A Few Ideas for Us All

Religious fanaticism throughout history has caused many evils, including murder and genocide. Secular society is right in fighting against it. Much of the prejudice against religion held by atheists and agnostics is unfortunately justified.

So I’ll leave you with a few tips.

We should accept that every religion has some good and truth to it. We should see other religions and versions of Christianity for their good rather than their bad qualities. We should refrain from making personal accusations or threats. Don’t denigrate such and such a church or religion as false or bogus in relation to your own which is the “true church”. Learn to be kind and patient.

We should learn about other versions of Christianity (denominations, different theological “systems”, etc.) and about other religions. How many of us have read the Koran, even in an English translation? I haven’t, but I have taken the trouble to read some basic introductions to Islam. I know very little about Hinduism or Buddhism, but I know I am missing something unless I take the trouble to learn something.

How open are we to our ordinary life at work and at home? Are we forcing our beliefs on everyone else and judging? Or are we kind and teaching by meekness and example? Are we making friends outside our churches and discussing courteously with people who believe differently or not at all?

Are we prepared to learn tolerance, which does not mean that we do not believe in truth or the validity of what we might consider as wrong? Kindness is much more convincing than brutality either in deed, speech or writing.

We know that fanatics and zealots form a tiny minority in their communities, but like in society at large, they are the bullies, the sociopaths and narcissists that dominate and make life miserable to those who they would like to be lower in the pecking order. They ruin everything for everyone else. The evil is potentially within any of us.

Please comment wisely.

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16 Responses to A Few Ideas for Us All

  1. ed pacht says:

    Well said, Father! I suspect most of us contributing here have strong opinions as to what is the objective truth, and strong opinions as to what is plain wrong. I certainly do. I don’t think that justifies a narrowly condemnatory attitude, but rather calls for an intense and serious listening to those with whom we disagree. With all their mistakes they just may turn out to possess truths that we’ve managed not to notice. After all, error is usually built on an overemphasis on a truth to the point where it denies other truths. thus it becomes important to find out why an error has come to be believed and thus to discover what in my own thinking has become out of balance.

    I’ve left three denominations and an independent church because of perceptions that they were missing important truths and/or were teaching serious error. I couldn’t remain, but yet I thank God every day for what I learned in those fellowships, and find myself often quoting from what I was taught (and what I taught) in them. I couldn’t go back now and wouldn’t want to, but my experience of the Lord and of Catholic Christianity would be much poorer without that teaching. I’ve studied other Christian (and semi-Christian) groups and the teaching of many non-Christian religions and have enriched my Christianity both by looking at truth from a somewhat different direction and by seeing what uncomfortable places one may fall into by accepting errors.

    I was a member of “the one true church” and a preacher therein for a number of years. That was a small Pentecostal group you’ve probably not heard of that made that claim for itself – and was wrong. I preached it and I was wrong. However what I brought from that fellowship has sharpened my appreciation for both Word and Sacrament enormously.

    It is very easy to sit in judgment on the wrong-headed actions found in any fellowship. Usually those who do such things are out of accord with what their own church teaches. That is human weakness and will be found anywhere. I’m content, extremely happy, with my current connection, TAC/ACA. I know it to be home. I’ve been hurt more deeply here, at home, than in any previous connection I’ve had. I refuse to go into any of that as it is irrelevant. A failure of some, even of those highly placed, to act in accord with their own teaching, only shows them to be, like me, sinful human beings — and it happens in every church (and also in every secular context).

    We need to love one another, and to find ways to help one another to grow toward the fullness of the image of Christ.

    Oh, this is getting rather long. I hope I haven’t said too much, and I hope I haven’t said it out of the crankiness to which I am sometimes subject. I’d best stop here.

    • Than you, Ed. I always appreciate your good sense and down-to-earth attitude.

    • Michael Frost says:

      ed, In regard to your statement–“We need to love one another, and to find ways to help one another to grow toward the fullness of the image of Christ.”–at least when it comes to Christendom, I’ve recently found that seriously studying others faith groups through the best of fair scholarship and the original voices can really help. My daughter is engaged to marry a Lutheran. So for the past 6 months I’ve taken it upon myself to really give serious, fair, and open study to the Reformation. To attempt to both put myself back in time and approach things as they unfolded then but also to try to understand where the key thinkers were coming from. Has really opened my eyes and in a most positive way!

