world religions

This tag is associated with 14 posts

Book Review: “A Theology of Interreligious Relations” by Henning Wrogemann

Henning Wrogemann has written a massive, detailed look at interreligious relations from a Christian perspective. A Theology of Interreligious Relations specifically provides a way forward in Christian interaction with other religions.

The book is divided into six parts. The first part focuses on recent Christian theologies of religion. The second part is about how Islam and Buddhism view other religions. The third part is about how to build a theology of interreligious relations. The fourth part is about the dialogical in religious relations. The fifth part builds a theology of interreligious relations. The sixth part discusses intercultural theology and mission alongside religious studies.

One surprising thing in the book was Wrogemann’s look at other religions’ own theologies of interreligious relations. The fascinating Part II of the work looks at how Islam and Buddhism view other religions. For my own part, I’ve only ever thought of religious diversity within a framework of Christian options of exclusivism, inclusivism, and universalism. But of course these categories are deeply steeped in Christian theology to begin with, and so do not come close to exhausting all the options for interreligious relations. This part of the book was particularly enlightening to me as a reader, as it opened my eyes into many more approaches to the religious “other” than I had been aware of, and also how other religious view Christianity.

The examination of recent theologies of religion was just as interesting. Wrogemann’s critical analysis of theses like John Hick’s universalism is worth the price of admission for the book on its own, but Wrogemann offers a whole spectrum of approaches and subjects them to this same critical, insightful analysis.

The building up of his own theology of interreligious relations provides several ways forward in speaking with people of other religious traditions and interacting with them in ways that do not compromise one’s own beliefs while also being true to the central aspects of Christianity. For example, addressing the question of the particularism of Trinitarian theology when it comes to interreligious dialogue, Wrogemann argues that we “must pay attention not only to God’s revealedness but also to the ongoing hiddenness of God’s action in the world…” (424, emphasis his). This means that Christian theology’s task is, at least in regards to interreligious dialogue, “to help interpret ongiong ambivalences” when it comes to such questions (ibid). Additionally, Wrogemann bases his theology for interreligious dialogue squarely in the space of biblical revelation, insisting that we may only build this theology from the revelation of God as revealed in God’s Word and, more explicitly even, in Christ himself (see, for example, Wrogemann’s discussion of the need to acknowledge one’s own faults and work towards understanding by way of exegesis of Matthew 5 on p. 383-384).

When I decided to read the book, I did not realize it was the third in a trilogy on the topic of intercultural theology by Wrogemann. Having read it, though, I would say that the book stand quite well on its own.

A Theology of Interreligious Relations is a surprising, challenging book that readers well return to time and again. Wrogemann’s work here has established a serious starting point for Christian theology of other religions, and one which takes other religious claims seriously. It comes highly recommended, particularly for anyone with an interest in how Christianity may relate to other religions.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Insider Jesus” by William A. Dyrness

ij-dyrnessWhat does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in non-Western cultures? Could it mean something different than it does in places like the United States and Europe? These are some of the questions that Insider Jesus by William A. Dyrness seeks to answer.

Dyrness, in this pithy book, focuses on contextualization and the frequent misunderstanding of the same. Contextualization is often seen by some as being the distortion of Christianity to fit a culture; at the opposite extreme, it is seen as a kind of imperialistic co-opting of whatever culture is being witnessed to. Dyrness calls us to move past these extremes and come to understand that we must take a critical look at our assumptions about what other Christians should do and how they should behave. Often, these “shoulds” reflect our culture rather than a biblical understanding of Christianity.

Dyrness utilizes a number of case studies to highlight examples of “insider movements” in which Christians are not abandoning their culture while still following Jesus. These studies include Latin America and Africa with interfaith dialogues, emergent Christianity in places like India, and more. Each shows some ways in which Christianity is making headway in places that it might not have otherwise done. Each may make readers uncomfortable as we are forced to see that many of the things we take for granted culturally are not even understood in other cultures.

It is this last point that is perhaps most important to Dyrness’s thesis. Spreading the Gospel of Christ does not mean spreading our culture. As Christians, we’re called to be all things to all people, and that may, at times, make us uncomfortable. Some may here charge Dyrness with syncretism–a dreaded word in interfaith discussions–but such an accusation would be off-base. As Dyrness argues, using the thought of Kang-San Tan, a Christian from a Buddhist background, that we must

…distinguish between the danger of external identification with two religious communities and the possibility, even the necessity for those from these religious backgrounds, of maintaining an inward multireligious identity… Christianity itself necessarily exhibits an integration that reflects its historical and cultural situation… Every Christian religious expression represents some combination of indigenous values and religious practices… and the impact of the Christian Gospel… on this (124-125, emphasis his)

The point is that many of the things we think of as normal for Christian worship (standing during the Gospel reading, for instance) are clearly a use of cultural context to worship our God. Such things are not necessary for other groups, but when they are absent, it may lead us to wrongly think these other groups are mistaken.

