Saturday, October 20, 2012
Religion and Culture
Well, my first commentary post is going to come out of a random book in my ship's library.
More specifically (and with a little background), I've made a habit of occasionally going up to my ship's library, skimming titles until something catches my eye, and then reading that book. Usually I end up with a science fiction or action/adventure book, but this weekend I decided to grab one of the Christian books I saw.
The title of this book was "A Radical Reformission"; it promised strategies for better evangelism, essentially. I suspect it would not be considered proper Christianity by many of the more hardline Christians, but not being one of those myself I can't be entirely certain. I was also not its intended target audience; it was very clear that the book was directed at Christians who wanted to improve their ability to attract others.
With all that said, it was an interesting read, but it was about as effective as anything else I've read with regards to conversion. Namely, it wasn't. The author did come up with some interesting ideas regarding connecting the church to the culture around it; he argued that it was essential for Christians to go out in the world and not be afraid to associate with sinners, even to the point of engaging in some activities considered sinful by fundamentalists. With that said, he did maintain that it was important to avoid actual sins.
Which leads me to one of my biggest problems here. Here we have a Christian author and pastor all but admitting that the culture in which the religious teachings exist will affect those teachings. Yet he didn't quite go as far as admitting that those teachings might change because of that, and he maintained that several elements were still essential. How do we know that those essential elements aren't just the adjustments religious leaders made to spread their religion in the distant past, much the same as the author advocates adjustments in the modern world? That is one of my major problems with religion in general - that we really don't know whether all of these ideas are our hypothetical God's, or whether humanity came up with them as it searched for something to worship.
At least, it's my problem with the ancient religions - some of our more recently created religions are much better illuminated by the historical record. But that's an entirely different point.
Anyway, that also leads me to problem two - that there is no real discussion of the truth of the Bible. This is at least forgivable, since this book is directed at those who already believe the Bible to be true, but it does illustrate a problem. These evangelism techniques are about appealing to the right culture, building friendships, and getting people involved... and anyone can do that to get people into their group. Successful evangelism on these merits doesn't say anything about God, in my opinion - it says that people are willing to believe because their friends do, or because it helps them feel better about themselves. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, and I wish the people who think this way as much happiness as they can get from their beliefs. I don't, however, think their theological arguments are any more convincing from a thousand people instead of one.
Anyway. I'm still glad I read it, because it was an interesting take on the subject of religion with a few ideas I've never seen before. It still falls prey to those same problems as most others, though.