An example of the wrong approach to other religions

I don’t mean to pick on this blog in particular, but this post exemplifies an all-too-common tendency of Christians to put an apologetic slant on their approach to non-Christian religions. The post purports to offer five reasons why “a thoughtful person would start their religious quest with Christianity,” and in a relatively short space it manages to pack in quite a few straw men, mischaracterizations, and omissions with regard to other traditions:

– “There might be glimmers of grace in Hinduism and Buddhism, but every other major world religion is about doing stuff that is going to please some deity.”

– “Most eastern religions portray evil, pain and suffering as ‘illusion’ that you need to overcome and transcend. Christianity takes evil, pain and suffering seriously.”

– “In Christianity, we get to use our minds in our worship … In eastern traditions (those religions that most often make the claim of being holistic), your reason might actually be an impediment in your religious progress.”

– “Jesus is the universal religious figure that every major religion wants to co-opt.”

The overarching approach here is to put the best possible spin on Christianity (because, hey, Christianity has never been legalistic or anti-intellectual, right?) and to offer little more than caricatures of other traditions. By contrast, I think that before we even get to the point of critiquing non-Christian religions, we need to do our very best to understand them on their own terms and see how and why they make sense to their own adherents.

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7 thoughts on “An example of the wrong approach to other religions

  1. This is why I recommend Krister Stendahl’s three principles for engaging with other faiths:

    (1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
    (2) Don’t compare your best to their worst.
    (3) Leave room for “holy envy.” (By this Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)

  2. One problem with a lot of apologetics is that the writer has to take the stance of expert—on everything. This either implies that the writer knows an awful lot more than anybody could possibly know, or that it is not necessary to know much to make good judgments.

    I do like the Stendahl line about “Don’t compare your best to their worst.” How often have I heard someone say, “Man. If that’s all I knew of Christianity, I wouldn’t be a Christian, either”? This gets said after some terrible presentation of Christianity by some group we have little affinity with. But if some other position were true, wouldn’t we still have to expect that its adherents would also have to say the same sometimes?

  3. “One problem with a lot of apologetics is that the writer has to take the stance of expert—on everything. This either implies that the writer knows an awful lot more than anybody could possibly know, or that it is not necessary to know much to make good judgments.”

    I think this is a great point–and one reason why I’m pretty suspicious of the whole apologetics industry. (At least as it’s usually understood.)

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