Sunday, October 17, 2010

Identity Crisis of Faith

Albert Mohler Jr. is not my favorite person to read about in news. It’s not as if he doesn’t make good points occasionally; such as noting that people’s acceptance of divorce but opposition to gay marriage shows dissonant thinking about the public’s view of marriage. However, with his recent accusation that Christians shouldn’t practice yoga because of “spiritual dangers”, I remember why I’m fundamentally at odds with him in terms of worldview. His insistence that America needs to get back to its “Christian heritage” is already a historical revisionist idea that shows how willfully ignorant otherwise educated people can be to feel secure in their personal identity. America is hardly a Christian nation any more than it’s a democratic nation in a classical sense of either term. Demographically, America is divided and fragmented in terms of what people identify as; between religious, nondenominational or otherwise and spiritual but not religious, distancing oneself from institutionalized religion. Being Christian is becoming an empty label due to the ambivalence as to what the person believes exactly about Christian doctrine, the first question many people might ask after expressing their happiness at them being “saved”. There’s also the question as to how a believer in Jesus is supposed to connect to a government they believe is unjust, which seems to be the case for a growing minority; or a shrinking majority with people drifting apart in considering lines that have been drawn and redrawn in the proverbial sands. Mr. Mohler’s warning about yoga reflects 1) a mistaken understanding about yoga as a practice that, like Tai Chi and martial arts, can be separated from its initial religious/spiritual context and has in fact already been integrated into Christian spiritual practices and 2) insecurity about modern Christianity’s identity and definition of itself. The existence of syncretism and eclecticism both reflect Mohler’s fears that Christians are becoming less unadulterated in their Christian beliefs. Though his definition already seems at odds with how Christianity has evolved in terms of initially defining itself based on creeds and now more in its ultimate concern, to use Paul Tillich’s more accessible method to consider religiosity. If Christianity’s ultimate concern is Jesus and the salvation he supposedly brings, the differences between various believers should be the least of their worries of distinguishing themselves from other faiths. I have to wonder if Mohler is also threatened by interfaith discussions or even *gasp* ecumenical discussions between denominations within Christianity itself. Time may tell.

Alongside the difficulties Christians have in defining themselves, there is a discussion by the American Muslim community about the understanding of Islam as a “religion of peace”. It seems to be less common in America than they would imagine. This strikes me as odd since accusing Islam of being a violent imperialistic religion was hardly anything for people to get up in arms about before 9/11 happened. With any issue Americans develop with a foreign presence, it boils down primarily to a feeling of being threatened. With Japanese during World War 2, it wasn’t the rumors of spies getting secret information that was the first thought on people’s minds so much as the idea that because certain Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, all Japanese were potential traitors to America. This is troubling because there was a Japanese presence in America before the wars. And similarly, a Muslim community has existed in America for a significant amount of time, and yet because certain Muslims took an extremist position that involved crashing planes into major buildings in America, people have begun to believe in a spreading delusion that all Muslims are deceiving Americans just to invade our country and enforce Shariah law, etc. You could ask a sample of Muslims from the top 5 populated cities in America and you’d probably have a majority of American Muslims opposing this kind of violence and intertwinement with politics in the Middle East, especially with recent immigrants. With later generations, the difficulty is worse, because they were born and raised in America and existing alongside Christian and Jewish children in school and few if any parents objecting in the decades before 9/11 occurred. It always seems to strike some unseen nerve in Americans when they feel personally offended or threatened by some group. This compels them by some psychosis/neurosis to discriminate against that group. The problem does go away in time, but only after further tragedy has struck, innocent members of whatever group was deemed dangerous being hurt physically or psychologically by those who are otherwise sympathetic to the plights of people in similar positions that their own ancestors may have been in. Overall this is just more ruminating on my part about a flaw in humanity that only reinforces my misanthropy. But I remember that the same people that can behave in such a reprehensible way can also be very compassionate. It seems, therefore, that a minority of people behave in such ways by their own ambition; the majority of those that commit such atrocities are ill educated or socially pressured followers that feel they have no other choice to make a difference. If we pursued greater education and fought against such coercion and threats of ostracism, then perhaps this would happen less. And the humanist ethic would seem less threatening and more aligned with even Christian thought. Until next week, Namaste and aloha.

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