The Religious Melting Pot

Last week the news carried a story based on a Wall Street Journal article by Stephen Prothero entitled “A Hint of This, A Pinch of That.” It seems that a recent Pew study shows Americans “are swingers as well as switchers, flirting with religious beliefs and practices other than their own without officially changing their religious affiliation.”

In other words, a growing percentage of Americans who identify themselves as “religious” incorporate more than one belief into their lives or practices. According to the article, for instance, 23 percent of those who claim to be Christians also believe in astrology, 22 percent in reincarnation, and 21 percent in yoga as a spiritual practice.

How, how, how is this possible, I wonder. Surely these people can’t be sitting under Biblical teaching and come away thinking reincarnation is consistent with what they just learned.

But this is probably the critical point. They are NOT sitting under Biblical teaching. I know from scant exposure to religious TV programing that there are preachers out there claiming the name of Christ but declaring a false gospel.

Some dismiss parts of the Bible wholesale. Others I’ve heard yank verses out of context and string them together until they say what the preacher wants them to say.

Either way, the net result is a “Christianity” that is far from the teaching of the Bible. In fact, it reminds me of the error of the Israelites in the Old Testament, worshipping God but also keeping their household idols, first the ones they brought with them from Egypt, but eventually the ones deified by the nations around them (2 Kings 17:7-18).

Interesting, I thought, that Mr. Prothero started his article with this line:

So much for the jealous God.

Instead, it seems more and more people claiming the name of Christ are happy to claim the name of whatever other spirituality they think might be of help. A little Jesus, a little Eastern mysticism, a little humanism and … wa-la! Out comes contemporary religious experience that makes all roads lead to happiness as long as the seeker is sincere in his journey.

It sounds so consistent with a theology of peace. We need to love others by accepting them as they are and allowing then to hold their own beliefs without persecution, but also without challenge. After all, the most important thing next to freedom is tolerance.

Sadly, anyone declaring such is a false teacher. It is not loving to allow someone to march into eternity without Christ!

13 Comments

  1. I can fathom — and I think we should allow some leeway for — people who genuinely are saved but are, for whatever reason, still in the dark about many biblical truths. I’m an example of that. I came to Christ from a New Age background and, even when I was saved, still held to certain occult beliefs. It wasn’t a matter of blatant rebellion, but sincere ignorance. In this sense, we can’t categorically denounce someone who claims to be a Christian and believes in reincarnation until we fully know where they’re coming from. They may simply be uninformed and immature in their faith, which may be the fault of themselves or others (i.e., pastors / churches).

    It’s when this religious synthesis is the direct result of unbiblical teaching that I think we should worry. For instance, I recently commented on a post entitled Is God a Recovering Practitioner of Violence. It’s an Emergent site wherein the author suggests that Jesus’ baptism signaled God’s repentance from using violence in the Old Testament. As preposterous as that sounds, there are many academics and prominent postmodern religious leaders who speculate along those lines. Yet Emergents still consider themselves Christians. This trend toward liberal, postmodern Christianity is at the heart of today’s religious amalgam. Relativism has become the worldview du jour, and unless Christians return to the classical view of Absolutes and the correspondent logic of said position, we’ll continue to see this drift into what is, really, absurdism.

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  2. The evening lesson our preacher gave this past Sunday included some statistics from the latest Barna survey, which tracks morality trends in America, that showed a steady increase in the practice of “religious melting pot” over the last 3 generations. One of the questions asked was whether those who identified themselves as “Christians” thought the bible held the same value as sacred texts from other religions, and I believe at least 2/3 of the respondents either “somewhat agreed” or “strongly agreed.”

    @cirdog: I would certainly agree, and infer from Paul’s writings in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, that there needs to be some consideration and correction in a spirit of gentleness given to those new in the faith who bring with them false doctrines learned in their previous life experience.

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  3. It sounds so consistent with a theology of peace. We need to love others by accepting them as they are and allowing then to hold their own beliefs without persecution, but also without challenge. After all, the most important thing next to freedom is tolerance.

    Sadly, anyone declaring such is a false teacher. It is not loving to allow someone to march into eternity without Christ!

    So, the True Christian(TM) does not accept someone as they are, and does not allow them to hold their own beliefs without persecution.

    Thank you for frankly admitting what Christians are typically loathe to. That Christian theology is responsible for horrors like the Crusades and the Inquisition, among others.

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  4. Robert, stop persecuting Becky for her beliefs. Sheesh! And the “Crusades and Inquisitions” argument is getting rather tired. As if Christians have never started orphanages, hospitals, universities, or relief efforts. Please. Now you’ll excuse me as I have to find an unbeliever to interrogate and torture…

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  5. I wonder how the article in the WSJ defined ‘Christian’. Did they include those who claimed to be Christian and Buddhist and Neopagan all at the same time?

    I remember back when I was a Pagan, Paganism was one of three or four religions that were the ‘fastest growing religions in America’. But all 4 couldn’t be THE fastest….

