“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
— John 13:35, NIV.
Christianity, a Western Religion?
For the longest time, Christianity was seen as a Western religion because of its close affiliation with colonialism. Even though recent arguments made by the Christian community denies the fact that it is a Western religion by pointing out its affiliation to the East, the general preconceived understanding of Judeo-Christian religion is still filled with Western connotations as well as Western values.
Like it or not, Christianity as a way of life, seem more Eastern than Western. The notion of selfless living, carrying of your own crosses, loving one another, being One with God, denying one’s self to amplify Christ within us, and having Christ living within us, are oddly more Eastern than West. The emphasis of Christianity on community rather than the self is eerily eudaemonic than hedonistic. Just consider how believers were all in one heart and mind, sharing everything they had with one another, and how God worked powerfully amongst them with absolutely no one in need amongst them (ref: Acts 4:32-35). The notion of Christian heaven seem to be founded on the premises of virtue, skills, and positive functioning, rather than pleasure and positive feelings that are to be enjoyed by the self .
Christianity and Individualism
The problem with Judeo-Christian religions is its history — about how it “grew up” in the West. Like a child riding piggyback on a grown-up immature parent, the Judeo-Christian faith grew in popularity within the Roman empire. Spanning almost the entire European continent to the Western edge of the Arabic Peninsula, the Christian belief spread like wildfire all across the Mediterranean Sea. Coupled with the principles of individualism and individual rights from the Greeks , Judeo-Christian institution took on the notion that human beings are privileged beings with the “breath of life” from God, unlike all other living beings that roam the earth .
Through the entire historical search for a Christian identity, the Judeo-Christian institution has been desperate to find a reason for her existence. On one hand, the Judeo-Christian institution has been borrowing things that are not-Christian and then filling it with Christian meaning. On another, certain Judeo-Christian community takes a more guarded approach against its surrounding cultures with the message of caution . They emphasises the importance to be separated from the world by preaching the doctrine of Biblical separation .
Regardless of the Judeo-Christian institutional emphasis, the overall structure of the Judeo-Christian doctrinal belief seem to stem from its root of individualism. The roots of individuality might originate from the Christian Institution’s adaptation of the late Roman Empire’s organization structure. It was this adaptation of institutional structure that protected and supported the development of sound development of individuality . Over the course of history, the Judeo-Christian institution moved on to adopt individualism as its backbone in the promotion of the faith. Some examples of individualism can be seen in 1) their view of individual salvation — the concept that salvation is the result of one’s individual relationship with God rather than the collective, 2) their view of individual pursuit of sanctification — the concept that each and everyone has to put in their best effort to pursue sanctification, and 3) the individual’s fight against sin — the concept that believers must all overcome sin individually through the power of God in order to maintain a certain form of “holiness”.
With individuality woven into the very fabric of the Judeo-Christian institution meant that it is every man for himself in their own respective walk in the faith. The focus is always on the individual’s response to God rather than on the collective. It is always about whether or not do you respond to God, or whether are you reborn into the faith, or are you serving God in the way He wishes you to, etc. Sure, I figure that there might be certain truth in individual responses to God. But on the macro level, I would like to ask if there’s a part of the picture we are missing out. Whatever happened to carrying each others’ burden? Whatever happened to loving your neighbour as yourself? Whatever happened to being members of the same body? Whatever happened to the unity that Jesus yearn for all believers in John 17?
Christianity at its root
If we were to study the Bible really carefully, we will be able to identify that individualism is never in the heart of God. It’s always the collective. It is always the denying of the self for others. It is the willingness to die eternally for the well-being of others (Romans 9:3, 2 Corinthians 12:15). It is always about carrying the cross (Luke 9:23) for the sake of the collective. It is always about community (Acts 4). It is always about being members of one body under the head-ship of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). It is always being in God and not alone (Colossians 3:3). It was never meant to be a solo journey for anyone. Rather, it was meant to be a journey of the collective.
Digging deep into the scriptures, one might be able to identify the pinnacle of the gospel as the collective attainment of joy that surpasses all understanding when the Divine descended upon them. It is with the joy that surpasses all understanding that unlocks the collective to the ability to do great deeds bigger than what Jesus had done (John 14:12). It is the ability to attain the status of god (Psalms 82:6) and be with God Himself (Hebrews 4:16).
It appears that joy, in the essence of this context, is not caused by the concept of self-denial for the community, but a feeling of being overwhelmed by the Divine that resides within the individual that manifests itself to the collective. As a collective, the collective experiences the power of the Divine descending upon them, allowing them to perform acts that they are previously unable to. Don’t you think that such notion of mental well-being is surprisingly Eastern? Considering also how Eastern religions also preaches awakening, enlightenment, transcendence, and union with the Divine ?
The Christian Moralistic Dilemma
As a Christian from a relatively conservative background, I was being exposed to the many facades of the faith — including sides that I have never thought of experiencing. It appears to me that Christendom is on the verge of change. The slow but steady uprising of charismaticism and ecumenism meant that the Christian Institution is moving away from the traditional structure that it adopted from the Romans. As the shift begin taking shape, countless Christian denominations begin standing up for their faith. Some even came out with theologies such as Biblical Separation to defend certain key tenets of their faith in which they believe are important. I must stress that certain doctrines on Biblical Separation are not Biblical — the emphasis on rapture, the opposition to romanism and modernism, and the condemnation of ecumenism itself; to name a few .
