Saturday, September 6, 2008

"There Can't Be Just One True Religion"

The author of the hand-out seems to lump all Christianity into one group when he speaks at the end in the section 'Christianity Can Save the World'. He does mention "within Christianity-robust, orthodox Christianity-there are rich resources that can make its followers agents for peace on earth". Having grown up in "the Church" I do not share this view. The branch of Christianity that I once ascribed to did not believe in peace on earth made by human hands; the only peace would be when Jesus comes back. Until then, the whole of creation groans for Jesus' return. I acknowledge and agree that historically and even today, members of 'the faith' seek to aid those in need (like the work done by groups such as Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity) and others like it. It seems to me that the message of Jesus (caring for those in need, turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, etc.) has been overshadowed by doctrine, creed and belief. I do not know if that is the case; its how I have seen it and I could be off. I guess the question I have is, is it fair to group all forms of Christianity together? And is it fair to say that only within the mentioned "robust, orthodox Christianity" are found the resources to make its followers agents for peace on earth? Is peace on earth a goal for Christianty to be attained by Christians? If so, which branch? The Catholics? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints? The Seventh-Day Adventists? I think the differences in beliefs between the denominations tare greater han the similarities and these differences can be found in what the goals of each branch are.


Lauren Stapleton said...

A direct answer to your question is no, it’s not fair to group all Christian denominations together. Yet this is the world we live in, where it is easier to group all similar things together and then generalize or find the essence of it. The other day I was at the library and one of the LDS men came up to me and started talking. When he asked me what I knew about the denomination, I rattled off a few things, and then jokingly asked if he watched “Big Love”. He said that he’s heard of the show and knew of the premise and he fervently added that people like that (polygamists) were not part of LDS. I’m sure that there are Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists etc. who would claim that LDS members are not Christian because they use the Book of Mormon, yet LDS call themselves Christians. This was a great example of a Christian denomination separating themselves from other “Christians”. All Christian sects have a few things in common (Salvation through Christ, use of the Bible, be good and go to Heaven etc.) but the ways of going about it are radically different; one may say the only way to talk to God is going to church and another believes you can obtain a personal relationship without the bells and whistles. I’m not well enough versed in all of the denominations to make specific points (so I’m going to keep with the cycle of generalizing), but there are those who are all for peace on earth, and then there are those who want the chaos to grow and spread because that means the end times are near. The problem is generalizing the entire Christian community, and therefore the goals are as unique to a denomination as the people. I don’t see that problem going away any time soon.

Cash said...

I tend to think a little differently than lauren. I think that at it's essence, it is ok to "group" all christian denominations together. The trick here though is to really look at what these denominations are saying.

While many churches get caught up on church politics and translations, and whatever else, there is one common link to all true christian churches. That link is Jesus.

When the Jesus walked the earth, he had followers who ate with him, walked with him, and did life with him. As Jesus' ministry became more popular and he had a larger following, the people of the day needed something to call the group. They chose "Christians".

However, to carry the label of "christian" you actually had to be a follower of Christ.

This is the same today. People all over the United States believe that just because they go to church they are considered Christians. However, this is flawed. If i went to a buddhist temple i would be no more buddhist than i am today (none).

To be a true Christian, you subscribe to the Scriptures in the bible and believe that salvation is offered through Christ and Christ alone.

the bible even quotes jesus saying "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me". Clearly this is an exclusive statement, offering no potential that other religions could be true if Christianity is true.

So...after slight sidetracking, if someone believes what Christ says is true and have accepted him as their savior, then they are a christian. With this in mind, all who fall into this category should be grouped together, it only makes sense.

However, this means that everyone else who is merely a christian by proximity or culture would not be included in this group

Hopefully at least a little of that made sense.

Kyle said...

Jesus was Hebrew, and being raised in the Hebrew culture, would have understood the Hebrew term "messiah" to mean "the anointed one," a prophet, but not in any part divine or godly. This is also the definition that Jews of his time would have understood it to mean, especially when they applied it to Jesus when he walked the Earth.

Between the 3rd and 1st century BCE, the Greek translation of the Bible, the Septuagint, was widely distributed, and the term "Khristos," the Greek word for Messiah, appeared. Centuries later, the Septuagint was widely used among the new Christians, and "the New Testament writers, when citing the Jewish scriptures or when quoting Jesus doing so, freely used the Greek translation, implying that the Apostles and their followers considered it reliable...Many modern Christians explicitly describe Christ as both fully human and fully God, while the Jewish tradition understands the Messiah as a human being without any overtone of deity or divinity." (All info from Wikipedia Search: Christ)

Keeping all of this in mind, it is highly unlikely that Jesus believed or preached himself to be the Son of God. I submit the hypothesis that he was the most brilliant philosopher of his time, and seeing his people living under pain and strife of Roman rule, used his knowledge and insight to live a truly inspiring life. Like few leaders before or since, he preached a nonviolent approach and a goal of harmony among all men. His religious beliefs had minimal effect on his preachings, other than that he was influenced by the religion of his culture, Judiasm. He did not, however, preach the harsh, punishing God of the Old Testament, but a loving father who sought to give salvation to all his children. In doing this, he inadvertantly gave future generations of polticians a new religion of dual moralities, able to adapt to the necessary will of those in power. With the loving grace and promise of a glorious future based on servitued now expressed in the New Testament, combined with a strict law of obedience in the Old Testament, those in power could preach God's love while simultaneously demanding the compliance of the people on pain of eternal damnation.

