Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Faith: The Final Frontier


I've said it before and I'll say it again: we are living in a fascinating time in religious history. Case in point, religion's dubious place setting at the head of the US election table.

I love the lively debates and our pluralistic landscape wherein mosques, temples, churches, medicine wheels, creation museums and the like all share geographic coordinates yet speak to differing, if sometimes overlapping cultures.

Religious diversity is something to be honored, for it speaks to the myriad ways we as humans attempt to construct and celebrate our religiosity. I cannot imagine a world in which we all believed in the same God and the same afterlife and the same devotional traditions. To me, this seems aberrational and somehow as though we would be missing the point...whatever that point is. I like to think there's a point - I'm too idealistic not to.

My brother (not my blogging brother, my udder brudder) once confessed to me that he holds the suspicious notion that we are all one great alien science experiment. This was the most depressing thing I had ever heard and I remember feeling very disturbed by his confession.

But then I happened upon Zecharia Sitchin's The 12th Planet years later, in which Sitchin postulates that ancient Sumerians were visited by aliens who even mined gold in Africa way way way back tens of thousands of years ago pre-ancient civilization periods. Anyways, the book is crazy weird and yet also crazy interesting - especially his theory of this one mysterious planet that orbits the earth every 3,600 years. But it made me realize, hmmmm....at least two people on this planet believe this alien experiment theory.

If we're going to be anyone's experiment, then I have to confess: I still hang my hat on the God coat rack.

Now admittedly, everything about my vision of God has changed over the years except the name. I still prefer the generic term - God - if only because of its anagram potential, but I'm open to almost any word remotely reverential and omni-powerful in exchange. Divine creator - that works. Universal Being - that's fine with me, too.

I no longer see God in a hippydoperfreak kinda way, wearing a long white flowing robe, sporting an unkept long white beard, looking altogether too much like Moses, a mad scientist, a bad sci-fi movie wizard, or a chimera of all three.

Nor do I see God in patriarchal light. God is beginning to look less and less human to me and more and more like an energy source to me, as time goes on. I'm not sure if that means I've digressed or progressed in my divine imagination. I just know that it no longer serves me to limit God to a masculine form or gender, nor to a mother-creator form such as Gaia or Kali, nor to a hybrid human-animal, such as Ganesh. God is all but ultimately none of those things and more.

So I love the pluralism and let me go back to the religious landscape: I love the diversity of religious practices. In Pakistan, we would hear the call to prayer as an amplified and somewhat exotic chanting song. Some cities have the ringing of church bells. I like that all can mesh in religious cacophony, but I don't like when religions compete and become territorial.

And I don't believe religion and science must compete, especially in the classroom. I strongly believe we need to teach evolution to children just as I also strongly believe we should teach world religions to our children, again from an evolutionary and historical perspective, rather than revelatory perspective. That, after all, is the role of the church. When we teach geography, we should also be teaching the geography of faith, the sacrality of space and the politics of place.

Kids need to get a sense of what all these disparate and often competing polemics are, especially if they are to make heads or tails of how and why creationism, global warming, globalization and terrorism have come to be such factioned and fractured religio issues. Or how and why the Ann Coulters and Michael Moores of this world have been able to prosper.

We do the children of this age no great service by teaching them rigid and dogmatic religiosity - and by that I mean an unbending, narrow-lens faith - at the expense of exposing them to other traditions and ways of living. Just as I have come to realize there are innumerable ways to cook a turkey - our stuffed and barbecued bird last Thanksgiving being, perhaps, the most recent indicator - I have come to appreciate and embrace the eternal truth and beauty that exist in the myriad ways of religious being for humankind.

Appreciating other religions is not simply a tolerance, however. I think religious tolerance brings with it a kind of pejorative attitude wherein one tolerates the presence of the Mormon temple on the hill that now blocks their mountain view....or endures the traffic jam the Hindu street festival downtown has caused. I speak, instead, of an attitude of gratitude about the multi-faith landscape and culture as cause for religious freedom celebration.

Thus, I have come to greatly value the individual quest for truth - a sacramental statement in my faith tradition - such that I fairly defy my children to leave the UU fold for a brief time or lifetime, upon hearing their own call, in order to embark on their own faith journey through other traditions and continue their quest until such time as they, too, find their spiritual home.

Because it seems to me that religion should not have to be inherited baggage. How many times have you heard the response to that great daring question, "What religion are you?" "Oh, well, my mother was Presbyterian." Uh huh. Or some variant thereof.

I'm beginning to believe, more and more, that one's predisposition to religiosity (or not), is as much genetically encoded as one's predispositions to disease, obesity or disorders. Conversion then, is not simply a 'turning around' or 'transformation' so much as a becoming or awakening or embodiment. Like illuminating a room that once was dark.

This, my friends, is what I don't know for sure about faith. Hence, my ruminations in the dark by the dim and flickering light of a cyber candle.

Holy Thought of the Week

"To live fully is to let go and die with each passing moment, and to be reborn in each new one."

~ Jack Kornfield ~