular has been known to clear out rooms by arguing loudly about the minutiae of discipline, doctrine, history of the Church, and so forth. He has to win these arguments to win at Catholicism, and he has to start them in order to prove that he’s winning. His facebook page is peppered with off-the-cuff remarks like “any of you who think you can debate me on Catholicism had better have at least a Master’s degree from a leading Catholic school,” and “please pray for _____, who all her life has been under the impression that [insert mistake about Catholic orthodoxy here]. May the Lord keep her from further error.” If he weren’t to win, he’d take it as a huge blow to his status and his family’s honor. This is not to say that his kind is the norm, but given my background it’s not hard to imagine there being Catholic communities where winning at Catholicism is an important part of the culture, and how bleak that would be for people who didn’t want to be part of that competition in the first place.
“Winning at Christianity” — that is, the Christian life as a competition to defeat others. I hadn’t thought of it like that before. That’s an insightful formulation that describes some people I’ve known in my life, and maybe even, to a certain extent, a person I’ve been in life.