Tuesday, May 02, 2006

How not to do it (Pt I)

There are some ways in which religion has previously reacted to decline in society that are not useful. In this post I will discuss two, and tomorrow I will discuss a third, more general such reaction, all of them of the kind we see commonly today.

For instance, lack of security or a direct threat to one'’s way of life have often sparked intense periods of apocalyptic speculations. We see some of this today, with all this "Left Behind"” nonsense, and this is very much a matter of history repeating. Why do I consider this kind of speculation about the "“end times"”, the struggle to try to match some obscure parts of Scripture (primarily Revelations) with current political occurrences, to be negative? Well, to begin with it is not a very "biblical"” way to read the bible, rather one usually ends up with some very forced interpretations. More importantly, the whole concept is based on a kind of determinism, the idea that history is written in advance, that is completely at odds with Christian doctrine, especially the deeply Christian idea of the free will of human beings.

The real problem is what these kinds of speculations lead to. They tend to foster closemindedness in Christian communities (the belief to belong to a elect group of people never led to much care for other people), authoritarianism based on fear (do I belong to the elect group?) and resignation (since everything will happen as foretold, what could I possibly do to prevent it?). So, while these apocalyptic speculations might bring some sense of meaning and even a kind of hope to the people that engage in them, they are not fruitful for society as a whole, they do not bring stability of joy to the people, and they do not create environments where people can grow as human beings.

Another way that Christian communities have in the past reacted to periods of decline in the world is by trying to incorporate a dark aspect to their concept of God. This occurs when people interpret what happens as God'’s punishment for the wicked ways of the world. Voices like these have been heard in connection with some natural catastrophes, such as the Tsunami in Asia or the Hurricane Katharina.

Again this is nothing new, similar ideas have occurred often during history, like in times of pestilence and war. Indeed, we find some of this way of thinking in the bible as well, especially in the Old Testament, where God in some texts does seem to have an almost evil side to him. However, I think one can successfully argue that this is a point where the new testament in some ways correct the old, insisting on a God which is love and nothing else. One should keep in mind that with the possible exception of the Flood, the occurrences that were interpreted as God'’s punishment in the OT, where rather limited in scope in comparison with what we have seen in the last century. Up to the Holocaust it was a widespread among Jews that the sufferings of the Jewish people throughout history could be interpreted as punishment for not living according to God'’s will. But who could deserve the kind of suffering that Holocaust meant?

At any rate, a religion going in this direction when faced with troubles has little constructive to offer its believers, except the possibility of self-righteousness.

1 comment:

Lantern Bearer said...

Well. It is certainly refreshing to find your postings. It just happened today. I have been at this for a while now and I have Googled a lot looking for a non condemning Christian ethic.

My own journey has been through a Protestant upbringing, an approach to Catholicism as a teen and young adult and eventually into some New Thought and Universalist study. I now ground myself at the moment of the deanimation of the Nazarene Rabbi at the hands of the Roman and Temple authorities. I have a great deal of trouble with what came after the establishment of the statist church of Constantine and Helena.

You are now in my Daily List.