“No More Choosing Sides”
Rev. Richard Feyen
recorded on 26 Jan 2014
Early on, Christianity evolved into a social structure combined with a belief system that allowed the ruling classes to control the commoner. It was as if the only way to keep order was through increasingly oppressive treatment. Religion has played that role a lot actually. When you go back to thinking about the Ten Commandments, it was Moses’ frustration with the chaotic wandering people that drove him up the mountain whereupon he brought down “The Law” with which to govern the people. At least, so says the sacred myth that brought on the worship of the law, or the Sacred word of God, as a way of life for the Hebrew people.
When Jesus came on the scene, it was even more chaotic. The Hebrew people were looking for someone to free them from the oppressive rule of the Romans. The Temple priests were both lining their own pockets and joining forces with the Roman rulers so they were profiting from collusion with the military powers and there were many people ready for one to come and lead them out of this oppressive situation. A fiercely independent group, the Hebrew people in general did not want to be under Roman rule. The situation was ripe for revolt and in fact revolt did continue, even after Jesus’ death on the cross, until the Romans finally destroyed the Temple and the city of Jerusalem, scattering the people that managed to survive.
But inside that movement of revolt, quietly working within the hearts of many men and women, there was a mystical awareness of something that moved people to seek the spirit of all that is Sacred. Respecting the sanctity of humankind these people quietly sought the spirit within.
I know there are, in this congregation, individuals whose math expertise is far more advanced than mine. I hope I don’t get into trouble here but I am pretty sure I am right, that when a person is working with fractions, when you want to add them together, one must look for and find the lowest common denominator. Once found, a person can, I believe, make the fractions work together.
Theology of religions is no different.
Our struggle today, across the board and around the world, is to find that common denominator, that way of being together and appreciating one another’s religious world views so that we can come to an understanding with one another and work together (like Moses’ delivery of the Ten Commandments). Paul, in the letter to Corinthians, is right to suggest that it makes no difference which earthly way we follow. Yet his view was also from one small point of view. He too was looking at, and trying to see, the entire universe as if through the narrow view of his own telescope and seeing God as God had evolved for him initiated by his own experiences.
Paul Knitter in Theologies of Religions says, “Our root identities are always local … We take what we have inherited from our own village and in the light of what we learn as we visit other villages, we appreciate both the value and the limitations of what our own village has given us.”
He goes on to add, “Two of the greatest threats facing the community of nations are the nationalism and fanaticism that grow among those who have never left their village and who think their village is superior to all others.”
If we go out at night to begin to understand the depths of the universe, to look deep into the sky, we have to appreciate that our own view of the heavens is only as great as the looking glass we choose to view it through. But, by seeing what we see through our own telescopes and then viewing what others are seeing, our appreciation for the eternal vastness and depths of the universe can only continue to grow.
At the very core of seeking an understanding to the vast religious culture and grasping both the variety and that most elusive common denominator is the question that we must ask first. Why, in fact, are there religions in every major culture of the world? What role does religion play in life? What might that very elusive common denominator be?
Think about this for a minute . . . there was a time when the world itself seemed to be an unchangeable entity. Creation was believed to be static. What is, was believed to have been that way since God spoke and it became as we see it. Darwin’s discovery of biological evolution then demanded that creation be seen as a continuous process. Then Einstein pioneered the thought that reality was no longer to be seen as a well-ordered machine in which the parts could not even be neatly determined and located. The world, as we see it and experience it, even at the sub-atomic level, is an ever-changing and interrelating process of activity.
What Knitter suggests is, “the perspective we are trying to explore views the multiplicity, or plurality, of creation as empowered with a potential for even greater unity … the many are called to be one. But it is a one that does not devour the many.”
He goes on at length to suggest that the avenue upon which we relate is essentially found in the process of our interrelating, that is, the relationship itself that fosters further growth and understanding in all our interactions with one another.
Paul’s suggestion, that we not follow this one or that one but that we work together for a deeper understanding of the sanctity of all humankind found in God, is right on target if we expand the message beyond his words to encompass all who seek a path to the sacred fulfillment. These thoughts are affirmed as well in the writings of Swami who suggests that “Either we remain in our isolated religious ghettos or we accept the fact of the innate spiritual unity of all faiths.”
The pathway to this deeper understanding and appreciation is found in our own exploring more deeply into why Christianity is, and why religion is, so important in all parts of the world. We do not find those paths on our own, we do not find those paths in isolation, and we do not find the deeper understanding by standing in isolation but by reaching out in community. We find support and strength and growth in our interactions with one another. We do not live or exist in isolation – we live – we grow – we expand our understanding of who we are, by coming together in relationship with one another; both as individuals and as religious entities.
Just as the Hebrew people gathered to order their society by the law so we must gather around to understand and appreciate one another by way of learning and respecting the faithful practices of others. We cannot learn to appreciate others while we are in isolation. We can only accept and respect and appreciate when we are open to new and challenging ideas.
That is our quest and our longing as we learn to be in relationship growing and appreciating all people.
Blessings to you friends,