Friday, August 7, 2009

Under Quarantine

Like the rest of my blog, my posts are meant to seek understanding and not as an attack to any particular faith. It is true that within those religious traditions my words may seem as an attack but if you look closer they are just simple questions that believers would benefit from asking themselves. Today's question: Why are Christians afraid of outside influence from the world and other religions?

[Gas Mask Jesus by Jackace]

There is no doubt that the majority of Christians are indeed careful of who and what they come in daily contact. There is nothing wrong with being careful but why fear outside influence? Are we (and I'm including myself although mainline Christians would not) so weak in our faith that we might catch a "spiritual disease" from a Buddhist, or even begin doubting God if we talk with an Atheist? I believe the fears are legitimate when seen from within the Christian community: anything alien that enters into our gates that is "not of Christ" may cause disharmony. Take a step back and those fears look a bit xenophobic when seen by someone outside of the Christian community. Christians speak of loving their fellow man as long as they don't get too close: loving them at arms length with a Bible in one hand and Germex hand sanitizer in the other. But not all influence is bad. Zachery Karabell's Peace Be Upon You: Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Conflict and Cooperation is a great book on the historical relationships and influences between the three monotheistic faiths. History tends to focus on the conflict and what surprised me the most is that not only did these three faiths live harmoniously (as humanly possible) at times, they flourished while influencing each other enormously.

Let's face it, if we hang out with the wrong crowd we're gonna get influenced. I guess the opposite is true for me. Even though I live in the Bible Belt (right next to the buckle) and I'm surrounded by Bible believing Christians I somehow slipped through the cracks and became, to them, an unbeliever. I never hung out with anyone of a different faith, (I have met a Muslim and asked him a few questions he couldn't answer, and my professor is Jewish) just good old, church going Christians. I explain to them I am a Christian even though my views on Christ, the Bible, and God differ from theirs, yet I am still considered lost to them. If I were to move a few hundred miles north I might find a Christian community that holds the same beliefs as I do. So, which community of Christians are truly following Christ? The community itself decides the extent of their borders: whether something is clean or unclean, worldly or Christian, right or wrong. One community/denomination/individual may privately state that the other ones are misguided on their path to God, but we have no way of determining the validity of those statements. We have no way of viewing our theology and warring doctrine from God's perspective. We have the Bible, God's Word, yet it is interpreted with human eyes and human mind. And this is why each community determines for itself where they belong among other communities, what they believe, and how they act. This develops a communal personality that is shared between the members of that community. When someone dies, everyone mourns. When a mother gives birth, everyone cheers. Like members in a choir they sing in unity.

Good and bad influence may come from outside AND inside the community. Yet, it is still the interpretation of the community (and even the individual), not God, that decides the extent of their borders in regards to God's Will. It is fear of division, disharmony, and disease that causes those within the community to keep firm to tradition. This causes stagnation which some may label a "dead church". I am not saying that every church must drastically change their beliefs and traditions (their borders) to keep the community healthy, but continuously challenging those beliefs may lead to growth and progress. Man is a fallible creature and the descendants of a community should not pay the price of stagnation for the beliefs carved in stone by its founders. If not, then black men and women of African descent would still not be able to participate in Temple ordinances that is necessary for the highest degree of salvation within the LDS Church. In 1978, they got rid of a racist doctrine that the founding fathers of the LDS church put in place. I'm sure that there were those within the LDS church that found this to be a "bad influence" and that the secularist ideals of racial equality would poison their long held beliefs and tradition. Yet, progress at any speed is still progress.

In the last 3 years of studying other religions I have come to find that we have more in common between faiths than we think. There are huge differences, but there is no need to fear the differences when we share core values. Outside influence is ALWAYS bad if you're firm that you're beliefs are 110% irrefutable facts while ignoring your own mortal fallibility. I believe that we can learn from other faiths and grow spiritually on our personal journeys. We each define our own borders and we each decide the components of our spirituality. We are not helplessly doomed to Atheism if we are surrounded by Atheists nor are we changed by their presence. We may say that God defines the borders of our faith but even then it is our own interpretation of God's Will that governs over the community we join, the beliefs we hold, and the way we behave.

I hope to always question my beliefs thereby allowing myself to never succumb to a stagnate faith. I do not fear other religions because they are different, I love them because they envision the Divine in ways I may never have know solely within Christianity. If I am influenced by other faiths, I hope to always be influenced towards compassion. I do not try to reconcile the differences between the different faiths but seek out the common denominator between all of us. What we share in common is stronger than the differences that keep us apart.

May peace and blessing be upon you all.


captron52 said...

Another great post my friend. I agree with you. We should all be a little more open minded and accepting of others beliefs.

Eruesso said...

If there's anything I pray for earnestly it is that we at least try to listen to each other. Maybe then we can move forward to toleration and then acceptance. 3 years ago I went out of my way seeking to listen and I've learned so much from other beliefs, yet this is but a molehill compared to a lifetime of listening, learning, and growing.

A.R.K. said...

Yeah...I have a few good Christian friends who merely quote the Bible whenever I bring up a God question, and seem to think the fact that I'm trying to learn about religions outside of Christianity is dangerous. When I say I'm trying to make sure I'm not prejudice against another religion without knowing anything *about* that religion, they're just like, "Ohh, be careful!" as if I might "convert" away from the true path or something. At this point I still label myself as a Christian, but I don't have anything against the Indian religions. It just seriously bothers me when people straight up reject a religion even though they haven't even tried to read its holy books...

Eruesso said...

I completely understand. I finished reading the Qu'ran last year and found it to be a moving and beautiful text. It's even more moving hearing it recited.

Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations by Michael Sells is a wonderful book which includes a CD of recited suras. This expression of the Divine within Islam was so moving that I could no longer hold other religions as completely false, without any truths. I still hold Christianity as my base faith but I have learned so much from other religions that my spirituality would be lessened without them.

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