Insider Jesus provides a much-needed critical perspective on insider movements that encourages readers to be aware of these movements and how their own faith is influenced by many similar aspects. It’s an uncomfortable read at times because it highlights areas of our own blindness about our religion. Several points Dyrness makes are controversial, but he provides enough argument and context that readers will be challenged even where they disagree.

The Good

+Provides framework for thinking through controversial questions
+Further study encouraged with sources to pursue
+Good job introducing complex topics

The Bad

-Exegetical sections brief with sometimes questionable conclusions

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures” by Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker

mhsc-gbUnderstanding the context to which we are ministering is one of the most important aspects of mission–and other–work. Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker have provided, in Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, a way to understand cultural practices that are far from what many in the West experience. I found it to be enlightening, and a little alarming, because it showed many times where I may have given offense without even realizing it.

Georges and Baker utilized a number of stories to illustrate some of the difficulties in understanding honor-shame cultures when one’s background is not in that culture. For those, like me, with a limited grasp of the topic, honor-shame cultures ought to be defined, but that itself is difficult. Basically, these cultures have a system where the community is valued more highly than the individual, and shame, rather than guilt, is the result of violations of the strictures of society. Such a perspective means that, for example, the core problem with one’s violation of the codes of society is not that we make mistakes (as in our individualistic societies) but rather that our very being has been corrupted. Thus, rather than trying to justify or apologize for our mistake, it is more important to cover that mistake (see especially the table on page 38).

We often see honor-shame cultures as silly or backwards–possibly even morally wrong or bankrupt–because our very understanding of human interaction is built upon a different system. Why should we have to highlight someone else’s importance in order to get what we deserve? Just as easily, the other could ask why we refuse to honor them with the standing in society that they possess? These stories help highlight both the strangeness of the “other” in the honor-shame culture and the way that we may be equally seen as brusque at best to people of other cultures. The early chapters, in particular, highlight these points.

Even more importantly–and the above is certainly vital–we may be misreading the Bible due to our misunderstanding of honor-shame cultures. For example, the many rules about purity and what makes someone unclean are almost impossible to understand without some grasp of honor-shame culture. The chapters on biblical background for understanding this and other aspects of Christianity that can really only be fully understood in honor-shame contexts.

Finally, Georges and Baker provide a number of practical applications for what they highlighted in the first 100 or so pages. These applications range across spirituality, relationships, evangelism, conversion, ethics, and community. Three appendices provide (lots of) key scripture passages on honor-shame, biblical stories that address honor-shame cultures, and resources for further reading.

Throughout the book, smart use of tables and graphs helps readers visualize the differences in cultures that lead to many misunderstandings. If there is one complaint I have the book it is that I desired more exegetical considerations, which is basically to say that I’d love a follow-up work that focuses on understanding critical biblical passages. In other words, there’s little to complain about here. It is a book full of insights that are both practical and engaging.

Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures is one of those rare books that makes you sit back and think–really think–about how you understand the “other.” For that alone, it is worth the read. Set that alongside a good helping of practical applications and biblical theology, and the book is a must-read. It comes highly recommended.

The Good

+Provides numerous examples to help think through the issues
+Use of graphics smartly done
+Highlights very important, but often misunderstood topics
+Encourages critical interaction

The Bad

-More exegesis of some key passages would be helpful

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

What about those who haven’t heard? – Part 1 of a Case Study on Religious Pluralism from Lew Wallace’s “Ben Hur”

ben-hur

A beautiful cover for an edition of Ben Hur- I was unable to locate the exact copyright information.


Ben Hur 
is one of my all-time favorite novels. There are many issues related to worldview raised throughout the novel. I have started a series which outlines some of the ways it interacts with

Selection from the Book

Each post in this series will begin with a segment from the book itself. Here, we jump into a scene in which one of the wise men is telling the story of how he came to be in a desert, meeting up with the others. He is Greek. I have abridged the segment to focus on the areas in which this series is most interested, namely, the ways God interacts with humanity.

“I am Gaspar, son of Cleanthes the Athenian…

…”It happens that two of our [Greece’s] philosophers, the very greatest of the many [reference to Plato and Aristotle, presumably], teach, one the doctrine of a Soul in every man, and its Immortality; the other the doctrine of One God, infinitely just. From the multitude of subjects about which the schools were disputing, I separated them, as alone worth the labor of solution; for I thought there was a relation between God and the soul as yet unknown…

“In the northern part of my country–in Thessaly… there is a mountain famous as the home of the gods… Olympus is its name. Thither I betook myself. I found a cave [nearby]… there I dwelt, giving myself up to meditation–no, I gave myself up to waiting for what every breath was a prayer–for revelation. Believing in God, invisible yet supreme, I also believed it possible so to yearn for him with all my soul that he would take compassion and give me answer.

