Drew Ryun, Jim Ryun’s baby boy and former Evangelical Outreach director for the RNC, thinks Mormonism is weird. He defends that claim by encouraging people bothered by that statement to read up on Mormon theology. He then defends his own views, writing:
if you’re weirded out by orthodox Christianity… that’s your problem.
It’s my opinion that any religion looks weird to outsiders. I think it’s problematic to suggest that weirdness only belongs to others, or that it is an automatic strike against an idea.
Praying towards Mecca 5 times a day is a little weird, so is washing your hands and feet each time. I don’t know that Joseph Smith’s story about Moroni, the Golden Plates, Urim and Thumim is that much weirder than Mohammed’s revelation from Gabriel, or Moses and the Burning Bush. Buddha’s chance at nirvana is pretty weird, too, as is much of the Mahabharata.
Orthodox Christian theology can seem very strange to an outsider. It argues that sin entered the world because Adam and Eve — two perfect beings created by a perfect, omniscient and omnipotent God — ate a fruit. Orthodox Christianity further holds that that sin passes down to all human beings without exception. Actually, there was one exception, Mary, on whom God sired a child, a child both separate from and part of the father. Orthodox Christianity then goes on to argue that the only way an omniscient and omnipotent deity could purge the sin derived from eating a fruit was by allowing, perhaps even orchestrating and causing, the son to be charged, convicted and killed in an agonizing manner, after which the body was physically transported to heaven, after which a vision of it appears to various people, mostly in rural settings or on grilled foodstuffs.
Speaking of grilled foodstuffs, orthodox Christianity places a great emphasis on the act of communion, which to an outsider looks a great deal like ritualized cannibalism. The worshipper approaches the priest, who holds out a wafer and a cup of wine, which he declares to be the “body of Christ,” and the “blood of Christ.” After eating and drinking, the worshipper is told “May the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you unto eternal life.”
To an outsider, the yarmulke, phylacteries and tallit worn by some Jews during worship look pretty weird. The idea of a bush that burns without being consumed is pretty weird. The concept of any miracle is weird, and is supposed to be weird. If it weren’t it wouldn’t be very miraculous, would it?
My point here is not to be dismissive (though I don’t doubt someone will strip this of context and take it that way). I like weird in general, and I don’t think weirdness alone is a strike against a religion. Religion is built around mystery, and always has been. Mysteries that aren’t weird wouldn’t be mysterious. Faith is about things unseen, and resides in the most private and personal parts of our minds. Each of our minds are totally commonplace to ourselves, but totally opaque, and hence weird, to anyone else. The language we use to describe our minds strips much of that mysterious weirdness away; it has to if it is to be at all comprehensible.
Religion, through its symbology and specialized language, attempts to provide a way to talk about such things. Different communities of faith develop their own common languages to describe and share a particular sort of experience, one that is in principle inexpressible (or at least incomprehensible to anyone but the speaker). To that group with that common language, it all makes sense. To an outsider, it’s gibberish at best, weird and dangerous at worst.
Slacktivist’s weekly commentary on Left Behind is a great example of a way that even coreligionists can be “weirded out” by one another’s beliefs, and his commentary on religion in general is a great example of how one can reach beyond that specialized “weird” language to communicate at least some of that content to an audience that doesn’t share the language, but does share common understandings of the empirical world.