A religion that’s a little of this, a little of that.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 May
ECLECTIC ə'klɛk.tɪk adjective. Belongs to no recognized school of thought or organized religion. Selects such doctrines and beliefs as they wish, from various religions and schools.
[Eclecticism i'klek.ti.siz.əm noun.]

One of the more popular platitudes you’ll hear among conservative Evangelicals is “I don’t have a religion; I have a relationship.” By which they don’t actually mean they’re irreligious… although many are. For the most part they do to to church, read their bibles, pray, and try to be good. What they mean is they reject dead religion—namely rituals which mean nothing to them. My point is they do so have a religion; there are plenty of things they do which reveal they devoted themselves to Jesus. Any pagan can see it—and they should, ’cause if there are no such signs, any “relationship” we claim to have is gonna suck, if it’s even there at all.

In comparison, your average pagan insists they truly have no religion. They don’t pray regularly, if at all. They read no holy books regularly, if at all. They never set foot in a church, temple, or mosque—except to attend weddings, funerals, recitals, 12-step meetings, christenings, go to the polls (’cause in the United States sometimes places of worship are used in elections) and to watch the rare Christmas pageant. They don’t do religion, period. You do—’cause you adhere to a particular pastor, church, denomination, or creed; and you pray and read and do Christian things.

But John Lennon songs notwithstanding, plenty of pagans do so have a religion. They do pray, read holy books, go to places of worship (or places where they worship), and base their behavior and good deeds on their spiritual beliefs.

It’s just they may not recognize they have a religion, ’cause it’s not an organized religion. They’re not a member of any organization which tells ’em what “the proper beliefs” are: They figured ’em out on their own, and now believe various things about God and spirits and the afterlife. True, their beliefs aren’t always consistent, and don’t always come from one particular source: Some of their ideas were borrowed from Christianity (i.e. God is love, Jesus was nice to everybody), and some from Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Beatles albums, Oprah videos, inspirational quotes, internet memes. Some even invented their own ideas, all by themselves, ’cause they’re such deep spiritual people.

Properly, they’re practicing eclecticism. They just don’t know the word for it.

Organized-yet-disorganized religion.

The human brain is designed to recognize patterns. Even when there’s nothing actually there. Hence really sloppy “logic” and conspiracy theorists.

This is why structures appeal to us so easily. Even the messiest people have some kind of structure to their chaos. They love it when one belief fits neatly with another. It’s why theology is so popular with certain Christians: They love when all their God-ideas connect like a divine jigsaw puzzle. They’re quite sure God, ’cause he’s perfect and true, should inspire a perfect and true belief system. That’s why they struggle so greatly with Christianity’s paradoxes, like the trinity. Makes ’em bonkers.

It’s also why a lot of humans prefer eclecticism. To them, Christianity is too paradoxical: They can’t wrap their brains around Jesus being God, yet totally human. So they decide to ditch one idea or the other: Jesus isn’t really divine, or “divinity” gets reinterpreted as something we can achieve by being really, really good. Or Jesus isn’t really human; he’s an avatar. Whatever simplifies things in their minds: They like a belief system which which doesn’t make taxing, inconvenient demands on their brains and lives.

And if they don’t wanna change any (or much), and wanna feel good about themselves, preferably their belief system is something which is already consistent with their existing behavior.

I’ve listened to pagans describe their belief systems. They’re quite detailed. Some are pretty clever! Often they’re more consistent with historical Christianity than they realize. (Or even wanna recognize. They much prefer to imagine they’re unique.) They often admit they’re not as good as they wanna be, or oughta be. And maybe it’s not even be possible. But they figure God makes up the difference—because grace ain’t that foreign a concept, y’know.

So they won’t join a church, follow a specific guru, or try to be a guru themselves. They just believe what they believe. They’re quite proud of the fact they put together their own system. They feel it works for them; it’s why they’ve no interest in becoming anything else. They don’t wanna be Christian, Hindu, Scientologist, Bahai, or anything—they’re fine as-is. Try to fix ’em, and you’ll alienate them.

Yeah, it’s a pride thing.

I once had an algebra student who invented his own shortcut for solving polynomial equations. Used it all the time. Used it even though I told him, more than once, to stop it… because it doesn’t work. It never got him the correct answer.

Why’d he insist on using it regardless? Because it was his.

It might’ve worked once, so he assumed it’d work every time. I never saw it work though, and couldn’t convince him of it. Even though he kept flunking papers and exams… and eventually the class. But he didn’t care that it didn’t work. Just like any inventor whose beloved gadget keeps breaking down, but he won’t stop tinkering with it, and keep using it anyway. Unlike this hypothetical inventor, my student never fixed his formula, nor swapped it with one from the book or the internet or anywhere.

No, the boy wasn’t rational. But since when are humans rational?

And when it comes to religion, people can be even less rational. Because to them, religion isn’t about what’s true: It’s about what feels good. They confuse “spiritual” with emotional, so if it makes ’em feel something, especially something good, it must be spiritual. Reason and logic and truth doesn’t make ’em feel good, so they ditch those things in favor of feel-good religion.

This is why eclecticism is so popular. An eclectic’s religion (even though they hate calling it religion) feels great. Because it’s all their favorite beliefs, makes ’em feel good about themselves, and it’s theirs. It’s their possession, their baby. Doesn’t matter if it’s utter bulls---: They make excuses for all its inconsistencies, justify anything immoral in it, and fights anyone who dares tell ’em they’re wrong.

So if I dare tell them, “Well according to Jesus…” they object. Jesus, as they’ve reimagined him, teaches no such thing. He believes as they do. Christianity is wrong; Christians are hypocrites; the bible is neither historically accurate nor infallible; they know Jesus better than any Christian. Don’t you touch their baby.

So before you share Jesus with ’em, you gotta wait till they finally give up on their beloved system. Which may not happen for a mighty long time. They gotta have a crisis of faith first. The Holy Spirit has to shake ’em hard enough to leave a crack wide enough to climb in. Till then they’re the walls of Jericho. Keep marching.

We Christians need to be careful lest we turn into eclectics. We don’t get to make up our own beliefs. We gotta follow Jesus. He determines our beliefs; he’s right and we’re not. I regularly butt heads with Christians who come up with ideas they’re sure is better than anything 20 centuries of Christian thinkers ever came up with. (As if the Holy Spirit never inspired anyone but them… least of all me.) Simply put, they’re an eclectic disguised as a Christian, and they’re following their own path instead of Christ’s. Watch out for such people.