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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.


Aug. 2nd, 2013 01:01 am (UTC)
That is one of the things I love about Christianity, Barbara. It seems like such a statement of love - not just that we need saving, but that we're worth saving. But I've also seem elements of that commitment to liberate people as individuals in other traditions (Buddhism springs to mind) - not requiring as radical of a sacrifice, perhaps, but definitely there. I guess this is at the heart of what I struggle with: whether I need Christianity to be absolutely good, the kind of thing that everyone is missing something valuable they can't get anywhere else if they don't have, or whether it's enough that it creates a good effect in me. I definitely don't want to say that from my perspective it's equally good as any other philosophy, that there's nothing gained by me being a Christian that I'd lose if I wasn't a Christian.

But how to do that in a way that's actually recognizing the way it would be bad for other people to become a Christian? I honestly think that's the case in some situations - for some people, the label "Christian" has become poison because of the things we Christians have done with it, and other people have different needs that I'm not sure the way we emphasize certain parts of Christian would be good for. I don't know. As I said, I keep going back and forth.

Thanks for your thoughts, in any case. I appreciate you listening and the thoughts you mentioned - it's good for me to think about them.
Aug. 2nd, 2013 01:38 am (UTC)
for some people, the label "Christian" has become poison because of the things we Christians have done with it, and other people have different needs that I'm not sure the way we emphasize certain parts of Christian would be good for.

Most religions that have been around a while seem to have similar baggage. Think about substituting "Islam" for "Christian" in that statement, for example. And it is not the only other religion that has been warped or used by its followers. Perhaps not Buddhism--I don't know enough about its history. But you could certainly substitute "Mormonism" or "Scientology" for religions that have baggage! (I know some people categorize Mormon as Christian, but I feel the theology is too unorthodox.) Anyway, even if a religion begins with Divine intervention, it's subsequently organized and propagated by humans, some of whom have their own agendas that may be quite different than its founders had in mind.

People are human. We live in "Arda marred", and the marring warps even the best of things we try to do, or make, or believe. Yet the One who created us, like Eru, can turn even the worst of things to good in the end.

And I do think that's one of the unique things about Christianity. We admit that we are flawed, that flaws are inherent to living in this world, and we accept that we cannot fix our flaws alone. We need the help of the One who knows what we could be, what we are and what we will be. We can be "good" without God; I know atheists who are kind, and giving and compassionate and love mercy and justice. But we can be better than we are with Him.

I often come back to C.S. Lewis, because he was so integral to bringing me to my faith. He once mentioned how some people may point to a sour old Christian who is judgemental and unkind, and compare her to an atheist who is kind and gives to charity and in all ways is pleasant to be around. And then he asks: Imagine--how much worse the first person might be without God, and how much better the second one might be *with* Him?

Oh, I don't know if I'm explaining myself very well.



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