Thursday, April 2, 2015

Why the religion debate must be settled

The reason we have a battle going on today between fundamentalists and mainstream religion, is the question of who God is was never settled. This is true in most religions, but it is most obvious in Christianity. Fundamentalists have taken advantage of ignorance to win the debate for the last 1,700 years. The consequences of them winning again are much bigger than they have ever been.

We know the name St. Augustine because he defeated his adversary in debate and gained the favors of the Roman Empire and they proceeded to destroy anyone who disagreed with their theology. They burned their writings, their churches and sometimes the people.

We know the name Martin Luther and we have Lutheran churches because he supported the edicts written a thousand years before him that said we are born sinners and must pay the church to get us into heaven. Today, we know the names Rick Warren, Billy Graham and Ted Cruz.

Augustine and Luther had the advantage of a mostly illiterate populous. Today’s leaders don’t unless we deliberately look away. Augustine and Luther could say they understood the will of God. We can figure that out for ourselves. Augustine and Luther had armies to promote their philosophies. We absolutely cannot allow that to happen this time.

The reason we don’t know as much about the losers of these debates, is, they lost. The winners picked the books that went into the Bible and translated it. For a long time they read it to us like children. Once the dust settled of the fall of the Roman Empire, the story changed from being an argument to a story of how the church fathers had friendly theological discussions and reconciled the differences between Peter and Paul and figured out what Jesus really meant when he first told his disciples to gather swords then later to put them away.

What’s funny is, most people today are much closer to being Pelagianist than they are to being Augustianist. Most people would agree with the writings of Erasmus over Luther, even though beyond the Erasmus B. Dragon joke, they aren’t familiar with the name. The problem is, when you try to read these things, you find their reasons for believing man does or does not have the will to choose a good action over an evil one is rooted in something Adam did or something King David said or how God entered the world through Jesus or all sorts of theological rhetoric.

It’s not too hard to find discussions of Augustine vs Pelagius that are written from the fundamentalist Lutheran or Evangelical point of view. They often end like this one, saying,

Eventually the Council of Carthage (417) condemned Pelagianism. Sadly, this was not the end of it. A concept of semi-Pelagianism surfaced and was addressed in the Synod of Arles (around 473) and the Council of Orange in 529. On occasion, the ideas of the Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians still surface today.
I think the reason you don’t find mainstream discussions of this is, that’s not how modern people think. Modern people don’t care about what two people in funny hats argued about 1,700 years ago. They don’t feel at all affected by a conversation between Eve and a snake. Erasmus and Ficino and Pico della Mirandola and other early Christian humanist writers referred to Jesus because that was the philosophy of the day. That was what you learned if you went to University.

Today, we have a wealth of philosophies to draw on. We (and I’m talking about people who live in free countries here) have the ability to evaluate many religions as well as secular philosophies and not lose our jobs or get our heads removed. We don’t do what Augustine did and simply look at babies who fight over food and decide original sin is real, we notice how they aren’t prejudice until we teach them, we ask them to solve problems of unfairness and see that they do it by sharing, we also look to nature and see caring and cooperation in our animal cousins. Love is everywhere and it is good, we’ve figured that out.

Most modern people who go to church don’t want to engage in theological debate because they don’t see a position there worth defending. And they are right. Unfortunately, that gets misunderstood to mean that Pelagius and Erasmus were wrong to say that human dignity is more important than practicing a certain ritual a certain way. The idea of loving your enemy was profoundly expressed by a community in the first century. Erasmus said God gave them the will to choose to do that but ultimately it is human nature to do good. Augustine said they had no choice, it was grace. Why they thought that doesn’t really matter. We have much better reasons today for putting the needs of a single mother above the need to have a consistent doctrine that connects our desire to care to the words of an author from a dead language.

Liberals lose debates with fundamentalists because they don’t play the fundamentalist's game. Both sides walk away feeling they’ve made good points because neither side is listening. Large churches have to accommodate both, or they won’t be large churches. That’s why I say, if you go to church this Easter, and you don’t agree with everything the preacher says, don’t put money in the basket. We treat every other speaker in the world like that. If we don’t like them, we don’t buy their books or pay to hear them speak. Why do we give churches a pass? If you feel that there is something wrong with what your church is doing, speak up. If you don’t, this civilization will go the way of Rome and the way of the European feudal system.

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