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Benjamin-Newton Really Mobile: Post-Enlightenment Church
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For the least few hundred years, since the European Enlightenment, there has been a battle in the Church over doctrine as big or bigger than the Reformation. While the Reformation was half about politics, at that time, most of the religious leaders, as well as many politicians were very literal and specific about their beliefs and were often hung from a tree the next day, after they announced these beliefs. People felt very concerned about the details of beliefs like the type of baptism, the type of music and languages used in worship, detailed beliefs about the end of times, and more.
This tradition continues to this day and is big reason why there are so many different denominations in Protestant Christianity today. One of the big reasons for this hyper emphasis on doctrinal issues reflected the Church's belief that the end of times was imminent. Another less literal and doctrinally based movement began several hundred years after the start of the Reformation, focused more on the "social gospel" or ethics and practical applications of Christianity.
The leaders of the Enlightenment were for all intents and purposes what we would now call atheists. Starting with the secret societies, especially with the Freemasons, sought to bring back ancient hidden knowledge from pagan/animist traditions. In the 1800s this movement became led by the Theosophy Society. This was the beginning of the New Age/Neo-Pagan movement, that reached its height in the 1990s.
In order to bring in followers, the New Age movement, like most religious organizations, started with the most common sense and easily accepted beliefs first. Their gateway to these pagan beliefs were some of the earlier translations of classic Asian philosophical writings. Although thought to be associated with Eastern philosophy specifically, these New Age beliefs took from most major belief systems, as well as most pagan traditions worldwide, including a great deal of some of the most widely accepted ideas from Christianity.
The church was concerned about Christians not having solid teaching in theology, so that they thought that they were still Christian, even though their beliefs were less Christian theology than paganism. Many religious and philosophical traditions, especially those from India and China, see no reason not to embrace major theology of other belief systems and adjust their beliefs, to link the two belief systems together. Christianity is meant to be practiced singularly, without any changes in theology and without any worship, to any other deity.
On the other hand, scholars have looked to philosophy, even from pagan believers, like those of Plato and Aristotle, to explain and support the various doctrines of Christianity. One of the most famous of these is the Trinity, and the formulation of this doctrine by Early Church Fathers was made in response to two factors, relevant to their time in history.
First of all, the general concept of the Trinity is very obvious from Scripture. The explanation was developed, because of analogies we use today, that reflect modern psychological understandings of people (soul, spirit, and body) and modern scientific ideas (ice, water and steam) were not known at that time.
At the same time, there were several different widespread heretical formulations of God the Father and Christ that were competing with the Scriptural version (Gnosticism/Manichaeanism and Arianism - nothing to do with NAZIs). Unfortunately, several other clearly scriptural explanations of the Trinity by the Coptic church in Alexandria (now in Cairo, Egypt), Syriac churches in Antioch (recently in Aleppo, Syria), and what is now Baghdad, Iraq were also falsely identified as heretical, at the time.
So, while there is clear scriptural reason, to not change Christian doctrine, to make it more compatible, with another religion, using philosophy to help explain and understand Christian doctrine was first done by the Apostle Paul and other great early Christians, like Augustine. But a mistrust developed between Indian and Chinese philosophy and Christianity, as many in the Christian community saw this Eastern philosophy as a gateway to paganism. And Augustine understood Gnosticism well as he was previously a Manichaean, before converting to Christianity.
In reality, most of these philosophies are mostly concerned with ethics and are either: not explicitly claim one particular theology, they are so vague that the theology can be matched with anything, or they do not even concern themselves with theology. Furthermore, there is no more taken from Eastern Philosophy in neo-paganism, than their are elements drawn from Christianity.
Some of the major charitable causes to be widely associated with this neo-pagan movement were the environment and feminism. Unfortunately, this led many Christian groups to not accept either of these movements, even though they could have found common cause with pagans and common ground, to further expand the reach of the Gospel. The point of Christianity is not to be opposite of non or other believers, but to do what is right and serve the Lord our God.
In my life, I have found that Christian Existentialism and Philosophical Taoism, which I was first introduced to in a public university, helped me understand the Bible and God better and reflected the way I saw the Bible, before studying any belief system besides Christianity. One of the things that few others, in the Christian community, understand is a certain kind of non-dualism or paradox helps explain much of Biblical theology and how to incorporate Christian ideas in life and still be happy.
I believe that these non-dualistic philosophies explain God and the Bible much better than Plato or Aristotle. Christianity is not about miracles or about knowledge, but about a decision we make of our own free will. You will never adequately explain God, because although He is perfectly rational, He is to a large extent beyond our understanding and always will be. We are not asked to understand but to believe. Not to explain but to obey. Faith is a choice to obey God and cannot be chosen by primarily understanding theology.
Theology is important, up and to a point, because people get mixed up and come up with some weird, baseless, and destructive ideas without it. But we worship a Living God and theology, if taken too far, can come in the way of this. The Bible is more relevant today than ever before, but your current worldview may not be.
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