If you asked St. Augustine why he believed in an immortal soul, I suspect hed look at you quizzically, raise an eyebrow, and utter a dismissive, Because St. Paul did!
Of course, there are large groups of Christians who might accept the rationale for Augustines answer while simultaneously deploring it. After all, we now know that it was that blasted Hellenstic influence and its pesky dualism. Its almost like magic: wave a hand, utter the magic words, and the problem goes away.
Or better, its like a trump card. The syncretism card. Play it, and you immediately put your theological opponent in a place where they have to justify not only their interpretations of Scripture, but have to demonstrate that those interpretations havent been unduly tainted by the (obviously) problematic philosophy in question.
Its a little more combative, a touch more polemical than the mystery card . But its still effective when youre in a tough theological conversation and youre not sure how to escape unscathed. By which I mean, admitting you might be wrong.
Its best if this card is played deftly. Rather than shouting, syncretism! speak softly about the [insert nefarious philosophy] influences on their position. That helps you avoid having to say precisely what those influences are, or how they got to be there.
(Just beware the counter card, the baptized! rebuttal. This The Twilight Saga Eclipse 2010 is played by those who shamefully attempt to sanctify their use of obviously wrong categories to interpret Scripture by drawing an analogy to baptism.)
This syncretism card is a game we can all play. Here are some common (though not necessarily ones that I endorse!) accusations about the nefarious thinkers or movements that certain streams of Christianity have gotten in bed with. And if I missed any, feel free to add them in the comments.
- Medieval Catholics: Aristotle
- Brian McLarens emergent crew: the post-moderns.
- Conservative evangelicals: Modern individualism.
- Substance dualists: Plato .
- Christian physicalists: Stephen Pinker, or any other neuroscientist du jour.
- The early church: paganism.
- Philosophical theology: analytic philosophy.
- The Orthodox: pretty pictures.
- The early church: those nefarious Greeks.
- The seeker-sensitive movement: pragmatism.
There are plenty others out there. And theres a serious point (and question!) buried here about the shape theology takes, and how well it fits with competing anthropologies.
But mostly, its just fun and reminds us that the syncretism card can be turned against us pretty easily. Make sure to deploy it with care.