Monday, January 19, 2009

Religion: Best when Least Dogmatic

I was thinking a lot about religious pluralism a great deal today, on Martin Luther King Day. Just happened to come across a marvelous quote while thinking about the topic, "Fundamentalism is the thief of mercy." (Jeffrey Goldberg, Prisoners: a Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006, p. 7).

I understand this to mean that fundamentalist religions divide the human race, and insist on the supremacy of the speaker's faith, giving a sense of righteousness that does not allow for real communication with people of other faiths.

The religious leaders I like the most are free of such fundamentalism, and have worked hard for the rights and enrichment of people of all faiths, all ethnicities. Today, of course, I think of Martin Luther King, a Christian, who spoke for justice for all, and insisted that justice could happen now, not in some ill-defined future. He, in turn, was a follower of Mohandas Gandhi, a Hindu. who was widely read in all the worlds' religions and developed the concept of non-violent resistance. The religious leader of today whom I most revere is the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist, whose compassion extends to his enemies and to the whole world. Two of my favorite writers on Christianity are John Shelby Spong, who believes not in a Jesus who performed miracles, but one who loved all and whose loves opens us to the experience of God's love, and to Bart Ehrman, who is a Biblical scholar but whose deep study of Christianity has shown its failures and who is now an agnostic. Ehrman is an example of one who has thought long on religious issues and their complexity, and can explain those thoughts well. And from my own religion of Wicca, I greatly appreciate Starhawk, who has two characteristics I greatly admire: the ability to write of complex issues with clarity and grace, and a devotion to activism that shows one who walks the walk, not just talks the talk.

Religion is a complex issue, and deserves that we think, feel, and meditate deeply upon it. I also note that so many of those of all religions who have had mystical experiences talk of the interconnectedness of all things. Religions that insist on being the only path to God end too often in violence against those who do not agree with them. We cannot afford this kind of divisiveness in our world which has so many advanced means of killing others.

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