Friday, November 30, 2012

My Favourite Non-Catholic Religions

In this month's edition of First Things (an American inter-religious magazine), there is an article about Eastern Orthodoxy and its growing influence in the West. It got me thinking about other religions (both Christian and non-Christian) and which ones I could most easily imagine subscribing to, if I was not a Catholic.

What drew me into this train of thought was the awareness that Orthodoxy has a strong appeal to many Westerners of a conservative, traditionalist persuasion. It seems even more anti-modern and anti-progressive than Catholicism.

As the article (entitled "The Orthodox Renaissance") tell us: "To simplify the frequently invoked dichotomies, the allegedly individualistic, legalistic, rationalistic, positivistic, and anthropocentric Western religious thought was contrasted with the allegedly communitarian, holistic, mystical and theocentric Orthodox thoughts...often it is this sanitized picture of Orthodoxy that has the greatest appeal to Western inquirers."

Of course, the Catholic Church does not exist as a haven from modernism or progressivism (nor does the Orthodox Church). Anyone who embraces any form of Christianity in a purely reactionary spirit is misguided. Having said that, none of us are entirely uninfluenced by such "pull factors". I found myself wondering why I felt no pull towards the Orthodox Churches, since I have such a powerful bias in favour of tradition and conservatism myself.

And that got me musing about what religions, other than Catholicism, seem the most appealing to me. And the winners are....

1) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, to give them their preferred name. I am fascinated by Mormonism, and have read quite a lot about it. I never entertained the possibility it was true, but I can enter into the mind of a convinced Mormon easier than I can enter into the mind of a convinced Anglican or Buddhist. The very boldness of the Mormon creed gives it a certain counter-intuitive plausibility. ("I believe it because it is ridiculous".) Besides, the fact that it has its own body of (supposed) revelation also makes it compelling. The stories of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, the great Trek to Utah, and all the other narratives of Mormon history make facinating reading. And as for their theology-- the Trinity as distinct persons, the idea that even the Deity is a material being, the belief in baptism of ancestors-- its very weirdness lends it a certain glamour.

I also admire Mormons because they tend to be socially conservative and dedicated to their faith.

(I hasten to add that I put Mormonism at the top of my list only because I find it interesting. I have sometimes encountered the sardonic expression, which people sometimes apply to theories that are way off, "not even wrong". Well, I consider Mormonism to be "not even a heresy". But I do find it fascinating, and I respect the fact that its practioners take their own beliefs seriously.)

2) Judaism. I went through a "Jewish" phase. It wasn't that I believed Judaism was the true religion (I didn't believe anything was the true religion back then), but I thrilled to its thousands-year-old history, its traditions, and its aesthetic appeal. I read Paul Johnson's History of the Jews with avidity. I especially liked the Jewish people's dedication to study and knowledge, their esteem for marriage, their ritualism, and their particularism. (The universalism of Christianity seemed rather dull to me at this time.)

I retain my fascination with Judaism. Recently I visited the Irish Jewish Museum, which has a synagogue (no longer in use) upstairs. I heartily recommend it, not only because of its subject, but also because it is very far from being one of these awful, modernistic, multi-media-besotted and installation-filled museums.

3) Anglicanism; that is, the Church of England. Because I am an anglophile, and because the Church of England is such a weird hybrid. How do rapping lesbian vicars share a church with Daily Mail-reading retired colonels? It seems clear to me that, although many members of the Church of England only pay lip service to historic Christianity, others do genuinely consider it to preserve the apostolic succession and to be one branch of the universal Catholic Church. The Church of England contains, fossilized within it, so much of the history of England. The fact that it survives as an established chuch in an increasingly anti-Christian country is rather amazing, and I am intrigued as to how this will play out in the coming years.

4) Confucianism. Is it a religion? Perhaps not. But I think its emphasis on honouring ancestors, preserving public order, and dedication to study is admirable. Passages from the Analects often come into my mind. "He has not lived in vain who dies the day he is told about the Way."

5) The Amish, the Mennonites, the exclusive Plymouth Brethren, and other religious groups who boldly separate themselves from modern society. (I am aware that the term "Amish" and "Mennonite" covers a broad range of different groups. But you know the ones I mean.)

This list is just for fun. I respect every religion, pretty much, and I think they all contain glimmers of the truth-- some more than others.

But, to me, the only real options were always either atheism or the Catholic Church.

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