I don't know if this is a cop out or not, but earlier I was thinking about the three-segments of the exercise on the other thread, and it occured to me that in some ways, this discussion board is like a church or a spiritual community (in my mind anyway) and it is a place where I came with my attrction to the ministry of Jesus, with my practical and theological/spiritual issues and questions about Christianity, and I had hoped I arrivewd with some sort of unique-to-me perspective to offer.
It was a risk, and now I'm just wondering. Perhaps I need a break...
[editing begins here...]
I have gotten all confused and may be posting things twice. I don't know how to say what I feel would be beneificial to the discussion without once again sounding confrontational. Please know that I'm trying to provoke, but on this discussion board, I sense a growing kinship with Christians who don't want to go to church.
I have no idea why I'm drawn to the ministry of Jesus, but if it all boils down to faith, then I just don't have it. And since I don't have it, perhaps I have overstepped my bounds in posting in this thread.
I have no idea why I'm drawn to the ministry of Jesus, but if it all boils down to faith, then I just don't have it. And since I don't have it, perhaps I have overstepped my bounds in posting in this thread.
Oh, not at all! I think your questions and probings are shared by many who read this forum but never post to it, and certainly by countless thousands in our world today. There's a lot of mistrust for various Churches and in the overall context mentioned in my opening post, a new kind of twist to the question, "Why Christianity?"
I think your attraction to Jesus is the first step toward finding a positive answer to that question. Without that, then nothing else will ever follow. Keep going, and don't get discouraged if you bump into a strong response from someone already rooted in a faith tradition. Say how you feel about that, and what kind of questions or responses were stirred up in you because of that response. That's how we both learn how to better communicate.
So, I'll acknowledge my sensitivity to the "Christians are hypocrites" point, even though you didn't throw it out like a dart. But, granted, we are, and so are Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, and even atheists, I'm sure.
I'll also own, here, my impatience about people wanting to be Chrsitian, but not belong to a faith community because "none of them suit my special needs." You're not saying that in those words, and I do agree that one must more or less feel at home with a community. But I don't believe there are any really perfect fits out there. Nevertheless, I don't think Christianity can really be known and experienced apart from Christian community. And so sooner or later, if one wants to go deeper into the issue of "Why Christianity?" some kind of experimental venture into Christian community becomes necessary as a prelude to commitment.
Do hang in there, shanti. I'm glad that you have so far.
Dear Phil--Thank you for your post. Quite frankly, I was ready to head for the door, but decided to peek in on my way out and found your post. So thanks.
Anyway, I hope we can both agree that I have already said that all religions have weak points and you have already said all religions have weak points and we are in agreement about that.
Back to the topic of this thread, which is Christianity....
To the point of people wanting to be Christians but who don't belong to a community. I can see that perhaps my original point didn't come across (so I'll rephrase that) and you raise another good point (so I'll speak to that as well).
I know people who are "already" Christians (not seekers) but who have left their community and haven't found another--mostly because their community was so harsh on them or so unforgiving of alternate views or lifestyle issues, etc. I don't think it's easy to go right back into a faith community when you've been hurt. I'm thinking of people who have had abortions or people I know who blend east-west spiritualities and are not welcome in the communities they have been attending. I also know gay people who are not welcomed. I know divorced peopled who are not welcomed. And I know people who have converted from one brand of Christianity to another and who never quite get welcomed and eventually give up. I know families who don't attend weddings because one person is not of the "right" denomination and consequently, the church-goer doesn't feel comfortable going back to church.
So it's not that easy to go back to church (or wherever) once someone has been hurt or disaffection has happened. In my thinking, both the community and the person need to step toward each other, but often it doesn't happen that way. I'm wondering if churches are out there just waiting and wondering where all the people are, not thinking how hard it is to be the only one to make the move toward reconciliation.
