The one religion that’s not part of my spiritual quest

Photo by Marko Rosic

Jesus Christ is not a very important religious figure.

Jesus is central in one out of 16 or five out of 43 major religions practiced in the world today. (In the first list I’m excluding “no religion,” “new religions” and “other” for my count, and in the second list I’m pointing to Christianity, Christian Science, Jehova’s Witnesses, Mormonism, and Rastafari.) By that count less than 6 – 11% of religions consider Christ important. With nods from Baha’i, Islam and Unitarianism, the figure rises to a max of 25%.

Likewise, the majority of people in the world today do not follow any branch of Christianity.

Yet the teachings of Christ loom large.

My mentor Ken reminded me of this. I travel because I hope to meet the gods. Wherever I go, I seek out local traditions, study new faiths and worship new deities. Sometimes, like with Vodou, I commit myself to these traditions for life.

Ken pointed out a massive blank spot on my spiritual-quest resumé:

“How can you have a life quest to meet the [g]ods, study different religions, and completely bypass the Bible?”

Jesus and Me

I avoid Christianity in my journey (mostly). I have reasons, but not the ones you think.

Growing up, I never had a bad church experience. I wasn’t abused, was seldom threatened with Hell, and didn’t feel constrained by my family’s beliefs. This is thanks in large part to my mom.

But I dodge Christianity. Even in my practice of Vodou, which uses Christian trappings as décor over a much older faith, I hesitated before lighting my first saint candle.

And here’s why: I’m sick of Jesus.

It’s fair to ask, “If you’re on a spiritual quest, why don’t you study the Bible?” But that’s like asking someone who wants to see the world why they don’t visit all 50 US states first. If you’re from the US, the states are boring! Of course you can find something cool and new in America, but “travel” means China, Angola, Transylvania. The same is true for spiritual journeys: you have to get away from your roots.

There’s a big ol’ pile of Christianity all around me. I haven’t celebrated Christmas in a decade, but I’ll hear so many carols this month that they’ll be stuck in my head till March. And I could recite most of the Catholic Mass by heart. Christianity is my backyard. It’s… boring.

There are deeper reasons. I object to Christianity on theological grounds. For example, I think it’s unfair to promise people an afterlife that probably doesn’t exist. And I disapprove of the exclusive focus on a single face of the divine. It seems antisocial in a world with thousands of gods.

Yet the theological stuff is secondary to the very strong reaction I have at the thought of studying or practicing Christianity: a sort of guttural more of that

I’ve been fed Jesus for thirty years. (Literally, for 14 of those years.) Imagine going to someone who just left a Chinese buffet and saying: hey, you didn’t have the good stuff, why don’t you eat even more egg rolls? You might be offering the best egg rolls in the world, but right now your poor friend just needs a salad or a nap.

I think it’s important for spiritual seekers, especially Western seekers, to remember that there’s a vast mosaic of beautiful, vibrant religions that each have their own lessons to give. Some teach the same crucial lessons Jesus did—they offer powerful touchstones for a life of kindness, forgiveness, charity and peace. Others emphasize completely different lessons, ones that Jesus kind of left out, like how to fight for this-world change instead of embracing poverty, or how to find and pursue your individual purpose and passion in life.

As a polytheist practicing non-universal religions, it’s not odd to me that a spiritual person would pass on the Bible. It’s far more strange that anyone who’s not of Hebrew descent would bother to consult Jesus instead of their own culture’s forgotten sages.

I will eventually read the Gospels. My Christian friends who know me best all agree that I’ll really enjoy them—I actually look forward to it. But should they enjoy pride of place in a spiritual quest? I think that’s up to the questor.

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31 thoughts on “The one religion that’s not part of my spiritual quest

  1. Kenneth W. Johnson says:

    Sounds like a lot of rationalization. I am no happier with US Christianity than you are, but I don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. New Testament is short read and it is one of the most profound books I have ever read, and I say that totally independent of my dislike of US Christianity. I don’t consider evaluation and rejection of Christianity as valid if you have never read the New Testament. So your “Chinese Buffet” argument doesn’t grab me.

    • Well, If even this measured argument sounds like rationalization, there’s probably nothing more I can say to explain how I feel.

