Do you remember that scene from the Ben Stiller movie, “Along Came Polly?”
It was the scene where the scuba instructor (Claude, I think was his name) was recounting the tale of the hippo. The happy hippo.
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In Claude’s story, the hippo painted a stripe on his tail to look like the tiger, but he fooled no one.
Then he painted a spot on his side to look like the leopard, but everyone still knew he was a hippo.
Eventually the hippo simply gave up, called himself what he was, and lived life happy – happy as a hippo.
I meant that to be a tongue-in-cheek introduction to my column, because I know that the topic I really want to discuss can be quite offensive to some, and I hope the tone of my editorial stays as cordial as the hippo story.
You see, Christianity is just like the hippo – it is what it is.
And it is, at least in my opinion, a religion.
I found myself taken aback several weeks ago by a set of chalk writings I saw on the campus sidewalks. I don’t recall exactly what they said, but their message essentially amounted to this: that Jesus and “religion” are incompatible.
I wasn’t offended by the chalk writings because they merely disagreed with my own Christian opinion; I was offended because I could tell that such statements were a direct (though, perhaps, unintentional) attack at Christians like me.
You see, I’m not the run-of-the-mill American Protestant. I was for years, but today I am moving further and further toward the world of Eastern Orthodoxy (though I’m giving Roman Catholicism a fair shot, too). And I can only imagine the words that a fundamentalist would use to describe an Orthodox worship service – I’m certain that “religious” would be one of them.
Part of me wonders why there’s all this talk about separating “religion” from Christianity in the first place. What’s wrong with “religion?”
The answer to that question, I think, lies in the fact that many Christians in America consider the concept of a ritualized form of Christianity steeped in tradition to be a violation of everything the Bible talks about. All this extra stuff – this “religion” – just gets in the way of the real message.
I understand and sympathize with that position – it was a position, after all, that I took for many years. And it is also a position I am finding difficult to break from.
But what exactly is this “real message?” What does the Bible “really” say about religion (and a whole bunch of other stuff, for that matter)? For years, I adhered to the Protestant mantra that the real message was whatever the Bible said it was. It was as simple as that.
A Fundamentalist Protestant with that mind-set can easily point to the Bible and find all the proof he or she needs to support the notion of a “religion”-less Christianity, and can also use that same Bible to impugn Catholics and Orthodox Christians for their apparently un-Biblical approach to things.
But is this “religion-less Christianity” concept really as Biblical as it might seem to some? Or is it just somebody’s own interpretation of the Bible?
The Bible, I was surprised to learn several months ago, is younger than the church. Much younger, in fact.
The Bible, at least as it exists today, did not come into being until sometime during the 4th century.
So if we really want to understand what the Bible means, wouldn’t the church that gave us the Bible be the best place to look?
What is odd about all this is that the church of the first four centuries appears, at least to me, to have been quite “religious.”
The church that existed at the time that the Bible was being put together was steeped in traditions, many that are still carried on by the Orthodox church today – and many that are often dismissed by Protestants as being somehow un-Biblical.
It seems that, at least in this argument, we are left to decide between a Biblical interpretation that asserts that “religion” just gets in the way of the “real message” on the one hand, and an interpretation on the other hand that matches a bit more accurately with the attitude of the church that gave the world the Bible in the first place.
So, who really painted the stripe on the hippo?
Bennett is a junior print journalism major and staff writer for The Spectator.
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