Religious Syncretism



Excerpted from N. F. Gier, Theology Bluebook, 3rd
edition, 1994.


It pleased the Divine Power to reveal
some of the most important articles of our Catholic creed first to the
Zoroastrians, and through their literature to the Jews and ourselves.

� L.
H. Mills

No religious revolution…is
possible without paying the price of syncretism.

 � Carsten Colpe1

Principles of Comparative Religion


The study of comparative
religions has become a science at least at the level of history and textual
criticism.  But for this discipline to lay down laws of religious phenomena
would appear to be rather presumptuous.  Religious phenomena are in general
much like aesthetic phenomena:  they are very much tied to subjectivity and
the great variety of possible cultural responses.  To say that religious
behavior is lawlike is as absurd as saying that all
responses to the Mona Lisa or Bach’s piano works are going to be the same.


Nonetheless, some of the data
of the world’s religions are such that a few principles of comparative
religion can be proposed and tested. There are at least three principles of
comparative religion: (1) the Principle of Religious Syncretism; (2) the
Principle of Theistic Evolution; and (3) the Principle of the
Savior Archetype.


Because of the uncertainties
pertaining to history, textual criticism, and psychology as sciences, we
hesitate to call these principles �laws.� Even though there is overwhelming
confirmation of religious syncretism, there are exceptions which are
instructive:  e.g., Judaism codified its theology after the birth of
Christianity in such a way that it has been virtually immune from syncretism


The Principle of Religious
Syncretism holds that when any two cultures meet and interact they will
exchange religious ideas with the dominant culture prevailing in the
exchange.  Current exemplifications of this principle abound.  Many Christian
sects in Korea are almost unrecognizably Christian because of the profound
syncretistic effects of Buddhism and native Korean belief.


The most fascinating example of
religious syncretism in Korea is the Unification Church.  Sun Myung Moon
openly confesses that his special revelation, although primarily Christian,
integrates the best aspects of Buddhism and Confucianism.  Unificationist
metaphysics especially shows the influence of Eastern dipolar concepts of
reality and deity.  Furthermore, the Rev. Moon boasts about his claim that he
is a Korean shaman � in the best sense of that word of course.


Most religions respond to the
charge of religious syncretism very defensively, for they believe that it
undermines basic claims to purity and uniqueness. In contrast, the Unification
Church openly embraces syncretism in an honest and refreshing way.


Other examples abound. Latin
American and Filipino Catholicism is pervaded by indigenous influences. And it
is amazing how American Christianity and American individualism have merged
into a unique form of religion. Very few American Christians are aware of the
fact that the strong collectivism, as seen in the idea of �corporate�
personality, of the Bible stands in stark contrast with the American
celebration of the individual.


One of the supreme ironies in
contemporary American culture is the phenomenon of fundamentalist Christians
supporting both Reaganomics and conservative social programs � a synthesis of
classical liberalism and conservatism.  Also the fundamentalist view of
biblical inerrancy is also an uneasy merger of ancient scripture and modern
�scientism.�  (See GRE, Chapter 6.)


I believe that religious
syncretism has led to two major compromises with the original theological
genius of the Hebrews. Along with the Zoroastrians, the early Hebrews
discovered the transcendence of God: they separated the sacred from the
worldly and the natural. This is what I call the �Hebraic� principle. The
belief in human immortality (not present in early Hebrew literature) and the
idea of the man‑god (the Hebrews never accepted the Incarnation) are
definitely pagan intrusions into the Judeo‑Christian tradition which embedded
themselves by means of religious syncretism.


has been a veritable melting pot of different religious views. Although the
Aryan invaders of India attempted to eradicate all traces of the indigenous
culture and religion, some of the key concepts of the Hindu religious
tradition � like non�injury (ahimsa), yoga, reincarnation, and karma �
come from non‑Aryan sources.  As time passed after the Aryan invasions, the
non‑Aryan religions gained ascendence in the form of Jainism and Buddhism.


Although the Buddha claimed to
have made a clean break with his Hindu heritage, traditional themes are still
preserved in Buddhism.  Religious syncretism manifests itself in a fascinating
way in Tibet, where the native B�n religion merged with the thoughts of
Buddhist missionaries. Chinese Buddhism also
developed according to the Principle of Religious Syncretism, even to the
point where the Chinese word dao
replaced the Sanskrit dharma. Daoism’s
general effect on Buddhism was to �naturalize� it, bringing it more down to
earth.  Incidentally, the Burmese translation of John 1:1 reads: �In the
beginning was the dharma.�


Canaanite Influences in the Psalms


The effects of Canaanite and
Persian culture on the evolution of the Hebrew faith have been documented in
over a century of scholarly work.  Mitchell Dahood’s innovative interpretation
of the psalms is based on his mastery of the Ugaritic texts discovered at Ras
Shamrah in 1929.  These documents have led to a veritable knowledge explosion
about Canaanite mythology and religion. 