      Have tried to do it somewhat systematically. Read some good overviews of the entire era (including a great all-around rather hostile one by an ex-Christian). Took in creeds (Lutheran FC and Reformed), and one critical study (Heidelberg Catechism). Took in a book that did brief bios of the major figures on all sides (from RC to Anabaptist/Radical). Then read some good bios (Melanchthon, Bucer, Bullinger, Calvin, Laud, Wesley, and more). Then a systematic theology (Melanchthon’s Loci Communes). Then read some scriptural commentaries (e.g., On Romans by Melanchthon, Bucer, & Calvin respectively); say what you will about Calvin, but his scripture study is quite thorough. Even a specialized area or two (e.g., the Non-jurors). And have been using the Lutheran Study Bible, including Apocrypha (ESV text by CPH), as a lense.

      The more I’ve read the more I’ve come to respect the men and their ideas. I don’t always agree but I can honestly say I’m trying to see theology from their eyes, without reference to my own tradition. Really opens ones eyes and makes one think about founational concepts & issues (e.g., What is the “meaning” of the “real presence”? Or what is “the Church”?). And like the best of the Reformers and Humanist of the times, I’m saddened when we lose sight of our fellow Christian in either polemics or personal insults. (And how some of the Reformers attacked and insulted each other! It wasn’t just RC vs Protestant.)

      • ed pacht says:

        Michael, it sounds as though you’ve made a thorough and sympathetic approach to those of other traditions. Would that more would do that. It’s long been my observation that it is seldom the positive statements as to what is that lead people into heresy, not so much what they believe to be true, but rather the negative statements, what they believe must be seen as false. In other words a heresy is defined not so much by what it claims to believe, but rather by what it insists upon denying. I’ve profited a great deal by seeking for insights perceived from a different direction from my own, and have come to realize how perilously close I come to heresy through not listening to them. When Calvin, for instance, stresses a spiritual presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper above and beyond the elements themselves, he speaks valuable truth. It is when he denies a literal presence in the elements that he departs from truth. Catholics and Orthodox in asserting the Real Presence in the elements (however defined) do indeed tend to ignore or even deny what Calvin saw there. As usual, the truth is both-and, rather than either-or.

        Something often not noted is that the squabbles among the reformers were only to be accepted. In many respects Luther and Calvin were less like each other than either was like Rome. Calvin though and wrote like a Schoolman, and his thinking would have been comprehended, though not always accepted, by such as Aquinas. Luther, on the other hand, was much less Aristotelian in his thinking and seemed to look to a pre-Thomist way of thinking.

        Catholics/Orthodox may indeed have the greater grasp on Christian truth. I assert that to be the case, but none of us can really claim to have the fullness of the faith until we’ve listened to the rest.

      • Michael Frost says:

        ed, “Heresy” seems a bit too strong…I’d like to think Christians can have some differences in opinions about what are inherently awesome mysteries of God. And we shouldn’t tempt God by demanding to know the “answers” to almost everything in this life. This includes everything from salvation (e.g., Paul’s discussion about foreknowledge, predestination, election, and conversion) to the “meaning” of the “real presence”. Finite creatures have inherent limitations when trying to understand their infinite Creator. I only really consider something “heretical” if it clearly contravenes revealed Truth. The Trinity, Incarnation, virgin Birth, Jesus’ miracles, His Death, Resurrection & Ascension, our immortal souls & last judgment, Heaven & Hell, the OT & NT, the forgiveness of sins, the need for Baptism, etc. There is certainly a clear difference theologically between historic Christendom and Judaism, Gnostics, Arians, Islam, and Unitarians. (Yet even here, since we are all created in the image & likeness of God, they are still my fellow brothers and sisters worthy of respect and consideration.)

      • Dale says:

        I think that the theological via media of Anglicanism very much touches on this; yes, we do not, and never really did, have complete and total theological agreement amongst ourselves, but is that necessarily a bad thing? As Ed mentions, the teaching of the Real Presence in the Eucharist; Anglicans have always taught this doctrine, but have always allowed a latitude of interpretations; I know that this drives more dogmatic Christians up the wall, but I am not worried by this. I personally, have always believed in Transubstantiation, but am not bothered by those whose understanding of the Real Presence is closer to Panitation or Transmutation; and I am appalled that individuals were burnt or imprisoned for such minute shades of difference.

        One need only consider Galilei being hauled before the Inquisition for his studies on the movement of the heavenly spheres in Roman Catholic Italy, and threatened, whilst in Anglican England Newton faced no such fears for his formulation of the mechanical laws of motion in the universe. I personally believe that this had been our strength.

