I have been reading John Macquarrie's book Principle of Christian Theology and I believe he has some very good insights about religion in chapter 7 of this book. I found this book while browsing at the library of my friend, a Pastor in a church here in northernmost part of Thailand. He allowed me to borrow it and now the cover and pages are worned out because I read it all the time. You see, if you haven't been seeing theological books for a while you tend to savor every page of it and read it whenever time allows. This is interesting because it gives me insights in dealing with various religions where we are right now.
In this section of the book, Macquarrie argues that Christianity is a religion which tries to maintain a balance between the transecendence and immanence of God. The transcendence of God has been innate in Christianity but the immanence has been emphasized through the doctrine of incarnation. Therefore, Christianity would be considered in the center when it comes to the tension between transcendence and immanence of God. However, we should not forget that within Christianity there are those who tend to emphasize either side of this tension.
Hence, from a Christian perspective we can look at religions from the point of departure between the transcendence and immanence of a divine being. Firstly we will look at those religions who emphasize the transcendence of the divine being. Here we will consider Christianity as the point of departure.
The nearest from the center is a monotheist religon that believe that God created the world and somehow transcends it. This God is also active and reveals himself through history and current world events. Here God is considered to be personal and ethical as well. His most important attribute is righteousness. Worship is simple and God's spokesmen consider being righteous to be more important than the cultic practices. The goal is to fulfill the law through its integration with everyday living. Judaism is a very good example of this type of religion.
Moving one level away from the center is a monotheism which give more emphasis to the transecendence of God from the world and humanity. Here worship is similarly not so elaborate. In fact, the presence of any images or art in worship are considered to be idolatrous. The followers are expected to follow their moral duties that extends even to trivial daily activities. The attitude of the faithful are more on submission than obedience. Complete submissions to God results to blind fatalism. Islam is an example of this type of religion.
The increase stress on the transcendence of God over the world makes God so distant that his power decreases and perhaps in this next level, it is even believed that even God did not create the world. Extending it a little bit, it may even believe that the world was created by a hostile power hostile to God. This religion holds a dualistic world view by which a transcendent God is being opposed by one or more powers of evil or demons. The classic example is Zoroastrianism. This kind of dualism is also found in Gnosticism and Manicheanism. However, some elements of this dualistic worldview I believe is also present in Catholic Christianity in the Philippines.
The extreme end of this level is atheism, where God is not in the picture anymore. God is so distant that those who holds this religion by way of reason think that there is no divine being at all. And I agree with Macquarrie that perhaps one could trace the roots of atheism of the West through the protestant emphasis on divine trasncendence leading to deism and finally to the disappearance of God altogether. Modern atheism complete disregard of a personal god relies more and more to science and technology for the mastering of the world.
Next post I will be dealing with the types of religion emphasizing the immenence of the divine being.