With regard to the Hebrew
psalms, Dahood concludes that �Israelite poetry continues the poetic tradition
of the Canaanites, borrowing Canaanite poetic techniques, parallelism,
vocabulary, imagery, [mythology], etc.�2 Phillips agrees with
Dahood and expresses an important element in the Principle of Religious
Syncretism:  the dominant culture prevails in the exchange.  Phillips states: 
�Undoubtedly on entry into Canaan, Israel did take over much of the indigenous
religion and absorb it into her own.  This was inevitable when a simpler
culture encountered a much wealthier and more sophisticated environment.�3


Cooke, Gaster, Dahood, and
others have concluded that the religious synthesis with Canaanite hymnology
was so pervasive that the Hebrew poets �Yahwinized� pre‑existing Canaanite
hymns.  At least Ps. 29 (but perhaps more) is a Yahwist adaptation of an older
Canaanite hymn to the storm god Baal.  As Dahood states:  �Virtually every
word in the psalm can now be duplicated in older Canaanite texts.�4


The Iranian Impact on Judaism


Zoroastrian influences on late
Judaism was pervasive, profound, and continues with us today.305
The traditional claim that the Jews learned monotheism from the Zoroastrians
during the Babylonian captivity can be disputed by the fact that by that time
Zoroaster’s strict monotheism had been compromised by polytheistic practices.
The famous inscriptions of Darius, although mentioning the supreme God Ahura
Mazda on almost every line, nonetheless refer twice to �other gods which are.�6


It was not so much monotheism
that the exilic Jews learned from the Persians as it was universalism, the
belief that one God rules universally and will save not only the Jews but all
those who turn to God.  This universalism does not appear explicitly until
Second Isaiah, which by all scholarly accounts except some fundamentalists,
was written during and after the Babylonian exile.  The Babylonian captivity
was a great blow to many Jews, because they were taken out of Yahweh’s divine
jurisdiction.  Early Hebrews believed that their prayers could not be answered
in a foreign land.


The sophisticated angelology of
late books like Daniel has its source in Zoroastrianism.7 The
angels of the early Hebrew books were disguises of Yahweh or one of his
subordinate deities.  The idea of separate angels appears only after contact
with Zoroastrianism.


The central ideas of heaven and
a fiery hell appear to come directly from the Israelite contact with Iranian
religion.  Pre‑exilic books are explicit in their notions the afterlife: 
there is none to speak of. The early Hebrew concept is that all of us are made
from the dust and all of us return to the dust. There is a shadowy existence
in Sheol, but the beings there are so insignificant that Yahweh does not know
them. The evangelical writer John Pelt reminds us that �the inhabitants of
Sheol are never called souls (nephesh).�8


The claims about an advanced
eschatology in the psalms cannot be supported.  The judgment of the wicked in
Ps. 1 may be due again to Persian influences, as most scholars date the
writing of this psalm after the exile.  But even if it is pre‑exilic � Dahood
has established enough Ugaritic parallels to make this a possibility � there
is no explicit mention of a Last Judgment or an end of the world.  The
punishment of the wicked could just as well be worldly as other‑worldly.  This
interpretation is certainly to be preferred given the general context of early
Hebrew thought.  (See Chapter 19‑A)


The fiery judgment and
immortality mentioned in Ps. 21:9‑10 has also been used to support the idea of
an advanced eschatology in the psalms.  Mitchell Dahood helps interpret these
passages correctly.  The Canaanite parallels show that God makes the king, not
any other human, immortal.  Furthermore, those who are burned are the king’s
foes, not all the wicked; and the burning furnace is probably the mouth of
Yahweh and not any burning Hell.9


Some say that the Hebrew ge‑hinnom
is fiery hell independent of Persian influences.  But all references to ge‑hinnom
refer explicitly to a definite geographic place, the valley of Hinnom outside
Jerusalem.  The only eschatological implications we can find are in Jer.
7:31ff, where Jeremiah predicts that the Lord will destroy the place and it
will be used for the disposal of dead bodies.  This is obviously not the place
of fiery torment of the New Testament gehenna, which was definitely
influenced by Zoroastrian eschatology.  Even an evangelical scholar admits
that gehenna a place of eternal torment is a late concept, probably first
century B.C.E.10


Saosyant, a savior born from
Zoroaster’s seed, will come and the dead shall be resurrected, body and soul. 
As the final accounting is made, husband is set against wife and brother
against brother as the righteous and the damned are pointed out by the divine
judge Saosyant.  Personal and individual immortality is offered to the
righteous; and, as a final fire melts away the world and the damned, a kingdom
of God is established for a thousand years.11


Satan as the adversary or Evil
One does not appear in the pre‑exilic Hebrew books.  In Job, one of the very
oldest books, Satan is one of the subordinate deities in God’s pantheon.  Here
Satan is God’s agent, and God gives him permission to persecute Job.  The
Zoroastrian Angra Mainyu, the Evil One, the eternal enemy of God, is the
prototype for late Jewish and Christian ideas of Satan.  One scholar claims
that the Jews acquired their aversion to homosexuality, not present in
pre‑exilic times, to the Iranian definition of the devil as a Sodomite.
See this link for more on the biblical meaning of


In 1 Chron. 21:1 (a book with
heavy Persian influences), the Hebrew word satan appears for the first
time as a proper name without an article.  Before the exile, Satan was not a
separate entity per se, but a divine function performed by the Yahweh’s
subordinate deities (sons of God) or by Yahweh himself.  For example, in Num. 
22:22 Yahweh, in the guise of mal’ak Yahweh, is �a satan� for Balaam
and his ass.


