Saturday, October 13, 2007

Why Study World Religions

Recently I have made up my mind to obtain a Ph.D. in the History of World Religions. Many people have asked me why I want to do this, and the question deserves an honest response. Answering the question requires an adequate understanding of the motives behind the question itself. It is my belief that people who ask me “Why are you going to study World Religions” are really asking one of three things:

1. Why World Religions? Those who ask the question this way, are merely curious as to why I am interested in World Religions.

2. Why World Religions? Those who ask this question believe that there is a difference between the study of Christian things and the study of Non-Christian things. Devoting oneself to the Non-Christian things robs one of the opportunity to engage in the Christian tasks of Evangelism and Devotion.

3. Why World Religions? People asking the question this are usually trying to caution me against learning about World Religions because they are afraid that Academic exposure to the study of World Religions will degrade my orthodoxy and transform me into a Universalist.

I will address these three very different questions in reverse order.

In response to the Third Question: Firstly, allow me to say that Universalim holds no water. It is not possible for all religions to be correct. If all religions were correct, then it would be true that Jesus was God, and that Jesus did not exist, and that Jesus was a prophet. This is a logical impossibility. It is not even an antinomy, it is the Kantian non-entity. Impossible. Universalim makes no sense whatsoever. To say that everyone eventually meets God even with incorrect beliefs is not Universalism, this is either a lazy form of Buddhism, or a nameless Religion.

Secondly, some Christians fear that the study of other faiths entices Christians to leave the Church. There is merit to this belief, because many Christians who study other faiths end up leaving the Church. However, fault the individual for this, I fault the Church. I have taken part in many Christian worship opportunities that I felt were spiritually bankrupt. In my opinion, someone who has been exposed to authentic Christianity will not leave it for authentic Buddhism, Atheism, Hinduism, etc. However, someone who has been exposed to bankrupt Christianity would justifiably exchange that for another faith.

In response to the Second Question: With all due respect, this is a form of Dualism which Christ did not seem to support. Christ did not seem to find a gap between the sacred and the profane as did we. This is not to say that Christ did not believe in sin, he most certainly did. He most certainly believed in the devil, and in evil. However, Christ seemed to think these things were spiritual in nature, and not physical. Christ did not think that being a fisherman, or a prostitute prohibited one from becoming a true disciple. When describing the Kingdom of God, Christ did not say that Heaven was like a great worship service, he said that it was like a farmer, yeast, mustard, treasure, a merchant, a net, a king, a landowner, a banquet planner, and ten virgins. Christ compared the most sacred of places to the most ordinary of places. I do not believe that there are “secular” career paths, and “christian” career paths. I do not believe there are “secular” studies and “Christian” studies. Christ is ruler of all, and therefore everything we do should be Christian. We should not have our Christian practices and our everyday practices. Everything we do should be Christian. If my study or my practice prohibits me from doing my Christian duties of Evangelism and Devotion, I must blame myself, not my field of study. Likewise, engaging in a “Christian” field of study will not encourage me to Evangelize or Devote myself more than if I engage in any other field of study. The power of Christianity is in my love, not the book I’m reading.

In Response to the First Question: I find World Religions fascinating. I am blown away by the devotion others show toward their stories and myths. I am amazed that even today, people all across the globe are devoting every moment of their lives, every decision, every action to a theoretical construct which can never be proven true or false. I am fascinated that whole civilizations have been founded on hierarchies of myths. I am just passionately driven to understanding what Religion is, why it compels mankind, and how it has impacted the History of Civilization. I will never be able to fully study these things, but I would be remiss if I failed to engage the question merely because of its enormity. I want to study world religions for the same reason that Olympic swimmers want to swim.

And, (if I am honest about my understanding of Scripture) I want to study the History of World Religions because Christ wants me to study the History of World Religions. Christ is the supreme sovereign over my life, and I believe my passion for World Religions comes from Him. And, I would be doing myself a severe disservice were I to ignore that call.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Roger Kamnetz writes that we are all heading up the same mountain, just taking different paths. Good luck in your exploration of where these paths do AND don't intersect. Hopefully you will gain a greater sense/enhancement of your own spirituality through the exploration of other religions. Good luck in your future academic endeavors Josh, it's really nice to stop here and see that things are going so well for an old schoolmate. Congratulations to you and Rachel as well. You will be a great dad!