Without the Incarnation, we are all Ignosticists

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Way back in the 1980s, when this writer was doing the traditional “go-to-college-and-reject-Christianity” thing, a friend was ordained to the Episcopal priesthood. As a good friend would, I attended the newly ordained’s first Sunday at his new parish on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Something he said in his sermon that day has lodged in my memory as a sort of theological Occam’s Razor. It was this simple claim: No other religion has anything like the Incarnation.

Forty years later, my friend’s sermon leads me to conclude that there are really only two religions in the world: that of the Incarnation and and that which I call, for lack of a better word, “Ignosticism.”

As I noted, at the time, there was an active spiritual rebellion going on in my heart, so I immediately rejected this idea. When we went out for lunch after that service, we argued about it. It was not the end of our friendship (that came later, for other reasons) but it was the beginning of my return to the Church.

The Christian claim that God became man is not repeated anywhere else in humanity’s shared religious history. Yes, there are places in world mythology where a divinity has appeared on earth as if human. There are places in world religion where a divinity is banished or condemned to life as a mortal humanfor a time or to a mortal life leading to a mortal death.

There are religions where the divine “inhabits” their clergy or “possesses” the devotees. There are religions in which a divinity mates with a human woman giving rise to a demigod. And there are far more religions in which divinity stands apart from humanity, only sometimes deigning to help or antagonize it.

But only Christianity has a God who takes on a human nature; a God who remains infinite spirit while becoming finite flesh and blood. Only the Christian God has entered the world of change and time that we inhabit and passed through it as one of us — while still remaining in the infinite now.

This is the Christian difference. My friend was correct.

The longer I remain a student of comparative religion, the more truths I can discern in other paths. At the same time, I’m more aware that it is the fatal absence of the Incarnation that makes those paths dead ends.

Yes, there is more or less of the truth in each path, but all truth anywhere is the God who said ‘I am the Truth’. If that truth has not incarnated in the flesh for us, it’s only a way-pointer, not the way itself. There is more or less truth in various places, but it’s not, if you will, living up to its vocation.

What is true about Islam and Judaism and various forms of paganism is true only insofar as it points you in the right direction. It is not in itself salvific. For salvation you need to meet the truth in the person of Jesus Christ.

Forty years later, my friend’s sermon leads me to conclude that there are really only two religions in the world: that of the Incarnation and and that which I call, for lack of a better word, “Ignosticism.”

I don’t mean “gnosticism.” That word has become too identified with specific historical Christian heresies. “Agnosticism” isn’t quite right either.

This neologism, “Ignosticism,” means exactly “making a religion of ignorance.”

The Church says that the son of God, Jesus, the impoverished itinerant preacher from Nazareth, is not only the Divine Incarnation, but also the very logos through whom God the Father created everything that is. Thus, to willfully ignore the Incarnation is to fail to understand anything in its fullness.

We can know what things are made of, we can know how they are made and what they do, but, without the fullness of the logos in our worldview, we can never know what things actually are. The meaning of everything is there to be seen, but only if you are willing to see it.

This applies not only to other religions but also to the dominant “religion” of our day: scientism. For all of our advances in technology and the mastery over the world they grant us, we seem to be moving farther and farther away from reality. Witness our current inability to come agreement on matters as basic as sexual difference or whether a fetus is alive.

The confusion is only likely to worsen as Christianity gets pushed to the side. The God of Abraham has entered time and space as a crying, incontinent baby. When we no longer know that, we can know nothing of any real worth at all.

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