Something I have observed within OTO, and the occult community in general, is a common, profound dislike of Christianity (specifically of the Southern Baptist tradition). I grew up in Texas in a UU home, meaning that I wasn’t indoctrinated with any faith-oriented religious ideas and was encouraged to observe and judge other religions and their beliefs on my own. I did so, and grew increasingly disgusted with Christianity. I deplored many of the acts done in the name of Christ, and I was nauseated by many of the fundamental beliefs, notably that humans are inherently sinful and must seek forgiveness from God in order to escape eternal torture. I also hated how many Christian movements were so anti-intellectual---I saw it at many levels, from top to bottom. To this day I am uncomfortable with explicit declarations of the Christian religion (ex. the other day I briefly saw Faith Hill singing a bad gospel about surrendering to Jesus on Oprah...shudder). So, it would be fair to say that I am similar to many people in the Order who have some level of repulsion regarding general Christian faith and culture.
When I first joined OTO, I had a hard time getting over certain aspects of Christianity that I saw in various places, especially the Gnostic Mass. I was able to do it, I think, because the elements that Crowley used were mostly pilfered from the Roman Catholic side of the fence, which was something I had never had much contact with (and so didn’t develop such strong reactions against). There are, of course, a huge number of elements within Thelema that draw from other religions, especially Judaism, Buddhism, and Victorian interpretations of ancient religions from Egypt, Greece, and the Middle East in general. Of course, I don’t have reactions against those elements at all, because they are almost completely removed from my nascent experiences. As an adult, it is possible for me to look at certain religions, like Buddhism, and develop intellectual critiques to certain beliefs and assumptions, but there is almost zero visceral sensations associated with it. When it comes to ancient religions, there is no inclination to critique...they are simply too removed in the vast gulf of history to bother finding fault with them as religious structures.
My observation is that the more removed I am from a religion, the more comfortable I am in taking elements from it into my own set of beliefs and practices. I am easily able to take a practice, such as yoga, and completely recontextualize it to mean whatever I want it to mean. I can take a prayer to Ganesh, and make it my own, totally removed from a larger Hindu context. I can study the Qabalah and not feel infected by a religion that is not my own.
This is not true with Christian elements...the religion I am least removed from in this country and time. It took me years to lose the discomfort of the Christian elements within the Mass, when I was finally able to make them my own.
Something I have noticed within OTO over the years is that there are large number of members who work more or less as I do in this regard. They do not like Christianity and to some degree have a mental, emotional, and/or somatic reaction against it. I completely empathize with this...there is much about Christianity that is deserving of disgust.
However, I can’t help but remark on the hypocrisy of it. I have started to notice it more and more in myself, and my tolerance for it is steadily decreasing. Why is it okay to take elements from an ancient religion or one that is more removed from Western experience, but not Christianity? Put another way, it seems like those who are like me allow our feelings about Christianity to make decisions for us. For example, when we think of “religion” we think of Christianity, so we refuse to call Thelema a religion. There is as much anger embedded in the Bible as compassion, but because compassion is the emotion that is most voiced in modern Christianity, we see it as a Christian contamination...but we don’t think that with anger. Both Jehovah and Horus are vengeful gods, but we don’t seem to have a problem with that one for some reason. We hear Pat Robinson spouting about vengeance all the time, but it doesn’t faze us. I still wonder about that one.
I think it is a mistake to define Thelema as being anti-Christian. I don’t like being defined as a negative in this way: we are what Christianity is not. Rather, we are what we are, regardless of Christianity. When I think about issues such as “religion” or “compassion” they should be considered completely on their own merit, not how they apply to Christianity (or any other religion). Likewise, I should be able to read the Bible and take from it anything I want, exactly as I do from Greek mythology. It is to be free from Christianity, as well as the kneejerk emotions and beliefs that accompany it. While I am certainly not free from my own negative compulsions regarding Christianity, I have dedicated myself to no longer allowing those compulsions to prevent me from adopting any beliefs and practices that I so will.
Things like compassion, sacrifice, vengeance, love, salvation, divinity, joy, etc. are not owned by Christianity. Such archetypical ideas, emotions, practices, and beliefs are beyond any single religion. The purpose of a religion is to take such things and put them into a certain frame. The value of that frame depends on the degree to which it provides fulfillment for the individual while also working well at a social level (depending on what level it is being observed). When looking at specific elements, what is useful is seeing how that element has internal validity: how it works within the system. It is not helpful to judge it based on another system, unless a comparison is being made. In other words, when it comes to my own judgement about, say, sacrifice, I don’t care what Christianity says about it (except as a source of data to be mined)...I will integrate it however it fits best. When discussing it within the framework of Thelema specifically, I am mostly interested in how it fits in with the other elements of Thelema, not Christianity, Buddhism, or Unitarian Universalism.
Easier said than done, of course. But Thelema won’t be completely free from Christianity until we ourselves are.