“…One day I saw a man flung overboard from a ship sailing by. He swam ashore. I received and took care of him. He was a Jew, learned in the history and laws of his people; and from him I came to know that the God of my prayers did indeed exist; and had been for ages their lawmaker, ruler, and king. What was that but the Revelation I dreamed of? My faith had not been fruitless; God answered me!”

“As he does all who cry to him with such faith,” said the [Hindu].

“But, alas!” the Egyptian added, “how few are there wise enough to know when he answers them!”

“That was not all,” the Greek continued. “The man so sent to me told me more. He said the prophets who, in the ages which followed the first revelation, walked and talked with God, declared he would come again…

“It is true… the man told me that as God and the revelation of which he spoke had been for the Jews alone, so it would be again… ‘Had he nothing for the rest of the world?’ I asked. ‘No,’ was the answer, given in a proud voice–‘No, we are his chosen people.’ The answer did not crush my hope. Why should such a God limit his love and benefaction to one land, and, as it were, to one family? …When the Jew was gone, and I was alone again, I chastened my soul with a new prayer–that I might be permitted to see the King when he was come, and worship him. One night I sat by the door of my cave trying to get nearer the mysteries of my existence, knowing which is to know God; suddenly, on the sea below me, or rather in the darkness that covered its face, I saw a star begin to burn; slowly it arose and drew nigh, and stood over the hill and above my door, so that its light shone full upon me. I fell down, and slept, and in my dream I heard a voice say:

“‘O Gaspar! Thy faith hath conquered! Blessed art thou! With two others, come from the uttermost parts of the earth, thou shalt see Him that is promised, and be a witness for him, and the occasion of testimony in his behalf. In the morning arise, and go meet them, and keep trust in the Spirit that shall guide thee.’

“And in the morning I awoke with the Spirit as a light within me surpassing that of the sun…”

This passage can be found in Ben Hur, Book I, Chapter III. It may be read in its entirety online here (it is public domain due to expired copyright).

An illustration from the Ben Hur novel. I was unable to find a specific copyright.

An illustration from the Ben Hur novel. I was unable to find a specific copyright.

Notes on Religion from the Selection

Christians have proposed many different answers to one of the most pressing questions, itself having been pondered for centuries: “What about those who have never heard?” The question is regarding salvation–can those who have never heard be saved? But it isn’t only that. It might be nuanced in many ways. For example, are there any who have not heard what is required to be saved who would respond if they did hear it? Though the answer initially may seem obvious, it must be thought over carefully before one simply says yes or no.

In this passage from Lew Wallace, we find not one, but two separate answers to this question combined into one account. The answers are: direct divine revelation, and sending a witness. (I have dubbed them this, but the titles summarize common proposals–see below.)

Sending a Witness

One of the answers Christians have given to the question of those who have not heard and their salvific status is pretty straightforward: there simply are none who have not heard. The claim seems rather extraordinary, for, after all, entire swathes of humanity never had contact with any Christian missionary for vast periods of time. Yet, this answer to the question suggests that God sends a witness to anyone who would respond. Thus, if there is someone in a place where Christianity had not yet reached who would have responded to a missionary, God somehow sets it up such that that person hears from someone about Christ.

In the example from Ben Hur above, we see that the Greek was looking for the divine–hoping for a response. Thus, through providential act, a Jew washed up on shore to instruct him about the truth.

It seems this solution to the problem of religious pluralism and those who have not heard is unsatisfactory. There are many reasons for this. First, it supports a rather dim view of other cultures through a system that is ultimately culturally imperialist. Second, it seems to stretch credulity, for it would follow from this position that either there have only been very few outside of the parts of the world where Christianity is dominant who would have responded to the Gospel anyway (see previous point) or that there are innumerable instances of shipwrecks washing missionaries on shore in far off places all over the world to wherever someone might respond to the Gospel. Either of these seems unsatisfactory.

However, it is possible that the “Sending a Witness” answer could be part of an answer to the questions posed here. It just does not seem capable of carrying all the weight on its own.

Direct Divine Revelation

Like the previous answer, the “direct divine revelation” solution to the problem of religious pluralism and specifically those who have not heard is one which ultimately results in the answer: None have not heard. For, if someone would respond to the Gospel, God simply reveals Christ through direct revelation. In the selection above, we see that a dream reveals the Holy Spirit to Gaspar.

This answer to the questions raised above is perhaps more satisfactory than the previous one, but difficulties remain. The primary one is that although several firsthand instances of this type of thing happening are found, they do not seem to be as ubiquitous as they might need to be in order to adequately account for all those who have not heard. Again, this may be part of a larger multi-level response, but I don’t think it can stand on its own.

