Transformed narcissism

JP: From Christianity Today:

Muslim Priest and Buddhist Bishop-Elect Are Raising Questions About Syncretism


Jesus saves, the Episcopal Church teaches, but a growing number of its clergy and leaders believe other faiths may lead to salvation as well. Long divided and distracted by questions of sexual ethics, the Episcopal Church (along with most mainline Protestant communities) are facing a cultural and theological shift towards religious pluralism—the belief that there are diverse paths to God.

The debate is not just academic. In two current cases, Episcopal clergy are under scrutiny for practicing and promoting other religions. On February 12 a devotee of Zen Buddhism was elected bishop of the Episcopal Church’s Northern Michigan diocese. Meanwhile, a Seattle-area priest has been given until March 30 to decide whether she is a Muslim or a Christian as her bishop will not permit her to profess both faiths.

The Episcopal Church’s problems with syncretism—the blending of belief systems—comes as no surprise to Wade Clark Roof, professor of Religious Studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara and a leading sociologist of religion. “Clearly there are people, including religious leaders, [who find] spiritual wisdom in faiths other than their own,” he told Christianity Today.

But the spread of syncretism within mainstream Christianity is an even greater threat to the church than the 2003 election of a gay bishop, Episcopal theologian Kendall Harmon of South Carolina told Christianity Today. It imperils interfaith dialogue by detaching Christianity from its doctrinal and historical core, he argued. “To be a Christian is to worship Jesus,” Harmon said. “To lose that is to lose the center of Christian truth and identity.”

The shift towards pluralism has been long in coming. In his 1993 book, A Generation of Seekers: The Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boom Generation, Roof reported that surveys of American baby boomers—Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish, liberal or conservative—all showed a trend towards religious consumerism. The values of the new generation were focused on choice, tolerance of different lifestyles, blending faith and psychology—a cafeteria-style religion where you believe in whatever works best for you.

Roof called this individualistic religious consumerism “transformed narcissism,” and predicted it would come to dominate American religious life. The results of an August 2008 study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life appear to bear him out: a majority of American Christians (52%) believe that some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life.

JP: This is the Smörgåsbord approach to spirituality. Short response:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6)

Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12)

He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18)

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