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January 16th, 2010


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06:36 pm - Musings on Christianity & Other Older Faiths
I just found out today that another person on my f-list no longer particularly considers themself to be a Christian – not because they found another path, became an atheist, or anything similar, but because of deep discomfort with some of the religion’s inherent aspects and beliefs. Unlike many people who are more or less pagan, I attempt to actually honor all beliefs (as opposed to the far more common pattern (first pointed out to me by the HPS of the coven I trained in) of in practice honoring all gods – except Jesus). However, in the past 5 or 6 years, I’ve seen the number of people who are Christian that I know dwindle, even though I know most of the same people. Some are now pagan, some are now agnostics, but many simply can no longer accept Christianity. This is even true with people I know who live outside the US. It’s fairly obvious why sensible people would abandon Christianity in the US – the loudest proponents are hideously vile, but both here and elsewhere, there are other reasons.

I’m also increasingly looking at all of the major religions and seeing faiths that no longer fit remotely well in the modern world or with modern ways of life, and Christianity is clearly among that number (along with Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, & Hinduism). All are fundamentally world denying and (to varying degrees) pleasure denying faiths, despite their many differences. There are clearly ways to make all of these faiths fit into modern life and acceptably modern standards of morals and ethics – Universality Unitarianism seems fairly benign, and there is clearly a fair amount of wisdom in some of the more recent variants of Zen Buddhism (particularly, the latter’s emphasis on seeking internal rather than external answers), but as the world we live in changes and as morals and ethics change to match, I see a greater need for such changes and modifications, and too often the result of faiths not making these changes is for a faith to become hideous and oppressive anachronisms like modern Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism, or Muslim Wahhabism. Today, even some people of deep faith are acknowledging the deep and inherent problems with the attitudes that come out of their faith.

In any case, the coming changes in patterns of religiosity that are coming (even in the US) due to significant and continuing shifts in social attitudes among teens and people in their early 20s, indicate that many more changes are coming. We live in an oddly transitional era, where most people the older order of racism, sexism, and homophobia, and various other prejudices are acknowledged by everyone but self-described reactionaries to be wrong, but few people have any clue how to live in ways that don't promote them. The vast majority of the older faiths are an integral part of this older order, which is (in fits and starts, and more than a few setbacks) changing.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

(29 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:bluegodjanus
Date:January 17th, 2010 07:08 am (UTC)
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I reject all divinities equally. I feel it's important to be fair.
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From:aekiy
Date:January 17th, 2010 07:19 am (UTC)
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In what way are the faiths you list inherently world-denying? Surely there are world-denying members of specific sects and churches, but I'm not so sure about the faiths themselves.

Also, the Unitarian-Universalist Church is just that, a church, not a religion. Unitarian-Universalists don't have any specific religion attached to them as a whole, though their organization was born of Christianity. Many of them are atheists, Buddhists, neopagans, or what have you.
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From:kadath
Date:January 17th, 2010 07:45 am (UTC)
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UU = church for atheists who like potlucks. At least in New England. It's probably more actually religious in less secular regions of the world.
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From:aekiy
Date:January 17th, 2010 08:12 am (UTC)
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Around here (Maryland), it's basically as I said. I live with UUs. One calls herself pagan and considers herself a necromancer; her mom's atheist, and her dad's Buddhist. Her husband's atheist, and I'm not sure about the other members of his family; he was apparently some sort of neopagan or spiritualist of some kind before I met him. Others in the area are random things, since the church advocates tolerance and allows people to believe whatever suits them.
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From:heron61
Date:January 17th, 2010 08:41 am (UTC)
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In what way are the faiths you list inherently world-denying?

Judaism is mostly a bit of an edge case, but Christianity & Islam have a strong afterlife focus and a belief that the world is in some way corrupt or at least far less important than the afterlife, while Buddhism and Hinduism are both faiths which have a strong focus on the physical world being unimportant.

Also, the Unitarian-Universalist Church is just that, a church, not a religion.

