A Narrative Phenomenology of Religion

On May 29, 1453, Sultan Mahomet II, leading an army of 160,000 men and equipped with the most advanced technology of the time, conquered Constantinople, bringing to an end a political and cultural situation that had lasted more than 1100 years. News of Constantinople’s fall spread rapidly in the West and caused a severe shock to political leaders and the general population. A real clash of civilizations was in sight. Immediately Pope Nicholas V, and also Enea Silvio Piccolomini, the future Pius II, called for a crusade against the infidels. In September of that same year, 1453, Nicholas of Cusa, a German theologian, philosopher, cardinal at the papal court and close friend of Pius II, wrote De pace fidei (On the Peace of Faith). This is not his best-known book. His vocation for peace was present in his work long before. In 1433 Pope Eugene IV had already called him to integrate a commission into the newly established Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence. Here Nicholas of Cusa distinguished himself for his efforts in rapprochement between the Christians of East and West.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11499

Thanks for the analysis. Never stand still but continue forward in learning and understanding. Wish it were so on a more broad basis!

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In the Spirit of being willing to analyze and criticize one’s own beliefs, I highly recommend the book below, “The Outsider Test for Faith” which offers an in-depth methodology for stepping back from dogmatism and evaluating one’s own belief with the same criteria used in the dismissal of others.

The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True Kindle Edition

by John W. Loftus (Author) Format: Kindle Edition

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Fostering mutual understanding by viewing religion from an outsider perspectiveDepending on how one defines religion, there are at least thousands of religions in the world. Given such religious diversity, how can any one religion claim to know the truth? Nothing proposed so far has helped us settle which of these religions, if any, are true—until now. Author John W. Loftus, a former minister turned atheist, argues we would all be better off if we viewed any religion—including our own—from the informed skepticism of an outsider, a nonbeliever. For this reason he has devised “the outsider test for faith.” He describes it as a variation on the Golden Rule: “Do unto your own faith what you do to other faiths.” Essentially, this means applying the same skepticism to our own beliefs as we do to the beliefs of other faiths. Loftus notes that research from psychology, anthropology, sociology, and neuroscience goes a long way toward explaining why the human race has produced so many belief systems, why religion is culturally dependent, and how religion evolved in the first place. It’s important that people understand these findings to escape the dangerous delusion that any one religion represents the only truth.At a time when the vast diversity of human belief systems is accessible to all, the outsider test for faith offers a rational means for fostering mutual understanding.


Perfect knowledge is not possible.

Full stop.

This as there is no way for anyone—including the OT god—to know to an absolute certainty that there isn’t an entity even smarter than himself lurking somewhere, and perhaps everywhere, but which entity also knows how, and has the desire, to remain eternally elusive.

That is, a more comprehensive intelligence than the OT god might be hiding directly underneath the OT god’s nose.

Thus, the OT god’s claim to being the omniscient creator of the cosmos, with absolute knowledge of everything, is not merely an idle boast perhaps made in order to propagandize and scare lesser creatures who admittedly do not have the means with which to verify or refute the claim.

Any claim to absolute intelligence or perfect knowledge is an obvious self-delusion which no rational being would make.

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“The calling for any healthy and noble church is not for physical or ideological warfare against others but in permanent compromise for peace.”

I would like clarification of what this quote means. The Bible uses warfare continuously to describe what we’re involved in. Our warfare is not against flesh and blood but against principalities etc. but the Bible makes clear that we are absolutely in an all out ideological war against the devil and his destructive lies. And many religions are being used by him to promote lies that can destroy our relationship with God. So the members of other religions are not our enemies, but the falsehoods taught by their churches are.

Jesus was in constant battle over “religion”. His life was a constant warfare of ideology, superstitions, legalism, etc. I feel like this article does not acknowledge how serious every false religion is and how seriously we need to take the battle we’re in. Jewish people have rejected Jesus! There is no compromise with that idea. Catholicism usurps Christ’s role as high priest! There is no compromise with that ideology. Adventism is far from perfect and we need to look at ourselves critically to make sure we’re following God’s word, but I don’t think this article takes seriously how destruction false religions /ideologies are.

Revelation states there was “war” in heaven, Jesus said “I send you out as sheep among wolves”. Jesus said “you will be hated by all people”. Paul describes the armor of God. And God frequently revealed Himself as a Captain of heaven’s armies. We need to love others to win them but there is absolutely an ideological and theological war we’re in! Every one of the disciples (except John) was killed for his religion…how can we not be in a war?


