Guilty Of Picking and Choosing? I Am

The first blot of the Rorschach inkblot test
Image via Wikipedia
I recently read an article in the Huffington Post by Phil Zuckerman and Dan Cady titled “Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus“.  As you might suspect, the article contrasts the political and religious views of white evangelical Christians to that of the actual teachings of Christ.
I am not going to comment on the article here other than to say that towards the end I was struck by the following quote,

“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?


3 thoughts on “Guilty Of Picking and Choosing? I Am

  1. I like the way you think. It’s very New Age-y. Yes, I agree that it’s natural to want to ‘pick and choose’ and most religions allow it to a certain degree. However, every religion, sect or denomination has a set of dogmatic constants that cannot be discarded. So I’m wondering what degree of ‘picking and choosing’ do you mean. Do you think that it’s ok to pick and choose whatever you like, or just that it’s ok to add some ‘cultural flavour’ to the core dogmas?

      1. Hi Aleks! I agree that each denomination and every religion has its tenets. The Ten Commandments, for example, are laws that govern our lives, that help guide us in moral living. For the most part, Christians and Jews alike, adhere to these laws. It is not right to simply go out and murder! However, there might be a time when it is right to defend oneself resulting in the killing of another. In the eyes of most, this would be an acceptable reason to “disobey” the Law.

        On the other hand, there are many practices and beliefs from other religions that can certainly aid my own spiritual walk without changing or threatening my understanding of my relationship with God.

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