Friday, 9 November 2012

Syncretism - is it a sin?

It appears as if, in modern Church parlance, syncretism is a word used to define a meeting with those of other faiths; Christian or Heathen or Pagan.

Raijin - Japanese god of thunder - not for  Year 3s

I would be open to the view that some good could be the fruit of such meetings but only on the proviso that they were conducted formally with leaders of the faith rather than the faithful and on neutral ground.

Of course, the objective (our objective) must be to spread the light of Christ among those upon whom it has never shone.
Presumably, we would do this in a polite manner, making certain points and teaching through discourse and example.

I think that, if indeed, that is syncretism, then it should be regarded as a good and wholesome thing that Our Lord would approve of.

But I am afraid that this word is being used too loosely and that it has become the 'in word' for ecumenical meetings and shindigs.

Taking class four to a synagogue could have some merit if the visit was enshrined within the RE syllabus. Possibly.

Shunting secondary school students to a mosque would be of dubious benefit; as would a visit to a Hindu Temple.
Why? Because there is a  danger of being drawn into pagan or heathen practices.

 Clapping hands before a Shinto shrine is a form of worship encouraged by one's hosts in Japan and it is hard to back out of that potentially volatile situation. I have visited the country often and have found that the best way to cope is to politely refuse and, instead, make a sign of the cross.
That act is respected by my Japanese hosts and it does not cause offence.
To do the same thing in a mosque would, in all probability, cause offence.

At a Hindu Temple it would be natural for visitors to receive the red spot on the forehead, bindi as it is called.

Bindi has a spiritual and social function, here is how its spiritual function is described:

".....I'll start with the Spiritual purpose as it is the most important one of them all. As per Hinduism the purpose of life is to find your true self, to realize the Infinite Reality. Every morning one takes a bath and sits in prayer, (not to say prayers like a parrot), to seek for the absolute truth through every ritual and prayer. However, one has to make a living and cannot sit in prayer the whole day. Thus, as one leaves the prayer room one is expected to put some mark on one's forehead (between the eyebrows - which is the seat of memory) to remind one during the day and through all activities of the 'purpose of life'. As we cannot see the mark on our own foreheads when we see it on another we recall the purpose of our life. The idea is to remember that all actions in the external world are dedicated towards the achievement of this supreme goal of self realization. The purpose is to recall the purpose, reflect and contemplate upon Reality in and through all activities throughout the day".

That's a definite "no go area" as far as we are concerned.

Now Patricius has informed me that I should have consulted Nostra Aetate from the Vatican Archives, on the subject of inter faith dialogue.
I have now done so and find nothing that contradicts anything that I have written so far.

Nostra Aetate is aimed at those wishing to have dialogue with non Christian religions; dialogue aimed at creating a level of understanding.
It says nothing of organising parish jamborees or school groups where the object of the exercise would seem to be extremely dubious at best.

And, I still maintain that to participate in non Christian ceremonies (and non Catholic ones) falls under the category of relativism and a few other isms as well.

It is a mortal sin to take part or appear to take part in prayer services or rituals that are not dedicated to the one true God.

Or, has someone moved the goal posts?


  1. Sorry. My reference to Nostra Aetate was not intended critically. I just think it is useful in that it is the most authoritative statement of the Church's relationship to non-Christian religions. My, admittedly somewhat basic, understanding of it is that it promotes dialogue but clearly rejects any fudging.

    As for syncretism - it just strikes me as totally bonkers.

  2. Richard, Patricius - my understanding (perhaps erroneous, is that syncretism involves commingling Catholic beliefs or dogmas with inconsistent beliefs or dogmas from other religions.

    For example, it is syncretic for a Catholic to believe in reincarnation, or a non-Triune God, or Gaia.

    Inculturation, on the other hand, can be a useful missionary tool, as it involves retaining, but also adapting, non-Catholic customs or practices.

    I read a moving account years ago of a Mass somewhere in Africa, at which, when the Host was elevated, an Honour Guard of men dressed in leopard skins and bearing spears, surrounded the Altar. This was the tribal tradition whenever the king was in public, and all the more appropriate when the King of Kings appears in the Flesh.

    If I am mistaken, my apologies. As to interfaith dialogue, unless it has missionary intent, it seems a waste of time.

    God bless!


  3. Patricius, I took your comment as advisory rather than critical, many thanks. Chris, you are, I am certain, correct. It is just that the 'S' word is used as a cover for all activities rendering it, almost, respectable. Even inculteration has its difficulties as, in S Africa some ten or so years ago, the bishops allowed live animals to be brought up at the offertory. Within a very short space of time it then became common practice for witch doctors to then ritually kill them on the sanctuary. It may still be going on for all I know.