Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Am I a "Cultural Polytheist"?

I have a confession to make.

As a child, I started to develop an interest in the myths and legends of the the ancient world - Greek, Roman and Norse. I used to love the stories. So I wonder... am I actually a cultural polytheist?

It should be pointed out that my love of these stories has not really shaped any of my mainstream beliefs. OK, so I have an outlandish theory that the ancient myths might in some way be related to the passage in Genesis that refers to the Nephilim... but I certainly don't believe in the pantheon of false gods from ancient polytheism.

For the record I don't consider myself a cultural polytheist, nor I am certain did C.S. Lewis or Tolkien (despite their great love of mythology), and neither did St. Paul (who actually quoted a few Greek hymns and altered their meanings... applying them to Christ). These people were all immersed in diverse cultures that they drew inspiration from. For Lewis and Tolkien, that was looking at how mythology worked as a precursor for the Gospel message. For St. Paul, it was assimilating the culture to make the Gospel more accessible to a wider audience.

Going back further into antiquity; in the Old Testament we have characters like Daniel who refused to even pay lip service when asked to worship a statue of Nebuchadnezzar. This resulted in him infamously being sent as a snack for the king's pet lions (a fate Daniel escaped by virtue of divine intervention). Why did he feel the need to do this? He could have just pretended... he knew that it was all nonsense, surely it didn't matter whether he feigned worship, for nobody would know. However Daniel wasn't built like that; as far as he was concerned, he would know and God would know... and that was enough for him. Whether you agree with that point of view or not, you seriously have to respect the man for sticking to his principles when the personal cost could have been the ultimate one.

However, lets not beat about the bush any longer. This article is not about whether I consider myself a "cultural polytheist"at all; in fact I'd laugh you out of the room if you suggested it. I consider it a pretentious label, with no real meaning. I am of course really referring to Richard Dawkin's recent assertion that he in fact is a "cultural christian".

He claims his willingness to sing Christmas carols is evidence of this... but that just makes him hypocritical in my book. If you don't believe the words you are singing... then you shouldn't be singing them. If you don't believe the sentiments and words of a prayer or creed, then you should not utter it. It is a dangerous game because words really do have power.

I have told you on record of the times I have altered a praise song's lyrics, or not sung a hymn because I disagree with the theology in them. If I don't believe something or agree with it... pretending isn't really an option.
Furthermore he claims that he does not want to stop Christian traditions. This must come as a massive disappointment to the National Secular Society (which he is an honorary associate of).

For they claim:
"Religion should be a matter of private conscience, for the home and place of worship; it must not have privileged input into the political arena where history shows it to bring conflict and injustice."

So that's carol singing out the window then.

Not that I'm knocking Dawkin's claims. If he does not want to slap a ban on evangelism, that's fine by me. That's where the imbalance is you see... the most ardent secularists want to be able to peddle their views openly without allowing religions to have the same footing. If secularists want an open forum for their views, that's fine... but true free speech demands that they demonstrate the same level of respect to theists.
Lets examine that quote from the National Secular Society again.

Do they really claim that history has demonstrated that religion has nothing positive to offer in the political arena? Really?

How about Abolition? That's a pretty big hole in the argument... and what about racial civil rights? William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King must be spinning in their graves at that ridiculous assertion. Christianity was championing civil rights long before the National Secular Society came along and started stealing fire.

I would argue that in fact, it is neither religion, belief (two different things) or secularism that cause harm in themselves. I would say that the weight of history demonstrates that it is in fact the human condition. You can call it what you want... but I call it the sinful nature.

I don't think a person can really claim to be merely a "cultural christian". Ok, sometimes a man may have doubts about just where he is in the spectrum of faith... but when it all boils down to it, you are either a Christian or you are not. Christianity is not about mere religious practice. In truth it should surpass all this.

Christ came to transform us, that we may no longer conform to the sinful nature - the human condition:

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
Romans 12:2

He came to set us free from the very things that bind us to our willingness to hurt others. "Cultural Christianity" if it exists at all, is not equipped to do that, for it does not provide access to God - the source of all goodness. That is something only Jesus could do... and through Jesus we can be filled with the Holy Spirit, who equips us with the power and freedom to obey the Father.

Christmas is a good time to ponder where you are with regard to God. If you consider yourself a "cultural christian", I strongly encourage you to consider these words from Isaiah:

"The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men."
Isaiah 29:13

Is that you? Do you follow God by singing songs and saying words that you don't really engage with? I'm not saying you should abandon using those forms of worship... but I am saying that you should examine the words you are saying with your heart.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Nick,
    Thanks for stopping by my blog, which I have badly neglected these past few months!

    Excellent post. It takes more than lip service to be a true Christian.

    Best wishes for a happy holiday season for you and your family!



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