Jessica at Ask an Islamist is a doctoral candidate in theology at Oxford, studying early Islam and Christianity. She recently took the time to vent about six cliches that crop up in discussions of religion (rather than the study of religions) that irritate her. It’s a wonderful list:
1.) “But isn’t the religion really about …”
2.) “But what about [insert episode of violence here]?”
3.) “I like faith, it’s all the dogma I have a problem with.”
4.) “I’m just really not into organized religion..”
5.) “I’m not into organized religion, but I am really into Zen/Buddhism/Tao/yoga/tantic/Feng Shui/etc.”
6.) “I just feel like we need to get back to the original [insert religion here] of the [insert time period here].”
I particularly like that last one, since I keep running into people who believe we can all embrace a “primitive Christianity” unsullied by 2000 years worth of Christian evolution. Jessica dispenses with the idea:
It’s tempting to look back at the early years of Christianity or the Golden Age of Islam and feel like everything was perfect, but it’s important to remember that 1.) those periods had all sort of faults related to contemporary history and 2.) the very existence of those ‘periods’ of history are a later addition. People in the first century of Christianity didn’t know they were living in the period of the unsplintered church, and probably if we had told them that, they’d chide us, pointing to all of the divisions that we get hints of in the New Testament – debates between gentile and Jewish converts, debates in leadership, debates about practice. And on top of that, they had to put up with Roman repression, poor living conditions, little if any healthcare, and so on.
It’s a long post, but if you’ve ever been pulled into a discussion “about religion” it’s worth a moment of your time.