I have been sitting with this writing for months and months, not to find the right words as much as to come to accept what these thoughts might mean and what effect they might have. First, it must be said that part of growth, of maturity, is to be able to see the shadows, even the darkest ones, in the things that you love – and even if the love is uncertain because the shadows are so dark, to be able to find some light in the things we at times want to disown. It is paradox, and paradox is life, or I should say Life with a capital L. Sometimes the hardest truths hold the greatest paradoxes.
I hang on to Christianity, sometimes by the skin of my teeth. I wouldn’t say Christianity hangs onto me, as I don’t think Christianity would really want to keep the likes of me around. I tend to feel a bit “bad for business” at times, which is likely why Life has me in the hospital, doing my caring there, and as a spiritual director, watching and witnessing those who go through the often-overwhelming growing pains that come with spiritual maturing. There is fruit here and so I haven’t thrown in the towel. Sometimes people really need a companion for the journey.
I have spent a lot of time with many who want nothing to do with Christianity – monotheism generally, but Christianity especially. When we talk, I wonder why I would still call myself a Christian (I’m still working this out) and I often have to qualify it (at least outside the hospital) with, “I would consider myself a panentheistic Christian, to be specific.” I have no defense for Christianity or what it has done. I have no evangelical fiber in my being, meaning I don’t really care if people become a Christian or not. It might help them and it really might not. I do care if people find something that works for them and for the world and if there is enough substance there that they can mature spiritually into places of union, love, and nondualism with Life and the world around them. To me, this is the Christ at play. I guess that’s what keeps me coming back and what I think Christianity has to offer the world, though the division and exclusion that Christianity historically has offered is quite the opposite (more on that in a moment). Christianity can offer a unifying, creation- and physical world-celebrating vision of divine indwelling that no other religion quite offers. But I would have to say that most people miss this because they cling to the shadows as though the shadows are the “good news.”
The shadows. Yes, there are a few, and there is no way that I can list them all out. The atrocities done in the name of the church, under the corruption that comes with power, or even the “good intentions” of winning souls for heaven. There is one great shadow that, to me far out does them all. And it is the reason for my caution in speaking to the truth.
Christianity in its historical trajectory has been a culture-slaying religion. It was founded by orphaned people who didn’t have a home, oppressed, cast out, and enslaved. Traumatized. From the Hebrews to the early Christians, the people of Jehovah were on the move and very often under some other nation’s dominance. Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Romans. This is the history of the Christian religion. And to people who don’t have a home, heaven sounds like a very good place. Traumatized people have to do something with their trauma. It became their message that they brought to the nations: “The Earth is not your home. Your home is in Heaven.” You are a citizen of heaven. No Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. Et cetera, et cetera. In this worldview, any culture or group of people that was at home with their land, with their people, their gods, and their ancestors was a considerable threat. And if somehow, missionaries could get people to question their own belonging and latch onto the “belonging in the family of Jesus,” the battle was won. Look through the history accounts and see how many accounts of truly indigenous expressions of Christianity there are, or mission attempts that honored the local people’s cultures. The early Celtic church may be the closest you will get.
So Christianity and the spread of this religion has been about destroying cultures in the name of being a part of the culture of followers of Jesus. “Believers” if you will. When something like “Christian counter-culture” is so at the heart of a religion, it seems unrealistic that it will ever not be there. It goes the same for politics and Christianity, something that always has been connected. Christianity is a political religion, ever since it was made the official religion of the Roman Empire. Tied to the hip with the ruling class. I think some of these things are changing in some places, and for the better, but I wonder if Christian communities that celebrate various cultures as unique expressions of faith and connection with God are thriving. Many that are growing fast often still cling to this message of dominion. “Every knee will bow, every tongue confess…” The messages of winning the battle against the world and finding our home with Jesus are sung and celebrated in churches the world over every Sunday. It truly breaks my heart to see it still happening even today.
I ask you to look for the truth in this. It might not be all true, but there is some here, as there is in all things. Wonder to yourself about your response. It can be easy to defend, deny, or shut out those things that are just too uncomfortable to bear… Christianity in it’s growth and expansion has been a religion that has demanded people set aside their culture and beliefs of place and follow “the one true God” (often this being Western Culture). Another response is often to have more reason to not wanting to have anything to do with Christianity. Fair enough, I say. But wonder too, whether anything can be ALL bad, and perhaps try to find the redemptive places where healing and union in love is still taking place.
There is freedom in being honest about our allegiances and also the traumas of our history. Trauma that is not honored and acknowledged often gets inflicted on others as another form of trauma. If we want to grow into maturity and awareness, we need to look at the things we love and see the shadows. Otherwise, we turn the other way and pretend that certain uncomfortabilities are not taking place. We become co-conspirators then by virtue of our silence, much like the many religious people looking the other way in the midst of the Nazi genocide. We must do the same with our Christian history of culture destruction. Only then can we move into a future of unity, inclusion, and spiritual maturity.
One thought on “christianity and culture… the shadow”
For me, these realizations are my apatheia. Only when I’ve let my faith die has it resurrected anew. Those have been and continue to be the most fruitful times in my life. Only when we embrace our sisters and brothers of other faiths or no faith as they are with out proselytizing do we fulfill the promise of Jesus in my view.