The editorial switch from God
inciting David to take a census in 2 Sam 24:1, and a separate evil entity with
the name �Satan� doing the same deed in 1 Chron. 21:1 is the strongest
evidence that there was a radical transformation in Jewish theology. 
Something must have caused this change, and religious syncretism with Persia
is the probable cause.  G. Von Rad calls it a �correction due to religious
scruples� and further states that �this correction would hardly have been
carried out in this way if the concept of Satan had not undergone a rather
decisive transformation.�12


The theory of religious
influence from Persia is based not only on the generation spent in exile but
the 400 years following in which the resurrected nation of Israel lived under
strong Persian dominion and influence.  The chronicler made his crucial
correction to 2 Sam. 24:1 about 400 B.C.E.  Persian influence increases in the
later Hebrew works like Daniel and especially the intertestamental books. 
Therefore Satan as a separate evil force in direct opposition to God most
likely came from the explicit Zoroastrian belief in such an entity.  This
concept is not consistent with pre‑exilic beliefs.


There is no question that the
concept of a separate evil principle was fully developed in the Zoroastrian
(ca. 1,000 B.C.E.).  The principal demon, called Druj (the Lie), is
mentioned 66 times in the Gathas.  But the priestly Jews would also
have been exposed to the full Avestan scripture in which Angra Mainyu is
mentioned repeatedly.  His most prominent symbol is the serpent, so along with
the idea of the �Lie,� we have the prototype for the serpent/tempter, in the
priestly writers’ garden of Genesis.13
There is no evidence that the Jews in exile brought with them any idea of
Satan as a separate evil principle.


The word paradis is
Persian in origin and the concept spread to all Near Eastern religions in that
form.  �Eden� not �Paradise� is mentioned in Genesis, and paradise as an abode
of light does not appear in Jewish literature until late books such as Enoch
and the Psalm of Solomon.


In Zoroastrianism the supreme
God, Ahura Mazda, gives all humans free‑will so that they may choose between
good and evil.  As we have seen, the religion of Zoroaster may have been the
first to discover ethical individualism.  The first Hebrew prophet to speak
unequivocally in terms of individual moral responsibility was Ezekiel, a
prophet of the Babylonian exile.  Up until that time Hebrew ethics had been
guided by the idea of the corporate personality � that, e.g., the sins of the
fathers are visited upon the sons (Ex. 20:1‑2).


In 1 Cor. 15:42‑49 Paul
definitely assumes a dual‑creation theory which seems to follow the outlines
of Philo and the Iranians.  There is only one man (Christ) who is created in
the image of God, i.e., according to the �intellectual� creation of Gen. 1:26
(� la Philo).  All the rest of us are created in the image of the �dust man,�
following the material creation of Adam from the dust in Gen. 2:7.


Influence of Hellenistic Religions


We have already discussed close
parallels between the Christian savior and the saviors of the Hellenistic
mystery religions.  Many scholars categorize early Christianity, especially in
its Pauline form, as a mystery religion, which has been defined as �a
sacramental drama, a personal religion to which membership was open only by a
religious rebirth.  It appealed primarily to the emotions and aimed at
producing psychic and mystic effects by which the neophyte might experience
the exaltation of a new life.�14


the Savior Archetype is due more
socio‑psychological factors than historical interchange, the parallels between
Christianity and the mystery religions could have had elements the latter. G.
J. Frazer comments on some of these aspects: "…Whether
he be called Tammuz, Attis, or Adonis, the main lines of the story are fixed
and invariable.  Always he is young and beautiful, always the beloved of a
great goddess; always he is the victim of a tragic and untimely death, a death
which entails bitter loss and misfortune upon a mourning world, and which, for
the salvation of that world, is followed by a resurrection.�15
The mystery saviors were not historical personages like Jesus, but his
charisma and horrible death could have easily merged with these traditional
Hellenistic models.


Even with Paul’s emphasis on
the Cross, its folly, and the importance of Christ’s suffering, Christian art
of the first three centuries shows a strong religious and cultural synthesis
with the Hellenistic world.  The most predominant symbol in early Christian
art was Christ as the Good Shepherd.  The figures were distinctively
Greco‑Roman, not Semitic, probably taken from models of Apollo Nomius or
Hermes the Ram‑Bearer.16


Some early Christian fathers
rejected the Cross as the standard of Christianity.17
The first known artistic portrayal of the Crucifixion comes a full 400 years
after the execution of Jesus. Even when the Crucifixion is portrayed, Jesus is
usually alive, showing no signs of suffering, and usually has a royal crown
rather than a crown of thorns.18  It is
interesting to trace the development of the Buddha as he was transformed into
a Hellenistic Lord by contact with Greek culture in Northwest India.


St. Paul and Epicurus


We have seen that Christianity
is actually a very eclectic world‑view, having been drawn from several major
sources.  In addition to Zoroastrianism and the Hellenistic mystery religions,
there was the profound influence of Greek philosophy. 
There is also the
connection between the logos of
the pre-Socratic Heraclitus and the logos of


In the first five Christian
centuries, it was neo‑Platonic philosophy that had the most impact on the
development of a systematic Christian theology.  Undoubtedly the most
significant element of this synthesis was the acceptance of Greek humanism by
thinkers such as first Justin Martyr and then later Thomas Aquinas and


Outside of the logos
doctrine of John, scholarly work on the influences of Greek philosophy on the
New Testament writers is not widely known or appreciated.  David L. Balch’s
book Let Wives Be Submissive contains the proposal that Aristotle’s
ethics is behind the views expressed in 1 Pet. 2:11‑3:12.19


The most interesting work,
however, is Norman W. DeWitt’s book St. Paul and Epicurus.20 
It is DeWitt’s thesis that the philosophy of Epicurus, although never
explicitly mentioned, is Paul’s main target in his epistles.  Lactantius, a
Christian writer living in the third century, claimed that those who followed
the philosophy of Epicurus were the largest constituents of pagan belief, much
larger than the Mithraists, the Stoics, the Skeptics, or the neo‑Platonists. 
The Epicureans were especially strong in Asia Minor, the center of Paul’s
missionary efforts.  Epicurean schools were found in Lampsacus, Mytilene,
Bithynia, Colophon, close to Ephesus.