        Of course, as more recent history is teaching us, sometimes we do lose our balance and move too much, today anyway, to the left which has resulted in a type of ecclesiastical fascism; but this is a recent development within Anglicanism; but some of the changes, especially in understanding of Priesthood, has meant that we are no longer welcome in our own home. But if we are to build a new home, please let us avoid the easy pit of falling into an intolerant reaction. My own wish is the easy-going, almost lax at times, Anglo-Catholicism, embracing both Missal as well as BCP, that was still a widespread living reality not too long ago.

      • ed pacht says:

        I agree completely. In using the term heresy, I have in mind that Unitarians are entirely correct in asserting that there is one God, but wrong in asserting that there is not threeness in Him. Tritheists, on the other hand were quire correct in asserting the full divinity of Father, Son, and Spirit, but wrong in asserting that therefore God is not one.
        To deny the Real Presence in the elements is heresy. to deny a spiritual presence such as Calvin taught may not be classed as heresy, but comes close to denying foundational concepts. Arians stressed the humanity of Christ to the extent that His full divinity needed to be denied. Others (O don’t know of a label for them, but I’ve known several) so stress His divinity that they come close to denying the Incarnation. If only all these would listen to each other, the truth that is beyond comprehension would be manifest. So long as they devote their energies to opposing one another, it is easy for pairs of opposing heresies to take root. To have differences of opinion in the humility of not having absolute knowledge is one thing (and, I believe, a positive thing), but to hold ones difference of opinion as absolute truth and a standard of judgment is dangerous indeed.

      • Michael Frost says:

        I think some issues are of such a mystery that it is very hard to determine actual heresy, at least as long as the group sticks to Scripture. I’m not willing to call anyone a heretic or their ideas heretical if at the very least they can honestly say they stick to the full revealed Word of God. Here, for example, I think of Paul’s discussion of the mystery of our salvation (Romans 8, esp. 18-37). Or his discussion of the mystery of the eucharist (1 Cor 17-34). We may want to label such ideas as primitive, unsophisticated, undeveloped, etc., but anyone who can at least confess what the Apostle confesses cannot be a heretic (without, God forbid, also impugning the Apostle). I’m not convinced that the “development” of dogma is or has always been a good thing, esp. since it usually is forced as a result of strong potential heresy arising that disturbs a previous general consensus or basic understanding.

        And sometimes something is just so shrouded in mystery that I don’t think we will ever really have a clue until the end of time when all is revealed. Take Paul’s discussion of Israel in Romans 11, esp. 25-36. Is fascinating to see how famous learned scriptural commentators in Christendom have attempted to interpret this. I prefer Melanchthon’s words from his Commentary: “But I do not know…Since this is a mystery, let us commit it to God.”

  2. I don’t know about all religions having something good in it. You would have to look pretty hard at the Mesoamerican religions with their plentiful human sacrifices to see what is good there. Then in the Mohammedan religion you have considerable Koranic and historical encouragement for war against unbelievers, and treating defeated unbelievers in a highly unfair fashion. These evils are an innate part of the religion. Some religions are simply evil and must be denounced.

    • Human sacrifice? These days? Where? The old Spanish Auto da Fé was a kind of human sacrifice in a way with the ritualised burnings at the stake. If you want to take on Al Qaïda, that’s your problem – but not here!

      You might appreciate the French Socialist government – no religion in public. Vive la laïcité! 😉

      You have to tolerate all – within the limits of the law and public order – or none. That’s the job of the State, like it or not. Atheists argue that all religions are evil or are at least in some way destructive influences. I’m not discussing it here, otherwise some idiot is going to start all over again with his “true church” stuff.

      • ed pacht says:

        Concentration on the faults of others doesn’t help us to see them as God sees them. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. We are all on those two verses, but God loved us while we were yet sinners, and indeed, loves us while we are yet sinners. An atheist taking a close look at history would be quite justified in condemning Christianity as ugly and utterly false were he to concentrate of the ugliness found in Christian history. In what way is the burning of heretics and “witches”, the long-standing hatred for the Jews, and the wanton killing of Eastern Christians in the Crusades one whit better than the horrors of Aztec and Mayan sacrifice? If the ugliness were all that I could see, I would certainly be inclined to reject the whole enterprise. But the dreck under which man buries what God reveals to him is not the message. To look beneath the dreck is to find something of the interchange between God and sinful man. Much in the Mayan religion repels me for sure, but there is also (in what little material the Spanish allowed to survive) much of beauty and of depth. I have little good to say about Islam and its effects, but there are passages in the Quran and in various Muslim writers that have deepened my appreciation of Christ.

