Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Conundrum of Christianity and Other Religions


Questions from an agnostic online:
"...why [do] some people grow more aggressive, muscular, demanding, authoritarian or judgmental after converting to the "religion of self-sacrificial love," i.e., Christianity;"

"...or why there are people who are more loving, kind and understanding in each non-Christian religion or philosophy when compared with some very devout and staunchly believing Christians"?

Excellent questions, especially the last one.

For years it troubled me why it was that the most Jesus-like individuals were outside of orthodox Christianity.

And that, in contrast, many of the leaders of Christianity held strong unethical views and behaviors that were the exact opposite of Jesus' own words, and against Jesus' own social ethics as seen in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Good Samaritan parable.

Contrary to what I expected, the individuals who I admired as being deeply ethical in thought and practice included an agnostic, a Baha'i, a Jehovah's Witness, a Mormon, and a member of Eddy's church, Christ Scientist.

Their religions all seemed bonkers, but somehow, they had become committed to basic ethical truths, ones every human ought to hold and be dedicated to living.

Strangely, when a few of us dedicated social activists sought to get Christians to work for peace, the Christians would say,
"No one can know peace until they first accept Jesus as their only savior."

YET all these Christians, and their leaders (indeed almost every Christian I knew) were strongly pro-war:-(
avidly supported, paid for, and fought in the wars the U.S. started in Vietnam,
Central America, Iraq, Syria, etc. over the years.

Where was the peace that Jesus was supposed to bring?

These millions of born-again Christians continued clamoring in favor of the newest U.S. wars,
and defended all of their country's past wars,
even the intentional slaughter of innocent civilians!

Yet they were devout Christians who said they were born again,
that only they were the people who had real peace.


I still remember when one Christian leader stated
that the atom bomb was "God's gift to the U.S."!!!

And our Christian youth leader personally told me
that God was calling me and others to go and kill Vietnamese for Christ:-(

And many Muslims and orthodox Jews make similar claims--
if only our enemies adopt our religion, then all will be well...

But, of course, it never is,
because those Muslims, Jews, Christians, etc. use unjust and harmful means
to accomplish their alleged good goal.

Even worse, all 3 religions claim that God/Allah/G-d
is the One who actually causes/wills/ordains ALL evil,
causes all the wars, and so forth.

None of it made any sense, still doesn't.

Troubled in the Light,

Daniel Wilcox


john crews said...

Interesting commentary that raises so many questions. You point to people (all non-Christians of course) who you admire as being "deeply ethical". Deeply ethical based on what definition or truth? And, for that matter, quid est Veritas? If you have never met a Christian in all your years who you found to be deeply ethical, I can think of at least two possible reasons for that. The first is that the ethical paradigm you have created is profoundly different from the teachings of Jesus. (I suspect Karl Marx, and many others, never met a Christian he found to be deeply ethical). The second possibility is that you have not been looking hard enough.

Just some thoughts.

Daniel Wilcox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Wilcox said...

? Maybe I need to edit my article, because I have met Christians who were deeply ethical, BUT most of the Christian leaders I knew in my 55 years of Christianity were like the Bible study leader who told me when I was 17 that God would call me to do what is "immoral." Then he proceeded to show me this was so by quoting the Old Testament.

Then there was the fairly famous Christian leader who told my wife and I and many others at the Bible class meeting at the large church in Orange County, California that God "plans all rapes and murders.":-(

I could list many events which show that Christian leaders (including many I knew) weren't like Jesus' ethics.
One of the most troubling examples was when our missionaries to Central America wrote us about how Contra killers funded and supported by Christians in the U.S. including President Reagan and Oliver North were attacking, terrorizing, and destroying in his mission country:-(

I admired our missionaries who represented Jesus, despite all the evil that American Christian leaders were doing.

And I admire Martin Luther King Jr.

And Professor Keith Ward of Oxford University.

And the R.C. writer, Henri Nouwen.

And our hard-working missionary to the Cheyenne Indians that I worked under when I was a mission representative on the Cheyenne Reservation for the Mennonite Church.

And I admire Ronald Sider who wrote Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, for his work in peace-making, human rights, and justice.

Yours is a good point. I ought to think about all the Christians who I do think represent good ethics.

I also appreciate the girl at Youth for Christ who by her questioning me got me studying the Sermon on the Mount when I was 17 years old.

These last few years with the constant focus on Christians killing and supporting killing, and supporting the theft of land, intolerance, denial of others' rights, I know that I have become more and more negative.

Not a good.

The basis for my view of ethics is Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, some passages in the New Testament such as the passage "whatever is true..." in P., the altruism chapter in Corinthians 13, the ethical choices of the Enlightenment leaders against slavery (when most Christians supported slavery and the slave trade,
the ethical views of some Quakers, etc.

john crews said...

We have in the United States, I would suggest, a form of "Christianity" that has merged with culture and politics so much that many "churches" are no doubt unrecognizable to Jesus. It is neither a new problem, nor unique to our time or geography.

The solution though is not to abandon the faith, but to rediscover Jesus for ourselves. The solution is to stop following so-called "Christian leaders" and to follow Christ alone. (I think you are on to something important here). We tend to measure "Christian leaders" by their popularity, communication skills, etc. But the only real measure is how well they imitate Christ -- how well they love others with the infinite love of Jesus.

“The path of discipleship is narrow and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path even after years of discipleship. And it is hard to find. On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn. To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way. To confess and testify to the truth as it is in Jesus Christ, and at the same time to love the enemies of that truth, his enemies and ours, and to love them with the infinite love of Jesus Christ, is indeed a narrow way…The way is unutterably hard and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, we shall not go astray.”
D. Bonhoeffer

Daniel Wilcox said...