Paul’s home city Tarsus was
ruled by Epicureans in the second century B.C.E.; and Epicureanism was the
court philosophy of the notorious Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes (174‑167
B.C.E.).  Their main tools were textbooks and manuals, many of which a
well‑educated Hellenistic Jew like Paul would have undoubtedly read.  Like
Paul, Epicurus composed many epistles to his friends, admonishing them and
making the correct doctrine clear.


Scholars have known for a long
time that Paul’s Greek vocabulary differs substantially from that of the
Gospel writers.  The following words are used rarely, if not at all, by the
Gospel writers, but were standard words in Epicurean texts:



(cf. Gal. 4:15): technical term in Epicurean philosophy for unalloyed joy, the
ultimate end of a life of right reason and right action.



(cf. Philip. 4:8): usually rendered as �think� or �meditate.� It was used
widely by the Epicureans.  It does not occur in the New Testament except in
Paul. �Think on these things� is repeated in Epicurean texts.



(cf. Philip. 4:11‑12): used by many of the Hellenistic philosophies but used
only by Paul in the New Testament.  Paul’s meaning here is the same as
Epicurus’ conception of autarkes � being content with little or with
what the circumstances provide.



(cf. Rom. 1:20): �eternal� as in God’s eternal power.  It is used by Epicurus
to describe his atoms. The only New Testament writer besides Paul to use it is
the author of Jude.  It almost seems as if Paul deliberately used this
Epicurean technical term to �twit� the Epicureans in their mistaken belief in
the incorruptibility of nature.



(cf. 1 Thes. 5:12): �admonition� in this sense is a technical term straight
from Epicurean manuals. Its sense is �correction without blame or reprimand.�


Although there are no direct
references to Epicurus, DeWitt has gathered an impressive list of allusions
that are in his opinion unmistakable in their indication.  Here are just some
of them:


�Peace and Safety� (1 Thes.
5:3).  These were the watchwords of all Epicureans and DeWitt is convinced
that Paul’s reference is specific: that he is predicting the destruction of
the many Epicureans he encountered in his travels in Asia Minor.


�Their god is the belly�
(Philip. 3:19).  DeWitt is convinced the reference is specific to the
Epicureans and not just general paganism.  Anti‑Epicurean phrases like these
were due to the common mistake of taking the following quote by the Epicurean
Metrodorus out of context: 


�The pleasure of the stomach is
the beginning and the root of all good, and in this the things of wisdom and
the refinements of life have their standard of reference.� Metrodorus was
starting a genetic approach to ethics and was talking specifically about
infants and their first sensations in life.


�Prince of the Power of the
Air� (Ephes. 2:2).  This is one of the most obscure phrases in all of the
Pauline epistles.  The beginning of Ephes. 2 in the RSV reads:  �And you he
made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you
once walked, following the course (DeWitt:  �generation�) of this world,
following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work
in the sons of disobedience.�


DeWitt’s hermeneutical clue is
to put these two verses into the Sitz im Leben of the times. Ephesus
was filled with faithful Epicureans who accepted no world except the physical
one composed of atoms. The Christian converts whom Paul is addressing are
therefore largely former Epicureans. The �sons of disobedience� are then the
still unconverted pagans of Ephesus, again predominantly Epicureans.


The �power of air� is,
according to DeWitt, a reference to the Epicurean ethical psychology, again
based on the theory of atoms.  Atoms of air were the main ingredients of a
perfect soul. The power of air then was the power to calm the soul:  to
prevent it from imbalance and over‑indulgence.  A state of ataxaria (unperturbedness)
was the goal of Epicurean ethics.  Epicurus, the supreme master of such an
ethics, was therefore the �prince of the Power of Air.�


�Elements of the World� (Gal.
4:3). The Greek here is ta stoicheia. DeWitt prefers the King James
translation because it correctly describes ta stoichea in physical
terms.  Again, most of Paul’s converts in Asia Minor would have been former
Epicureans and they would have been �enslaved� by the theory of the atoms.


Although Paul and Epicurus come
to decidedly different conclusions about the solution to the human
predicament, they do, according to DeWitt, share some common ground.  Both
Paul and Epicurus use the Greek word psyche
as a mortal, fully corruptible soul. In contradistinction to the Gospel
writers, who use psyche equivocally for humans, Jesus, and God, Paul
makes it clear that all humans from Adam onward had only the mortal psyche
until the coming of Christ, who is then able to miraculously bestow the
immortality spirit (pneuma) upon us (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14; 15:45).


