How should Christians engage with the gods and goddesses of alternative religious movements? Obviously, since we affirm YHWH as the one true God and Jesus as the one true incarnation of God, the worship of other gods and goddesses is always going to be a problematic issue for us. But does that give Christians licence to slander them?
Here is what the New Testament has to say
1/ When the travelling companions of Paul were brought before an assembly in Ephesus by followers of the goddess Artemis, the town clerk observed “You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess.” (Acts 19:37)
2/ In speaking against the ways of Christian heretics, the Apostle Peter warned, “This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord.” (2 Peter 2:10-11)
3/ In a similar vein, the brother of Christ warned “In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’ Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them.” (Jude 1:8-10)
So now what?
I don’t know about you but to me this suggests that, not only should we treat non-Christians with respect as I have argued elsewhere, but that we should also treat non-Christian gods and goddesses with respect – even though we deny them.
And given that last statement by Jude warns that even Satan, the father of lies, should not be slandered, I would suggest we need to be very, very careful in what we say about strange gods and goddesses amongst ourselves and amongst others, in our sermons and in our conversations.
9 thoughts on “Respecting Strange Gods”
Excellent post Matt, interestingly it was respect for anothers point of view that gained me searing critisism on a recent radio broadcast. Some felt I should have been more forthright in countering her beliefs, I felt that this was disrespectful in the manner it would have been seen as helpful by more conservtive Christians!
We are able to be respectful without denying our own beliefs!
I listened to some of that program before being called away. You remind me that I still have to listen to the rest of it!
I think it would be worth exploring what people mean by forthrightness. I have unfortunately, all too often, seen “forthrightness” descend into the belittling of others and their beliefs, in a manner that is quite counterproductive to communicating grace and truth. In slandering others and their gods, grace and truth aren’t communicated, they are lost in the process. There is a difference between being clear and being rude.
When I see things like that occur, the slandering of other gods, I sometime wonder about the faith of the person doing it. Are they so insecure in their faith that they cannot exercise restraint? How much of that is really a self thing masquerading as a God thing?
I think if Christians could get their heads around the difference between spirits and ‘gods,’ and reserve the latter solely to God Himself, it would go a long way to creating the distinction, and that acknowledging the existence of a spirit does not constitute ‘worship.’
Just because the spirits have more power than us, doesn’t mean that a relationship with the ones who are One with God constitutes worship. It reveals the obsession with hierarchical thinking and the state of mind of Christians.
It certainly blocks them from accepting Creation, and expanding their narrow cosmology, which causes them far more grief than they realize.
But havent Christians been systematically destroying other religions and their cultural expressions every since the church was coopted by the Roman state?
Such being the inevitable imperative of the combination of Empire and the one true “faith”.
That process became really big time during the era of post 1500 European colonial and imperial conquest. When and after Columbus sailed the ocean blue looking for PLUNDER and slaves.
And isnt that process of cultural destruction still occurring with “missionaries” seeking out the “unchurched” in ever last corner (or patch of rain forest) on the planet.
It could even be said that the invasion of Iraq was part/is part of that process. Bringing Jesus and the “market” to Iraq and the Middle East–one capitalist world market under the Christian “god”.
And do the Biblical sayings still hold true? They were said/uttered within the context of a then very small essentially tribalistic Middle-Eastern tribe or cult that had no knowledge whatsoever of most of the then population of the world. Africa, Asia and the Americas.
And in my opinion if the church had not been coopted by the Roman state the his-story of Christianity would have been entirely different.
And dont tell me that the conjoining of the church with the Roman empire was part of “god’s plan”.
For many people the social identity aspect of religion is more important than the inner transformation. Once a religion becomes a label of social identity then it inevitably plays into the individual and collective arrogance that seems to be part of human nature. We want to prove that the social label we are wearing is better than other people’s social labels.
Jesus wasn’t at all interested in people’s social or cultural labels. He was about inner transformation, metanoia, having a changed mind. Becoming incarnate meant, inevitably, being incarnate in a particular history and culture. But if we believe that Jesus is for everyone then we have to separate the cultural Jesus from the universal Jesus.
I find it helpful to reflect on these issues when dealing with different religions. What if God had decided to become incarnate in a Buddhist society, or a pagan or aboriginal culture? What would ‘Christianity’ mean then?
“Judge not, that ye be not judged”.
It is God who will judge the gods (see Ps 82), and in fact he has already done so (John 12:31f). It’s not just disrespectful to the gods, it is disrespectful to the great king above all gods, as in teaching your grandmother to suck eggs.
“I find it helpful to reflect on these issues when dealing with different religions. What if God had decided to become incarnate in a Buddhist society, or a pagan or aboriginal culture? What would ‘Christianity’ mean then?”
So true, Mike. We put all our eggs in one basket, and then throw the baby out with the bath water, to keep our purity.
Sometimes fidelity is a prison.
How about we respect the right of other people to respect or disrespect other Gods?
This seems far more tolerant than imposing respect of other Gods on Christians. Or are those who belong to other Gods so intolerant that they do not respect the right of Christians to disrespect their Gods? Didn’t the Pharisees want to kill Jesus because he supposedly blasphemed God? Jesus intolerant or the Pharisees?
I’m not convinced that the passages quoted support the respect of other Gods at all. I am confident that we could all quote far more convincing passages that speak contrary to that view.
I respect that right for someone to follow Mammon, but don’t impose respect of Mammon onto me.
I don’t quite follow your logic there. Are you saying we should ignore the Bible out of respect and tolerance for less respectful and less tolerant Christians? Huh?
And that we should not respect financial laws at all? That this passage justifies, not only the relativisation of financial wisdom in respect to God’s wisdom, but complete disregard for it? Would you borrow more than you could pay for? Would you not pay workers fair wages? I am sorry, but I just don’t see how you could get that from that Biblical reference.