      I do ask that you hear the reason I’m saying Christianity interests me so little. Several times in our discussion, you’ve implied that I must dislike US Christianity because of fundamentalists and hypocrites. That’s not what I’m saying at all.

      To use your own metaphor, I don’t “evaluate and reject” Christianity as dirty bathwater. I’m just interested in other babies. My core life belief is that if you want to gain wisdom you do best to travel—to get away from the familiar. I think that applies in a spiritual sense as much as in a geographic sense. I have no desire to become even more familiar with Christianity; my desires lie further afield. That’s not a judgment on Christianity (which is why I said that my theological differences are secondary). It’s a simple statement of preference.

      People often ask me why I’m going all the way to Brazil to meet the gods—is that where they live? Of course not. If I was born in Brazil I might well head to the US for my great journey. Similarly, if I was born Hindu then studying the Gospels might have massive allure.

      For now, I’m more interested in exploring. The Gospels are on my reading list, they’re just not a high priority, and with all the amazing religions in the world I see no reason why that’s an error.

      (Although your explanation of them reminded me why they’re on the list in the first place, and likely moved them up a few notches.)

  2. Erik says:

    I find that, even as an atheist, the apocryphal teachings of Christ (I say apocryphal because they were written long after his death, arguably by people who never actually met him) are compelling. Christianity, in its modern incarnation, has absolutely nothing to do with those teachings, however, and haven’t since the late Middle Ages (where there were vestigial remnants of those teachings, mostly in terms of a duty of charity towards the poor), and hasn’t been largely about those teachings since it was institutionalized at the council of Nicea (where religious faith became a matter of political compromise).

    Christ taught, according to the new testament, inclusivity to a faith of exclusivity (God’s love is not just for the Jews, but for all people). Christ taught charity for all, even our enemies (love your enemies, because even the wicked man loves his friends, so there is no virtue to that). He taught against greed and the exploitation of the poor (the only instance in which Christ showed anger in the New Testament was when he threw the moneylenders out of the temple). Also my favorite biblical quote: “Whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me.”

  3. Thanks for this, André. Following your commercial argument, we can easily see how most now Christians render themselves as mytho-maniacs while being engaged in a counter-balancing act: 1) by forgetting whose wallets they help growing fat, 2) they accuse other religions of inducing psychic disturbances – the Vodou possession rituals being a prime example.

    On another, sideways, note, your references transported me back to my Transylvanian origins, and the sacred place of the Dacians, the high seat at Sarmisegetuza Regia. The historians are still mystified by the Romans’ unprecedented in this context bloody behavior, where the place at the foot of the Kogaionon is concerned, the sacred mountain where Zamolxis spent three years in an underground cave. Most visitors now stop at the Roman Ulpia Traiana at Sarmisegetuza, forgetting that there is another place, just nearby, the Sarmisegetuza Regia, the kingdom of shadows that escaped culture and cursing, and which now seduces the clever wanderer with its tears and dance of pain.

    Speaking of the Bible, the text of the Ephesians comes to mind, but I’ll leave it up to you to discover it.

    I apologize for this ad hoc trip back to Romania here, but then again, isn’t this what good writing is supposed to do, send you places? Thank you for that.

  4. I’m going to break ranks and go with you on this one Drew.

    Not because I find Christianity boring (though I completely see where you’re coming from), but rather because we are over saturated with it. Plus, Christianity has lost a lot of the spirituality that it supposedly wants to teach us. There is no wonder in the world in Christianity, it’s all about getting to that glorious afterlife they promise. Heck, even the whole helping the less fortunant thing isn’t actually about helping people so much as it is trying to get a bonus on that sparkly post-existential palace. Christianity doesn’t care about this world at all, so unfortunately it can’t really teach us about this world.

    I recently have been into an online argument with an uber-Christian, whose sole arguments seem to be that God is love, God is good, and /you should want to get into heaven more than anything else to be with God/. (sorry, no italics key?). Completely ignoring the nature of the God in question or his actions. Sadly this is not a new argument that I’ve had, they all tend to go this same way, and it shows that not only does Christianity tend to absolutely fail at teaching people how to really live in this world, it tends to fail at teaching them to value anything beyond getting to heaven. When confronted a Heathen perspective that Family was worth burning in the Infernal Realms (Hell to most Christians) for eternity, the Christian in question seemed to panic and went nuts about how evil spirits were leading me astray and why would i want to be evil?