DeWitt’s contention that Paul
did not believe in eternal torment for unbelievers is perhaps the most
controversial claim in his book. DeWitt takes Paul literally when he says that
�the wages of sin is death� and takes Paul’s silence about Hell as proof that
he meant simple and physical death in this verse. DeWitt also uses 1 Cor.
15:26: �The last enemy to be destroyed is death.� It goes without saying that
the Epicureans rejected the idea of Hell.


DeWitt goes to great lengths in
comparing Paul’s famous passages on faith, hope, and charity in 1 Cor. 13 with
similar doctrines in the manuals of Epicurus. DeWitt thinks that it is
significant that the Gospel writers do not use the noun �hope� at all. It is,
however, a common word in the ethics of Epicurus, along with faith and love.


Ultimately the philosophies of
these two figures diverge radically.  Although Paul uses Epicurean terminology
concerning peace of mind and related concepts, the two ways to blessedness are
quite different.  Epicurus thought that happiness in this life could be
achieved by any person using right reason.  Paul of course believed that
humans could not possibly save themselves and that faith in Jesus Christ was
the only medium for human salvations.


Unification Theology and Religious Syncretism


As we have
seen, the Principle of Religious Syncretism holds that when any two cultures
meet and interact they will exchange religious ideas with the dominant culture
prevailing in the exchange. The word �dominant� in this definition does not
necessarily mean numerical superiority. For example, a small group of Spanish
conquistadors essentially made Catholicism the religion of Latin America.
Similarly, but in a less violent way, Buddhism and Confucianism from China
became the major religious traditions of Korea. 


Yet in both Latin America and
Korea strong indigenous spiritual traditions remained, subtly influencing and
sometimes transforming the dominant religion. Shamanism most certainly played
this role in Korea. The impersonal tian of
Confucianism was personalized as the Korean Hananim; special Korean sutras
were composed with shamanistic flavor and ritual; and chants were done not
just for meditation but for administering cures as well.  Indeed, many Koreans
accepted Buddhism, as many native peoples have embraced Christianity, as
simply a superior form of shamanism.


One of the most interesting
examples of religious syncretism in Korea is Ch’oe Che‑u’s �Eastern Learning�
(Tonghak), which is now better known as the Religion of the Heavenly
Way (Ch’ondogyo).  Although not always admitting that his sources of religious
knowledge came from previous traditions, Ch’oe Che‑u freely synthesized
elements of Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism,
Shamanism, and Christianity. 


Like a good Confucian he
emphasized the five family relationships, and his belief that Heaven will help
only those who first cultivate themselves is strong Confucian humanism.  At
the same time Buddhist ideas of heart‑cleansing, body purification, and merit
making (kongtak) appeared in his thought.


Ch’oe’s view of nature and
creation were a mixture of Confucian and Daoist
speculation, and here he was willing to grant that he had been influenced by
the Daoists.  In fact, Key Ray Chong shows that a
story about Ch’oe being an immortal dragon/tiger has a striking resemblance to
attributes imputed to the Daoist sage


Shamanistic influences in
Ch’ondogyo also abound.  Altars on mountain tops were built to pay homage to
all the spirits of nature. Ch’oe used magic formulas and trances in his
religious rituals and his 21 character incantation has all the markings of a
shamanistic revelation.


Although Ch’oe played down the
impact of Christianity on his thought, evidence of its influence is clear.
Chong contends that Ch’oe believed in faith healing and he notes interesting
parallels between his and Paul’s conversion accounts. Finally, contemporary
Ch’ondogyo services occur on Sunday, Christian hymns are sung, and
Christian‑like sacraments are celebrated.


If we look at two Ch’ondogyo
mottos, we see some initial parallels to Unification thought. The first is
�Treat people as though they were God� (sa in yo ch’on), and the second
is �All live evolves towards a social oneness� (tong kwi il ch’e). The
second motto is certainly one to which all Unificationists would subscribe,
and I wonder if the Rev. Moon might not have been influenced by Ch’ondogyo on
this point. Both religions are to be commended for stressing so heavily the
virtues of human equality, benevolence, and justice for all.


Theologically, the first motto
reveals an Asian tendency, especially in Hinduism,
Buddhism, and Daoism, to identify God and the
world.  A Euro-American Christian would mitigate the
pantheistic implications by saying �children of God.� Unificationnist rhetoric
generally follows this qualification, but commentators have frequently
mentioned the implicit pantheism in much of Divine Principle. 


But there is no question that
pantheism is stronger in Ch’ondogyo; so strong, in fact, that it might be
accused of being a form of Titanism.21
Titanism can be found in any religion or philosophy that merges human nature
and the deity too closely. If the Ch’ondogyo claim
�Man is God� (in nae ch’on) simply means that human beings have a spark
of the divine in them, then Ch’o Che‑u’s view is not
.  But if we are to take this phrase literally and take it in
conjunction with other statements, then it becomes a
rather perverse form of radical humanism. I believe that
religions are correct in holding that, although intimately
related, God and his creatures constitute different orders of being.
Unificationist thought generally avoids Titanism by stressing the fallen and
finite nature of all creation and ultimate power of God to make all things


Some instructive contrasts with
Ch’ondogyo can be drawn by taking a closer look at the Unificationists’ view
of religious syncretism.  First, they are much more forthright about the
sources of the Rev. Moon’s thought. Rather than hiding these influences or
claiming the insights as their own, Unificationists celebrate the positive
contributions of Asian religion to their world‑view.
Second, while Ch’oe’s mixing of the various traditions is confused or
inaccurate, Unificationists have a clear, even scholarly, grasp of the various
traditions that make up the Rev. Moon’s theology. 