Not always, I actually knew someone who was studying to be a UU minister who was a very spiritual person and was definitely working on being an actual religious professional. OTOH, she was Canadian, and I have no idea if things are different wrt the UU up there.
From:machineiv
Date:January 17th, 2010 08:05 am (UTC)
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Christianity as it's practiced today is silly, as far as I'm concerned. Their bible was destroyed by the Council of Nicaea, and even the most 'liberal' Christians still follow the same bullshit edit.

The Gnostic texts are interesting. They show a completely different type of faith, one I find admirable if not sympathetic (I don't really 'get' faith.) I find a lot of Christians that state that they don't follow the Pat Robertsons of the world, that they just follow Jesus's teachings. Frankly, the Bible is frightening. Even the New Testament, as edited by the Council of Nicaea, is full of misogynist tripe and ridiculous double standards. If someone says they follow the bible or Jesus's teachings, they're saying absolutely nothing quantifiable to me. Someone following that book is nothing more than a terrorist, murderer and hatemonger, with the trappings of something bigger.
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From:heron61
Date:January 17th, 2010 08:46 am (UTC)
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I find Origen's theology, with the focus on reincarnation and the eventual salvation of everyone, including Satan, to be a far more positive faith. While I don't believe in it, I do find it interesting and far more hopeful than many. The legacy of St. Augustine looms large in all forms of Christianity and is IMHO, far from a good thing.
From:machineiv
Date:January 17th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC)
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Absolutely. As far as I'm concerned, anything Paul touched turned to theological shit.
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From:alephnul
Date:January 17th, 2010 09:56 am (UTC)
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While Christianity and Islam both premise good behavior in this world on the hope for a good afterlife, and Buddhism and Hinduism are nominally focused on escaping the cycle of reincarnation, Judaism is not actually world denying in that way. While some Jews believe in Heaven, the religion is largely silent on the question and is very clear on the fact that you should behave ethically because that is how you should behave, not because of the possibility of heavenly reward. One of the central tenets of Reform Judaisms is Tikkun Olam, repairing or perfecting the world. Obedience to Halachic law is viewed as something that you should engage in only to the extent that you find it personally spiritually useful and to the extent that it does not interfere with equality.

Reform Judaism is the overwhelmingly dominant form of Judaism (at least in the US), and is as egalitarian and benign as the Uni-Unis.

Notably, both reform Judaism and Uni-Unis have really weak magic.
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From:autopope
Date:January 17th, 2010 11:16 am (UTC)
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Note that reform Judaism as practiced in the USA is not the same thing as reform Judaism as practiced in the UK -- in the UK, it'd correspond to the Liberal synagogues, while British reform Judaism is something else again. (I was brought up in it and describe it to outsiders as "the Jewish equivalent of presbyterianism, compared to Orthodoxy as catholicism", if that makes sense -- a less over-ritualized attempt at getting back to fundamentals.)

NB: I've been an atheist since I was eight.
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From:krinndnz
Date:January 18th, 2010 04:02 am (UTC)
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Notably, both reform Judaism and Uni-Unis have really weak magic.

Could you elaborate on that a little ?
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From:heron61
Date:January 18th, 2010 05:42 am (UTC)
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My assumption is that he means that these are not spiritual powerful/magically powerful faiths, in the way that (say) Catholicism is.
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From:alephnul
Date:January 18th, 2010 09:43 am (UTC)
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Specifically magically powerful.

I think Unitarianism and Reform Judaism are at least as spiritually powerful as any other religion. Spiritual power seems to me much more a matter of alignment between the person and the religion than an inherent characteristic of the religion. I think that Reform Judaism and Unitarianism (like Baptist Christianity) actually asks more spiritually of the common practitioner than Catholicism or other priestly religions do, since they make spiritual matters more directly the responsibility of the believer, rather than providing intercessors. They also place the spiritual within the heart of the believer rather than externalizing it. Admittedly, they also lack the sizable spiritual class (priests and monks and nuns) that Catholicism has.
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From:heron61
Date:January 18th, 2010 11:50 am (UTC)
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Ah, I use the spiritual power/magical power division as the division between mysticism & magic. Thus, to me a spiritually powerful faith is one with an emphasis on mysticism and the direct experience of the divine, which I don't see in either of these two faiths, but which is strongly present in both Pentecostalism (and to a slightly less degree, almost all of the Evangelical Protestant faiths) & in Zen Buddhism.