You see, the dilemma begins when people start piecing Biblical teachings on collectivism together with the church’s apparent effort to demean, devalue, and attack the faith of others that seem as a threat to their rigid faith structures. How is it that the church will attain the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17 when siege-mentality is so prevalent in Christian institutions? As long as certain interpretation of the scripture defers from that that the Institution has set, they are either considered cults or heretics . And with these labels, the entire institution lashes out at them, blacklisting them as people or people groups who stir unrest and even cause people to lose their eternal salvation.
I know of this Bible School lecturer in Singapore who appears to be very fervent about Biblical theology. In my conversations with her, she shared her experience of visiting a church that she thought was a “cult”. She described the church as a church that fervently sought the Lord and took the Bible very literally. She joked, “if I never saw their church brochure that states that Jesus is not equal to God the Father, I would have stayed for their Bible studies”. As a Bible teacher in Singapore, rather than being open to the wisdom of the Bible, she ran away at the fear of being indoctrinated by “cultish teachings”. Rather than opening her mind to the ways God work through these groups of believers, she condemned them as a group that led people to hell.
Another occasion when I spoke to a principal of a Bible School. I shared a song that caught my attention. It was “Sweeter Place” by “SVRCINA”. Even though it was not a Christian song per se, it has pretty deep Christian connotations to it. She asked if the artist was Christian. I did a quick check on google and said she was. She immediately replied, “I’m uncomfortable with the song”. That very weekend when she saw me in church, she dragged me aside and asked if it was satanic. She even prayed that I will be able to discern the spirits saying that we are living in the end times.
I was stunned. I rebutted her and said that if Christ called us to go into the world rather than being taken out of it, why are we so fearful about what the world is throwing at us? Why are we so fearful of Satan when Christ has secured a victory for all of us? Why are we so fearful of the world to the extent that we are unable to pierce beneath the surface and see the cries of the people God is calling us to reach? Why are we so fearful of our faith that we will do anything to defend it? Even to the extent of causing harm? Just look at what the church is doing to the LGBT community! All the persecutions, all the rejections, all the harm. Whatever happened to the institution that was meant to preach God’s Divine Love?
The Foundation of the Christian Faith has the Potential to be a Universal Measurement of Well-being
As much as I hate to say it, the foundation of the Christian Faith has the ability to be the unified universal measurement of well-being. I am not saying this because I am Christian or I am defending the faith. On the contrary, I’m disgusted by the Christian institution. I am saying this because I am seeing the potential of the Christian foundation (or the gospel*) as a potential link between the East and the West. As much as the world sees Christianity as a Western religion, it has Eastern roots and its doctrine are so Eastern, it is hard to miss. However, due to historical reasons, it had been riding piggyback on the Western organisational structure. Having been influenced by Western values such as democracy and capitalism, it is no wonder that the church in its unconscious state developed the Protestant Ethic that shaped how it views individual salvation until modernity.
But it should not be this way.
Salvation, as precious as it is, should not be an individual thing. In what universe can the God of all creation descend upon the earth to die for a selected few? The 144,000 to be exact? In what universe can the blood of the God of all creation not save those who have not ever heard of Christ or be in touch with the Israelite community before Jesus walked the earth? How can the Christian institution devalue God to such an extent? How can the Christian institution disrespect the sovereignty of God as the creator of all creation and limit His sovereign will to a boxed up theology?
I’m not saying that they are completely wrong in all the things they are doing. In fact, I applaud the Church for doing its work up till the present times. Though it isn’t perfect, we must recognise the Church’s contribution in the world. But here’s the catch, the Church is failing in bringing people the joy that the Bible promises — the joy of the Divine descending upon them, the empowerment by the Divine to all believers, and the peace that surpasses all understanding that can only originate from the Divine. The Church isn’t loving one another as they ought to.
Though I have no conclusive proof to say that the empowerment of the Divine and the love that overflows from the Divine into the believers may enable an individual or even a collective to experience flourishing or even happiness. But this is one of the things that I trust about the Bible and about God — I believe that God will make that happen just like how He made it known to us through the scriptures. And for that, I firmly believe that one’s relationship with The Divine (not spirituality nor religion, but a personal relationship with The Divine) can be a universal measurement of well-being.
That said, the walls of religiosity and spirituality must come down. People must come to know The Divine for who He truly is rather than to observe Him through the warped lenses of religiosity and spirituality. It is The Divine that must be recognized for what He truly is, for what He has done, and for what He will do. We will need to find our collective identity in Him and He will show us who He is within us. I firmly believe that through humanity’s collective mutual exchange with The Divine, human flourishing will truly reach its peak.
And let’s be honest with ourselves. The walls of religiosity and spirituality is still holding up pretty firmly. Yes, it is coming down. Yes, the trends are changing. But no, considering the current outlook of modernity, it will still require some time and a lot of pushing effort from like-minded individuals. So here’s a shoutout to all people reading this. If you are one like-minded person who yearn to seek the Divine without the interference of religiosity, here’s an opportunity to join me as we work together to bring the walls of religiosity down and bring the people back to God. And yes, sacrifices will be needed. Are you willing? I am. If you are, drop me a message in the comments and let’s do this together.
*By gospel, I do not mean the act of putting our faith in Christ in order to attain eternal salvation. Rather, I am referring to the faith in the Divine to be united with Him in this life and the hereafter, and the joy and assurance that comes with it.