I have continued to devour Karen Armstrong’s stuff. On my iPad I am reading “A History of God“, and on my phone I am reading “The Great Transformation“. I actually can’t put either one down. The thing that went off today (very powerfully, actually; I had goosebumps when this one hit) is that the Christianity that I know is not necessarily the real Christianity (if that even exists).
Armstrong is discussing the division between Eastern Christianity (out of which comes Greek Orthodox, for example) vs. Western or “Latin” Christianity (initially Roman Catholicism, but all forms of Protestantism also fall into this category).
The issue of Sin is critical to this division. In the case of the Western tradition, the idea that physical matter is evil and corrupt crept in (borrowed from various forms of Greek philosophy). As Armstrong discusses in detail, during the early years of Roman Christianity, the leaders were so obsessed with sin (especially sex), that they seemed positively deranged. This slight dysfunction affected the theology profoundly. God became what I call a “Naughty God”, very demanding, cruel, judgmental, and so forth.
Eastern Christianity was not like this. First of all, the Father was regarded as so elevated as to be similar to Aristotle’s unmoved mover: Utterly unchanging and remote. Certainly completely incapable of relating to mere creatures like us. The idea of praying to the Father was anathema to these Christians. In this respect, Eastern Christianity actually resembles Buddhism more closely than Roman Christianity.
Since Eastern Christians never absorbed the idea that the physical universe is evil and fallen, the concept of sin was much less central to them. I find this intriguing because I have been steeped in Western Christianity for so long. It is simply amazing to me that other people who claim to be Christians believe so profoundly differently from what I was taught.
According to Armstrong, these Christians would have regarded many of the practices of modern Protestantism as idolatry. Like the idea that the Father is involved in human affairs, speaks to people, causes miracles and so forth. Although they had very spiritual lives, with many amazing experiences, that would simply not sit with the basic idea of the Father for them