    What then, is there to learn from such a life denying religion? For one that seeks to learn of the Heroic path, Christianity is a religion that doesn’t even grasp the concept that there just might be quests and causes that are worth spending an eternity burning in torment for. I’m the guy who picked his religion the way some people pick a sports team, who has the coolest mascot. But when I did it, I knew that I could be wrong, that the Christians could well be right about the nature of the universe, and that I could burn for eternity for choosing someone else. But then I realized that the ideals of the Norse, Family, Loyalty, Honor, and that any life lived by those, would be worth any agony I suffered.

    So I’m with you, which faiths are better to learn the heroic from. The ones that teach it that there are somethings worth any price to accomplish, or the on that can’t see anything of value beyond a blissful eternity, regardless of its price?

  5. Ariel says:

    I liked your posts on this topic — both this one and the one you sent out before you edited it. ;-) I found nothing offensive about either. I just saw your words as were sharing your own perspective. :-)

    Personally, I do not think you should read something you are not really interested in. There is so much to read that we simply must pick and choose. I would find that being badgered into reading any holy book I’m not interested in disrespectful. And I agree with you in the grand scheme of thirty thousand years of human prehistory and history, the Abrahamic religion has been a flash in the pan, so to speak.

    Also, I am absolutely compelled here to point out that it is a Christian misunderstanding — or perhaps a Christian anti-Jewish slur — that, as stated in a comment above, “Christ taught, according to the new testament, inclusivity to a faith of exclusivity (God’s love is not just for the Jews, but for all people). ” This is incorrect. Early Judaism taught that the God of the Bible (their tribal God) defended his people from those who would — and those who did their best to — destroy them. And later Judaism, which became monotheist, taught that the Jews had a special burden to follow the One God’s laws and repair the world, thus that non-Jews were not bound by the Mizvot (Jewish Law). Jews have always believed that that their One Creator God loves all people. If Jesus conveyed that love well in the Gospels, it is because he himself was Jewish.

    I speak as someone who has read the Bible, completely through once, the “New Testament” through twice, and studied many parts of it many times : alone, in Protestant institutions, in Roman Catholic institutions, and in Jewish institutions.

    My honest opinion is if you do not read the gospels as part of your spiritual quest, you will not necessarily be missing that much, spiritually. I, myself, have no desire to read the Bhagavad Gita. I agree from talking to those who have read it, that it must be one of the world’s most compelling spiritual books. It is a book valued by many of the world’s 200 million Hundus, not to mention gaining great popularity with the many people worldwide currently studying Yoga and Eastern religions. That’s a large chunk of the world’s population. But the Bhagavad Gita is truly not my interest on my own spiritual quest.

    Do I think people, generally, should read the Bible? Well, yes, but not for the reasons you think. I think those in our culture would be best served by reading the Bible — the whole Bible — for two reasons. Firstly, American and European culture is based, in part, upon the Bible; so one becomes more educated by reading it. Secondly, by reading the whole Bible, one will quickly see that there are serious problems with it. How can one truly understand why Christianity is a bad fit for many people if one does not know what Christianity really is and is not?

    On the other hand, I also urge people to read specific works of philosophy, mathematics, and history — lots and lots of history, to become educated, too. Do I keep pressuring them to do so? Nope. It’s not for me to tell anyone what their path is. I can only say what works I’ve observed that educate myself and some others.

    • Erik says:

      Since you seem to think my perspective is somehow anti-Semitic, I feel compelled to clarify the context of my statement. Judaism, in the time of Christ, as presented in the New Testament, was a religious institution that practiced exclusivity, and that Jesus, as presented in the New Testament, spoke out against this practice. If you want to argue that it is not a historical fact of the matter, or that this statement is an unfair characterization of Judaism, the problem is not a misunderstanding on my part, the problem is that the New Testament is not a historical document.

      As to your statement that you have read the Bible and the New Testament etc., etc. That hardly seems relevant, since the only purpose of such a claim would be to establish a claim of authority about the subject matter, and arguments from authority are not logically valid, and transition from invalid to patently absurd over an essentially anonymous forum of discussion.