From the perspective of evaluating society as a whole, in predominantly Christian countries the social goals each denomination of this religion are typically determined by a small number of high ranking church officials who let their pastors know what moral and ethical positions should be guiding their congregations towards (war, stem cell research, occupied Palestine or Israel, etc.).
On the personal level, however, the goal of each Christian is eternal salvation through acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal savior and daily practice of his teachings: all other aspects of Christianity are secondary. It is ultimately up to the pastor, preacher, priest, or other clergy of each individual church to decide how to enlighten their congregation on such issues as salvation, morality, evangelicism, and humanity. It is also up to each individual to make up his or her own mind as to what they will take from and use of their Christian experience. It is ridiculus to lump all Christian denominations together, as it is just as ridiculus to believe that even an entire Church is going to interpret and follow their particular teachings exactly the same. Especially in countries where freedom of thought is encouraged, the religious experience is by nature a personal and unique one. Men and women may convene together as prescribed by the ritual of their faith, but their experiences, beliefs, and opinions are inherently going to differ.

Kyle said...

Sorry about the runon sentence at the beginning of the last paragraph of my comment. I got a little bit carried away and missed it in revision.

ejmcneeley said...

A thought came to me this morning as I woke up, random, I know. If one states that all denominations/branches of Christianity have at the heart of the matter a similar purpose/belief/etc., are they claming to not have the glasses we talked about it class? Is it not the same type of claim that the religious pluralist makes but specifically in regards to Christianity?

Talia said...

Upon reading the last section of Keller's article, I was intrigued by his completely idealistic view of how "Christianity can save the world". I hope that this follows in line a bit with what's being discussed about Keller's "singular pluralism" in regards to Christianity.

It seemed to me that Keller's impression of Christianity disregards the actual doctrines and/or specific practices and beliefs, not to mention histories of the different Christian denominations. Keller says, "In the Christian understanding, Jesus does not tell us how to live so we can merit salvation. Rather he comes to forgive and save us through his life and death in our place."

Jesus doesn't tell us how to live so we can merit salvation? Then what about all those parables I distinctly remember repeated throughout the gospels and Catholic School. What about the rich man who wants to find his way to heaven? Was that not Jesus who said that there would be a better chance of a camel slipping through and eye of a needle than a rich man slipping into heaven? Was that his twin? I may be wrong but it seems to me the very tradition of the gospels is to gain understanding through Jesus' teachings and actions and to follow his example. Otherwise what was the point of the christian conventionalized bracelets "WWJD"?

Keller states, "God's grace does not come to those who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a savior."

This is all good in Idealism, but does it not set up lines to morally improve ones self? Is not acknowledging that one needs a savior a moral improvement according to this Christian ideal. That is how one is to receive grace. Is grace now not a moral improvement? Or just a sweater one puts on to say they've joined the club. And confession in Catholicism specifically acknowledges ones capability for sin, but not attending confession is a sin (or more specifically if one takes part in the Eucharist without being absolved of mortal sin it is grave and sacreligious...taking part in the Eucharist is one of the most essential doctrines of Catholicism so you see the conundrum of not attending confesion), so thus it sets up parameters for one to confess their deeds, do their penance, receive their grace, and move up the moral ladder to salvation. If all Catholics had to do was accept their unworthiness the act of confession would be a dying art. But perhaps in Keller's argument Catholicism is not Christianity. Which is an absurd assumption considering Catholicism was historically the first organized christian religion.

I won't continue to harp on every sentence in Keller's last section. However, this final quote really is the crux of my argument, "Christians had within their belief system the strongest possible resource for practicing sacrificial service, generosity, and peace-making."

First of all, The Christians Keller is describing in the few previous paragraphs are the faction groups of Christianity before any organized form of Christianity came about. These are the first christians, before christianity had a set doctrine, set texts, and a hierarchy of religious leaders. While these Christians may have been all the things Keller says, he doesn't even know which particular teachings they may have been following. For those who consider the Apochryphal texts that date from this time period, there could be any number of teachings that these Christians had that are completely eliminated from any Christian church doctrine today. Keller could be talking about Gnostic teachings or those that followed the Apochryphal texts of Mary for all he knows. One cannot just ignore each individual religions histories, doctrines, and texts. Keller is applying a pluralism to Christianity to state securely that it is the only right way. Yes the fundamental early Christians had within their faculties for peace making. But does that mean the crusades or the inquisition didn't exist? If one is operating from the present and saying that Christianity, any denomination of it, has the "strongest possible resource for practicing sacrificial service, generosity, and peace-making" then one can also say that Christianity has the "strongest possible resource for completely persecuting others who think differently or live differently or just decide to have heretical ideas." Both have happened so by Keller's argument both are the strongest of possibilities.

My other point is that if we look at all religions in their most base form untouched by human animal drives, such as power control and elimination of competing elements that may detract that power, we can find that most of them have the same "strongest possible resource" for (lets generalize it) "good". I can't help but lump this in with Mcneeley's most recent post about Keller using his own version of a pluralist argument.

It is not the basic underlying of striving for human goodness that all religions cannot agree on. It is the human imposed thoughts, ideas, and rules on the basics that people cannot agree on.