Conclusion

Wallace provides here an overview of two of the traditional answers to the question of those who have not heard about Jesus Christ. Neither solution seems entirely satisfactory, though either or both might be integrated into a holistic view of witnessing and missions. We will explore other aspects of Wallace’s exploration of religious pluralism

Although I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, I think that John Sanders’ book, No Other Name is perhaps the best work I have read for providing background into the different proposed solutions for the question of those who have not heard about Christ. It would be a good read for those wishing to explore the topic further.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Religious Pluralism- A case study from “Ben Hur” by Lew Wallace– The post introducing this entire series on “Ben Hur.” It has links to all the posts in the series.

Ben Hur- The Great Christian Epic– I look at the 1959 epic film from a worldview perspective. How does the movie reflect the deeply Christian worldview of the book?

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Is Islam Violent? – A response to a meme

I do not condone this image nor do I claim rights to it. See post.

I do not condone this image nor do I claim rights to it. See post.

I saw a few friends sharing or commenting on the meme I’ve shared here the other day and thought it was definitely worth a response. Here at the start I want to note that I do not condone the image shared here and think it’s deeply problematic for reasons that will become clear in what follows.

I think that we need to be careful when discussing things like this primarily for two reasons: 1) verses quoted out of context can be used to support anything; for example, I often run into atheists quoting from Joshua and arguing that it means that Christianity is inherently violent or has violent roots; 2) the picture itself doesn’t really do much to make me think any effort was made to understand what is being quoted. See below.

I’m not an expert in Islam, but I have taken a graduate level course on the topic. Moreover, there are some basic problems with this meme. One issue with this picture is that it quotes from “Koran chapter:verse” when the proper term would be “Surah chapter:verse.” Saying “Koran” instead of “Surah” is similar to saying “Bible 12:3:15.” The Qu’ran is one book, so this does not cause distortion of where to find the quotes, but in my reading this method of citation seems not quite proper. [Thanks to several readers for pointing out a need to edit here.]

Another issue is that in the Qu’ran, people aren’t referred to as Muslims but rather believers, etc. Again, this is a fairly basic misunderstanding that would be like putting the word “Christian” into the Bible all over the place when it’s not there.

I took the liberty of looking up a couple of these Surahs. Surah 8:65 is quoted in this picture as “The unbelievers are stupid; urge the Muslims to fight them” in fact says, according to the Sahih international version of the Qu’ran, ” O Prophet, urge the believers to battle. If there are among you twenty [who are] steadfast, they will overcome two hundred. And if there are among you one hundred [who are] steadfast, they will overcome a thousand of those who have disbelieved because they are a people who do not understand.” Not only does this not have the word Muslims, but it is also much longer, and doesn’t call unbelievers stupid. In fact, a comparison of the major English versions show that almost every one says “without understanding” or “do not understand.” The closest it comes to “stupid” is “without intelligence.”

The alleged quotation of 22:19 is particularly problematic, because it completely rips the verse out of context. According to the picture, it says “Punish the unbelievers with garments of fire, hooked iron rods, boiling water, melt their skins and bellies.” Not only is this actually a reference to 22:19-20 but it also is not a command at all. The context of 22:19-20 is the day of judgment and this punishment is that described of for those in hell (see Surah 22:16-17 for more context). Quoting this verse to say Islam is violent would be akin to quoting a passage about weeping and gnashing of teeth from the Bible, turning it into a command to Christians without justification from the text itself and then saying it proves Christianity is violent.

I checked a couple more references and they too not only shortened the alleged “quotes” but also largely took them out of context.

Yet another problem with a picture like this is that it doesn’t account for the fact that in actual practice, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not violent. I’m not sure of the actual number of Muslims in the U.S. alone, but with over a billion Muslims in the world, if every single one were indeed violent, I would imagine that fighting would be occurring in the streets of Dearborn, MI; New York, Minneapolis, etc. Yet I don’t see this happening. Isolated incidents? Yes. A complete totality of violence everywhere? No. I would argue this is because the vast majority of Muslims have a more nuanced approach to the Qu’ran and its interpretation than simply quoting verses out of context allow; just as Christians would argue for nuanced interpretations in much the same way.

I have not entered into a wider discussion of Islam and religious violence, nor is this the place to do so [see some posts in the links]. I conclude simply by noting that the use of memes like this are, I think, deeply problematic. If we as Christians expect to be treated fairly and have real differences among Christian beliefs and interpretations acknowledged, if we think that people unfairly quote our holy texts out of context and that we deserve to have our nuances of thought also conveyed, then we should do the same for those of other faiths.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

The Myth of “Religion” – Constructing the Other as Enemy– How has the category of “religion” been used to support the premise of religious violence and making the “other” into an enemy?