      • Michael says:

        A simple observation: Taking the New Testament’s view of Judaism at face value is like taking at face value the fervent Protestant’s view of Catholicism, or like taking at face value the fervent atheist’s view of Protestantism–or, in the US politcal arena, the fervent Democrat’s view of Republicans, or the fervent Republican’s view of Democrats. These tend to be negative carricatures, or, at best, selective and highly partisan perspectives.

        Yes, the New Testament had many unflattering things to say about Judaism, but Judaism was its theological and political foe. Christianity, of course, was founded by renegade Jews, who, first and foremost sought to persuade their fellow Jews of their new beliefs. (Jesus explicitly states in one of the New Testament stories, in which he initially refuses to heal a non-Jewish woman’s daughter, that he is come but for the lost sheep of Israel.)

        When Judaism as a whole did not adopt the Christian additions/adaptations to their tradition, the debate became quite heated–and, later, for decades, perhaps centuries, there was some competition between Judaism and early Christianity as to which would be favored by various Roman administrations. (And such favor and disfavor often meant the difference between life-and-death persecution vs.state protection.)

        Both theologically and politically, then, it is to be expected that the New Testament takes a dim view of Judaism–but this bias should be understood by us, and we should be very skeptical indeed before taking as fact the premises–theological and historical and more–of the New Testament’s polemics against Judaism and Jews.

      • I’m not going to comment on the strength of either argument, but I do want to comment on a core idea you’re discussing.

        It’s true that many religions—most, historically—are aimed only at the members of their particular “tribe” or culture. Ancient Greeks really didn’t expect non-Greeks to worship the Greek gods; the Vikings would raid Christian monasteries but never demanded the monks worship Thor; etc.

        That is “exclusive,” in a sense, but I would not call the shift to evangelism inclusive. It is merely universalist, and it carries with it serious problems.

        When a religion decides that it applies to all peoples, not just those born or married into it, then many members will feel a mandate to convert outsiders. With this comes a lack of respect for the existing beliefs and practices those outsiders have; it carries a denigration of other religions and cultures. It’s very hard to say, “You should give up your religion and join ours,” without also saying, “There’s something wrong with your religion.” The wrongness is implicit.

        Even when this is not explicitly violent, it is disrespectful and divisive.

        One of the great boons of cultural (“exclusivist”) polytheism was its fundamental pluralism. “You have your gods, we have our gods.” In such societies, asking what gods you follow is the beginning of a friendly getting-to-know-you, not the lead-in to a tract.

        In that regard, I think there’s a deep problem with considering Christianity “inclusive” just because it claims to be universal. That “inclusion” masks a deeply chauvinistic attitude toward anything not-Christian. It excludes other beliefs, other practices, and other points of view. One cannot be “included” as one is; one must become Christian first. This is far less accepting and tolerant than polytheistic practice, with few exceptions.

        Rather than “inclusive” I think a better word might be “imperial.”

        • Michael says:

          Drew, I agree that Christianity, in seeking to convert everyone to its beliefs, and especially in insisting that only those who accept its beliefs are saved, necessarily disrespects the validity of other religions.

          Two points, though: First, to some degree, this disrespecting of other religions is implicit in the idea of all monotheism–Judaism, Islam, and any other–which, even if they don’t consign all “pagans” to hell, at least consider them–in any afterlife, and usually in this life–to be second-class citizens. I’m not a Christian, but I do think it’s fair to point out that Christianity is not alone in its religion-based dismissal of others’ beliefs.

          (But let us not forget that many other non-monotheistic peoples and religions had traditions teaching that they were the children of the gods—the only chosen humans…and that others, the outsiders, wherever they might be encountered, were not covered by this comforting myth.)

          Second: Monotheism is a natural, some would say logical, process of simplifying and unifying one’s understanding of the universe–its origins, its laws, etc. Just as science seeks to simplify the laws governing heat and cold–and not have different sets of rules for the heat and cold of each new climate it discovers–so did certain groups of humans at some point attempt to simplify and unify the ideas about supernatural forces into one unified God, who had one set of standards for human behavior, etc.

          Science is not imperial, in any negative sense, simply because it insists that the natural laws governing temperature are the same in Zimbabwe and Tibet as they are in Amsterdam or Rome. It is rational. A sympathetic view of monotheism would say the same about it.

          The fundamental trouble with monotheistic religions, in my view, is not that they disrespect others. That is the unavoidable result of the ambitious application of the fault they share with all religions: Dishonesty. Religions, as a rule, do not concede that their beliefs are not reliably known to be fact.