Ca 143 CE, Marcion of Sinope arrived in Rome with this very message. He claimed (basing his ideas on 10 epistles of Paul and a version of the gospel of Luke) that the OT god was a lesser god of bad character who created an imperfect world. His teaching was that Jesus revealed a previously unknown greater god, one unrelated to Judaism and Yahweh; his god was loving and kind, not like that other one. His version of Christianity was not superseding the Jewish religion, but simply a new way. For the next two centuries, Marcionite Christianity was the main competitor to proto-orthodoxy and had spread throughout the empire. The Albigenses may have been a medieval survivor of Marcionism.


there are no absolute religions. So Adventism is not absolute either. It is a religion, like Catholicism or Protestantism, that privileges some aspects over others, emphasizing some dimensions while leaving in the shade that which it considers less central to its own project. Absolute religions, those bulimic with a total sense of life and history, are an offense to God because they tend to replace God with the pretended completeness of their own system.

While I don’t agree with everything that the author has to say, I can give a whole hearted AMEN to most of it. I have been an Adventist for 76 years and for much of it I have been taught that we “have the truth”. In recent years I have come to understand that we do not have the truth anymore than many other religions. We have some truth cluttered with error and human misunderstandings, just like all those we tend to demean in one way or another. Our very approach to presenting our religion in past evangelistic meetings was demeaning to many other truth seekers while making a god out of our beliefs at the expense of the Gospel. I have railed about this on this blog numerous times, but our whole concept of “proving we are right” which is another way of saying everyone else is wrong, is disgusting at best. I hate the term “proof texts”. It is about justifying ourselves with our beliefs, rather than accepting the justification that only Jesus can provide. The Gospel doesn’t require proof texts, it requires BELIEF.

Thank you so much for this piece. If we looked for commonality, as you presented, we might all come closer to the Gospel. Which is salvation in itself.


I have read De Pace Fidei, it is an optimistic attempt at uniting religions on their basis of practice and traditions, for example:

  • “Where no conformity in manner can be found, nations should be permitted their own devotional practices and ceremonials, provided faith and peace are preserved . A certain diversity will perhaps even increase devotion when each nation will strive to make its own rite more splendid through zeal and diligence in order thus to surpass another and so to obtain greater merit with God and praise in the world.”
  • "It is very often necessary to condescend to human weakness if it does not offend against eternal salvation . For to seek exact conformity in all things is rather to disturb the peace.”

If this book was in fact superior to The Great Controversy then why did it not end the raging Catholic Inquisition, which not only continued, but was greatly expanded into Spain and Portugal and the America’s for the next few hundred years!?

This logic coming from an Adventist theologian is impossible to understand when one considers some of doctrines that were either re-affirmed or introduced at this time:

  • Absolute papal supremacy
  • No salvation is possible outside of the RCC
  • Mary is the mother of the church
  • Required idolatrous worship of the wafer-god
  • Retained all (> 100 anathemas (curses) pronounced by the Council of Trent)

Ultimately, is there anyone in this forum that doesn’t understand the real aims of Vatican II?


Hello brother, if you don’t mind I, I would ask; you mention that the gospel doesn’t require proof texts, but belief. But I would ask; how do we know What is the gospel without a true understanding of scripture? If we are to have a correct understanding of the gospel, it logically has to be based on texts that establish what the “gospel” is. And any wrong understanding of texts would affect our view of the gospel.

I agree that some sda’s have been too focused on only proving we’re “right” and other churches are wrong. We should live our understanding of the gospel and that will take care of much differences. However, there are fundamental errors in key gospel aspects that we can’t ignore. Belief in a lie is dangerous. So while we shouldn’t spend all our time arguing about texts, we can only know the “truth” through a correct understanding of scripture. Jesus said “you will know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free”. If we are to be free, and free others, we must know the Truth, and as Jesus also said, Thy word is Truth.

We cant believe in a wrong understanding of texts and be free….and if our goal is to truly bring freedom to others, we can guide them to a correct understanding of scripture with a heart like Jesus’ and in a way that frees them and not in a way that demeans them. I thinks It’s all in the spirit with which we teach the truth as it is in the texts.

God bless

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As I’ve admitted previously, I refer to myself as polymath and, unlike yourself, have degrees in nothing.

