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thoughts on religion + diversity

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

I seem to be caught in a bit of a feedback loop lately. On the one hand, I recognize that my atheist friends are good people, and my non-Christian theist friends as well. But on the other hand, I’ve been growing less and less comfortable with the idea that all religions and philosophies are equally good that they’re just different facades on the same reality. I’m a Christian because something about the Christian tradition really works for me at a deep level – it helps me lead what I consider to be a better kind of life.

My faith isn’t only ethics, but if I thought I could live just as good a life as a Buddhist or Muslim or atheist. It’s not just because I grew up in that tradition; parts of it are deeply meaningful to me and I think help me be the best Marta I can be. It adds something to my life, and I want to share those good things – not as evangelicalism, not because I am afraid of hellfire for my friends necessarily. Just because those bits of Christian ethics and philosophy and spirituality that work for me, seem good and worth sharing.

Ironically, I do find things in other religions and philosophies that have been influential on me. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, his account of the human good and the way we balance emotions and the importance of good community has been hugely influential in my thought. So has the Tao Te Ching and Pirkei Avot and poetry by American transcendentalists like Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson. So it’s not like I’m only influenced by Christian writings, or only writings in general. (Give me a Louis Armstrong song or the sun setting over the skyline, or my neighbor’s giggling as we do the jitterbug…) But on books, I guess few educated people today would make that claim – the world is just so broad and open.

Still, lately I seem to be teetering between wanting to respect my friends, honoring the goodness I see in those people who aren’t particularly religious (even anti-religious) or who have other spiritualities… and on the other hand, this certainty I have that my religion isn’t just one equally good path among many. Or if it is, it’s different, it offers me something special that I’m having a hard time laying out even to myself. Because really, if I thought Christianity only offered the comfortable morality like love everyone and act justly and with mercy toward others, if it was just a facade on a kind of universal human morality, I’d probably want to be an atheist. These days, when I miss find myself missing a dead friend very, very much and remembering how angry I’ve gotten at God grieving over that loss, I also remember my prayers that God would take away my faith (yeah, I get how ridiculous that sounds) so I wouldn’t have to live with the frustration of how this was allowed to happen – I’m keenly aware how much simpler life would be if I could give up my religion! And I keep going round and round, wanting to be open to other people but more and more wanting to remember those things about who I am that I think are unique and good in themselves.

No deep thoughts here. No resolution here. And maybe this is a uniquely Marta thing to be worried about. But it really does have me frustrated and sort of dizzy within myself. Maybe I’m foolish for thinking so hard about things like this; it just seems like who I am, at some level. In any case I can’t stop being the kind of person who worries over stuff like this, somehow.


Jul. 31st, 2013 11:57 pm (UTC)
I think that there's a line to be recognized between "Christianity is the best path for me" and "Christianity is the best path for everyone." Because, as you observe, there is something special that you perceive in Christian theology and ethics, and that something special is the effect that it has on you. You've had enough tastes of other religions to know that, while they offer you something good, it isn't quite right, that Christianity is the best path for you.

The bit where you're so far succeeding, but where many, many thousands of others have failed, is recognizing that, while Christianity is the best of all possible paths for you, it isn't the best of all possible paths for everyone. As you've rightly observed, non-Christians and atheists can still be good and moral people; morality is observably not dependent on any one religious or philosophical system in particular, and there are rules for harmonious social living that are common to all systems. For some people getting to those rules through Christianity is the only option, and for others, getting to those rules through Judaism or Hinduism or Jainism or atheism or or or . . . is the only option.

The trap to be wary of is the trap of crossing that line and saying, "Because Christianity is the path for me, it must be the path for everyone else, and I will take forcible steps to make that so." You don't do that, but even in your post, it's clear that you can see how people come to that conclusion. Part of Christianity's PR problem is that too many people in the past have fallen into that trap, and too many people continue to do so. There are some branches of Christianity that can be very aggressive about proselytizing, and it's hard for non-Christians to know, when a Christian approaches and starts talking about how wonderful Christianity is, whether that particular Christian belongs to those particular branches of Christianity.

For reference, here's what it looks like from my perspective: There are many paths to morality and spiritual happiness in the world, but the path that fits my personality the best is Judaism. It's not that Judaism is always a comfortable path -- recall the old joke that God selected the Jews as the Chosen People, but why couldn't He have chosen someone else? -- but that none of the other paths are as comfortable as Judaism. In an ironic sort of way, it's almost Lutheran: "Here I stand. I can do no other."

Recognize what is good and right for you, and recognize also that what is good and right for you may not be good and right for other people, and rejoice when you see the ways in which other people are doing what's good and right for them. That's probably the best way to live life, honoring your own path for yourself and other people's paths for them.



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