Religions, to stick, need to be established at the lowest level – with all the plain folk and and in all strata of culture. To do this though, they inevitably absorb and assimilate some of the local folk beliefs.
Buddhism in south east Asia is full of superstition, evil spirits, amulets, etc., even though these things don’t really have anything to do with Buddhism. They are leftover from the earlier paganism. It’s much more intellectual in northern China or Japan.
Islam looks really different in poor countries like Yemen or the tribal areas of Pakistan. In contrast, in the rich oil countries with decent cars, television, apartments buildings and restaurants, young men are much more likely to form a rock band than a terrorist cell.
Protestants are often highly annoyed by the Roman Catholic veneration of Mary, but part of this is due to the absolutely over-the-top treatment Mary receives in some parts of the world where the Marion cult has absorbed leftover idolatrous rituals. The official catechism in this area is more toned down than some realize.
American Christianity isn’t any different. Only here, in our highly individualistic and capitalistic environment could the “God wants to make you rich” notions of the prosperity gospel take hold, let alone thrive.
I was reminded of this while reading Jenkin’s The Lost History of Christianity. He provides an excerpt from an account of religion in Syria in 1912 written by archeologist Frederick Jones Bliss (p.205):
Christian, Moslems, Jews and Nuseiriyeh [Alawites] visit each others’ shrines. The Moslems take their insane, or “possessed” to get rid of their evil spirits in the cave of Saint Anthony, belonging to the aronite convent of Qozhayya in the Lebanon. Christians go on a similar errand to the well at the shrine of Sheikh Hassan er Rai (the Shepherd) near Damascus… During the procession on Good Friday, barren Moslem women pass under the cloth on which is stamped the figure of Christ in hopes that they may bear children. Christian women in Hums consult Dervish diviners. The Nuseiriyeh observe Christmas, though they subordinate Jesus to Ali…Instances of Moslems seeking baptism for their children as a sort of charm have been reported from all parts of Syria and Palestine.
I thought I would take a stab at rewriting this account a little closer to home:
Christians, Mormons, and Secularists visit each others’ shrines. Most classical music performances are held in churches and everyone shops at Whole Foods. The Christians take their psychologically troubled to receive the laying on of hands during worship services, but make sure to stop by Walgreens on the way home to refill their Cymbalta prescription. Mormon students show up at Campus Crusade for Christ events. During the procession of wealth in the parking lot at the office, men of all faiths try to one-up each other with various models of Porsche, Audi, and Mercedes. Barren Mormon women desperately shell out the bucks for fertility drugs in hopes that they may bear children. The atheist ACLU attorney has a Tarot deck in her desk drawer. The secularists observe Christmas, though they subordinate it to Hanukkah, despite the fact that they don’t know any Jews. Lapsed Catholics still have their children baptized and lapsed Baptists drop their kids off at Sunday school. Instances of secularists buying religious books on Amazon are reported from all states.