However, based on the informal research I’ve done on the topic, I think my preferred heresy Is Gnosticism

That is, when I’m not going completely “a-Christian” and siding with Judaism…except for the part where their less-than-omniscient god “plays favorites” by making them his “chosen people”.

Given the history of that favoritism, I submit that no rational person would accept that blessing/curse!

Having spent nearly a year in West Africa, I also came away with an appreciation for the concept of animism.

But again, it’s easy to see that the practice of that belief leaves a logical person shaking his head and wishing he could find a 7-11!:rofl::rofl::rofl:

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I would answer with a single text…not a proof text, just the gospel. “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not parish but have everlasting life.” That’s the gospel. You can’t earn it, you can’t buy it, you don’t deserve it, it is a gift. How you go about developing a relationship with God is a different matter. If you’re grateful for that gift, you will do what is pleasing to God, this is where the scripture comes into play, not for salvation, but in trying to understand what will be pleasing to God who has already given you the gift. That make take on many forms, but the most important of them is how we treat each other, the sick, those in prison, the poor. The end of Matthew 25 spells it out pretty plainly.


What you call “diversity of religions” is nothing more than Satan’s attempts to confuse humanity and cast doubt, promote dissension, and ultimately rebellion. Instead of focusing on flawed relativistic “philosophies” by the likes of Hanz, that offer cheap prescriptions for “tolerance” and “balance”, we should remember that God himself took on humanity to reveal the truth to us so we may know it and become free.

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Tolerance is not the highest of moral values as this article would lead you to believe. The author seems to have signed up to human relativism which claims there are no absolutes. A philosophy that teaches that everyone’s values and even all system’s values, are as good as the next. Relativism now rules every aspect of our lives from grade school to obviously, even our own church, including moral and ethical thinking. If we truly want to be tolerant, we should learn from Scriptures, not from a “philosopher”.

Thanks for responding…I think the text you use is filled with proofs though. It proves there’s a God, that He is Love, that Jesus is His Son, that salvation is thru Christ alone, that salvation is thru belief in Jesus, that there’s a judgment, and that there a heaven.

The point I’m trying to make is exactly what you go on to say, which is that salvation being thru Jesus requires a text to prove that it is so. you also mention that the response is to go on and live in harmony with His Will. Well this is where scripture is key to determine what is pleasing to Him as you mention. And confessing our Sins to a man for forgiveness is not pleasing to Him, praying to dead saints is not pleasing to Him, believing Jesus is not God (as Jehovah witnesses do) is not pleasing, believing the dead can speak to us is not pleasing etc.

I agree 100% that we need to get the first step clear which is salvation is thru belief in Jesus by grace alone. But the church can’t stop there because if we are to align ourselves with what pleases God, then we need to use the scripture to rightly understand His will, so we can live in harmony with Him. And can we just put a different name on it and say we study/teach scripture to know His will instead of saying proof texts? The point is the same, the church needs to teach how humanity can grown in knowledge of Divinity. Blessings brother

Gnosticism? I don’t know…:wink:

Mine is reason grounded in objective reality.

Paul is considered the founder of Christianity as a theological understanding. And from the canonical writings, Paul is it. It is Paul who discovered a new way to interpret the Jewish scriptures and who told them that they misunderstood the true meaning thereof. They got it all wrong. There is a new covenant making their whole thing obsolete. A new religion was launched on the concepts of this one guy who came along and claimed to have revelations which negated all Jewish understanding. Wow! Imagine. He convinced some. But how would anyone at the time simply take his word for it by faith? Why would anyone now? Maybe he was simply wrong, or worse, delusional.

Imagine if another guy came along later and claimed that he had revelations which showed that Christians simply didn’t get it and needed to be set straight. Would anybody buy that? Well, of course Mohammad did that very thing and founded a new religion based on faith in his claims.

I would suggest that anyone claiming to have received vital information through mysticism (bypassing sensory input), information not accessible through normal means of gaining knowledge, should be dismissed as a fraud. Believe me; I was shown this in a vision :wink:


Agreed regarding “St. Paul”.

He didn’t clarify Jesus’ message.

The way I see it, he created his own.

As to the possibility of human objectivity, it’s my understanding of QM that the jury is still out on that concept.:flushed:

Or possibly the reverse. See R. G. Price “Deciphering the Gospels” which shows, through literary analysis, that the writer of the Gospel of Mark produced his Jesus story from the teachings of Paul; that is, he brought the teachings in Paul’s letters into an allegory in a quasi-biographical motif, creating his Jesus character to illustrate his theology.


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