Skip to comments.Fulton Sheen on Comparing Religions [False assumptions]
Posted on 09/30/2007 5:27:24 PM PDT by Salvation
Fulton Sheen on Comparing Religions
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen outlined the problems with the arguments that Christianity was derived from pre-Christian paganism, made in the early twentieth-century by men such as H. G. Wells, H. L. Mencken, and Sir James G. Frazer (author of The Golden Bough, an influential study in comparative folklore, magic, and religion). In Philosophy of Religion: The Impact of Modern Knowledge on Religion, written nearly sixty years ago and aimed at more scholarly works, Sheen lists false assumptions underlying comparative religion that provide a helpful apologetic yardstick for gauging works that claim "all religions are the same" or that "Christianity stole its beliefs from pagan religions."
First false assumption: Religion represents the primitive instincts of man and the "infant stage" of civilization and "progress." Thus, the religion of primitive peoples today (say, the aborigines) represents the religion of ancient man. The mistake here is conjoining "the lowest forms of humanity with the oldest." This is the mythology of inevitable human progress, which assumes that the spiritual insights of the twenty-first-century man must be of a higher order than those of ancient nomadic Hebrews or third-century Christians. It underlies the assumption that either science or "spirituality" (non-Christian, of course) supplants religion as man evolves into a higher state of intelligence, "consciousness," or humanity.
Second false assumption: The true religion must be completely different from all other human religions. Since Christianity and non-Christian religions are not completely different in every detail, "it is falsely concluded that the Christian religion is not divine." Christianity and other religions do resemble each other in certain ways when it comes to natural truths, since those truths "may be known to anyone endowed with reason." These include moral teachings, use of symbols, and certain liturgical themes. Even when it comes to supernatural truths, Christians and pagans still share some general ground, such as the awareness of sin and the need for a redeemer. The key difference is that Christians "know definitely that Redeemer is Christ." The distinctively Catholic doctrine is that God does not ignore or discount our human nature but perfects it through supernatural grace.
Third false assumption: Resemblances between Christianity and other religions are "possible only through plagiarism, or borrowing, or imitation." A distinction must be made between complete and partial borrowing. If the borrowing is complete, then Christianity is not unique nor divine. But "there are some elements in Christianity that are absolutely original," despite some wild and unfounded claims: the historical facts of Christianity and the unique doctrines of the Catholic Church, including the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Eucharist.
Fourth false assumption: Since the supernatural is impossible or cannot be demonstrated, religions and the history of religions "should be studied apart from all intervention of God." But "it is one thing to abstract the supernatural character from religion and quite another thing to deny the supernatural." Since Christianity claims to be supernatural, it should be investigated as if it were so. Failing to consider this claim, upon which all of Christianity rests, reflects a materialist bias, often presented as "scientific."
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God bless him for being willing to attempt to reason with “intellectuals.” I find the most unreasonable.
I find them most unreasonable.
“Fourth false assumption: Since the supernatural is impossible or cannot be demonstrated, religions and the history of religions “should be studied apart from all intervention of God.”
But “it is one thing to abstract the supernatural character from religion and quite another thing to deny the supernatural.” Since Christianity claims to be supernatural, it should be investigated as if it were so. Failing to consider this claim, upon which all of Christianity rests, reflects a materialist bias, often presented as “scientific.”’
This one especially hit home with me for some reason.
With me too. I think it addresses thos preachers who put the gifts of God, job, house, position, power, etc. first in their lives and not God alone first in their lives.
Sadly, that is also what many of the preach.
The supernatual is totally taken out of it. (Almost NewAgey, isn’t it?)
Bishop Sheen bump!
Thanks for the bump. Have a great week.
A bit like studying a particular man while trying to ignore his personality.
The typical modern conception of religious evolution runs like this: animism to paganism to monotheism.
But there was a missionary among...mm...I don't remember if it was the Hurons or some Algonquian-speaking tribe of North America. Of course they had all these creation stories, spirits, etc. But when the Jesuits talked to them about the One High God, they responded something along the lines of "Oh yeah! Our grandfathers told us about that God too. But he lives up in the 12th heaven, and we don't pray to him very often."
Paganism might well be a degraded monotheism rather than an exalted animism. IOW, everyone knew God at one time, but then these other spirits/deities started intruding on the picture so in many places the Supreme God was largely forgotten.
Isn't that Chesterton's view?
Yep! He mentioned it in one of his books, I can’t remember which...either Orthodoxy or probably the Everlasting Man.
Well, even some feminists claim that primitive people worshipped the one Earth Mother Goddess that was later broken up into many goddesses by the invading “patriarchs.”
It was The Everlasting Man.