Edited at 2010-01-18 11:52 am (UTC)
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:January 20th, 2010 11:48 pm (UTC)
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Fundamentalist Christianity is also magically powerful. Too bad it also permanently short-circuits logic in many of its adherents, even after they leave that path.
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From:alephnul
Date:January 18th, 2010 06:55 am (UTC)
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Okay, the modern instance of an old religion that I think of as having the most powerful magic is Pentecostalism. Pentecostals cast out the devil, they speak in tongues, they heal the sick and the lame, etc. They make extremely powerful claims for what their religion does magically. Catholics don't have as overt of magic, but they have the intercession of the saints, who can bring good fortune, protect you from evil, heal the sick, protect bakers or people at sea, find lost things, etc. So they have pretty powerful magic. Orthodox Jews have blessings and protections from evil, so they have pretty good magic, although it is less public than Pentecostal magic. The Hassidic Jews have even more magic.

Unitarians and Reform Jews don't really seem to have much magic along those lines. Unitarians recognized the importance of ritual in transitions, but I don't think they make any claims that their rituals effect anything other than the minds of the participants. Reform Jews are embarked on a grand magic, that of Repairing the World, but they not make any claims that they are engaged in any lesser magic, and I think they tend to mostly view Tikkun Olam as a matter of repairing the world bit by bit, rather than as grand magic. Both Unitarians and Reform Jews are concerned with ethical behavior for the sake of making a better world tiny piece by tiny piece through direct action.

Certainly, there are plenty of other Christians and Jews (I don't know enough of Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism to comment) who also have very little magic. The mainstream protestant Christian sects like Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Methodists all seem to have very little magic, as do the Conservative Jews.

The progressive sect with the most magic that I can think of is probably the Quakers, who make the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit a routine part of their ceremonies, but they don't have the same sort of direct intervention in the physical world magic that Pentecostals and Catholics and Orthodox Jews have.

That at least is my impression.
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From:heron61
Date:January 18th, 2010 07:16 am (UTC)
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Catholics don't have as overt of magic,

Except for exorcism, and you could perhaps count Mass.
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From:alephnul
Date:January 18th, 2010 07:47 am (UTC)
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That is fair, although Catholic exorcism seems much rarer than Pentecostal and Charismatic exorcism. Mass does seem less overt of magic than Pentecostal magic: yes, the wine becomes blood and the bread becomes flesh, but it does so in a way that doesn't change the taste or texture, and eating and drinking of it doesn't make you proof against snake bites or heal your illnesses. So it is overt magic, but less in-your-face than Pentecostal magic.
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From:tlttlotd
Date:January 18th, 2010 03:45 pm (UTC)
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It really depends on the priest performing the ritual itself and how well connected they are or how well they know how to do it. The Catholic Mass (like many things) tends to run on a spectrum between "Are we done yet?" and "Wait, this wedding did not have a choir."
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From:krinndnz
Date:January 18th, 2010 04:03 am (UTC)
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Do you think this has to do with the general accelerating-change trend?


Also, do you think we're more likely to get more bahai-esque new faiths that try to ditch the parts of the abrahamic faiths specific to desert nomads ?
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From:jhkim
Date:January 18th, 2010 04:27 am (UTC)
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As we come up on Reverend Martin Luther King Jr Day, I would dispute that Christianity is integral to the older racist and sexist order. The abolitionist, suffragist, and Civil Rights movement were all headed by primarily Christian leaders (and Muslim) - not just coincidentally, but pursuing their moral goals by the inspiration of their faith. To be fair, the homosexual rights movement and later-wave feminism were not. However, I think it's important to note the part that liberal Christianity has played. Personally, I learned about homosexuality growing up through my liberal Presbyterian church, as a gay couple brought their adopted baby to be baptized with us.

