Mr. Potato Head Religion

Spirituality is far more popular than religion — it sells more books anyway.  It often is deeply entrenched with, or overtly pluralistic.  Stepping up to the spiritual buffet line, the spiritual-but-not-religious person chooses from a smattering of the  world’s religions from which they choose their beliefs.  What’s more is this view is growingly considered to be more enlightened from a large swath of the population than traditional theistic belief.  One such example of the gross ignorance of the theologies of religions which are sampled was posted on the Huffington Post in an article called, 5 Insights From the World’s Religions by Jeffery Small.  In it he highlights the most appealing of what he understands to be the major world’s religions’ doctrines.

We fear what we do not understand. Creating opportunities for those of different faiths to interact can reveal that behind the doctrines of these faiths, we find many similarities. For example, the Golden Rule (“treat others as you would like to be treated”) is found in every one of the world’s religions. But one of the greatest benefits of interfaith dialogue is that by studying another’s faith we might learn a bit of wisdom, a new way of looking at reality, that we can incorporate into our own. Here is just a single insight from each of the five largest religions — Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity — that might have meaning to someone from another tradition.

Already Small is filtering each religion through the “prism” of pluralism.  Present in his approach is that each religious system is incomplete (See: The Elephant In The Room) but basically the same (See: Do Differences Matter?, and  Cyanide, Aspirin, and Breath Mints) i.e., no one has all the truth and we have something to learn from other systems. It seems Small has either a serious lack of understanding of at least the three of the doctrines he has included in his article on Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  Or he not concerned with what they teach and has adopted a more palatable take.

1. Judaism’s monotheism

In contrast to the religions of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, in which different deities oversaw various aspects of the universe, Judaism great contribution was the declaration that there was only one ultimate source of all that is: one God. The name of this deity, YHWH, translates as “I am that I am.” God cannot be defined or contained. This development of theological thought (which took centuries even within Judaism) meant that behind the physical realities of our day-to-day lives was a single indescribable Ultimate Reality.

The monotheism of Judaism is much more significant than Small is implying.  It was not merely that there was one “Ultimate Reality”, rather that there was one personal God responsible for all existence and all others were false invented non-existent gods.  The God of Judaism would not tolerate Small’s pluralistic endeavor explored here.  Many times in the history of the Israelites they mixed other pagan practices and gods in with their worship of YHWH, and they were punished by God for doing so.  The Jew’s idea of monotheism (specific monotheism to the exclusion of all other worldviews) would likely be considered intolerant and antiquated by Small.

4. Islam’s peace through surrender

The world Islam literally means a peace found through surrender. What is it one needs to surrender in order to find this peace? Islam teaches one must utterly surrender oneself to Allah, to God. Since Allah is the ultimate truth and source of the universe, we suffer and we cause suffering when we elevate ourselves over Allah. We find peace through a complete surrendering of every aspect our lives to this greater reality. The purpose of Muslim prayer five times a day (Salat) is to connect with Allah, to remind oneself throughout every day to surrender.

Small plays on the ignorance of his audience by portraying the concept of surrender the way he does, or he himself is.  The surrender to Sharia which is demanded by the Qur’an is not a voluntary one (See verses 9:29-30, and 47:3-4 in the Qur’an, for example).  When non-Muslims are encountered by Muslims, they are to offer them to “surrender” to Allah, pay a tax, become slaves, or die.  True peace is achieved only when the world is submitted to Allah.

5. Christianity’s love

When asked about the greatest commandments from scripture, Jesus replies that there are but two: “love God with all of one’s heart, soul and mind,” and “love thy neighbor as thyself.” The Christian ideal of love was one of the aspects of the early Christian community most noticeable to those outside of it. The Greek language has two words for love: eros and agape. Eros is what we would consider romantic love. It is that feeling in which we are drawn to another to the extent we feel we cannot live without them. Whereas eros focuses on our own feelings, agape is outwardly focused, away from us. Agape is unselfish love. It is a love without bounds or conditions, a love that doesn’t require reciprocity. This is the love that Jesus commands. It is the love that leads to social justice, to peace and to charity.

Small makes the same mistake here as he does with Judaism.  What it means to love God, is to love and commit yourself to Him at the exclusion to all other gods and religious systems.   Jesus is not preaching social justice, peace, or charity.  This is a summary of the Ten Commandments.  By loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind you effectively are obeying Commandments 1-4: have no other gods, make and worship no images of God or any other deities, not taking the Lord’s name in vain, and resting on the Sabbath.  When you love your neighbor (Love is defined in 1 Corinthians 4-7) you fulfill the 6th-10th commandments: honor and respect your parents, not murdering, stealing from, or lying about your neighbor, being faithful to your spouse, and not jealously desiring your neighbor’s belongings.