Book Review: “The Myth of Religious Violence” by William Cavanaugh– Here is a book which discusses the notion of “religious” violence at length with sometimes startling conclusions.

I am not sure who was the original user that put the image  up, so I can’t cite it appropriately. I make no claim to owning the image and use it under fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism” by Winfried Corduan

ibg-wcRarely does a book come along which forces a reader to completely rethink how they’ve viewed a whole slew of interrelated topics. Winfried Corduan’s latest work on the origin of religion is just such a book. I’ve waited some time to finish writing the review simply because it’s taken a while to reflect upon its content and reread and absorb many of the arguments to support the conclusions Corduan provides. Here, I offer some thoughts which can only touch upon the wealth of information in this fantastic book.

The Thesis

Winfried Corduan’s central thesis is simply stated:

Regardless of how one explains the origin of human beings, one cannot get around the fact that the first religion of human beings was monotheism, the recognition and worship of one God.

The way Corduan defends this claim is initially through analysis of competing claims of major thinkers in the past and present on the origin of religion. He then provides a positive case for original monotheism.

Critical Examination of Competing Views

Corduan surveys a number of major thinkers in anthropology who have proposed various ways that religion may have arisen and developed. A central thought throughout many of these thinkers is the notion that cultures, like organisms, evolve. Thus, the thought was that the earliest stages of religion would be “primitive” while later stages of religion would be more complex and perhaps people would even move beyond religion.

The various theses Corduan examines are each interesting in their own light. Max Müller’s theory that mythology is corruption of human language is wonderfully imaginative, though ultimately bereft of real evidential backing. E.B. Tylor’s application of Darwinism to the development of religion remains highly influential but also provides insight into how a paradigm may corrupt and even create evidence. Andrew Lang set the stage for later thought about how religion may have developed, but unfortunately his theory suffered from assumptions that anyone not “developed” like the Europeans was clearly inferior or lower on the evolutionary scale. Thus, his theory suffered from its own brand of self-confirmation and key blind spots.

A telling critical insight Corduan provided which applies to many of the evolutionary perspectives on the origin of religion is that the field evidence gathered for these hypotheses operated under a critical assumption: “nineteenth-century anthropology proceeded on the premise that the ancient past has preserved itself. We can still see it in full bloom in the cultures of tribal people. Human beings who are now living on a stone-age level must have preserved stone-age culture, they argued.

But of course this doesn’t follow at all. It is perfectly possible for such “stone age” societies to in fact be extremely complex and advanced. In fact, Corduan provides much evidence to suggest that this is exactly the case. Highly complex rituals and traditions are often found in these allegedly primitive societies. Moreover, many of these societies show kinds of vestiges of original monotheism, which itself provides counter-evidence to the hypothesis that these societies support the notion of evolution of religion.

A Case for Original Monotheism

Corduan’s case for original monotheism incorporates many aspects of Wilhelm Schmidt’s work. Thus, he dedicates a few chapters to analysis and defense of Schmidt’s theories. Schmidt’s theories are based off of his analysis of how cultures shift. Corduan provided fascinating and practical examples to look at how cultural movement works. One application of this to the origin of religion is that societies shift and push competing cultures either to adapt and integrate or to be pushed more to the fringes. Early settlers are often supplanted by later explorers who stayed in one place and developed before moving on. Allegedly primitive societies are often found in the deserts or at the outskirts of society because they were the first to move on and thus developed only as they settled in ever-distant areas. However, this cannot be used to support the notion that a “stone age” level of a society today entails the preservation of cultural behaviors and practices from such a time period.

The shifting of cultures through “culture circles” thus is used to evaluate how religion may have developed and moved across the Earth. Most importantly, Schmidt worked with the anthropological data that other researchers used, but he approached it without the dogmatic stance that the development of religion must have been Darwinian. This assumption led many other researchers to reject or downplay aspects of the observational evidence because they did not fit the theory. Schmidt discovered, however, that a number of cultures had vestiges of monotheism from earlier times. This resulted in Schmidt hypothesizing that one possible explanation for the shared original monotheism of these cultures could have been an actual deity.

Corduan then provides analysis of a number of critical responses to Schmidt as well as more modern evolutionary or simply agnostic approaches to the origin and diversification of religion. Finally, he surveys a number of world religions to see if aspects of original monotheism may still be found therein.

religious-symbolsInteresting Avenues to Explore

Other avenues are opened as Corduan analyzes specific cultures, such as Egypt or China, and finds that Egypt’s brief affair with “monotheism” may not have been as significant as some take it or that China’s modern religious thought perhaps reflects an original monotheism beneath the surface.