I think Jimmy Carter, who you link to, is a good example of how the mainstream of Christianity in the U.S. has shifted in the last thirty years.
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From:heron61
Date:January 18th, 2010 05:41 am (UTC)
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I see what you mean, and yet there's a level of sexism and homophobia (or, more accurately, a lack of acceptance of gender equality and a lack of acceptance of homosexuality) that's pretty darn intrinsic in any sort of Christianity that's less dilute than Universalist Unitarianism, and the same is definitely true for Islam, and most forms of Buddhism that I know of (as well as Hinduism, and both Orthodox and Conservative Judaism). I don't mean that individual denominations can't be accepting and tolerant, but there's of distinct & obvious lack of that sort of acceptance in the Bible. So, it's certain possible to be a Christian and also be a good and tolerant person, but I think there is some level of tension inherent in doing so. It might not be a lot of tension, but I think it's present.
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From:jhkim
Date:January 18th, 2010 06:59 am (UTC)
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This is really a tension of any belief or system through history. In past centuries, people behaved in many ways that are considered morally unacceptable to us now. So there is a tension in identifying with just about any tradition longer than a few decades because the historical founders almost certainly held to beliefs and/or practices now considered wrong.

For any followers of a tradition, I think they perceive that there is an essence in the tradition that is separate from the historical details. To them, rejecting the tradition over this is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. i.e. Just because Thomas Jefferson kept slaves doesn't mean that we should reject his vision of democracy.

Also, one should distinguish between what Christian teachings actually say and what conservative churches claim that it says. The handful of passages interpreted as being on homosexuality are particularly questionable.
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From:heron61
Date:January 18th, 2010 07:13 am (UTC)
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This is really a tension of any belief or system through history.

Absolutely true, which is one one of the primary reasons that I am inherently a least a bit suspicious of any belief system that's older than a century or so.

Also, one should distinguish between what Christian teachings actually say and what conservative churches claim that it says.

Definitely. Christianity is inherently (at least in terms of the Bible) not accepting of homosexuality, while the fundys are actively homophobic.
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From:jhkim
Date:January 18th, 2010 07:40 am (UTC)
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I feel that wholesale rejection of tradition often results in a refusal to learn from history. While I think skepticism of older beliefs is justified, I am just as suspicious of systems invented within the past century, such as fascism, Stalinism, and Social Darwinism.

Also, I'm not a Biblical scholar, but I don't think what you say is true. The Old Testament seems to reject anal sex as ritually unclean in the same way as eating shrimp or having sex with a menstruating woman - using the same term, sometimes translated "abomination." It makes a fair amount of sense from the time, and I don't feel it is truly intolerant. (Certainly not by comparison to some other horrendous OT behavior.) It does not reject loving relationships between men, such as David and Jonathan - who may or may not have had sex, but definitely loved each other, lived together, and kissed. The New Testament has three references cited as being against homosexuality, but it is unclear what specificity of behavior they are condemning. i.e. If a group of pagans in Rome engage in orgies, and God turns them temporarily homosexual and punishes them, is that a rejection of all homosexuality? It seems arguable at best.
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From:alephnul
Date:January 18th, 2010 10:16 am (UTC)
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I think it seems arguable at most, but certainly not arguable at best. A substantial segment of Christians believe their religion is unarguably anti-gay, and probably a majority of Christians view it as problematic or arguable, and I don't think there is really anyone who doesn't see at as at least something that requires resolving problems in the text (which may simply mean recognizing that the text is not simply God's Word, but reflects the time period and culture in which it was written). The text is not gay-friendly, but the texts attitude towards homosexuality is not a significant part of the text either. It isn't a core tenet. I think it is worse on sexism than on anti-gay bias. The Epistles in particular are pretty clear on the subordinate status of women.

On the other hand, neo-paganism really only wins out on this through the lack of significant scripture, and even then the dominant neo-pagan thread of Wicca has serious theological problems with both sexism and homophobia, with a cosmology that makes heterosexual sex and gender stereotypes the foundation of the Universe.

