Cultural Psychology

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10 Reasons Why Europeans Should Redis…

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10 Reasons Why Europeans Should Rediscover Their Christianity

Today many people in Europe and the United States have rejected or view with little interest their own Christian traditions. Since people naturally seek deeper meaning in life, this leads many to turn instead to Eastern religions — to Buddhism and the religions of India, for example — for spiritual answers.

There is certainly nothing wrong with studying Eastern religions. But one should not dismiss ones own traditions in the process. (Even the Dalai Lama says that!).

I’ve decided to begin listing reasons why modern Europeans and Americans — especially those who come from a Christian background — should reconsider their native Christianity.

I’ll try to be as brief as possible. My view is that one person cannot prove or convince another of matters like this. Instead, I work on the assumption that if anything I say here is true, then you already know it latently. I just wish to give you a reminder, or to gently nudge your own inner intuition and attention.

I’ll begin posting these reasons one or several at a time over the next few days or weeks. (Please excuse typos — I’ll edit these out later.)

Let’s begin, then, with the first reason.

1. Christianity is Europe’s “folk religion”.

Modern people greatly admire indigenous religions. For example, the religions of Native Americans, Africans, or Australian Aborigines are studied closely; we seek in these traditions elements of deep, genuine, experience-based religion, “untainted”, as it were, by centuries-long accretions of overrationalized doctrines, dogmas, institutional formalities, etc.

Few consider that, after nearly 2000 years, Christianity has become a genuine indigenous religion of Europeans. Further, much pre-Christian tradition has been smoothly assimilated into Christian practices and customs — and remains available to Westerners in this form. To (re)connect with Christianity, then, is to connect with ones roots.

The Two Threads

There are two concurrent threads in the development of Christianity. There is doctrine, as found in the Bible and developed by early Church writers and later theologians. But also there are the unwritten customs and traditions of Christianity.

The latter include religious liturgies, practices, and art. These things are not governable by written rules.

Religious art is of special interest. Deep truths are expressed by religious art — truths of the heart and soul; things beyond words. Generations of our ancestors have preserved and transmitted these truths to us in art and customs. We would be most foolish to neglect these.

To walk into an old church in Europe and to see the magnificent, expressive, and deeply symbolic art is to be immediately struck with the richness and importance of this dimension of our religious heritage.

We look with admiration at ancient or indigenous art, trying to decipher its symbolism, convinced that it conveys some great hidden truths. Yet how many approach our own rich heritage of Western Christian art with the same diligence, respect, and interest?

Similar considerations apply to religious practices. Why are Westerners intrigued with Tibetan prayer beads, while dismissing the Catholic rosary as superstition? Why show such interest in the asanas of yoga, or investigate Buddhist hand mudras, while remaining unaware of the complex prayer postures of the Catholic mass? Who today takes seriously the significance of kneeling, or of the folding of hands in prayer? People seek to learn the use of Tibetan meditational mandalas, but fail to appreciate their own traditions of deep, devout prayer before an icon or religious statue.

Another example: many Westerners today are interested in Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam. One wonders how many of these people know that Sufism was strongly influenced by earlier Christian monastic and mystical traditions in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. While Sufism is all the rage, the numerous writings — inspiring and sophisticated — of this earlier Christian tradition are neglected.

It seems, then, that indeed the grass always seems greener in another’s pasture.

Written by John Uebersax

January 1, 2001 at 7:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized