by Christopher Petersen
My name is Christopher Petersen, and this is my story of coming into Orthodoxy. I was not at all raised in a religious household. We started attending Church after both my grandparents had passed away. I’d say I was in 6th or 7th grade. My father’s family was Lutheran so that is where we attended. I was baptized as a young adult, and my father made my sister and I memorize the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed. I went through confirmation and was confirmed as a young adult. But this was the extent of my religious upbringing. Religion was not often spoken of much in our house. Ironically, I’m thankful for this. In my view, this was, in a way, probably for the best. I have bipolar 1 disorder, and people with this disorder tend to be at a bigger risk for narcissism and ideological possession. Considering the hyper fundamentalism that makes up much of American Christian culture I truly believe that the chances that I could have become a fundamentalist, driven by ideology were very high.
I joined the Marine Corps in 2006. I became a devoted disciple of Christ around 2008. I began to gradually move away from Lutheranism in favor of other forms of Christianity. I spent a short time among Evangelicals, but quickly found that this was not for me. The more I learned about the Bible and its world, the more I was starting to realize that very little of this theology was based on a true Biblical worldview. I did spend a short amount of time reading books by popular televangelists and street-preachers. It didn’t take me long to realize that most of this work is spiritually weak, and intellectually shallow. In short, my perception was that most of these people are charlatans. I eventually made my way into the “Messianic Jewish” movement, and here I remained for about a decade. In this “space” I was exposed to the classical Jewish sources, and even Jewish-Christian sources. I still have a great love for these works. It was at this time that I found myself able to proclaim the same words as my “spiritual father,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel,
“I asked for wonder, and You gave it to me.”
I discovered Jewish ancestry on my maternal side in 2016. Eventually I had to come to grips with the reality that the “Messianic Jewish” movement was and is a branch off of Evangelical Christianity. In this context, I began to discover how out of line Christianity in the West is. Particularly Evangelicalism. I began to see how much Greek Mythology and Philosophy influenced Protestant doctrines. I have nothing against Greek Mythology and Philosophy. My only point is that this is not the context of the Bible, or it’s authors, (I personally have a deep love for Philosophy and mythology).I began to see clearly, through my studies, that Christian Apologetics is basically Aristotelian Logic. That the “Heaven and Hell” paradigm is basically Platonic Dualism.
The Bible is seldom interpreted in the context in which it was written. I began to see that, as far as Western Christians went, the Biblical text is interpreted through the lense of Greek Mythology and Philosophy; instead of through the lenses of Hebrew Theology— the worldview of the Biblical authors. I quickly began to realize that Evangelical Christianity has a multitude of problems. Not least of which is their particular reading of the Bible.
I immersed myself in Jewish literature. The teachings of the Rabbi’s. I became deeply drawn Hasidic Judaism, and spent the rest of my time, until moving to Orthodoxy, in this space. I became a dedicated student of one rabbi in particular – Abraham Joshua Heschel. I became acquaintance’s with a rabbi who is now a friend. He taught me the Hebrew language and Hasidus, (works of Hasidic piety), and even some of the classical works of the Kabbalah. It was at this time that I discovered Jewish ancestry on my maternal side. I was given a Hebrew name, Feivel, after a Jewish Christian who has highly influenced me. I was amazed at the very high ethic to be found in Hasidic literature. I had never encountered anything like it before anywhere else. I saw, in all this work a direct connection with Apostolic thought and theology. There is a substantial amount of scholarship in this area as well. It was in light of all this studying that has brought me to Orthodoxy. It was at this point that I was starting to see Evangelicalism as a parasite of sorts, built on a religious structure. Driven by arrogance and egocentrism. By ideology and a narcissistic need to police others behavior. One important thing I learned from Dr. Jordan Peterson about ideology:
“To me, ideology is corrupt; it’s a parasite on religious structures. To be an ideologue is to have all of the terrible things that are associated with religious certainty and none of the utility. If you’re an ideologue, you believe everything that you think. If you’re religious, there’s a mystery left there.”
I’ve learned that all ideological possession, no matter where it comes from is unbelievably dangerous. That the religious fundamentalist is as dangerous as a Marxist.
I stand against Evangelicalism for a multitude of reasons. As I’ve explained earlier, the general axioms and notions have their origins in teachings that are not indigenous to the biblical writings, or the spirit and thrust of those writings. And, for the most part, stand in direct conflict with biblical theology.
All of my studies eventually brought me to Orthodox Christianity. Initially I was amazed at how much Orthodoxy sounded and felt like Hasidic Judaism. The thought and theology was the same. The difference is not that of belief, but of degree. I truly felt like I was taking part in something ancient. I have not had to change any of my basic core beliefs. I feel like this faith was tailor-made for me. I feel that I am exactly where I belong.