Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Christian Misconceptions

Okay, I'm going to try to stay away from opinion and interpretation for the most part, but given the subject matter, that's just not possible.  I probably have a lot of misconceptions myself.  I tend to believe that misconception is an inherent danger of the human condition since we are limited to imperfect interpretations of things.  Still, I like to think that I know a bit more about Christianity than most people so I'm going to hit some of the more general misconceptions about Christianity and, to a lesser extent, the other Abrahamic religions that I've seen around for a while.


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The Cross of Saint Peter

Very recently, as in within the last century, someone decided to turn the cross upside down as a symbol of thumbing their noses against Christianity.  This is rather amusing given that the upside down cross is the Cross of Saint Peter.  The story goes that when Simon Peter was crucified that he did not feel worthy of being crucified in the same manner as Christ and requested that he be crucified upside down.  As such, the upside down cross is viewed by many to be a sign of humility and unworthiness before Christ and there are many Catholics that feel that it is more acceptable to wear the upside-down Cross of Saint Peter as jewelry than the actual Crucifix or Latin Cross.  The Papal Office actually uses the upside-down cross as one of the symbols of office.

I must admit to being amused by the idea of mentioning this the next time I see someone wearing an upside down cross in hopes of someone giving them crap about it.  It may be un-Christian of me to desire to play a bit of a mind-game with them, but the reaction if I were to go up and compliment them on their choice of the Cross of Saint Peter is potentially rather hilarious. 

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Pagan, Heathen, Heretic, Satanist

A lot of times you see the above words used interchangeably.  Really, the only ones that have reasonably the same meaning are Pagan and Heathen and even there, the usage is subtly different.

Pagan and heathen are terms for non-believers.  In other words, if you're not Jewish, Christian or Muslim, then you are pagan or heathen.  Neither is complimentary with both having the implication of a lack of civilization.  In usage, pagan is far more often used to refer to people who practice polytheism or else simply worship a single entity that is not God.  Heathen, on the other hand, is often used for people that simply are not believers and often don't give any sort religion or the like any thought.

Heretics are people that either profess some belief not considered acceptable by the rest of their church or else reject a belief commonly held by the rest of their church but still identify themselves as a member of that faith.  I am somewhat of a heretic simply because of the fact that I consider religions to be, at best, divinely inspired and well-intentioned organizations; on average to be average organizations; and at worst to be actively oppressive organizations.  In all cases, I believe they're man-made and maintained which means that I don't feel my church has divine authority.  This makes me a heretic.  Given the wide range of Abrahamic beliefs, every believer is a heretic to at least one other group.  Christians could be considered heretical to the Jews because we believe in Christ as the Savior and Muslims could be considered heretical to the Christians because they accept Jesus as a prophet but not the Son of God. 

The worship of the devil requires belief in the devil which requires belief in the Abrahamic God.  Due to the fact that a devil worshiper would have to believe in God, these are neither pagans nor heathens, but instead heretics.  Now, the popular image of the black-cloaked witch or warlock following a black mass and practicing vile witchcraft is largely a product of priests that needed an adversary to direct people at and thus keep hold of fading power as the Dark Ages gave way to the Middle Ages.  In truth, the few groups that could be labeled as, or mistaken for, satanism are very different.  Some of these suggest that Satan or the Serpent was doing God's work when it taught Adam and Eve knowledge of the true God.  A more recent Satanism is in actuality a group of very aggressive atheists who hold that belief in any supernatural entity is a form of insanity and hold to Satan only as a metaphor.

However, by definition, a pagan or heathen is not a Satanist (with the exception of the atheistic Church of Satan).  So when the die hard Christians toss out both "pagan" and "satanist" at the same target, they're being ignorant.  Granted, this is because of a sort of belief that the only reason not to believe in Christ is because the devil tricked you.

Note also, that while belief in Satan requires belief in God; belief in God and Jesus does not require belief in Satan.

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Pentagrams

This is another thing that some Christians hurl accusations of Satanism at.  In truth, pentagrams have been taken up by pretty much every culture coming out of the Middle East, including Christianity.  The Christian interpretation of the pentagram is that it represents the Five Wounds of Christ: left hand, right hand, left foot, right foot, spear to the side.  It has been used as a protective symbol by a large number of sources.  Inverted pentagrams (three points down, two points up) have been associated with evil in the past, but even that is not a 100% situation.

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Catholic Saints

I am rather more separated from the superstitions that Catholicism has a reputation for than I suppose many Catholics are.  My father's high school was a Franciscan seminary and my mother is Protestant.  As such, the saints do not have a very strong presence in my life.  That said, no, Catholics do not worship the saints.  However, it is true that many Catholics pray to the Virgin Mary or the saints more than they do to God or Jesus, but this is not a case of worship (at least, it is not supposed to be. Mistakes do occur).  Catholic doctrine has it that prayers go through a sort of chain of command starting with the parishioner, moving to the priest, the Pope and on up to God.  In modern times, the Church is rather more unconcerned with this detail (meaning that you're unlikely to be decried as a heretic for deigning to pray directly to God) than it was in the past.  A work around for this limit was to pray to the saints, the Virgin Mary, angels or pretty much anybody whose dead (which is how saints come to be).  The idea being that, like a priest, the entity to whom you prayed would relay your prayer to God.  This was often still considered to be a violation of the rules, but the Church largely didn't push the issue that far.  As such, if you're Catholic, you often grew up hearing your elders pray to the Virgin Mary or some specific saint like Saint Francis and you picked up on that yourself.

The end result is that Catholics certainly believe in one true God who is the only being truly worthy of worship, but also recognize a whole slew of entities who can be appealed to for aid in the way you would go to an uncle for a loan.  We're rather on the edge of being animistic, but I know most Catholics (including my father) would jump on that statement and systemically tear it apart.  But, again, even with all that, we do not worship the saints or Virgin Mary.  There is no belief that such entities deserve actual worship.  Rather there is a belief that, since they are not actual divine beings, it is therefore okay to whine to them for help.

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Angels

Angels are not a good thing to have appear.  Not at all.  There are mention of some guardian angels but, for the most part, if an angel makes itself known that means that something BAD is about to happen.  Angels are not pleasant beings appearing as beautifully perfect human beings.  The majority of angels bare almost no similarity to human form at all.  In fact, the limited descriptions of a lot the angels make Lovecraft's vaunted insanity inducing creatures look positively normal.  Angels lay waste to towns, kill hundreds of people, turn people into salt, burn armies and so on.

Also, the names of most angels are apocryphal, which, in case you don't know, means that they are not canon.  That's right, the majority of the named angels and demons are not canon parts of the religion.  The Bible names very, very few of the angels and pretty much none of the demons. 

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There are of course several things I could go over, but every time I think of something past this, it is something more consisting of my interpretations and beliefs rather than representing an actual misconception.  So, for now, I'll leave the subject alone.

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