    I’m encouraged looking at my small, rural parish. There are several Bible study classes going on, and we’ve recently added a Latin Mass to the worship schedule. While there are a relatively small number of us Latin Mass geeks, a lot seem to be young parents with small children, and it’s encouraging to see parents who are obviously working on giving their children a good religious training themselves— there was one father quietly teaching his quite-young son how to follow along in with the service in his Mass book.

    Note to ‘Robert’: there is a difference between (verbally) correcting a person when they are mistaken about a bit of Biblical theology— or a bit of science for that matter— and beating them up. Most people know this.

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  6. Note to ‘Robert’: there is a difference between (verbally) correcting a person when they are mistaken about a bit of Biblical theology— or a bit of science for that matter— and beating them up. Most people know this.

    No disagreement here. However, the author did use the word “persecution.” If a Muslim had used the same words, concluding that “It is not loving to allow someone to march into eternity without Allah!”, we’d all justifiably be fearful.

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  7. Wow, lots of conversation. I’m happy with that, no matter what the opinion.

    Mike (cirdog), regarding your first comment. You said:

    It’s when this religious synthesis is the direct result of unbiblical teaching that I think we should worry.

    That’s really where I was going. I think we have given a pass to a lot of false teachers and that, in part, is why people outside Christianity don’t know the difference between someone who professes Christianity and someone who believes in Christ.

    I wouldn’t think a new Christian would have all the theological Ps and Qs in a row. Last I checked, not many of us do, no matter how long we’ve been Christians.

    But for teachers, James makes it very clear—there is a higher standard, one God will hold them to. But how sad if a new believer gets caught up in the hoopla of some professing Christian who actually tells lies about God. But that’s another subject.

    Becky

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  8. Kameron, thanks for adding the corroborating fact from the Barna study. And I concur with what you said about the approach for handling error in the church. Scripture deals with that clearly. The problem I see is weak Christians/new Christians/professing Christians sitting under false teaching.

    Nissa, the article didn’t define Christian, as I recall. From the context I took it to refer to anyone who classified himself as a Christian, but that could be wrong.

    Thanks for your input on the subject!

    Becky

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  9. Hey, Robert, thanks for stopping by and for leaving, not one, but two comments.

    I realize that you may misinterpret my saying this as you did the portion of my post you quoted, but I am genuinely happy to discuss this subject with you, if that’s what you want.

    As you correctly surmised, I was disparaging what I called the “gospel of peace,” but not for the reason you assumed. Most error takes truth and then does more—twists it, selectively chooses a portion of it, adds to it. So too with these false teachers I think Christians should stand against.

    No, persecution of those with other beliefs is not right. In fact the Bible says we are to love our enemies, to do good to those who misuse us. We’re to “turn the other cheek,” “go the extra mile,” and such.

    The error I was pointing out came in the “but also” phrase—without challenge. In my opinion, Christians have far too long let others say what it is we believe. I’d be doing this if I left your assertion about Christians unchallenged.

    Here’s what I can tell you with confidence. Christians, regardless of varying peripheral practices, believe that Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone, provided what every person needs by His death and resurrection—forgiveness.

    Some people think they don’t need forgiveness. Others think they can “work off” anything they did that might be held against them. Still others think Jesus might be my way, Buddha might be someone else’s way, and so on.

    All those views are based on error.

    Let’s use an analogy. What if I see someone whose coat catches on fire. They don’t know it yet because it’s just the hem, in the back. Should I let them go on their way because right now they are happily oblivious to the catastrophe awaiting them? After all, they might see my efforts to point to their danger as me not accepting them as they are, or as me hating them and wanting to persecute them.

    I can choose to do nothing, thinking that my efforts just might make matters worse, which is what I think many of us Christians have done in the past. It’s easier to fit in with the culture, to be seen as tolerant and not rocking the boat, never mind that with each step, the guy on fire is getting closer to the point when there will be no help.

    So which would you rather? A person you find offensive who loves you enough to say, You’re in danger. Or the nice, smiling, nodding mind-your-own-business religious person who lets you burn?

    Becky

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  10. So which would you rather? A person you find offensive who loves you enough to say, You’re in danger. Or the nice, smiling, nodding mind-your-own-business religious person who lets you burn?

    You’re analogy with the coat on fire isn’t quite appropriate. There is little question what a “coat” and “fire” are, while the same can’t be said about Christian words such as “sin” and “salvation.” To make a more appropriate analogy, say someone came up to you and said, with all deepest sincerity, your gupta requires finela, which only Toaqp can provide you. You’d probably dismiss them out of hand, but if you cared to indulge them, you might ask for evidence of gupta, finela, and Toagp, so they hand you a printed tract, look you straight in the eye, and say “I know this is true. You’re in danger if you don’t refresh your gupta with finela.”

    Now, you’d be completely justified in simply walking away from the person, and ignore their claims. If they became insistent, and even attempted to persecute you for ignoring them, you’re well within your rights to resist.

