Reason #5: I’m a big ol’ syncretist.

I took a break from my reasons why I’m a big ol’ agnostic so I could gush about the Quakers, but I’m mostly done with that. Later in the month, I may go to the “semi-programmed” service. What I went to was the “unprogrammed” service, which = silence. But a later service (which I couldn’t attend because I just couldn’t sit still for another hour) has a slightly more traditional thing going. More on that later.

Now back to why traditional religion doesn’t do it for me.  Syncretism is the process of taking bits and pieces from different traditions to form a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of belief. It’s a messy process and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense unless it’s carefully explained, which I never do since that would probably require more of an attention span than I have.

But nonetheless, it’s what I’ve always done. I’m down with a lot of the Judeo-Christian ethic. I love some of the stories in the Bible. But I admire the spiritual discipline of the Muslims, who pray every day, five times, and who fast during the day all through the month of Ramadan to remind themselves of those who need charity. I admire the ideas of Buddhism, even if I’ve never come close to a practice of it. In short, I like being able to wander around in the hardware store and pick up the tools that I need.

Many proponents of religion argue that you can’t do that. From what I read, it seems that the Catholic leadership is very concerned about syncretism within Catholicism, and warns against performing Catholic services in any way close to local traditions. Some Jews are equally concerned about the purity of their belief community; I’ve read of moments in many faiths where mixed marriages have been condemned for fear of a sort of marriage-induced syncretism.

Don’t worry, I get why religions do this. After all, one of Huston Smith’s six pillars of most world religions is tradition, and you don’t preserve tradition by having everyone just do whatever they feel like doing. I think of many other people as purebreds, and myself as a mutt. But a nice mutt, the kind that will wipe her paws first and then hop up on the couch with you.

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5 Responses to “Reason #5: I’m a big ol’ syncretist.”


  1. 1 Alien Drums February 7, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    To carry your metaphor further: When I see those fancy dog shows on TV, I don’t find myself wanting any of those dogs. They’re just too together or perfect or proper. Whatever it is, it’s rather off-putting to me. A long can be said for a mutt with clean paws that can sit quietly on a couch.

  2. 2 diane February 7, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    I agree with your views of taking what you need from each religion but that leaves you so alone, doesn’t it? We are social creatures – we need interaction. So I need a church to be my ‘family’ and if I can’t find one that fits all of my beliefs (which I never will) then I need to compromise a little. Like in a real biological family – you’re not going to agree with everyone (I seem to agree with almost no one in mine!) but you compromise and keep your mouth shut sometimes so that you can be a part of a greater entity – The Family.

    I do love it that you’re exploring other religions and denominations and letting us come along for the ride! Thanks and keep it up – I’m curious what you’ll find next!

  3. 3 nakedpastor February 7, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    Love your post. Just discovered your blog and I love your ideas! I found you through Alien Drums. Keep writing!

  4. 4 hdolezalek February 8, 2007 at 4:31 am

    Thanks, nakedpastor! Welcome, in all your nudity!

  5. 5 Gary February 8, 2007 at 7:10 am

    Thanks so much for taking all this time to answer my little ole question.

    Syncretism is kinda hard to nail down as either bad or God because it comes in so many forms.

    Take for example your typical evangelical conservative flag waving Church goer…thats bad syncretism. If the life of Jesus teaches us anything, its that allowing a nation-state to co-opt a religion, dilutes the state…and the religion. I cringe everytime I see a flag in Church on the 4th of July!!!

    But, some forms of syncretism are cool. I like this passage in 1st Corinthians, where Paul writes:
    1Co 3:4-23 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? (5) What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. (6) I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (7) So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (8) He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. (9) For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (10) According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. (11) For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (12) Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– (13) each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (14) If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. (15) If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (16) Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (17) If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (18) Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. (19) For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” (20) and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” (21) So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, (22) whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, (23) and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

    Did you catch that on the end? “All are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s”

    Paul is rebuking the Church here for divisions that were forming around particular teachers. And then says, “lets stop this boasting about men and get on with it! All things are yours, all truth is yours regardless of its source.”

    One of the best books I have ever read that, in the study and meditation over it, has led me closer to God is a book by a Vietnamese monk named Thich Nhat Hanh called “Living Buddha, Living Christ”. Fantastic book!!! Taught me more than I have ever heard from traditional “Churchianity” teachers regarding prayer and intimacy with God.

    The difference is that in pursuing political syncretism the goal is finding power over people. Pursuing truth as a syncretic discipline, places you in a position of humility, or power under position.


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