Third, rather than playing down
the Christian elements, the Rev. Moon is of course primarily a confessing
Christian who has attempted to adapt biblical revelation to a Oriental
setting. As Andrew Wilson states: �Divine Principle is an honest
indigenization [of Christianity] because it not only expresses the biblical
message in Confucian terms, but also allows the Bible to address and critique
Confucian life and values.�22


For example, Unificationists
believe that Christianity’s personal God is far superior to Confucius’
impersonal Providence, and they contend that Confucianism fails with regards
to philosophy of history and eschatology. The Neo‑Confucians made li
into a cosmic principle, but it was still static and unchanging. Divine
melds this neo‑Confucian idea, just as early Christians did with
the Greek logos, with the covenantal history of the Bible.


When confronted with evidence
of heavy Canaanite, Babylonian, and Zoroastrian influences in the Bible, many
Euro-American Christians react defensively, fearing
that to accept such claims would undermine the revelational purity and
uniqueness of Christianity. The response of most Orientals is just the
opposite, and the Unification Church’s open embrace of non‑Christian
influences is especially fruitful and refreshing.  Genuine ecumenism will come
only by recognizing the truth of religious syncretism.  The Christ of Origen
of Alexandria is just as much Hellenized as the Christ of the Rev. Moon is


The two most significant
Asian elements of Unification theology are the
relational ontology drawn from Buddhism/Daoism and
the emphasis on familial piety that comes from Confucianism. Many commentators
contend that one of the greatest mistakes of Hellenistic Christianity was its
acceptance of the substance metaphysics of Greek philosophy. The major effects
of this world‑view on Christianity were two‑fold: (1) viewing God as an
impassive, self‑contained substance made unintelligible any intimate relation
between God and the world; and (2) the Boethean doctrine persons as rational
substances blocked any true understanding of the emotional lives of both God
and human beings.


For example, Anselm’s prayer to
God � �Thou art compassionate in terms of our experience and not compassionate
in terms of thy being�23 � shows the
negative implications of Greek substance metaphysics. This Greek influence
forced the Church to declare that patripassianism � the view that God the
Father actually suffered on the Cross � a heresy when in fact it was the only
intelligible way to make the suffering of Jesus a truly redemptive event. 


Unificationists believe that it
is the suffering of God and humans together that genuinely redeems a fallen
creation.  It is here that the Orientalization of Christianity by the Rev.
Moon and his emphasis on the Heart of God makes its most profound
contribution. A combination of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah and the
Buddhist Bodhisattva ideal has led to a new powerful interpretation of


The relational ontology of
Divine Principle
can be seen its theory of polarity, obviously drawn from
the yin/yang philosophy of China. All things, we are told, exist in
�reciprocal relationship� with one another, and biblical passages, especially
from Genesis, are interpreted accordingly. The Greek idea of self‑contained
substances externally related to one another is totally alien to this view. 


Unification thought also
appeals to the evidence of modern physics, which has found that the classical
atomistic, mechanistic cosmology is simply no longer tenable. In fact, the
universe is now better conceived as a gigantic field of pulsating energy,
rather than empty space filled with colliding material atoms.


Unification theology is very
similar to the process theology developed from
Whitehead’s  metaphysics. Drawing from modern physics and rejecting the idea
of substance, Whitehead, like the Rev. Moon, conceives of the universe in
organic, not mechanical, terms. �The universe is a perfect organic body
created completely in accordance God’s purpose of creation.�24


While agreeing with the organic
analogy, process theologians would most likely object to the word �perfect�
and the idea of complete divine sovereignty.  Although the idea is present in
Unification thought, process theology stresses much more the idea of the
continuous cocreation of God and creatures and maintains that such a
cooperative cosmic adventure can never be perfect.


The theological implications of
a relational ontology are both fruitful and challenging.  We have already seen
the salutary effect it has on a doctrine of atonement.  Contrary to western
views, Unification theology believes that, as there is always reciprocal �give
and take� between God and his creatures, if humans fail to live up to their
covenant, then God cannot experience joy. The self‑contained God of Anselm,
more like Aristotle’s unmoved mover than the biblical Yahweh, experiences joy
(if that is even possible for an impassive being) regardless of what happens
in the world. 


Some process theologians stress
the doctrine of cocreation so much that they confess that God could not
prevent, if self‑determining creatures chose it, a great cosmic catastrophe. I
doubt that Unificationists, with a more traditional view of divine
omnipotence, would go this far.


Another theological implication
of relational ontology, again shared by both Unification and process theology,
is the idea of incarnation as continuous. The result of conceiving God so
intimately involved in creation is a comprehensive idea of the divine presence
in the world. The Incarnation did not happen in the unique and isolated way
implied by western Christianity; rather, the kenosis of which Paul
speaks (Phillipians 2:7) is continuous and universal. 


While neither Unification nor
process theology can be called pantheistic, they can indeed be called
panentheistic � not God identical with the world, but God fully in the world
as well as transcendent to it.  As we shall see, such a view can incorporate
the best elements of Shamanism without rejecting basic Christian beliefs.


