Metamorphosis and Syncretism

8 05 2009

It is said that during metamorphosis the butterfly caterpillar literally self-destructs within the chrysalis.  Apoptosis, the suicide of cells, causes all but a few cells to liquefy and rupture.  The few cells that remain are then responsible for taking the initiative of starting over and creating a new organism almost from scratch.  The second time, though, this organism is to be very different than the one that preceded it.

 The mechanism of self-destruction prior to reinvention is crucial to metamorphosis.  The animal does not simply transform, converting entire organs to homologous use.  It’s not unlike the recycling of an aluminum can: the manufacturer doesn’t simply clean it, refill it, re-label it and resell it.  The entire thing must be melted down and formed from scratch the way it was the first time.  The older body parts of the caterpillar would only conflict with the transition, rather than aide in it.  Everything, then, gets melted down.

 Sometimes the hardest people to train in the workplace are the people who have the most experience.  They bring from the old job habits and methods that seem applicable to the new job.  They feel an unwarranted confidence and a sense of expertise, without the advantage of having been trained for the new job, precisely.  The kid fresh out of college knows he’s lost in the industry, and he quickly adjusts to his new environment.  The old-timer enters the job thinking he already knows how it’s supposed to be, and instead of adapting to his new position, he might actually attempt to make his new position adapt to himself.  This results in much frustration for the unlucky soul who must train him.

 The same is true for a new convert.  Christianity bears the scars of people who failed to make a clean transition.  It’s why we have the Easter bunny and the Christmas tree.  It’s why the Catholic Church contended so hotly for a geocentric universe.  It’s why so many Christians are accepting worldly views that are inherently antithetical to the Christian faith.  For every person who is changed by acceptance of Christ, the Christian faith is changed a little by that person.

  The sum total of each convert’s effect on the Christian faith has been tremendous with time.  The Christianity of today looks nothing like a continuation of the Jewish faith that it once was.  The Catholics and the Orthodox both consider themselves to be the original Christianity, yet neither of them looks anything like Judaism, which is what it was when it all began.  If anyone resembles original Christianity, it’s the Messianic Jew.  Yet, the body of Christ, as a whole, vastly outnumbers them.  Likewise, they, too, run the risk of dragging in elements of Judaism that were not original to Judaism either.  Much has changed in that faith through the years, as well.  The laws of Moses have largely been elaborated to an extent that does not reflect the original intent of those laws.  To complicate things, the Jewish Christian also runs the risk of treating Christ as an addition to Judaism, rather than treat Christ as the fulfillment of Judaism.

 I once knew an ex-witch who considered herself a prophetess.  She believed that her prior experiences with Satanism actually increased her understanding of the spiritual realm.  I tried to convince her that during her time in the occult, everything she thought she knew was a product of deception.  Granted, there must be some truth mixed in with those lies, but there could be no extricating one from the other.  Certainly, one should not rely upon pagan theology to understand Christian theology.  Yet, this syncretism is a common practice in one form or another throughout the faith.

 During the early 1970s, many in the hippie movement came to see Christ as essentially a hippie, like them.  While the positive impact of this is that many hippies came to faith in Christ, the negative impact was that Jesus was redefined in the process.  The Jesus movement was less of a conversion, for some, than it was an adaptation.  This caterpillar did not fully unmake itself before attempting the metamorphosis.  As a result, it may not have become the completed butterfly that it was meant to be.

 Letting go of the former self in order to embrace a new identity is a difficult task, to say the least.  No one ever achieves it perfectly.  A young couple marries, and they reject their former identities as single people to embrace a new identity as a married couple.  Their entire way of thinking must be transformed.  To mark this event, they have the wedding ceremony to alert the world that they have changed.  As such, the world treats them differently, and their identity change is committed.  Similarly, when a person is born into the faith, the event is marked by the ceremony of baptism.  This is a person’s way of alerting the world to his new identity.  The old way of thinking is discarded, and a new one is embraced.

 Hanging on to the old way, to any degree, is a factor for hindered development.  A malformed butterfly cannot fly.  This is not to say that people outside of the faith have nothing to offer.  What it means is that until a person has entered the faith and accepted it on its own terms, only then can a person understand it well enough to evaluate it.  It’s like a good listener: she doesn’t tell you what your problem is until she’s heard you out and taken time to think about it.  Bringing the old ideas into the new faith is only a step above standing outside of the faith and casting criticism at it.  It’s a way of saying that the new faith is somehow inferior, without really identifying with it.  Christianity does need change, but it doesn’t need to be changed by people who do not understand or accept it.