          Religions lie. Monotheism is simply more ambitious–it is not content to lie to its own tribe or people: It insists on lying to everyone.

          • “the fault they share with all religions…”

            …Religions, as a rule…

            Once someone introduces a claim that they say applies to all religions, the rest of the claim is not worth reading—it’s guaranteed to be false.

            Other than meaningless generalities, religion is such a diverse category that no definition covers all of them. There are always exceptions. There are certainly exceptions to the claim you’ve made here. A number of religions openly admit they cannot be sure their beliefs are factual.

            • Michael says:

              Five points:

              1. The expression “as a rule” means “usually, but not always.” By the way, I say that not only as a writer who knows the term–it happens to be the first definition of that expression that pops up first in my Google search to make sure I was using the expression properly.

              2. If you really believe that religions do not usually teach that they know the truth–and not that they may be mistaken in their core beliefs–you aren’t speaking about any religion in history that nearly anybody would have heard of. Are there a few small religions, or small denominations, or very liberal modern-day versions of religions that don’t claim to know that their core beliefs are true? Yes. But those are the exceptions. (Again, that’s why one would use the expression “as a rule.”)

              3. You made the charge that Christianity is “imperial.” Interesting that you don’t even qualify it by saying “historically,” or “most versions” and so on. (You don’t even use the qualifying expression I used: “as a rule.”) But of course you must know that there are many Christians today, and many pastors and priests, who do not insist that everyone should be Christian…or that Christianity is the only way to salvation, etc.

              Yet strangely, you have an intense reaction to my comment, even though my comment offered a qualifying expression that clearly indicated (for those who know what English expressions mean) that there were/are exceptions to my my claim.

              So, you criticize Christianity–without implying there are exceptions. And that is supposed to be a good comment. But when I criticize religions–and explicitly use an expression that means there are exceptions–then my comment is so bad…that to quote you, it’s “not worth reading,” and “guranteed to be false.”

              Is that fair or reasonable?

              4. Humility, as surely you must know, is one of the core principles of many spiritual systems. Had you applied a little humility, and not jumped to the conclusion that your impulsive reaction to my comment was justified, but rather read my comment more carefully, you may have realized that you misunderstood it…and perhaps did not know the definition and usage of “as a rule.”

              5. You seem to be a sincere and thoughtful person. I give you the benefit of the doubt, then, that the harsh and defensive reaction to my comment was an exception for you, and not indicative of either your personality or your spiritual practice.

      • Ariel says:

        Hi, Erik, I deeply apologize for sounding like I was saying *your* personal perspective is anti-semitic. Oh, my goodness, I do not think that at all! I don’t even know you, so I have absolutely no idea about your point of view. I think in my original comment, in fact, I also used the term “misunderstanding.” That is why I did not directly reply to you. I am very sorry I made a mistake in communicating.

        I only replied to the point you made itself, regardless of yourself, because the point is often stated by many people but is incorrect. What you have stated is a historical party-line heard from pro-Christian Anti-Jewish rhetoric not based on facts. Bluntly, I’m saying that the “New Testament” you are talking about itself is not history (as you yourself have stated) but a document which is propagandized against the Jews.

        If you read the Jewish scholars of the three centuries before the time of Jesus, you will see what I mean. Some of them were saying the exact same things regarding love and compassion that Jesus finally said much later. Jesus did not at all come up with the concepts. The writings of these Jewish scholars are documented. You can look them up, just like you’ve read the New Testament. I’m not going quote them here since this is (1) not a Jewish Blog, and (2) I’m no expert, and (3) any qualified Rabbi can give you better and clearer information on this subject than I can.

        Also, I think the fact that the Jewish religious authorities extremely *rarely” excommunicate anyone yet they actually excommunicated the Christians as a group in ancient times, indicates there may be two sides to the story and that the writers of the Christian scriptures were very aware of this when they wrote what they did. Jewish authorities only excommunicate if there is a VERY good reason. And if I were a Jewish Christian who had been excommunicated, I might well be angry enough to skew my writings against those who has excommunicated me. Just saying’. ;-)

        Also, most of the the Christian Canonical Scriptures were written almost a hundred years or more after the time of Jesus. The current Canon was chosen from dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Christian writings, many of which say much different things that what wound up in the Christian Bible! Those in the Church who did the choosing had a political agenda which did not necessarily reflect the original Christians of the time of Jesus, their practices, or beliefs.

