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22 May 2006 @ 04:15 pm
More than one update in 30 days!  
I have to say that the more I read Karen Armstrong's book "A History of God", the more I like it. It is fairly detailed as a good general-public history books should be without too much depth. For any book interested in Christianity, Judaism, and/or Islam, I recommend it heartily. The book is reinforcing an idea I've had for oh-so-many-years now but is become more refined and clear. The idea is that the concept of "real" orthodoxy is not a biblical or even completely Christian concept. There are multiple paths to God all that lead through Jesus Christ. The term "valid" I am about to use is a general term and I am using it here to communicate a complex idea as simply as possible. So far I have found at least three (3) "valid" paths to God with in Christianity: traditional, philosophical, and mystical. Each reveals the truth of God but in ways that are best suited to persons of differing personalities.

Traditionalist are those who follow Christianity because their parents or other family members do so. This does not mean their belief is weak or that they love God any less that followers of another path. It does mean that they function best with liturgy and established rituals and answers. In many cases these are people who God has gifted to do well running businesses or armies or governments. With what position God has given them, they have little time for deep reflection, study, or to dedicate time to contemplation and prayer.

Philosophically inclined believers what to "know" God rationally. Most mature philosopher-Christians realize that God, by definition, is unknowable. However, what we can know of Him and how "religious" knowledge informs other areas of knowledge, especially, the natural sciences. While the philosopher may have studied a lot thus may have great knowledge of languages, history, and traditions, it does not mean her discussions are more "real" or "right" than a Traditionalist or a Mystic. A command of knowledge, logic, and rhetoric does not imply wisdom or knowledge of the Truth.

Mystics are believers who know God via personal, subjective experience. This includes those who have visions and dreams. It also includes those who find their expressions of faith are best made in a subjective medium like music, poetry, dance, painting, or mime. Just because the mystics may not know their traditions or be able to argue scripture does not mean their knowledge of God is any less "valid" or "real".

As you read through these categories you can see that they are not absolute. Most people straddle more than one category and many participate in all three in their lifetimes. I see myself as mainly Philosophical with mystical overtones and some traditionalists notes.

The more I understand this idea, the more true it seems. It also leads me to ask for forgiveness for judging others and trying to find "the Way". Perhaps Jesus suggests this triad when he says, "I am the Truth, the Way, and the Light." Truth = philosophy, the Way = traditionalists, and Light = mystical.

Knowing that we have three groupings with in one church (how trinitarian is that?), you can see how we, in the West, have had such division. Western Christianity, grounded as it is in Latin, late introduction to Greek philosophy, and battling heresy in North Africa, is the only branch of Christianity to not highly value the mystic tradition. In Judaism, mysticism was incorporated into the faith with great deference to the rabbis as Kabalah (the original, not the sanitized version in vogue today). In Islam, the Sufi are highly regarded as informing the faithful. Greek Orthodox and Coptic Christianity have embraced and venerated their mystics. Roman Catholicism gave some coverage to mystics but Protestantism, born near the Age of Reason, has never been really comfortable with mysticism.

My current theory is that Charismatic/Pentecostalism is a move in the West to get back to mysticism. However, it is a dangerously organic process that seems to be doing more harm than good. The root of this problem, I think is imbalance. If you think of Christianity as a stool, you can see that missing a leg or two means it is not a good stool. I guess using the simile of a building with three pillars would be more respectful but I know of more three-legged stools than buildings being supported by only three pillars or columns. Each "leg" is inadequate to support the stool. Too much tradition and you get a so-called "dead" church of form with no heart. A philosophical church becomes quickly elitist because study is paramount and non-readers would be left in the dust quickly as well as the fact that some people can get neurotic by thinking too much about philosophy (see the movie, I Heart Huckabees, for one of my favorite new examples). A mystical church can have people doing weird stuff and is where the poor (not traditional) and uneducated (not philosophical) can get really fleeced of hope and savings.

I study that I may know God and His creation more and love Him all the more for the complexity and simplicity He reveals.

-GD
 
 
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