        St. Paul had little use for Greek religion as such, but his inspired writings make it clear that he had studied Pagan writers and was pleased to quote them in Holy Scripture. Of course we need to recognize error and reject it, but if that is all we see in others, we won’t be able to see our own errors or to hear God speaking to us through our fellow men. There’s nothing sadder than a man who cannot see beyond his own prejudice – such a man has built walls between himself and God.

      • No, it is not all or nothing. You can tolerate most religions and ban those which are a threat to public order. For example in Australia, during World War II, the Adelaide branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses was declared a proscribed organization. When they appealed the High Court dismissed their claims: saying that section 116 of the Australian constitution did not prevent the Commonwealth from “making laws prohibiting the advocacy of doctrines which, though advocated in the pursuance of religious convictions, are prejudicial to the prosecution of a war that the Commonwealth is engaged”. Furthermore it went on further to say that even outside of a war situation, the value of religious freedom has to yield according to the majority core values of the community. That was the situation up until recently.

        Then in regard to Mohammadism. In the West, you have riots in France every year, you have no go zones in England , you have the bombings in London, etc. To quote Trotsky, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

      • We are in a domain where there is no simple answer. In any country, you have to have law and repression of crime and delinquency. Usually, a court of law will seek to reform and rehabilitate the offender and impose the kind of sentence that would facilitate the possibility of saving the best of that person. The law can also impose vindictive sentences that involve the destruction of a person’s livelihood and personality – a very long prison sentence – or the death penalty as in countries like the USA. Such legislation is necessary, but I can appreciate that tough choices have sometimes to be made.

        To what extent should the State, the law and elected authorities interfere with religion? In most countries, all the secular authority considers itself competent to do is to proscribe aspects of sectarian cults that violate human rights or disturb the public order. This happens in France when dealing with cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses (denial of medical treatment to children for example) or the Scientologists (getting piles of money out of vulnerable people) or the Solar Temple (brainwashing people to the extent that they commit suicide). These are clearly the limits of religious freedom for most modern democratic states.

        There is a problem with Islam, though it is an established historical religion. It seems to be as varied as Christianity between their own forms of conservatism / fundamentalism, spiritual / mystical tendencies and liberalism. In its fanatical form, Islam has much in common with sectarian cults in terms of the usual criteria (criteria in Australia). Insofar as it offends against the law and public order – which it frequently does – it should be just as repressed as any cult. It would be unjust if it wasn’t.

        The point I’m trying to make is leave the repression of abuses and offences against the law to the proper authorities, and let us make our Christianity a force for good and spiritual transfiguration. That’s my point.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Your comment–“…leave the repression of abuses and offences against the law to the proper authorities, and let us make our Christianity a force for good and spiritual transfiguration.–reminds me that soon enough most Western Christians will be in a position vis-a-vis the State that isn’t that unlike the early 1st couple of centuries. While it may not come to us as overt active persecution and martyrdom, the weight of the State and secular thinking is becoming more and more un-, if not also anti-, Christian. Like our post-apostolic ancestors, having a positive impact on the greater society only happens when Christians work together and live differently and more “positively” than their non- or ex-Christian neighbors. I do think part of this includes positive intra-church discipline.

    • Dale says:

      Michael, I think what you write is very true. Only recently, in California, the state has started an attack against the Boy Scouts, because of their refusal to back down on their attitudes towards homosexuality. This has included not only removing tax except status from them personally, but any organization that contributes to them as well.

      I can easily see the day when churches who refuse certain agendas, especially in regards to marriage, abortion, and adoption will be treated in the same manner. What is troublesome, is that in America, only the Roman Catholic Church has tried to stand up to this eventuality (mostly concerning their Hospitals and adoption services), and have received very little support, at this time, from other denominations. Hopefully, this will change, but I think that a coming, petty, persecution is indeed coming.

      To certain readers, I am not a Roman Catholic, I have never been a Roman Catholic, and will never become, because of theological differences, a Roman Catholic, but I do respect certain actions that the American Roman Catholic Church has made against a continuing culture war against religion.

  3. Simone says:

    OT: father, today I found your blog quoted in an orthodox forum I often look at for inspiration or reflexion:

    http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,50768.msg906844.html#msg906844

    It’s the first time I see cross references between spiritual/religious sites I use to frequent, and leaves me a bizarre feeling of sci-fi “crossing of parallel universes”.
    In any case, the orthodox POV on the matter may be a good contribution to the debate.

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