There is a natural link between
Unification’s relational ontology, taken primarily from Daoism
and Buddhism, and its strong emphasis on the family, which clearly originates
in Confucianism.  At the basis of the universal goal of perfected families is
a fully relational view of human nature.  Under the influence of Greek
philosophy, theological anthropology in the West has taken a different


Following Boethius’ definition
of person as an individual rational substance, early Church fathers held that
the image of God meant that the rational faculty was the essence of human
nature.  In this view social relations were the result of self‑sufficient
individuals reaching out of their private lives to join with other autonomous
individuals. In European philosophy this led
inevitably to the so‑called �egocentric predicament,� a dilemma found in the
East only in some Hindu and Buddhist schools of thought.


The Confucian term for basic
human nature is ren and the contrast
between its meaning and western psychology is striking and instructive. First,
the Chinese character is a combination of �man� and �two,� which graphically
illustrates the meaning of ren: viz.,
that human beings are not self‑sufficient individuals but are constituted in
social relations.


Second, in all the references
to ren in the Confucian texts not one
refers to the rational faculty as significant.  The best translation of
ren is �human‑heartedness,� and it can
be rendered in Unification language as a person living according to the
principle of Give and Take.  The ultimate moral rule of
en is the Golden Rule (not original with Jesus) in which we
are exhorted to do unto other as they would do unto us.  In a relational view
of the world reciprocity and mutual dependence, rather than self‑sufficient
independence, are the principal characteristics of all reality.


The Unificationist
view of human nature is much more compatible with original Hebrew ideas than
Hellenistic Christianity.  No where in the Hebrew Scriptures do we find the
imago dei
defined in terms of self‑sufficient rationality.  Rather, we
find that it is explicitly defined in terms of the male‑female relationship
and stewardship over nature.  Furthermore, the center of a Hebrew’s being was
her heart, not her head, and there was no concept of a mind‑body dualism nor a
split between the emotions and the intellect. See this
link for a comparison of Hebrew and Buddhist
concepts of self.


The early Church fathers exhort
us to become one with the Mind of God, but the Rev. Moon, following both
Confucian and Hebrew insights, tells us to know the Heart of God. Like the
medieval voluntarists, who fought a losing battle against the moral
rationalism of Thomas Aquinas, the Rev. Moon’s Divine Principle holds
that the mind follows the heart, not vice versa.


�Heart (Shimjung) is the
essence of God’s personality � the essence of his Sung Sang.  Heart is
the most vital part of his nature, such that all other attributes in him are
what they are and do what they do solely because of this attribute….God’s
Heart has within itself its own purpose; so it is through God’s love, through
his Heart, that The Principle (Logos) is expressed and the Creation comes into
being and achieves fulfillment.�25


With a relational ontology and
social view of human nature, the Rev. Moon’s Confucian Christianity breaks
with western Christianity most controversially on the issue of the redemptive
work of Christ. Humanity is not saved by individual forgiveness through the
sacrifice of Christ, but by the establishment of a perfect human community
with a Messianic couple at its head. True to its Confucian roots, Divine
tells us that we are saved through filial piety not through
blood sacrifice. 


Therefore, the Rev. Moon sees
the death of Jesus as a horrible defeat, not a victory over sin. The
Crucifixion prevented Jesus from marrying and setting up the familial basis
for the Kingdom of God. Equally provocative, but faithful to yin‑yang
polarity, is the Unification view that the Messiah cannot be a single
individual, but the Savior must be a perfect married couple. In
Asia the masculine must always be completed by the


Shamanism is the last element
about which I wish to speak in relation to Unification theology. The Rev. Moon
claims authority for his doctrine on the basis of a series of visions and
visits to the spirit world; and, as in many shamanistic theogonies, he speaks
of our divine parents. Liberal Christians in the West are not adverse to
embracing elements of the Asian religions, but many
would balk at something as �primitive� as shamanism. There is, however, much
value to draw from this parent religion of all religions. 


Any faith which believes in a
spirit world and relies on the visions of prophets is essentially shamanistic
at its core. In addition, there are tenets of animism which we ought to
resurrect, such as the idea of a sympathetic continuum in which all nature is
alive and all things are sacred. We need to remember that Adam and Eve once
spoke to the animals and that reestablishing intimacy with nature must be an
important item on our ecological agenda. Indeed, we practice a type of
shamanism every time we read an animal story to a child.


There is one significant facet of
Korean shamanism which has been a key to the ease by which so many Koreans have
accepted Christianity. When Koreans first encountered Confucianism, they
interpreted the Chinese tian (impersonal
providence replacing the ancient personal God di)
as Hananim, the personal high God of the shamans. 


Scholars have drawn a parallel
between Hananim and the biblical Yahweh, including the
shared idea of the divine father sending his son as a messianic king. Scholars
of the Christian mission to Asia have long
acknowledged this natural convergence of Korean and Abrahamic
monotheism.  Jews and Muslims have always held that the Christian Trinity
compromises this claim to monotheism. In Unification theology, it is a divine
dipole of Mother and Father, not a triad, which vitiates the unity of God.