    Being esconced within your religion, you perhaps don’t recognize that your situation is precisely analagous with the above vis-a-vis non-believers. We don’t care what your personal beliefs are, whether it be about sin, gupta, or even thetans. You can shout yourselves hoarse about these things. You can certainly live your lives as if they exist, but until you can present solid evidence for their existence to us, don’t expect anyone to give you much of a hearing. Finally, it goes without saying, you have no right to force others to live by your beliefs, no matter how sincerely you hold them. This is what we primarily mean by tolerance.

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  11. Hi, Robert, I appreciate your thoughtful response. It’s apparent you have some knowledge or experience with Christianity because I didn’t mention either sin or salvation.

    I said we need forgiveness, which I think 99.9 percent of thoughtful people understand. Where else do we get the cliche “Nobody’s perfect” except from our understanding that we all make a hash of something, despite our best efforts.

    So you see, “sin” might sound like “gupta” to you, but “messing up” is universal.

    Once we agree on that point, then we could discuss forgiveness, though you might still think that sounds like “finela.” You see, you’ve actually highlighted a significant truth. Spiritual things—like sin, salvation, forgiveness, eternity, God—are discerned spiritually.

    I can give you rational evidences for God, for example, none of which will convince you He exists if you insist that He who is interested in your soul must give you a physical sign other than those He’s already given, before you’ll believe.

    If you dismiss His written record (physical) and the eyewitness accounts it contains, if you doubt His physical appearance on earth in the form of man (Jesus), if you close your ears to the messages delivered by His servants (prophets), then pretty much there’s nothing that will convince you because you’ve set limitations on God—how you expect Him to act.

    But God is not someone to whom we can dictate. He is the sovereign, after all, we the subjects, if you will. The greatest problem for the atheist today is that he doesn’t like that condition.

    Well, “today” is probably wrong. I think throughout history, those who choose against God do so primarily because they don’t want Him telling them what to do.

    In a debate this past year, atheist author Christopher Hitchens said as much in his closing statement when he made the appeal to “Emancipate yourself from a celestial dictatorship and you’ve taken the first step to being free.”

    Such a view of God is incredibly shortsighted, but the statement does reveal the heart of atheism. “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.” It’s a lie, but not one I or anyone else can convince a disbelieving person to recognize.

    You’re right about the analogy, Robert, that I can’t wrestle the man on fire to the ground and put out the flame for him. Belief is something each person must come to; it’s not a condition that can be imposed from the outside.

    However, that truth doesn’t lessen my responsibility to shout, “Fire!” whether or not the burning man hears instead “gupta!”

    Becky

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  12. […] Interestingly, I remembered this chapter from looking ahead yesterday and read it just now because of something I put in a comment to Monday’s post, “The Religious Melting Pot.” […]

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  13. So you see, “sin” might sound like “gupta” to you, but “messing up” is universal.

    Indeed it is. I accept that as I accept the air I breath–a fact of existence. But what you might consider “messing up” is normal, or even ethical, behavior to others.

    Once we agree on that point, then we could discuss forgiveness, though you might still think that sounds like “finela.”

    Since “messing up” is a hazy term with different meanings in various contexts, discussion of “forgiveness” is too brute and ultimately useless. In some situations, we might speak rather of justice. Or of revenge. Or even indifference. All are dependent on the context.

    I can give you rational evidences for God, for example, none of which will convince you if you insist that He who is interested in your soul must give you a physical sign other than those He’s already given.

    Sorry, what is this “soul” you speak of? Can you demonstrate its existence?

    If you dismiss His written record (physical) and the eyewitness accounts it contains, if you doubt His physical appearance on earth in the form of man (Jesus), if you close your ears to the messages delivered by His servants (prophets), then pretty much there’s nothing that will convince you.

    I think you’re a writer. Therefore, you’re probably aware of the term “begging the question.”

    A Mormon could have uttered the same exact words as you. Somehow, I doubt you’ll convert to Mormonism.

    You’ve set limitations on God—how you expect Him to act. But God is not someone to whom we can dictate. He is the sovereign, after all, we the subjects, if you will. The greatest problem for the atheist today is that he doesn’t like that condition.

    No, this doesn’t quite capture it. Rather, non-believers (a group that includes not just skeptics) examine the claims of the Christian god’s followers they make about it (e.g., all-loving, all-powerful, etc.) and find them incoherent and at odds with reality. Coupled with the lack of evidence, and we’re justified in non-belief, just as you’re justified in your non-belief of Zeus, Allah, or Toagp.

    Such a view of God is incredibly shortsighted, but the statement does reveal the heart of atheism. “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.” It’s a lie, but not one I or anyone else can convince a disbelieving person to recognize.

    “Fate” and “soul” are not established as things existing in reality. Therefore, you’re opinion is not only mistaken, but incoherent.

    However, that truth doesn’t lessen my responsibility to shout, “Fire!” whether or not the burning man hears instead “gupta!”

    If this is all Christians would do, I would be happy. Unfortunately, not only do they shout non-sensical words, but they persecute the rest of us if we don’t subscribe to their version of reality.

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