Great quote! The Cost of Discipleship was one of the books (along with ones by C.S. Lewis, Ward) which had a profound effect on my life. I've read most of Bonhoeffer's books, a couple of biographies, etc. I used to teach the Holocaust and that period of German history to students for years.

The central problem with Christianity is that, contrary to the Baptist faith of my childhood and youth, (and the great hope and idealism it gave me, and my own dramatic conversion story),
is that the religion in history and now
isn't anything like the Jesus of our Baptist beliefs, or for that matter, the joyous worship of my cousins in their Pentecostal church, where I loved to worship.

The more I learned about Christianity, the more I had to fend off horrific versions of it, the ones claiming to be the real creedal truth.

Even two famous theologians told me personally, that my faith in Jesus was heresy, was an "aberration."

After battling against the dominant Christian theology for 55 years, I finally realized that probably our own Baptist understanding of Jesus was an "aberration," a beautiful, inspiring, wonderful story, but not real:-(

Here's a poem I wrote about one time I very deeply experienced God. This happened back in the Jesus Movement at Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa, about 1969:

Artesian Well

I can’t carry a basic tune
Anymore than a bat can sing Hebrew
Or envision hieroglyphics,

But once I welled up bursting forth
Beyond all melodious barriers
Of sensuous fountaining,

Songing the voice of all singing.
Hosanna to the Highest and Deepest,
All-embracing universal cosmic Ultimate

Usually, I vocalize low
And hesitantly with insecure effort
But on that humid, many peopled

Saturday evened night in the crowded hall
In the midst of a thousand voiced praise
I not only caroled the Keys but was mused,

Songing the voice of all singing,
Hosanna to the Highest and Deepest
All-embracing universal cosmic Ultimate

We human instruments, fluting beautifully
One glorious open canticled Magnificat
With so much climatic passion;

Me, a human oboe in a great orchestra of tone
Being Bached and Beethovened,
To the alleluiaed heights,

Songing the voice of all singing,
Hosanna to the Highest and Deepest
All-embracing universal cosmic Ultimate.

Lava-hot harmonied, a chorale of joyous, exultant
Joy, the Transcendent's artesian well bursting forth,
Geysering up in ecstatic adulation,

Welling skyward beyond all measuring
Bursting beyond all selves
To God, our lover, all communioned,

Songing the voice of all singing,
Hosanna to the Highest and Deepest
All-embracing universal cosmic Ultimate.


First pub. in
The Clockwise Cat in
different form and in
selah river poetry collection

Anonymous said...

Hello Daniel,

You said " . . . because those Muslims, Jews, Christians, etc. use unjust and harmful means to accomplish their alleged good goal." Yet, before that you classified Jehovah's Witnesses as ethical along with the other belief-systems you mentioned as "ethical".

I do know quite a bit about Jehovah's Witnesses because I was raised as one, as was my wife. I was a full-time minister for them as a young man who spent countless hours trying to convert others to that religion. And I want to make you aware that they do "use unjust and harmful means to accomplish their alleged good goal". The whole basis of the Jehovah's Witness religion (no matter what they tell you) is all about controlling others, and the Jehovah's Witness leadership will use all legal means to do so. It is an insidiously dangerous religion. There is literally no freedom of thought in that religion, and no concept of 'experiencing God' or having a 'relationship with the divine' directly. If you do a little research on the internet, you will discover that their doctrines are white-washed by their leadership for public consumption. They believe in a church controlled theocracy that in their minds replaces secular governments. This is why they don't participate in war or politics (not because they "love" peace). With just a little reading on the internet, you will become aware of the truth of that religion's affect on children, family units, and personal self-esteem. Like anyone else who ever quits that religion and the mind-control it hoists on its members, my wife and I were shunned by our entire families and all our childhood friends. My wife and I (like EVERY other child raised as a Jehovah's Witness) have been recovering for many decades from the cultish environment of that religion,and likely will still be doing so until the day we die. It is anything but ethical; anything but Christ-like; anything but good.

I had to shed the light of truth on your misinformation about Jehovah's Witnesses, less any of your readers innocently get entrapped in that religion. By every definition, it is a cult - just like Jim Jones was and Scientology is.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Anonymous, Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

However I didn't give "misinformation about Jehovah's Witnesses." I didn't even explain anything about that particular religion--bad or good.

I am very aware of the Jehovah Witnesses' misrepresentations of history, their manipulative methods, their shunning tragedies, etc. In fact, my encounter with the Jehovah Witness who I eventually came to admire for his ethics came about because he and another JW appeared to be influencing my wife when they stopped and often spoke with her. So I met with them to set them right, and protect my wife from their religion.

My only comment is that "individuals who I admired as being deeply ethical..." included "a Jehovah's Witness."

I have a fairly strong background in the history of religion, especially in the religions of Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons (LDS). I've read biographies, histories, critiques, defenses, etc.

One of the best was by ex-Jehovah Witness, Raymond Franz, Crisis of Conscience. I have the marked up book here in my library.

Think about this, again. That was my original point! Why is it that so many creedal Christians are so unethical, so immoral in actual life?

And why is it that some other individuals, live according to good ethical principles DESPITE their wrong beliefs,
their wrong religion?
(I even said that their religion "seemed bonkers"!)

Life is far more about how we live each moment in ethics than about speculative concepts that we claim to believe.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification, Daniel. I knew Ray Franz fairly well, and he and his wife spent time in my home a few times overnight on his way south from New York. He was a wonderful, courageous man. I will forever be grateful to him for reaching out to me (a stranger to him) in order to help myself, my wife, and small children through a most difficult, heart-breaking time in our lives.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Yes, another example of a person who sought to live for the good, the true, and the just, even when it was difficult.