In his famous Decline of the
Oswald Spengler calls syncretism �historical pseudomorphosis�
and he views it in quite negative terms: �The older
alien culture lies so massively over the land that a young culture, born in this
land, cannot get its breath and fails not only to achieve pure and specific
expressional forms, but even to develop fully its own self‑consciousness.  All
that wells up from the depths of the young soul is cast in old molds. Young
feelings stiffen in senile works, and instead of rearing itself up in its own
creative power, it can only hate the distant power with a hate that grows to be


Religious syncretism in
Asian societies appears to disprove Spengler’s
dramatic thesis. If we take shamanism to be the ancient religion of Korea, it
looks alien to some contemporary Koreans only in its purest form, viz., the
village kut rituals. The doctrines of spirit worlds and inspired prophets
are so subtly embedded in other religions that sophisticated believers are
unaware of their shamanistic origins.  While Spengler is right in maintaining
that the �younger� religions of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity have
not attained �pure and specific expressional forms,� there is no evidence that
they have grown to detest shamanism, let alone to have lost their own creative
awareness. Besides, why do we have to accept the Abrahamic
bias that the superior revelation is �pure and specific,� or to think that such
a revelation is even possible?


Religious syncretism at its best
is not old truths in new guise or just old or new truths confused; rather,
through a creative dialectic, new religious insights have been born. Herbert
Richardson phrases the need for such creative interpenetration very nicely:
�Christianity has been a Western religion too long. While there is strength in
the West, there is also a great lack. Christianity…must be strengthened and
renewed by prophets from the East. Why, then, not by prophets from Korea?�28



1.Carsten Colpe, Syncretism and Secularization: Complementary and
Antithetical trends in New Religious Movements,� History of Religions 17
(November, 1977), p. 168.


2. Dahood, The Anchor Bible: Psalms,
Vol. 3, p. xxii.


3. Anthony Phillips, Deuteronomy: The Cambridge Bible
(Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1973), p. 9.


4. Dahood, Vol. 1, p. 175.


5. R. C. Zaehner is probably the world’s foremost Zoroastrian
scholar and he gives the best summary of Zoroastrian influences on Judaism in
The Comparison of Religions
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1959), pp. 134‑53.


6. This reference to �other gods� could have just been for
diplomacy’s sake, just like Jephthah recognizing the authority of the gods of
the Ammonites and Moabites in Judges 11. But there is no question that
polytheism creeps back into later Zoroastrianism with references to other gods
in the Vendidad (Fargard 19:23, 28, and 30).


7. Albright, From
Stone Age to Christianity
(New York: Doubleday, 1957)
, p. 362.


8. John Pelt, The Soul, the Pill, and the Fetus (New
York:  Dorrance, 1973), p. 18.


9. Dahood, Vol. 1, p. 133.


10. The New Bible Dictionary,
p. 390. Although the author does not say how late gehenna became fiery
Hell, we assume that he is following standard scholarship on this issue.


11. Yashts,
pp. 220‑2; 306‑7; Bundahish in Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East
(New York, 1917), pp. 179‑184.


12. G. von Rad, Theologisches
W�rterbuch zum Neuen Testament
, Vol. 2, p. 73.


13. See R. C. Zaehner, The Teachings
of the Magi
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 47.


14. Samuel Angus, The Mystery
Religions and Christianity
(London:  Murray, 1925), p. ?


15. Quoted in J.
L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance (New York:  Doubleday, 1957), p. 143.


16. M. Gough,
The Origins of Christian Art
, p. 19 and passim.


17. See Minucius
Felix, Octavius XXIX, 6‑7.


18. See Walter
Lowrie, Art in the Early Church (New York: Pantheon, 1947), p. 48 and
plates 99 ff.


19. David L.
Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive (Chico:  Scholar’s Press, 1981).


20. Norman W. DeWitt, St. Paul and
(Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 1954).


21. The most radical forms of Titanism
not only confuse the role of creature and God, but sometimes reverse them in a
rather perverse way. Titanism is at its strongest in Ch’ondogyo when Ch’o Che‑u
states: �Man is more respected than heaven and earth. Therefore, man of this day
is above all else. Man no longer has to obey God. Rather, God must obey man, for
man is in command� (quoted in Jung Young Lee, �The I Ching and Korean
Thought� in Religions in Korea: Beliefs and Cultural Values, eds. Earl H.
Phillips and Eui Young Yu [L. A.: Center for Korean‑American and Korean Studies,
1982], p. 20.) Moon’s Divine Principle approaches Titanism when it
proposes that human beings can �attain deity� (p. 43). If this means deification
in this life and partially under one’s own power, then this is definitely an
expression of Titanism.


22. Andrew
Wilson, �Biblical Hermeneutics in Divine Principle: The Context of
Confucianism� in Hermeneutics and Horizons: The Shape of the Future, ed.
Frank K. Flinn (New York: Rose of Sharon Press, 1982), p. 21.




Divine Principle
(New York: HSA‑UWC, 5th ed., 1977),
p. 25.


25. Chung Hwan Kwak, Outline of the
(New York: HSA‑UWC, 1980), p. 13fn.  Again this understanding of
the Christian Logos truer to Scripture than later rationalistic interpretations,
especially among some contemporary evangelical Christian theologians.  See GRE,
pp. 18‑22.


26. For the
insights in this paragraph I am indebted to Herbert Richardson’s 1976 lecture at
Unification Theological Seminary found in Time for Consideration, eds. M.
Darrol Byrant and Herbert W. Richardson (New York: Edwin Mellon Press, 1978),
pp. 311‑16.


27. Oswald
Spengler, The Decline of the West, trans. C. F. Atkinson (New York:
Knopf, 1937), Vol. 1, p. 6.


28. Richardson,
op. cit., p. 317.

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