The three world religions I address from Small’s article are by their nature exclusivistic.  Whether one or any of them are correct is irrelevant to this particular discussion.  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all make very specific claims which are rigidly proclaimed.  Regardless of whether people disagree with a particular understanding does not negate the fact that these religions do not allow for piecemeal adoption and application.  All three demand an exclusive adherence i.e., Judaism and no other; Christianity and no other; Islam and no other.

The approach Small takes is common.  The Oprahfication of religion and spirituality is — in my opinion — more dangerous than atheism.  It gives the impression that it’s all no big deal, that God is as malleable as you desire — which I believe says one doesn’t take God seriously.  Whether God exists or not; what kind of God exists if one does; and what God expects from man is far more important than to reduce God and religion to a sort of spiritual Mr. Potato Head — take a general lump of “religion”, and add and subtract the pieces and concepts to your desires.

Comments

  1. Marshall Art says:

    I agree. This attitude is by far more insidious than atheism because it seems so logical to anyone with but a shallow understanding of any of the religions. It lifts the burden of the details of any of them by trying to match up what seems to be similarities, so that one can assume a posture of spirituality without truly delving into what it means to follow a specific religious belief. It is really faith in nothing, belief in nothing and worship of nothing more than the self.

  2. I agree somewhat with the problem of shallowness that is possible when one just treats faith traditions like an assembly line, to pick and choose what one likes. There is definitely a risk in that.

    On the other hand, truth is truth, right? And all truth is from God, right? That seems logical to me, as far as that goes. But if one finds that the meditative approach of Buddhism, for example, better helps them to center themselves for prayer and seeking the Eternal, is that a bad thing?

    If one finds the simple lifestyle of the Amish best representative of God’s Ways, then that is reasonably a good model for them to embrace God, do you think?

    Where you say…

    no one has all the truth and we have something to learn from other systems.

    I’d wonder if you really disagree? I mean, “No one has all the truth…” That certainly seems to me to be a soundly logical and biblical position to humbly embrace. Do you disagree?

    “We have something to learn from others/other systems…” This, too, seems like a logically and appropriately Christian ideal to which to adhere. You may not like Mormonism (I personally find a great deal of silliness in much of Mormon beliefs), but I would be the first to admit that they at least seem to typically have set a good model as to family and lifestyle choices and I can learn from that.

    I get what you’re saying, and think there is some danger in not being serious enough about one’s faith journey to do more than sample a bit of everything, but at the same time, there is also danger in being too arrogantly assured of one’s own beliefs that one couldn’t find Truth in other places.

    One man’s opinion.

    • Sounds to me like you think the bible is only kind of a guide in regards to God. You see, Christians believe the bible is complete when it comes to God. To suggest that we find truth about THE God who exists outside the Judeo-Christian worldview is to reject what the bible is and claims about itself. Now please don’t complain when people question your commitment to Christianity.

  3. Sounds to me like you think the bible is only kind of a guide in regards to God.

    I believe the Bible to be just what Paul said about Scripture. That is, I believe the Bible… “is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” In that sense, it IS a guide in regards to God.

    I’m not sure what is wrong with that understanding. Am I mistaken in that somehow, do you think?

    You say…

    Christians believe the bible is complete when it comes to God.

    Complete? What does that mean? What THE BIBLE says is that all the books in the world could not record all the teachings and actions of Jesus (and, by extension, God). So while SOME Christians might call the Bible “complete,” depending on what you mean by that, I don’t think that the Bible itself calls itself “complete.”

    Am I mistaken? Perhaps if you explained what you meant by “complete…”

    John…

    To suggest that we find truth about THE God who exists outside the Judeo-Christian worldview is to reject what the bible is and claims about itself.

    No, John, it is not to reject the Bible. You see, I have NOT rejected the Bible. I have, in fact, cited the Bible as a source of reliable wisdom just now because I believe it to be a book of Truths and Truth. Since the Bible itself makes no claim to be “complete,” but you ARE making that claim, does that mean that you are rejecting what the Bible has to say in a perhaps misguided defense of the Bible?

    John…

    Now please don’t complain when people question your commitment to Christianity…

    John, I made what seem to me to be reasonable comments that are consistent with Christian teachings. To respond by making this about me is to respond with an ad hom attack, which is a logical fallacy. So, rather than try to make this about me, personally, why not respond to my actual comments?