        Finally, again I’m sorry, but I did not mean to imply at all that I was backing up my argument by saying that I have read the whole Bible. I am definitely NOT an expert. I am not a priest, minister, or any kind of authority. I am just someone who reads a lot and was sharing my thoughts with Drew, that’s all.

        Again, I apologize for not making my transition to next paragraph clearly. I only wanted to spend one paragraph correcting something that you couldn’t possibly know unless you had gone to a Christian Seminary, studied with Rabbis, read LOTS of history, etc. — something that Christians keep saying since the time of the “New Testament” was written but which is simply is not true.

        And in the second paragraph, I only said that I’ve read the whole Bible and to thus explain to Drew why I am not convinced he HAS to read it — which was the original topic of his post. :-)

        Good books on who wrote the “New Testament” and why, as well as what the some non-Christian Jews wrote and thought, for anyone reading this who might be interested, include: _ A.D. 381: Heretics, Pagans, and the Christian State_ by Charles Freeman, _Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews — A History_ by James Carroll, _Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know about the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History _ by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, and _The Gnostic Gospels_by Elaine Pagels. There are many more great books and articles written, but that’s a good start. :-)

      • Ariel says:

        Oh, my gosh, Drew. You put me on the spot. ;-) There is soooo much to read in those three huge fields that even experts in them can’t keep up!

        When I said specific I meant specific to your own particular language, culture, background and interests. It would probably help if I knew more about your interests and reading preferences. You like travel, adventures, what else? Do you like to read scholarly things, popular things, magazines? Short essays, bite sized news bits, huge tomes? What have your read so far in those fields that you liked or hated? How far outside your comfort zone do you want go? Do you want to know that space is actually curved and that Euclidean geometry really doesn’t work in reality? That there may be geometric dimensions we humans cannot normally perceive? That much of the history we are taught in grade school is just a very tiny slice of what really happened and often skewed towards the point of view of the dominant race and class doing the writing? Do you want an overview of philosophy, or would you rather dive into the deep end of the pool and read Nietzsche? ;-)

        • My interests are quite varied and, yes, leaving my comfort zone is quite alright :) I only asked because it sounded like you had a short list of specific books you recommend to broad people’s horizons.

          • Ariel says:

            Yes, re-reading my comment, you are right. It did sound that way, didn’t it? Sometimes I do not adequately say what I mean, which is a reason I don’t usually comment on blogs. ;-) Maybe I should come up with such a list, though.

  6. Beth says:

    Drew and I have had plenty of … shall we say “intense discussions” about the theology of Christianity. I disagree with 80% of his interpretations, and a lot of the comments here as well, including the idea that Christianity is focused only on the afterlife. And I say that as not just a Christian, but a person holding a B.A. and a Masters degree in theology, so I think I’m reasonably qualified.

    However, that’s not really the point of this blog entry. I’d argue that actually, Drew has already spent some of his life-long spiritual quest with Christianity. It’s like telling someone they should try…I don’t know, brussel sprouts. Or oranges. Or chocolate. If they tried it once and didn’t like it, just telling them that they should try it isn’t going to get you anywhere. They already did. That doesn’t mean you can’t encourage them to try it *again*, or in a different preparation. They might like it if they did, but they will have to have a reason to make the attempt. I think there is a lot in the Bible (and, may I point out, “The Bible” includes the Hebrew Scriptures as well, not just the Christian ones) that Drew would enjoy or learn from, but there isn’t any reason for it to be his top priority. He knows some of it already. So, take your time, Drew. Some day, some random discussion will spark something for you and you’ll say, “Ah! Now THAT I want to investigate!” – then, dive in. I have no expectation or desire for you to become Christian, but you might find things there that a 14-year-old can’t really take in. I, too, believe there are things there that could be a really rich addition to the multi-faith perspective you are building. Oh – and when you do it, drop me a line. I’ll try to help you not to assume that the only available interpretation is the one that you think you know from your childhood. That opening is where all the richness lies.

    • Thanks Beth.