I know someone who left her congregation and went to another one because 1) she was the only person of her ethnicity in the congregation and felt left out because everything was geared toward the dominant ethnicity and 2) the congregation was separating itself in many ways (large and samll) from the neighborhood in which it was located.
Now, changing the subject a bit. It's also sometimes hard to become a member of a community if you are seeking. Some communities have certain levels of membership that are not open to thse who aren't already full-fledged members. Others will allow people in the door but members view them with suspicion. There are also places where they want you to sign up for a committee right away.
And then there is the "knowledge" factor (we know what we are talking about but we won't explain in ways that you can understand, you'll just have to take our word for it....and if you don't know the words, well....) I know, that sounds more snide than I intended, sorry.
My experience has been quite different. Let me repeat, my experience has been quite different.
I have always presented myself as a seeker but not a candidate for membership. In many cases this allows people to feel less threatened, and we get along just fine while I learn. Other times, this has backfired and I realized that unless I was there to actually get with the program, no one had time for me or they interpreted what I had to say with more suspicion than they would if the same words had come from a member.
These two scenarios have happened in non-Christian contexts as well, I must add. There have always been opportunities for slipping on a spiritual banana peel, both for me and for the people I have sought to learn from.
Anyway, lest anyone think that I am trying indict all of Christianity, please be assured that I am not. But a question was raised about why people aren't in church and I offered some suggestions based on my experience or the experiences of people I know.
Also, lest anyone think that I am saying that the burden lies completely with Christianity to fill the churches, I am not. When I was a child, I tasted cantelope once and thought I didn't like it. But later, I tasted it again and discovered that it had an exquisite flavor for me.
And yet, even Jesus said, if you are not welcome, shake the dust from your shoes. So I think there is something to be said for knowing when you will not fit with a group and then looking elsewhere.
I find Christianity fascinating and somewhat alluring. This thread took a turn toward the question of why people aren't in church and also the question of how to bring the Christian message out into the world in a way that non-Christians can understand. Threads twist and turn. I would still like to see more about people's positive interactions with the Christian message, especially as it relates to the world at large. I think Christianity has a special gift. Since I don't have a clue about ascention, I can't speak to that, but I can speak about the gospel message of Jesus as I have read it. Good stuff for the most part.
Last night I read a quote by a Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh: "Because of doubt you can thirst more and you will get a higher kind of proof." Amazing.
Have there been any polls done about why Christians are not going to church? What do these polls say? I have heard that the mainline protestant denominations are losing members in a big way. I'm wondering if it has something to do with individualism. Certain spiritual paths emphasize the individual relationship with the Diviine and others emphasize a communal relationship.
It could be that my ideas are specific to my friends and have nothing at all to do with Christianity at large.
Anyway, I'm hoping no one takes offense at anything I have said. I have rambled a bit and perhaps not been most efficient in my use of language. I apologize for that and thanks for reading this far.
One last thing I'm wondering about....
I'm wondering if there is any relationship between how affluent a society is and how many people are regular members of faith communities.
I would think that in a world where there are opportunities to numb oneself with non-spiritual things, spiritual things seem less important.
Conversely, I would think that a sense of needing help would encourage attention to spiritual matters.
One would hope that we could all be open to the many aspects of divine presence in our lives no matter what our circumstance, but it's hard--hard for the haves and the have-nots.
My post from earlier this morning is not as coherent or calm in places as I would want it to be. I think I still had some residual feelings from yesterday.
For some reason, a lifetime of spiritual practice and ways of being are not serving me well in this thread.
Maybe that's part of the process of learning. Maybe it's just my problem to sort out.
At any rate, I'm going to take some time to calm my mind.
I enjoyed your reflections, shanti, but am unfortunately pressed for time in preparing for a week-long trip I'm planning to start on Friday. Lots to do before leaving, so my reply will be brief.
I do think the points about communities not being welcoming, of being rejecting for all sorts of reasons, is one that many bump into. If we were doing a "Why not Christianity?" thread, that would probably be at the top of the list, or close to it, for many people.