    That is, am I mistaken to say that no one person has all knowledge? Am I mistaken to suggest that we can humbly learn from others? If I am mistaken, then offer up your opinion about why I am mistaken. If I’m not mistaken, well, then we agree.

    Win/Win.

    • Unfortunately for your brand, it doesn’t say useful, it says sufficient. Second, everything that God needed to/wanted to communicate is included. The same bible you claim is incomplete and insufficient also says all other religious and theological systems are false and damning.

      Lose/lose

  4. John…

    Unfortunately for your brand, it doesn’t say useful, it says sufficient.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “your brand…”

    The quote I offered was from the NIV version of the bible. It says, “Useful,” and the word is translated in Young’s Literal Bible as “profitable.” That is, the Greek word translated “useful” in the NIV is literally translated “profitable.” I can find no translations that offer the word “sufficient.”

    From what source do you get that?

    John…

    Second, everything that God needed to/wanted to communicate is included.

    Says who? Does the Bible make that claim? Has God told you so? On what basis do you reach that conclusion? Is that merely a cultural tradition that you are embracing? If so, that is fine for you, but I’d prefer to go with reason and what the Bible actually does say, rather than mere cultural traditions. Is that okay?

    John…

    The same bible you claim is incomplete and insufficient…

    1. I never said the Bible is incomplete. I said that THE BIBLE does not claim to be complete. Do you see the difference? I am merely stating what THE BIBLE says, and not making extrabiblical suggestions that go against reason and against what the Bible says. Are you rejecting the Bible in favor of your own opinions, John and, if so, do you think that is wise?

    2. I never said the Bible is insufficient. Your words, not mine.

    Please don’t be a rumor-monger or contentious. The Bible (and reason) condemns both of those behaviors.

    John…

    …also says all other religious and theological systems are false and damning.

    Where? What the Bible DOES say is that there is ONE way: God’s Way, the Way Jesus taught. The Bible also says that some might follow Appollo and some might follow Paul, but ultimately it is God we are following, IF we are following God.

    I don’t believe the Bible talks about “other religious and theological systems…” it DOES speak against following false gods and false teachers, but it never speaks of religions as we’re speaking of them here, not that I can think of.

    John, would you mind answering some of the questions I ask of you? (I’ve bolded some of my new questions above, to help make it easier to find…) It would help in establishing communication. IN WHAT I SAID, where am I mistaken?

    Am I mistaken in saying that no one person contains all wisdom and truth?

    Am I mistaken in believing in humility and that we can learn from others?

    Rather than stating false claims about me in a manner rather contentious, why not address what I’ve actually said and tell me if you think I am mistaken in what I ACTUALLY said?

    Thank you, good sir.

    • The bible does say it is adequate in its teaching, I take that to mean it contains everything that needs to be written for our knowledge of God.

      Second, you are equivocating. Small’s article isn’t talking about learning something from an individual, he claims we should be learning from religious systems. And you are suggesting I am opposing learning (generically) from individuals when I am explicitly discussing religious systems.

      Third, the bible speaks of all other gods as false. Therefore it condemns all other gods are false, their worship is a manifestation of a religious system formed around belief of the false gods. You are trying to split hares just so you can argue on this issue, unless you honestly believe the bible gives leeway to adopt non-Judeo-Christian religious practices. If not then stop bringing up issues that only serve to complicate the discussion needlessly–unless you’re just trying to argue.

  5. “For His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3

  6. John…

    The bible does say it is adequate in its teaching, I take that to mean it contains everything that needs to be written for our knowledge of God.

    “adequate…”? I don’t see that in the text or translation. What I see is “useful” and “profitable” for teaching, correction, etc.

    Brother Glenn offers a quote from Peter…

    God’s divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

    …and indeed, God HAS given us what we need for a Godly life. God has given us the Holy Spirit speaking to our heart, God has given us God’ Word writ upon our hearts and minds, God has given us Scripture, God has given us the faith community and, most of all, God has given us God’s own grace and God’s own Son, who came teaching and living an example for us to follow. This is indeed sufficient to lead a godly life, if we just heed all of this.

    What God has not done – and what Scripture does not claim – is to give us a magic book that makes us know everything.

    Indeed, the Holy Book promises us that right now, we see as through a glass darkly, but eventually, we will see God face to face. Our understanding right now, the Bible teaches, is flawed and imperfect. Our understanding and reasoning and God’s word and Spirit are all sufficient to lead a godly life, but it isn’t everything.

    And one of the teachings of the Bible that it actually does teach (repeatedly) is that our limited reasoning and sinful nature should keep us humble, not being given to boast.

