What If You Were Born in Kabul?

inter religious

A quality that the evangelical church seems to lack is empathy. There is a feeling that we (Christians) are somehow “found” while everyone else is “lost” and all these stubborn people have to do is listen to the truth and convert. Simple enough. Except that we often forget what it was like before we were “found” and that, since we are not God, in some acceptable way we will always be “lost”.  John Caputo puts it this way:

The sense of being “lost’ I have in mind is confirmed by a simple test (which does not mean it is easy to pass), a little imaginative experiment devised by Edmund Husserl, the “father of phenomenology”. The experience of the “other person”, Husserl maintained, requires us to undertake what he called an “imaginative variation” to the effect that, were I there, “there” would become “here” for me and I would see things from that point of view. Simply ask yourself what you would think and believe were you born “there,” were “here” for you made of entirely different things, were you to wake up one fine day and find yourself in a very in a very different time and place- the cockroach in Kafka’s The Metamorposes – speaking a very different language, reading different books, having very different teachers, belonging to a very different culture. Would you still be you? How do you now who “you” are? Where do “you” begin and all the saturating influences of culture and education leave off?

Is not the first step of self-knowledge to concede that we do not know who we are? When we go to church on Sunday morning and join hands and sing communal songs and recite the ancient prayers of the community, must we not ask ourselves what it would be like were we joining other hands in some other community, singing other songs, and saying other prayers at other times in other traditions where the way is different, where they (which has now become we ) would follow different ways? Were you “there”, and were everyone there agreed about following “in his steps” that would mean following someone different, following a very different way, but all with the same heartfelt conviction and deep faith of the “here”.

That is our common situation and the basis of a common understanding and compassion.

From What Would Jesus Deconstruct by John D. Caputo

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  1. #1 by Steve on April 17, 2008 - 3:57 pm

    Lewis often took heat for his ‘support of paganism,’ but it was in the context of the pagan being aware of spiritual things, and therefore likely being more receptive of the gospel. The pagan was in a better spiritual position than the athiest or agnostic, but still needed to receive salvation. He did not support paganism for the sake of paganism.

    What I take from this discussion is that we need to be cautious of ethnocentrism when it comes to spreading Christianity. No argument there. I’m not sure that’s where you wanted to go, though. And you’re right, showing your faith is always much harder than telling your faith.

  2. #2 by Robert on April 17, 2008 - 4:05 pm

    Steve said:

    The pagan was in a better spiritual position than the athiest or agnostic..

    Robert responds:

    I sitting here beaming with pride!

    I think everyone who would witness to an athiest (intentional mispelling) or an agnostic should read this primer…

    http://www.joethepeacock.com/2008/03/how-to-actually-talk-to-atheists-if.php

    R.

  3. #3 by Christian on April 17, 2008 - 4:15 pm

    Well, Steve, if you are trying to win converts to the Christian faith you might do better with atheists than pagans. After all, the atheist does not have to forfeit an existing faith, one that may be a large part of someone’s life, in order to accept this new faith.

    You are right. I am not trying to go there. I am saying (and have been for a long time now) that I don’t think God wants the world converted to Christianity nor do I believe (nor see good, incontestable, scriptural evidence for) the idea that those who do not convert are doomed.

    Deb over on God’s Gal quoted Brian McLaren (as an example of heresy) something that I think makes a lot of sense: “I must add, though, that I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherence to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many, not all circumstances, to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.”

  4. #4 by Steve on April 17, 2008 - 4:48 pm

    if you are trying to win converts to the Christian faith you might do better with atheists than pagans. After all, the atheist does not have to forfeit an existing faith,

    That’s just the opposite of what Lewis intended, at least from what I could gather based on his writings. His point was that pagans at least recognized the spiritual life, whereas the atheist does not. Maybe he was right, maybe not. Let’s conduct a longitudinal survey of the conversion rates of pagans vs atheists. The point is not that we need to leave pagans or atheists (or Muslims or Hindus) in their beliefs, but rather, move them respectfully and gracefully to a knowledge of the gospel.

    As for McClaren’s comments, his deconstruction of faith reflects all that is troubling with the emerging/emergent church. If all belief is equally valid and equally true (a logical fallacy), why bother at all?

    [His words] It may be advisable in many, not all circumstances, to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.”
    [Your words] I don’t think God wants the world converted to Christianity nor do I believe (nor see good, incontestable, scriptural evidence for) the idea that those who do not convert are doomed.