Sue, I can understand some of the struggles that you experience about how women are treated in Catholicism. It's one of the big issues of our time, for sure. Good to hear that this forum has been helpful to you in some ways.
Let's try to refocus on the "Why Christianity?" question from a personal standpoint if it's too difficult to speak in generalities on this topic.
I also think your suggestion of a correlation between affluent societies and declining religious commitments a good one as well, although I can't point to documentation to substantiate it one way or another. Still, it makes a lot of sense.
Wowie! Step away from the forum for a few days and the floodgates open...awesome!
In reading through all these posts there were many things that really stuck in my mind, but I just wanted to say something about a couple things for the moment.
In seeing some of the posts about the "bumps" that we experience with the different churches, I couldn't help but see the connection when I read Phil's statement about the Catholic church being more about the truth faith (pardon the paraphrase, I forgot exactly how you put that, Phil). It seems to me that there is a direct connection between the various encounters people have in the Protestant arena vs. the more uniformity (is that a word??) in the Catholic faith. By that I mean that there are extensive branches of the Protestant group and these branches have some doctrines that seem to be in direct opposition to others in the Protestant group whereas in the Catholic faith it is more of a "one belief/doctrine/dogma" system. This makes me wonder if one of the reasons some folks have trouble finding a Christian community is because there's so many "messages" out there?
As I've mentioned before (I think), I was raised in a Baptist church, but now attend Methodist. Though both hold the Trinity doctrine, basics of salvation, second coming doctrine..there are some big differences in how the everyday living of Christianity is taught. Needless to say, even for me being raised in a Christian home and knowing the Bible, it was a tad bit confusing when I began attending the Methodist church. I'm not sure, but, it just seems logical to me that someone who's had no experience with Christianity as a child or was not brought up in a Christian home, it could be a real hindrance to go to different denominations and be hit with such varying degrees of doctrine. I think that the unity of the Catholic doctrine is a very good thing and I wish that the Protestant doctrine was the same...but alas...it isn't.
Another thing that stuck in my mind was the comment made about affluence. I have noticed that in some third world countries where people are tortured and killed because they are Christian, the faith level is just beyond the scope of what I see here in the US. And I truly think that part of it is because we have so many things at our disposal here..a higher standard of living...job opportunities to tickle our intellect...ways to make BIG money. It's sometimes hard for folks to see any NEED for Christianity because they've buffered all their wants and desires with material things. And we've also grown to think that our "happiness" is what living is all about..we no longer have the need to "survive", nor the need for seeking God to meet our inner self. Hmmmmm not sure that came out exactly as I intended. Maybe I can come back to that point later...lol.
Goodness...thanks for all the wonderful posts. Though I've experienced "bumps" on the road, Christianity is, for me, about me and Jesus and the realization of His love for me. Simple?....yes...and no .
This has been a truly good thread. I think it is quite natural, when considering Why Christianity? to also consider "why not?". For sure, we are blessed . No doubt, we are broken .
I never lose sight of the Catholic teaching that all people who live an upright and moral life can be saved. The way this is said, using the big words, is that there is salvific efficacy to be had in other denominations and other traditions and, yes, even in the lives of those who are, for whatever reason, unaffiliated. This is our teaching. This is our belief. Obviously, we believe that, in this regard as well as in other doctrinal presentations, our articulation of the Gospel is the most faithful to the Father's revelation in Jesus as communicated to us by the Holy Spirit. Of all the Christian denominations, if anyone is looking for the most inclusive , then I'd say that Roman Catholicism is among the most inclusivistic . Specifically, ours is a Christocentric inclusivism.
Of all the great traditions, the major world religions, my guess would be that some forms of Hinduism are the most inclusive of all, very pluralistic, maybe what could be called theocentrically inclusivistic. Moving on to Buddhism and the Dalai Lama's "brand", in particular, it is very inclusivistic, even to the point where it also acknowledges the efficacy of secular moralities.