    That was all I was trying to point out: That we CAN learn from others because we DON’T have all wisdom within ourselves.

    Do you disagree with my point I was actually making? Yes? No?

    To help, let me give a couple of specific example of learning from others:

    Many don’t consider Quakers to be Christians (including at least some Quakers). They are typically extremely moral, devout, God-fearing/God-believing, humble, respectful, kindly, compassionate people in a rich faith tradition.

    One of the traits of Quakers is their consensus-seeking approach to decision-making. It’s not democracy as you might find in some churches and it’s not authoritarian rule of preachers/elders as you might find in other churches. It’s a community-based approach to coming together in agreement on topics before acting on them.

    It’s a very interesting and powerful (and I would say, “Christian”) model of making decisions. It’s something to learn from. It has its limitations and I might not fully embrace the approach, but it is very interesting and something that I personally have learned from and it’s helped me in my spiritual walk in following Christ within the context of Christian community.

    I learn from this group that some believers do not consider Christian. How is that possible? Because God’s Truth is God’s Truth, wherever it may be found.

    If a Muslim teaches that there is One God and that we are to walk in God’s Ways, that IS a Godly Truth, as far as it goes.

    Truth is Truth and it is always from God. That is what I was pointing out.

    John…

    you are suggesting I am opposing learning (generically) from individuals when I am explicitly discussing religious systems.

    My examples I’ve given (learning from Mormons, from Quakers, from the Amish…) were about their systemic beliefs. Look at my actual words, please…

    • Dan, you shouldn’t be in the habit of stopping halfway through a verse. Read the rest of the verse you cited.

      Second, don’t impose my response to a previous comment you made on a later comment you offer.

  7. John, in one translation (NASB) the text says “so that THE MAN OF GOD may be adequate.” It’s speaking of us, God’s followers, not the Scripture. Is that what you are speaking of?

    As to your “second…,” I don’t know what you’re speaking of.

    You really aren’t much at answering questions, my brother. Just short and snippy charges/ad homs. I truly think, my dear brother, John, that you would be well served and communication improved if you just approached this as a conversation rather than a military siege.

    In Christ.

    • Meaning the scripture, the bible, is enough for that purpose, meaning no need to look elsewhere. Try to follow.

      Also, I am at work and can only briefly answer your tomes. I am referring to your last or thereabouts paragraph in your essay response.

  8. “If a Muslim teaches that there is One God and that we are to walk in God’s Ways, that IS a Godly Truth, as far as it goes.”

    Unless of course a Muslim suggests that the “One God” is Allah as revealed in the Koran, as opposed to YHWH as revealed in Scripture.

    IN the abstract, your point is somewhat correct. The problem is that I can’t believe that any Muslim would make that statement in the abstract.

    Unless, or course, you are suggesting that YHWH and Allah are actually one and the same.

  9. I find it Funny how you completely Ignore the oldest society we have record of and that is the Sumerians. The very Existence of the Sumerians blows the Abrahamic religions out of the water.

    The Abrahamic Gods (And there are multiple) come from the Canaanite Pantheon.
    The Supreme being El. However the word God in the Hebrew is ELOHIM. Which is the Plural of El.

    In the Canaanite Pantheon Yahweh was a minor God. Just like Baal.

    As far as the Ten Commandments they were Stolen from the Egyptian Book of the Dead spell 125. The 42 laws of Maat.

    You want a God that is as Sick and Hateful as you are. However to engage in the dehumanization of those Not Just Like You and worse to support and even advocate the torture of those Not Just Like You is no different then the Bully on the playground that abuses others because they are DIFFERENT!

    The truth is your narrow minded and Bigoted ideas that Devalue anyone not part of you CLICK / TRIBE is a mindset that luckily is DYING!
    Simply put humanity is evolving past the primitive fears of My Way Is the Only Way bullshit.

    Those that engage in this do so because they are themselves weak. If something would exist behind the Universe to think that it would Think & Reason as YOU do is not only Arrogant as fuck but extremely insulting to whatever that being would be. After all in today’s society Slavery is Unacceptable, Women are not Property, Thought Crime is Nor Moral, Human Sacrifice is not a Moral act, Wanting a Scapegoat to pin your “Sins” Fuck ups on is simply childish.

    Yet You actually WANT a God that is an Insecure and WEAK as you are!

    • You obviously haven’t spent any time reading my site. But your comment doesn’t warrant an answer. I conduct civil discussion, not the kind of rant you present here. If you’d like to discuss something, I’d be happy to. But another post like this and I’ll have to ignore you. I won’t be returning to your site. You don’t seem to desire an actual discussion.