The application of various aspects of anthropological research and the rejection of agnostic approaches to the origins of religion also open up new avenues for research and exploration. If we don’t assume that we can’t know something, how might we approach the project of discovering how religion may have originated and spread? Corduan, of course, provides Schmidt’s theories as one way, though he also integrates insight even from those scholars with whom he disagrees. Thus, he provides a rather integrative approach to the question.

The analysis of various anthropologists who have thought on issues of the origins of religion also open up new ideas to explore, books to read, and evidence to consider.

Avenues for exploration like this are found throughout the book in droves. I mean that: there is so much in this book that makes me want to know more, to learn more. That is coupled with the fact that it made me realize, again, how little I do know regarding entire fields of research and study. In the Beginning God is a call not only to re-evaluate one’s presuppositions, but also a vast treasury of topics to explore.

Of course another extremely interesting thought to examine is that if monotheism were the original religion of people of all sorts, might this have implications for apologetics? Ultimately, Corduan answers in the affirmative. He argues that at least some aspects of this study point to the existence of a monotheistic deity as a possible explanation for the data. He does not think that the anthropological study provides a comprehensive case for the Christian truth, but he does ultimately argue it can be one factor among many to show the truth of Christianity.

A Final Defense

The immediate reaction of some might be that Corduan’s bias yields his results. Similarly, in Schmidt’s time, some alleged that missionary influence led to the purported evidence for original monotheism. However, it should be clear that although everyone has a bias, the evidence presented by Corduan seems impossible to dismiss as simply the wishes of a theist. Rather, he has provided sound reasons for thinking that original monotheism is a relevant hypothesis which perhaps outstrips its opponents in terms of explanatory scope.

Conclusion

In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism  is a simply incredible read. Each new layer of the text provides new insights and discoveries, each of which builds off the body of the text already perused. Corduan has provided critical insight into the state of modern anthropology regarding the origins of religion. He has also established original monotheism as a significant rival theory to those schools of thought. The book will shift paradigms, cause wonder, and provide resources for you to explore and engage with wonderfully exciting topics. Corduan has truly created a masterwork, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin of religion- Who cares about facts?– I analyze some of Corduan’s comments regarding Sigmund Freud’s theorizing about the origin of religion.

Sunday Quote!- Is Monotheism from Egypt?– I provide a brief quote from Corduan’s book and note how it may interface with some theories related to the source of monotheism.

Source

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi- a Christian reflection on the most recently completed Star Wars series

sw-fotjStar Wars is not normally where I go to begin discussions about worldview. The most recently completed mini-series, however, “The Fate of the Jedi,” was full of material for discussing worldview perspectives. Here, I will only touch on a few of the many themes the series brought up. Some of these include world religions, objective morality, and theism. Of course, there will be HUGE SPOILERS for the Star Wars universe prior and up to this point. PLEASE REFRAIN FROM POSTING COMMENTS FROM OTHER STAR WARS STORYLINES.

I’ll not be summarizing the plot of the Fate of the Jedi series, which you may find by following the links for the individual books here.

World Religions and the Force

A huge part of the early stages of Fate of the Jedi involved Luke Skywalker and his son, Ben, traveling around the galaxy and visiting other various Force-using schools. These different Force-using schools paralleled, in many ways, various world religions. For example, the Baran Do Sages held onto a kind of gnostic way of knowing, where secret knowledge was preserved by a select group of masters to pass on from generation to generation. Another example is found in the Mind Walkers, who try to separate body from soul in order to walk in a completely different reality. Not only does this also seem gnostic in its bent, but it also reflects the notion of the extinction of the self found in some Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. There are a few other schools that the Skywalkers visit throughout their travels, and each has aspects of at least one world religion reflected therein.

Of interest is that the way the series approached the various parallels to world religions is that many of them appeared to be fairly obviously wrong. That is, they had a feel of wrongness to them, but they also seemed to get aspects of reality wrong. The Mind Walkers, for example, allowed their bodies to waste away while they experienced their own way of entering into the Force. One cannot help but sense a kind of aversion to this belief system, in which the body is so totally denigrated. Some of their comments also reflected a lack of concern for distinctions between good and evil. Yet again, this is a distinctive of some Eastern religions, and it is a way in which they are factually mistaken. Those who fail to make distinctions between good and evil, between reality and the mental life; they are operating under a mistaken view of reality.

The Fate of the Jedi, then, does not teach a kind of religious pluralism. Instead, it eschews pluralism for showing that some belief systems do not work. They simply do not line up with reality.

Redemption and Betrayal

The character of Vestara Khai is an extremely interesting figure. She may be the most complex character since Mara Jade. A Sith, she is captured by the Skywalkers, who initially do not trust her whatsoever (and for good reason). Yet, in a kind of typical story of conversion in the Star Wars universe, they begin to turn her to the Light Side of the Force. She realizes that her own life has not been based upon good, and she also acknowledges a distinction between good and evil. Her realization is centered around her relationship with her family and friends (such as they are). For a little while, it seems that Vestara is a true convert.