At any rate, it is not likely that Catholicism, in particular, or Christianity, in general, is going to move away from Christocentric approaches. It is, after all, Christ Whom we offer this weary world. As I said, earlier in this thread, it is not so much a setting of ourselves over against anyone as it is a discernment of what differentiates us or, in other words, what is our gift. If anyone's project is to redefine Christianity's core message, then I can only say that that is likely a futile effort. At the same time, you would not be alone and I would refer you to the theological work of John Hick and the writings of retired Anglican Bishop Shelby Spong. Also, bottom line, whatever your outlook, we can find plenty of reasons to believe in you and validate you even if we disagree with you!
I think Christianity, at its finest, is an increase in spiritual awareness and the recognition of a continuing development of the divinization process which leads to our being other Christs and knowing that we are, indeed, other Christs. (Read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis)
The story of Jesus the Christ shows us what we may encounter on our journey. Developing our relationship with the living Jesus the Christ gives us an understanding and loving companion along the way. So, in this way, Christianity can be seen as both an external and internal process leading to a destination of being other Christs....or, if you will, Divine Union....or, yet again, clear seeing.
An interesting related article by Bro. David Steindl-Rast can be found at:
Thanks for your insights and article recommendation Amber.
I found the recent Atlantic Monthly, which offers up an article by Philip Jenkins, an academic, on the future of Christianity fascinating. His take is that the fuel is in the Southern Hemisphere, with a greater emphasis on the supernatural elements of the faith, that this hasn't been embraced or recognized by Christians in Europe or the U.S. He's also written a book about it, and says the second great Reformation of Christianity is growing out of this geographic division, as well as the more mystical, charismatic elements and that its almost passing the Northern Hemisphere by. I plan to order his book when I get a chance. Has anyone else read it?
The Atlantic Monthly article sounds very interesting. I saw it on the newstand but haven't read it yet. The AM website has
some additional information about the article:
I haven't read the Atlantic Monthly article yet (and plan to) but in the meantime, it has occurred to me that the Northern Hemisphere is the more affluent one. Nothing against affluent people. I know some very good and very spiritual ones, but I'm wondering two things: 1) if material comfort doesn't sometimes present a challenge to spirituality, and 2) if God doesn't sometimes choose to work through humble situations.
I'm planning to read the article and also talk with someone I know who has already read it.
An excerpt from Phil Jenkins book can be found here:
I found it extremely interesting and ironic that I'd just posted about affluence and then got this article location in a newsletter..lol. I do believe Mr. Jenkins is onto something.
Hope this link works
I bought the Atlantic Monthly and had a chance to briefly skim the article in the bookstore.
I, too, had previously posted about affluence earlier this month (couple of weeks ago?). Interesting that several of us have already been on the same page.
Now I'm going to have a cup of tea and read the article.
One other related URL for this topic....In the December issue of AM, there was an article by David Brooks examing the political differences in the US....
I think some of the information there relates to some of the information Jenkins provides.
Since the topic of affluence has also been mentioned, Jenkins underscores the tie between oil interests and religion in his online interview.
The online interview is a good attempt at understanding differences in our world.
I too have been away for a bit and am trying to catch up on this thread. Great to see the new faces.... welcome.
I admit I know little about the other faith traditions.... but for me the why of chrisitianity comes down to the experience of grace.... of the freely given overwhelming abundance of love shown in the birth, death and resurrection of Christ. For me it is an experience that is reflected and revealed in all of the beauty that surrounds us each and every second of every day... in the natural world, in the creative talents and ordinary lives of people I meet each day... in the music of Bach and the art of Picasso... in the wonder of the galaxies and the intricacy of a flower.... the incredible abundance and audacity and exuberance of creation. Granted these things aren't unique to christianity but what is unique for me is the knowledge that I have done/can do nothing to merit these gifts and yet... they are mine... to love and to care for as I am loved and cared for.