    I’ll reflect my fundie history here — and you and I have disagreed on this before — but the Scriptural evidence is clear that not all beliefs are equivalent and that there are consequences for getting it wrong. Scripture is replete with references to the judgment of unbelievers, sheep vs goats, etc. You have to do something with those passages. Unless you don’t hold Scripture to be authoritative, that is.

  5. #5 by Christian on April 17, 2008 - 5:12 pm

    Ah, Steve, don’t quote the parable of the sheets or goats to me – I own that parable. 🙂 Really, though, I think that parable points out precisely the opposite of what you are trying to say. Both goats and sheep were believers – it’s just that the goats never put their faith into practice. The sheep on the other hand earned Jesus’ favor for he did what he commanded of them; love unconditionally.

    I am not saying that all faiths are equivalent – Lewis wasn’t either. He said that in the heart of the pagan they may very well be throwing off those things in their religion that were un-Christlike while moving closer to Christ. I have to assume these people did not call the messiah they encountered Jesus. Just as some Christians may be crying “Lord, Lord” (“Jesus, Jesus” ) and never really knew Christ.

  6. #6 by lovewillbringustogether on April 18, 2008 - 12:58 am

    Steve – ( Hi there 🙂 ) ‘The point is not that we need to leave pagans or atheists (or Muslims or Hindus) in their beliefs, but rather, move them respectfully and gracefully to a knowledge of the gospel.’

    Did you mean to say ‘(your understanding of) God’ not ‘the gospel’ (which i’m hearing as Scripture/Bible being the ONLY Authority on the matter containing the entire Truth)?

    There may just be a problem here? 🙂 One i think Chris is valiantly attempting to make clearer!

    ‘At the heart, though, we all still thumb our collective noses at God, and face the same consequences. ‘

    Wonderfully put Sir! I could not agree with you more on this.

    And in remeberance of Robert: Atheists do indeed have Faith they are ‘required’ by many other Faith’s ‘evangelists’ to ‘cast off’.

    Theirs is no less unprovable or shrouded in Scriptural ‘formulation’ than is Christianity today and they are no less blind than the Theists they accuse of owning their own fallibilities (psycoses 😉 ) And many howl with similar ‘righteous fundamentalism’ whenever their false belief is in any way ‘challenged’ or they are made to feel similarly ‘inferior’.

    The link Robert gave above is quite good! 🙂

    Oh, and for the record – Jesus is The Man for me!

    i believe i ‘Get’ what he was about, but putting into practice in my life is proving ‘difficult’ – because of my own nature. This is what i believe God’s Plan’ is for me (and for the world) but i can only tell others about things i have learned that are of benefit to MY life. I have no right to make anyone believe what i do – that is reserved for God. ( The One God of ALL )

    <B

  7. #7 by Christian on April 18, 2008 - 5:56 am

    As far as atheists having faith – I understand what Love is saying and tentatively agree. As far as them not being prone to spirituality as Lewis suggests, I would tentatively have to disagree. As contradictory as it may seem at times I have met many who are quite spiritual (Robert being one of them. 🙂 )

    What I should have said was that atheist, not belonging to any formalized religious tradition needn’t have to deal with the removal of any indoctrinated customs.

    Also, I do think that Jesus is singularly unique out of all the various “Gods” that the religions of this world have presented in that his message is about a love that surrenders, sacrifices and serves – a love that is personified through weakness and submission. A God that is strong enough to be totally weak.

  8. #8 by Alan on April 18, 2008 - 9:21 am

    As I read this I am reminded of the scene in Acts (Ch 17 I think) when Paul goes before the Areopogaus (sp?) He seems to engage the Athenians directly and takes time to understand and respect what they believe. Then, he has a starting point for conversation that might help lead them to the Christian faith. “The god you worship as UNKNOWN I am going to make known to you.” (The personal connection to the Creator that I think Christianity emphasizes more than other religions.) To me, he isn’t compromising his beliefs and saying “all roads are headed the same place” but rather he is taking time to practice what he preaches as it were — i.e., “I become all things to all people to help lead them to Christ.”

    Nice post Christian.

  9. #9 by Christian on April 18, 2008 - 10:06 am

    Thanks, Alan but the real credit goes to Caputo. They’re his thoughts. I like that example you bring up. I was completely unaware of it.

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