“In addition to such historical developments, there may very well simply be an underlying, all-too-human social-psychological process at root, one that probably plays itself out among all religious individuals: they see in their religion what they want to see, and deny or despise the rest. That is, religion is one big Rorschach test. People look at the content of their religious tradition — its teachings, its creeds, its prophet’s proclamations — and they basically pick and choose what suits their own secular outlook. They see in their faith what they want to see as they live their daily lives, and simultaneously ignore the rest.”
I know that I am certainly guilty of this, and I suspect most are to a lesser or greater degree. Seems to me that how we interpret our faith depends largely on our experience of life, our culture, and the particular community we associate with. When one or more of these factors change, our beliefs are transformed accordingly. While I acknowledge that the authors are probably referring to more immediate ways we “bend” the text or tradition to fit our needs, the word syncretism comes to mind. Syncretism is the reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief that usually results in a new teaching or belief system. I am reminded of the ancient Israelites en route from Egypt to the promised land and their constant battle to serve YHWH while also maintaining previous practices of worshipping pagan Assyrian Gods. Amos 5:25 asks the question “Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years?” The answer from the Israelites is, “Yes”. The next verse states “you also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves.” These two sentences effectively show the Hebrews mixing two belief systems. II Kings 17:33 says, “They worshipped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.”
In the New Testament, the early church found itself wrapped up in syncretism as well. Paul wrote the book of Galatians to sort out the confusion caused by the transition from the Law of Moses to the New Covenant. The book of Colossians and the first epistle of John were written for a similar purpose, this time having to do with a mixing of Gnosticism and the Bible. While it is evident throughout the Old and New Testaments that syncretism was continuously fought against, it is also obvious that many pagan concepts and beliefs remained firmly entrenched and now have become part of accepted tradition. So the questions become ” How do we not “pick and choose” what we believe, at least to some extent? It seems very human and maybe even necessary for survival and assimilation into culture and community. This is going to be heresy for many, but might syncretism be God’s revelation of God’s self through history? Might it very well be a means of God revealing God’s self in a way that makes sense and speaks to a particular culture or community in a particular time period in history? I am wondering if we took all of the religions of the world and sought out their commonalities, would we find something more universal and therefore more “truthful” in our experiences of God?
- short thoughts about religious change and culture (alekswashere.wordpress.com)
- Zuckerman on Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus (frozenclocks.wordpress.com)