For me the creeds and the liturgy and the rules are not the experience of but point to the experience of this love... this incredible gift of grace. Could I find this in other traditions, perhaps but I found it in Christ and so that for me is why christianity.
For those who don't know me.... I am an Episcopalian... simply because it is the closest I have found to my beliefs... although we are definitely not an exact match and I struggle with many of the same issues surrounding the organization of church as the rest of you. (I could add a couple to the list as well... (grin).
I would recommend a book by Alan Jones entitled. Soul Making, the Desert Way of Spirituality. For those of you unfamiliar with this let me offer a brief quote from this book speaking of the characteristics of those who follow this way:
"They have two basic characteristics: a heart and mind willing to pursue the truth wherever it may lead (and the ability to acknowledge that they may be wrong); and the kind of sensibility (which is the joining of the mind and heart) that is captive to wonder, mystery and awe."
A couple of you seem to fit this description rather well if I am reading you correctly. (grin)At any rate, it's a good read and since I seem to have developed a fondness for the desert fathers and mothers myself - I thought I'd throw it out there.
Now I will go back to catching up.
Hi Wanda--I appreciated your post very much, and also your acknowledgement that many of the things you have experienced as a Christian can be experienced outside of Christianity. But for you, it seems that Christianity is a way to joyfully engage with the world and fellow human beings.
I believe that however one gets to that point of joyfulness, once you are there, you make the world a better place. I'm reminded of Sue, who can't find a church in her small town but holds "the church" in her prayers, and also of others I know or have met here.
Thanks again. It's Monday, and it was good to read of someone writing about the very touchable world of creation.
I read the Philip Jenkins article in Atlantic Monthly yesterday afternoon. It was extremely interesting. I would not be considered affluent by the standards of my city and country, but on the world stage, I have so much.
I also live in a city with a large immigrant population from various parts of the world. And I've already seen some of what is talked about in the article.
In my mind, while I accept the notion that God gives us "all" so much to be thankful for (grace?), it also seems to me that many people on this earth have needs and yearning that are not being addressed by current institutions (religious or otherwise).
Also interesting to me is the fact that, racially, Caucasions dominate the Northern Hemisphere and people of color predominate in the Southern Hemisphere (it's unclear to me who actually "dominates" the Southern Hemisphere, given historic colonialism and current debt practices, etc.)
It was a very thought-provoking article. I'm not sure where to go with it personally (but I will be making an effort to figure that out), and I wonder how often the message will have to be given before it is taken seriously. I think Philip Jenkins is being prophetic, and we all know what a hard road it is for prophets.
Has anyone else read the article?
I tried getting it on line, but it wouldn't download (or took longer than I had to give), so I purchased it. If you don't want to purchase it or have trouble with extended reading from a computer, Atlantic Monthly should be in most libraries, which is where I do a lot of my magazine reading.
I just noticed that I've been "promoted" from "junior member" to "member."
Why thank you. Do I get a raise?
Back again (sorry for so many posts in a row).
I remembered that Philip Jenkins separates the Pacific Rim from the Southern Hemisphere, and since I have friends in Australia who would take me to task for failing to mention this, I do so now. Australia is certainly not a third world country.
Thanks for the update re AM piece, etc. I'm going to look for the magazine this week while I'm in Atlanta. Moreover, this thread is certainly adding to my book reading list. Wanda, thanks for the post re the desert fathers (and brothers, sisters). I've been fascinated by them for years, have done some reading, and my all-time favorite vacation would be a retreat at St. Catherine's, the ancient monastery in the Sinai. Which brings up, incidentally, another book recommendation, Walking the Bible by Bruce Fieler (sp?). I couldn't put it down.