      • So the FACTS don’t warrant you addressing them.
        Do you DENY the Sumerian Society existed?
        Perhaps I need to post the PDF on the 100 SUMERIAN FIRSTS!
        Or the SUMERIAN EPIC OF CREATION or even fucking better the SUMERIAN EPIC OF GILGAMESH!
        You know the REAL flood story!
        That’s right this TOO was STOLEN from an earlier society! Just like your Ten Commandments were. Rather funny you have a commandment of THOU SHALT NOT STEAL!
        Just like Your God saying Thou Shalt Not KILL after Committing GENOCIDE TWICE Plus KILLING ALL FIRST BORN CHILDREN!
        WHICH IS YOUR GOD THE POT OR THE KETTLE?

        Can You say HYPOCRITES!
        I know I CAN!
        HYPOCRITES!

      • Don’t you Really mean that I am not Accepting of your Stupid BULLSHIT. Or is it I actually go by that WACKY thing called EVIDENCE!

        Yea Evidence who goes by THAT any more when FAITH & BULLSHIT is SOOOOO much better!

        • We have already established from the brief conversation o n your site that you are not looking for explanations, you have come to an understanding that you will not reconsider. However don’t come here and bring your vulgarity to my site. Show some respect for others.

          • Respect is EARNED not given out like a prize in cracker jacks!
            You flat out LIED in your post and what I said was Correcting Your LIES!
            Your 10 Commandments are STOLEN!
            As is the Flood Story!
            You are more interested in OH YOU SAID FUCK then addressing the FACTS!

            • Two quick points. First, you only asserted borrowing on the part of the 10 commandments, you didn’t prove anything. You merely stating it doesn’t establish ot as a fact.

              Second, this post is not about which culture developed a moral law first, only that the Jews had one, and Jesus referenced it.

              Do you have any substance to offer, or just foul language and unsubstantiated assertions?

              • First of all there is no Borrowing it is Stealing to take someone from another culture and claim it was given to you by a God.
                And yes I did give the source of them that being the EGYPTIAN book of the dead spell 125 the 42 LAWS OF MAAT!
                Additionally I have those laws posted in an earlier post.

                It is utterly insane to try and assert as YOU do that prior to these ten commandments people just couldn’t figure out that Killing is wrong.
                Clearly Stealing is not an issue with you as long as it is done to benefit your Click / Tribe.

                You also want to be BOOHOO you said Fuck so now I can focus on that and IGNORE anything else you said all because I can be BOOHOO You said a WORD that I don’t like
                Grow up you fucking baby. Words like Fuck are used to help express ANGER, Frustration, Rage

                But you Bible Thumpers are more interested in How can you AVOID the issues raised instead of actually addressing them.

                After all IF you did any REAL research you would see the Oldest culture was NOT the ISRAELITES!
                Which means YOU religion is a COPYCAT of older ones!

                your calling a religion / society / culture that Predates YOURS false is utterly Absurd!
                Especially when your religion stole things from them!

              • The 42 laws of Maat are nothing like the 10 commandments in that they are merely affirmations i.e., “I have committed no sin, I have taken no food from a child” etc. even if some are similar or identical if we were to take them as commands. And no one has said no one knew killing was wrong before the 10 commandments, you need to pay attention.

                You can claim I am a bible thumper all you want, but you’ll look like an idiot for doing so, because even my detractors find it a quality of mine that I’m not a bible thumper. I don’t cite the bible unless I happen to be writing on a biblical subject, which isn’t all that often. But you wouldn’t know that because you dont read my writing, you only paint with a broad uninformed brush.

                Lastly, no one, not even the bible claims the Israelites were the oldest culture. I suppose you’d know that if you had ever picked up a bible and read it instead of spitting on it. It’s in the first chapter.

                Now run along junior and play with your friends, you’re not very good at talking with grown-ups.

  10. “Islam” actually means “submission” or “submission to the will of Allah.” It does not mean peace.

    Ravi Zacharias addresses Small’s mode of thinking in Deliver Us From Evil: “The great hazard of pluralism is the faulty deduction, in the name of tolerance, that all beliefs can be equally true. It is ultimately truth, not popularity or rights, that determines destiny.”

    Because pluralism illogically allows people to hold to more than one contradictory ultimate reality, pluralism leads to the death of reason. How can anything be true if everything is true?

  11. Controversial topics truly bring out the ugliness, anger, resentment and hurt in others. Many of the comments here simply reveal how desperate people are for a Savior. At the end of the day when you worship anyone or anything other than the One True God, you remove Jesus from the equation thus eliminating your need for a Savior.

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