Yet the reader knows throughout that although Vestara has changed her whole way of viewing the universe, she is not entirely a convert. She still puts herself first. In fairness to her, she does so thinking that she is putting others first, and she often does seem to prioritize the needs of Ben–whom she’s come to love–over herself. But when push comes to shove, she betrays the trust of the Skywalkers in the most dire possible way, by giving away the secret identity of a loved one and dooming her to a life of dodging the Lost Tribe of the Sith. A commentary on the darker side of human nature, Khai’s life in the books also begs the question of where one goes from there: what redemption may be in store for someone who seems to have ruined all chances at salvation?

Prophecy and the Celestials

The notion of prophecy is found throughout the Star Wars universe. There was the prophecy of the “Chosen One”; later, prophecies revolved around the Sword of the Jedi and the Unification of the Force. Each of these prophecies were expected to be fulfilled. In the Star Wars universe, prophecy is the product of the Force. One wonders, however, how this plays out with what is an essentially impersonal force. It seems that in order to give revelation, there must be some kind of personal reality; for prophecy relates to the actions of persons.

Ultimately, readers encounter the Celestials–a group of beings (Father, Son, and Daughter… and later Mother) of extreme power. These beings are tied into the whole plot of the expanded universe books of Star Wars in some ingenious (and sometimes a bit questionable) ways. Although these beings may appear to parallel a kind of pantheon, it becomes clear that they are not. They may be seemingly eternal, but they are also contingent: it was entirely possible for them to be destroyed. Again, it is not these beings who drive reality; it is the Force. The Force is the power in the universe, the ‘all in all’ of the Star Wars universe. Yet, as I’ve argued above, it is hard to envision the force as entirely impersonal. It delivers prophecies and sometimes even answers the call of those in need. The “Trinity” created and driven by the Force ultimately drive the Force themselves in many ways.

Conclusion

The Fate of the Jedi series explores a huge number of issues related to worldview. I didn’t get to nearly all the major issues, let alone the minor ones, which come out throughout the series. Of interest is how the series clearly brought up world religions in such a way as to avoid pluralism, but rather provided ways to distinguish between truth and falsehood in religion. Prophecy begs for a personal being, yet the allegedly impersonal Force provides it. It was great to experience the Star Wars universe in such a way as to have it bring up so many issues of worldview in often thoughtful and, frankly, thought-provoking ways.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

“Fitzpatrick’s War”- Religion, truth, and forgiveness in Theodore Judson’s epic steampunk tale– I take a look at the book Fitzpatrick’s War, a novel of alternative history with steampunk. What could be better? Check out some of the worldview issues brought up in the book.

I have discussed the use of science fiction in showing how religious persons act. Check out Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber.

Source

Troy Denning, Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi- Apocalypse (New York: Del Rey, 2012).

Disclaimer: The images in this post are copyright of the Star Wars universe and I use them under fair use. I make no claims to ownership of the images.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin of religion- Who cares about facts?

ibg-wcIt is amazing, even before Freud’s psychoanalyticial theories were discredited as such, that this idea was ever accepted as anything but an utterly groundless fabrication. (134, cited below)

Oddly, a challenge I still sometimes see to Christianity (and indeed religion in general), is the notion that somehow it is merely cosmic project of some strange psychological phenomena. Although the idea didn’t originate with Freud, his theories seem to be the most popular. Freud’s idea for how religion came to be was essentially a wish-fulfillment of his own: he turned humanity’s religion into a kind of Oedipus complex.

For Freud, religion clearly often involved a father figure. Thus, he reasoned, religion must have come about over some conflict with a father figure which later caused guilt and the lifting up of a kind of father in the sky- God. The conflict, he proposed, came about due to the notion that the dominant male was the only one allowed sexual access to the women in the primitive family (I’m not making this up!). Winfried Corduan’s latest book, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism, analyzed a number of aspects of origin of religion theories which are relevant to this thesis. Freud’s theory does not survive empirical analysis.

First, Freud’s notion of shared sexuality and group sex among alleged primitive societies was a popular theory at the time, but one utterly unfounded and based upon essentially no observable evidence. Corduan noted the notion of group marriage was largely derived from presuppositions about how the origin of religion and social institutions “must have happened” (114-115). The theory itself was put forth by L.H. Morgan and not based upon observation but rather “his support of evolution and Marxist-like social theories in which he construed ordinary social conventions… as late inventions in human history” (116). Some anthropologists in the field bought into the theory and thus allowed their observations to be directed by the theory, rather than using their contradictory observations to revise the theory. In fact, their theory-driven research resulted in confusion over the actual social constructs which they were observing (116ff).