I think it is as easy to suppress the sexist and homophobic texts of Christianity as it is to suppress the homophobic and sexist tendencies of Wicca, although Wicca has much less entrenched power structure to buck.
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From:heron61
Date:January 18th, 2010 11:58 am (UTC)
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I think it is worse on sexism than on anti-gay bias. The Epistles in particular are pretty clear on the subordinate status of women.

I completely agree.

On the other hand, neo-paganism really only wins out on this through the lack of significant scripture, and even then the dominant neo-pagan thread of Wicca has serious theological problems with both sexism and homophobia, with a cosmology that makes heterosexual sex and gender stereotypes the foundation of the Universe.

You are completely correct about all forms of Brit Trad Wicca, but that's far from the only flavor around. Many of the West Coast derived trads (mostly coming from either Feri Trad or indirectly from Feri Trad via Starhawk) are very different indeed and have a completely different and vastly less sexist & hererosexist mythology.

I think it is as easy to suppress the sexist and homophobic texts of Christianity as it is to suppress the homophobic and sexist tendencies of Wicca, although Wicca has much less entrenched power structure to buck.

Also, I think the issue of having a single accepted written theology makes the issue more problematic with Christianity. OTOH, if there was a faith willing to seriously edit or rewrite the Bible, then all this would be perfectly possible to change. However, it's also arguable if the result could still be called Christianity, since you'd pretty much need to start with Genesis and keep going all the way to Revelations to get rid of the entrenched sexism.

Edited at 2010-01-18 12:01 pm (UTC)
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From:alephnul
Date:January 18th, 2010 01:04 pm (UTC)
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I think that you just need to take a non-literalist approach to the text, and you can easily extract the portions that work well with modern morality and reject the portions that do not work well with modern morality. This is what modern Christianity and Judaism does in any case (indeed, Judaism has a two thousand year old tradition of doing this, with the Talmudic Rabbis eventually (6 or 7 hundred years ago, I believe) deciding that no court could legitimately hand down a death sentence despite the numerous crimes for which Leviticus prescribes a death sentence). Even if the bible is still the Word of God expressed through the culture of the time of its writing, it is merely a matter of figuring out what the core message that God intends that is still relevant to your own culture. People have been gradually and repeatedly stripping out the sexism from Christianity for at least 200 years.

Admittedly, having a sexist, pro-slavery, homophobic primary religious text does lead to problems, as it means that the tendency to literalism will lead people repeatedly back into evil beliefs.

I do think that British Trad Wicca is way more common than Feri, and while Feri doesn't have the same problems with sexism and homophobia, I suspect it would have other serious flaws if it were a major religion. Esoteric ecstatic religions have kind of crappy social ethics, and Feri seems perhaps prone to a more-special-than-though elitism and a selfish will-to-power. I can't see it being as strong a basis for the sort of social justice or social welfare work that Christianity and Judaism and Islam have been.
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From:heron61
Date:January 18th, 2010 06:54 pm (UTC)
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I do think that British Trad Wicca is way more common than Feri,

I have no idea actually. Brit Trad derived Wicca is clearly more common, but I'm not certain how much more. Starhawk derived paganism is very popular indeed, due to the continuing popularity of her book The Spiral Dance.

Esoteric ecstatic religions have kind of crappy social ethics, and Feri seems perhaps prone to a more-special-than-though elitism and a selfish will-to-power. I can't see it being as strong a basis for the sort of social justice or social welfare work that Christianity and Judaism and Islam have been.

Absolutely. I agree with Ronald Hutton's analysis that the closest analog ot modern paganism in classical times were the various mystery cults. Feri trad, and most other similar faiths are in no way set up to be dominant faiths. The odd thing is that the fluffiest end of Brit Trad Wicca, which seriously downplays the magic and esoteric side of things, looks more and more like a mainstream faith these days. Of course, about the only advantage it offers over older ones is a clearer dedication to environmentalist ethics. Perhaps the (mostly, and at best) separate but equal approach to gender roles is an improvement over older alternatives, but it's difficult to say for certain.

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