Monday, May 23, 2011

Why Christianity is so Diverse, edited from an earlier post, Oct. 25, 2007

Those who claim Christ as Savior express a wide set of opinions on a varied set of topics. I became acutely aware of this after I left organized religion. I fully believed at one time the true Christian looked, spoke and believed similarly to me, regardless of his or her particular stream. The "true" Christian was "sold out to Jesus", full of the Holy Spirit, someone dedicated to all things Christian and exhibited strong character as a result.

Once I had left the organized church, I told myself I wanted to think again. I had allowed myself to think only what I had been told was safe to think for too long. Eighteen years to be exact, twelve of these as an elder. (This is not intended to suggest that organized religion does this routinely. It is simply what I experienced.) I began to read and often from what before had been labeled by my teachers and spiritual leaders as inappropriate theology. Since I no longer recognized their authority over what and what not to read, I read widely, literally across a breadth of Christian exposition.

I discovered the parameters of a significant diversity of "Christian" opinion were much larger than I had supposed. I simply wanted to know, "What is right belief?"

It actually came together for me in a secular, graduate sociology course. Much of current Christian theology seems intended to make the world a better place.

Beginning in the middle:
Sociology is a modern, established scientific discipline in disarray. Some would even say that it is not even truly a science, though a degree in sociology is a bachelor's degree in science. Many colleges have even begun to dismantle their sociology departments. As reported to me then in 2002, the problem is that sociologists cannot agree on a unifying sociological theory for why society functions as it does. I think I know why; and the answer explains, in part, the great diversity of Christian opinion about what Christianity should be.


yeti said...

so why the diversity?

ded said...


thanks for visiting my blog.

will put up a series with that discussion over the next several days.

postmodern redneck said...

I dug around in the archives and found the original series this was from--must have been before I started reading your blog (not sure just when I did start, actually).

I think the basic problem for sociologists (and other secular pundits)is that they are starting from a view of man that does not match the real world. Most secularists start out with the idea that people are basically good, and if we can just get rid of ignorance, poverty, and intolerance, all will be well. And they run along with that for a while, until someone disagrees with them--at which point they start sounding like that disagreeable person is EVIL.

The traditional Christian teaching is that man was created good, but because of the effects of sin is now flawed. And if I have learned anything in 61 years of life, it is that this view of man is the one that best corresponds to the world we live in through all of history. Theories about society that start from this base have at least a chance of working (not a guarantee, because the flaws in man, but a chance); those that start from any other view of man will sooner or later shipwreck because they don't work as expected.

The flaws in human nature also have a lot to do with the diversity in Christianity. Even Paul and Barnabas had to quit working together for a while. Many of Paul's letters were written to address problems arising in the churches. If anything, the problems got worse with the rise of the clergy in the 3rd and 4th centuries (if you look at the history of doctrinal arguments, you will usually find most of the noise being made by the clergy--the laity were too busy trying to make a living!) There has always been a certain amount of diversity among Christians. For centuries the church hierarchies tried to keep a lid on things, often by force--executing individual "heretics" and massacring groups like the Albigenses in France in the Middle Ages. In the 1400s the Bohemian Brethren fought off all attempts to subdue them for years, until they started fighting among themselves. But it was the crack in Papal control; the Reformation started in the 1500s and could not be controlled. Europeans spent the next 200 years fighting over religion (politics was involved, too, keeping things going even longer--the Thirty Years' War would have been over a lot sooner if Catholic France had not financed the Protestants fighting against Catholic Austria and Spain).

At least Christians today have given up killing people over our theological disagreements. Now, if the Muslims would just get that idea through their heads....

ded said...

Hey postmodern redneck.

(still think that's such a great moniker you got there)

This series is all the way back in my first month of posting.

The common person is still busy trying to make a living, but affluence and democracy has him or her a bit more involved in hierarchical initiatives.