Wanda, I also walk the Episcopal path, though I certainly have my issues with the church org, and also the old-line thinking one encounters in some of the more traditional parishes. As a Protestant, though, what this particular denomination offers me, as compared to my Methodist roots, is communion at every service, a ritual I find I can't live with out, and a richer, in my opinion, theological tradition. And I venture into Catholic masses all the time, though the detriment is not being able to take communion. (though there are two priests that I'm friendly with, have had long chats with re spiritual matters who will let me take communion with them. But that's the exception, not the rule.)
Re Shanti's promotion to member over junior member, we'll have to let Phil explain that distinction. I have no idea!
Just in case readers don't have time to go to the website for the Philip Jenkins article or can't get ahold of Atlantic Monthly, I thought I would list a couple of the quotes highlighted by the magazine editors:
"We stand at a historical turning point, the author argues--one that is as epochal for the Christian world as the original Reformation. Around the globe Christianity is growing and mutating in ways that observers in the West tend not to see..."
"The changes that Christian reformers are trying to inspire in North America and Europe run contrary to the dominant cultural movements in the rest of the Christian world."
After reading the article, I think that the author is not necessarily saying that change will be "bad" but that it is "unnoticed" and will be "unexpected" and seems to be happening in places with high concentrations of Christians living outside the mainstream of Christianity. He feels the changes will have a profound effect on secular society.
Further, he feels the evidence shows that these brewing changes come from orthodoxy rather than liberal Christianity. He points out that people who are living with war and starvation often seek the solace of religion that promises a "triumph of righteousness".
Also, he mentions the fact that there are quite a few people in our world who share a history of belief in witchcraft and sorcery and that these beliefs are being intwined with Christianity, producing hybrids.
Although I do not have a background in theology, I find Philip Jenkins' ideas sociologically interesting. During the course of my activities today, this article keeps coming to mind. I think it will take a while for it all to sink in, and I await input from others who have read it.
linda, shanti, and all,
The AM article by Philip Jenkins is excellent!
linda, thank you for calling it to my attention.
The words that come to mind are, "Now, I understand." Jenkins does a very thorough job of sharing a global perspective of Christianity with us. He sheds a new light on events unfolding and helps to increase our understanding of those events.
The division between what Jenkins terms Christianity of the South and Christianity of the North also seems to relate to wisdom, literacy, and education. Questions of the location of authentic authority, interpretations,
and the proper administration of authority are all crucial issues.
Thank you Philip Jenkins! This article is one piece of work!
Amber, I agree that Philip Jennkins is to be thanked. Not only has he written a very interesting article, but he has added much to this discussion thread as well.
I have put in a request at the library for his book. I'm looking forward to reading more of what he has to say. I'm also looking at my own assumptions and at what is going on in my city as well as the world.
Of course, we will all take something different away from reading Philip Jenkins. Even though I can't call myself a Christian, I can call myself a person of faith, and so I can relate to the article in that manner.
In a way, I think one of the messages I take from the article is that I must be cautious that I do not allow my own worldview to become "reality" when there are so many people have different experiences than I am having.
For example, although I live on a modest income, I have a well balanced diet. This may seem like something very small when we talk about spirituality, but if I were hungry or had a disease because of a poor diet or had to walk for three days to get a bowl of cornmeal, I might be looking in a completely different place for my spiritual needs to be met.
Much "food for thought" in the article!
Given these general characterizations of Christianity in its regional manifestations, one is still left with the basic claims of Christianity: e.g., Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again, and the core theological insights which flow from this proclamation. And so when I ask the question, "Why Christianity?" I am assuming that at some point those claims need to be considered, for they are at the heart of Christianity--much moreso than its cultural and institutional manifestations, or whether a particular local community seems friendly or not. Christianity in its essence is belief in the core Christian message, which virtually all the Churches agree on to a very large extent. This belief is closely tied to an encounter with the living Christ, Who is the the reason Christianity exists in the first place. Everything else is secondary to this core faith encounter, for Christianity really makes no sense without this. In fact, it doesn't even really exist without it, but is only some sort of shell of a movement or organization not too terribly different from any other humanitarian enterprise.
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