Second, Freud’s analysis of the way religion developed is itself mistaken. The climax of Freud’s story is the cannibalistic totem feast upon the Father figure as a way to honor the Father and begin the worship thereof. But Freud’s story is again bereft of observational evidence. Freud acutally used the concept of the totem feast to try to discredit Christianity with its teachings on the Lord’s Supper (communion/Eucharist). However, totem feasts are, themselves, extremely rare in totemistic societies (133-134). Totem feasts were observed in  only a few societies, but then–as Corduan noted was often the case–the irregular was applied generally and so reporting on the various societies began to rely upon the rarity rather than the norm (if indeed a “norm” can ever be said to apply to wildly diverse practices). Moreover, there is simply no record whatsoever of a cannibalistic totem feast. The very notion was invented by Freud to discredit Christianity.

Freud’s generalized application of an extremely rare and unusual practice to a theory made up through psychoanalysis of peoples who left no record and no longer exist is unfounded. His use of his theory to attempt to discredit Christianity seems to actually teach us more about Freud’s psyche than the actual origins of Christian practice.

Anyway, I’m finding this book highly informative. I highly recommend it. I have found it to be extremely thought-provoking. It is interesting to see how many things we have simply assumed to be true about the origins of religion stem from unchallenged (and unsupported) theories proposed around a hundred years ago. Perhaps it is time to revisit these theories. So far as Freud goes, it seems his bell has tolled.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).
SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote! – Is Monotheism from Egypt?

ibg-wcEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Is Monotheism from Egypt?

I completed Winfried Corduan’s In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism recently. I have to say, it is one of those books which caused a paradigm-shift for me. It made me realize many mistakes I had made in my assumptions regarding the area of study for origins of religion. I’ll review it in a while when I have time to really sit down and write. Here, we’ll examine the notion that monotheism came from Egyptian polytheism. Corduan wrote:

The people were exhorted to acknowledge Aten, but there was only one way in which they could worship him… the way in which commoners… had always been instructed to worship the gods, by worshipping the pharaoh and his wife… Thus, if Aten were the one and only God, and he could only be worshiped by worshipping the Pharaoh, this was hardly a ‘monotheistic reform.’ Instead, it was the ultimate in egotism and delusions of grandeur. (312)

Corduan’s statement is the climax of several pages of examination of the cult of Akhenaten and the religion of Egypt. Essentially, his point is that one can hardly conclude from this consolidation of worship of deity into one form of worshipping the Pharaoh and his wife that this served as the source for later monotheism, specifically Hebrew/Israelite worship.

What do you know of Egyptian religion and the worship of Aten/the cult of Akhenaten? Have you examined your conclusions regarding this knowledge? What do you think about monotheism and Egypt?

In the Beginning God is an extraordinary study into the origins of religion and the theory of original monotheism. I highly recommend you grab a copy and read it.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).
SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 1/31/14- “Frozen,” French and American Atheists, world religions, and more!

postAnother week, another round of great reading served up for you, dear readers. I’m writing this in the midst of getting 4-6 inches of snow (it’s already at 3, and not showing signs of slowing…), so I can’t help but feel a little bit like throwing in a Christmas movie today and sipping some cocoa. Oh well! It also made me think of the movie “Frozen.” The topics this week are Disney’s “Frozen,” the conversion story of a French atheist, “Street Epistemology,” the sign of Jonah and world religions, something we can learn from atheists in the “Bible Belt,” and evangelicalism and liturgy.

Disney’s “Frozen” might be the most Christian movie lately– I found this article on the movie “Frozen” to be quite insightful and interesting. I highly recommend the movie as well as this article.

How God turns a French  atheist into a Christian theologian– I found this conversion story simply fascinating for how God works in people’s lives. The insights from this theologian are profound, and they speak volumes for the importance of a reasoned faith.

A Look at the New “Street Epistemology” Movement– Eric Chabot analyzes the “Street Epistemology” movement forged by Peter Boghossian for creating atheists. Chabot’s approach is fairly unique in that he explores the movement through means of certitude and doubt–a primary weapon for Boghossian.

Bible Belt Bubble Burst? Wisdom from an atheist friend– The importance of a reasoned faith is shared eloquently here through reflection on a conversation with an atheist friend in the “Bible Belt” of the United States. Highly relevant.

The Sign of Jonah– Winfried Corduan is a major scholar of world religions. In this blog post, he offers up a video of how world religions are impacting the United States alongside a commentary on the “Sign of Jonah” which Jesus says will be given to his contemporaries.

Evangelical conservatives vs. Liturgical conservatives– Is it true that one can be either evangelical or liturgical? Is there such a thing as a perfect blend and harmony of evangelical conservatism and liturgy? Look no further than Lutheranism. Check out this post with some interesting insights.

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