      I do feel I should reply to a couple points:

      I disagree with 80% of his interpretations, and a lot of the comments here as well, including the idea that Christianity is focused only on the afterlife.

      I certainly haven’t said that. But I think it’s very hard to present Christianity without admitting it has an emphasis on an afterlife. Frequently the promise of that afterlife is among the main motivations offered for practicing Christianity at all. Even if you leave out the fiery stuff, just the idea of living on after death is a foundational Christian belief. I don’t think that’s a controversial statement.

      And I say that as not just a Christian, but a person holding a B.A. and a Masters degree in theology, so I think I’m reasonably qualified.

      Sure, but that’s the problem that highly educated religious folk face: we have all this theology. You, Saumya, and myself all know the most logical, most defensible versions of our respective religions, because we are trained in theology. But most practitioners of all four of our religions are not, and many of them don’t even think theology is particularly important.

      And we frequently dismiss all those less rational believers as not representing the “real” Christianity, or the “real” polytheism, but the fact is they represent the majority.

      To use my own religion as an example, there are polytheists—even well known polytheist writers—who have frankly childish views of the gods. Some of these bad theologies, like viewing the gods as fighting with one another, have been denounced by educated pious polytheists at least as far back as Plato. Others, like “hard polytheism,” are relatively new bad theologies that make me want to sigh, slump, and headdesk on the altar.

      So of course I want to say these childish beliefs are just “wrong” and that they don’t represent “true” polytheism. And if you criticized polytheism because of these beliefs, I’d love to disown them and say you’re attacking a straw man.

      But if I’m honest, these people with their sometimes whacky, sometimes dangerous views of the gods are all part of my tradition and, broadly speaking, part of the community I serve. Just because their reasons for practicing are poorly thought out, or their PR is bad, or whatever, doesn’t mean they are not devout and sincere polytheists, even if they do sometimes make us all look bad.

      So when someone criticizes polytheism for being materialistic, or for following petty gods, it may make me wither but it’s not my place to say “nah, that ain’t real polytheism.” It’s probably better if I accept that we have those failings, and work to educate the next generation of polytheists, or else take my name off the label altogether.

      And when someone criticizes the very real, very longstanding, and often dominant flaws of Christianity, I would kindly suggest that Masters-holding Christian theologians could look with some interest at those flaws, and wonder how they can work to change them, if indeed they wish to continue associating with the Christian label.

  7. Since beginning my studies of various traditions around the world – focusing on those that reflect their environment/ecosystem – Its easy to see how much most people are unaware of all that’s out there and every now and then I like to show this diversity. One example is how a LOT of traditions and cultures around the world go by different calendars than that Gregorian one ‘The West’ is familiar with. A better example of this is the Festivities of Natural Annual Events series I work on. Here is the latest one on the Solstice for those who are interested in seeing the diversity that is out there –

    Studying these has really opened my view wider to better understand useful or beneficial concepts I wouldn’t have understood if I had just stuck with what was “in my backyard” as Drew put it. I honestly get a little annoyed at the assumptions that I experience of the default belief is Christian. There is a whole lot more out there that can be of great benefit, even if it just means that you only have a bit of a better understanding of where someone else is coming from. At least you have something to build a respectful relationship on – otherwise it would be all too easy to end up having conflicts just from cultural misunderstandings. Through understanding peace can be cultivated.

    • I was going somewhere initially with that and ended up somewhere else in my line of thoughts. *shakes head* (late night writing = bad idea. You’d think I’d learn that by now)

      The impression I got from comments about taking time with the Christian teachings – even though it is something one is already familiar with – is that there is an expectation of dedication to it because it is what they’ve been expected to do. There appears to be an emphasis on perceived importance and hierarchy of Christianity over other beliefs and traditions and that is what irks me. < that was what I was trying to have in my previous comment and still end with what I had.

      Christianity isn't everyone's preferred cup of tea, and after already drinking a lot of its tea in the past, anybody would want to not have it again and try other teas instead to see what they are like.

  8. Pingback: Happy Vodou Christmas |   Rogue Priest

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  13. Pingback: Reasons why you may not miss the opportunity to go to a Small Church | Free Christadelphians: Belgian Ecclesia Brussel - Leuven

  14. Pingback: The Big Conversation – Christadelphians in the United Kingdom | Belgian Ecclesia Brussel – Leuven

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