On Being – Chapter IX – The Commonality Among Faiths (Part II)

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Respect God

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Catholic Version: You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain (Deut. 5:11, KJV).

Jewish Version: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain (Exod. 20:7, KJV).

Muslim Version: And do not make [your oath by] Allah an excuse against being righteous and fearing Allah and making peace among people (2:224).

Hindu Version:  No law against blasphemy per se; however the Indian Penal Code forbids insulting religion (God) or someone’s religious beliefs.

Buddhist Version: Buddhism was derived entirely from human experience, although Buddha himself was promoted to godhood by his followers.

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One must know the truth, about someone or something, before being able to form a proper attitude toward it. Awareness begets truth and is the first step along the path toward respect. Therefore, let us begin by being truthful about God. We must always discern between what we see, and what we want to see. A non-egoic mindset leads to seeing things objectively, as they truly, and fully, are. Ego leads to seeing things subjectively, as we want them to be, or at least, as we expect them to be.

All scripture was written by people; but not always by eyewitnesses to the deeds of the heroes and heroines whose deeds and sayings are being presented. It is patently ridiculous to expect anyone tasked with reporting on events from seventy years earlier to do much better than guess at who said what to whom, when, and in what order; or who did what to whom, when, and precisely what their state of mind was when they did it. We know from experience how details get lost, facts invented, or changed inadvertently in the retelling. Remember the game, “Gossip?” How then can we hold our own scriptures, whose origins were, at best, in oft-repeated oral tradition; at worst, in deliberate, politically-motivated fabrications, as being God’s Truth; the final Word of the Almighty?

The study of scripture to the exclusion of all else, leaves us wanting in the knowledge of God and of God’s Will. We require other sources – the primary one being God/the Divine, Who is communicating with us all, all of the time. God /the Divine will help each one of us to get the most out of scripture. That egoic insistence on perfection and primacy of scripture, though written by individuals long dead, is often distracting us from what God is really saying, right now. Scripture provides a template to aid in the understanding of God. It was written by people who, for the most part, were seeking to understand God. But scripture  is not suited to being our only source of spiritual knowledge. It should be just as obvious that God, and God alone, can communicate God’s Will, as it is that your wife, not your golf-buddy, can best tell you what your wife has on her mind. God /the Universe is communicating Her Mind to us all of the time. The more non-egoic our frame of mind, the more cognizant of God’s Message we will be.

No one can listen to two people talking at exactly the same time. It is the same with the mind. Your understanding of the world is the result of your having to choose between ego and non-ego. You cannot listen to both voices at the same time, any more than you are able to think two thoughts at the same time.

The formalization of oral traditions into written scripture has had the effect of blocking the very processes of improvement and renewal that were responsible for producing scripture in the first place. To take a two thousand-year-old writing, with all of the currency of a weekly newspaper’s sports section, as final scriptural authority, can only cause trouble. It becomes increasingly difficult for succeeding generations to reconcile the wisdom of the ancients to their own times. Those who make their careers out of interpreting scripture, oftentimes manufacture interpretations so thin and incredible that they can hold no appeal for honest, independent-thinking, open-minded people.

The general cynicism among Canadians, toward the talking heads who have become their government, is resulting in low voter turnout. Paralleling this, is the growing cynicism toward religion; likewise being manifest in low attendance at religious centres, particularly among young people. While the officials of Faith institutions try to imagine new ways to engage youth, the root cause for non-attendance is ignored; just as the root cause for low election turnout is ignored. The root cause is lack of credibility in both cases.

With respect to faith institutions, the credibility problem is caused by ego’s penchant for making the world (and God) all about the ego, its sifting through scripture for self-affirmation, rather than enlightenment, and by its desire to have the last word. It is pure egoic fantasy that there can EVER be a “last word” attached to anything so timeless in nature as God is. The authoring of scripture was never meant to end. Scriptural authors are expected to continue with the job begun by the ancients. God meant them to continue to enrich, update, and add to their respective scriptural canons, with the goal of maintaining the pertinence of God’s timeless Message in today’s world. How have people come to make themselves believe that, for the last 1400 years, God has had nothing more to say to us? And if they don’t believe that, why haven’t any of them bothered to write something new?

The problem is ego’s limited cognitive capability. We declare that God is perfect.[i] Ego reasons that anything perfect will not change, for if it did, it could not have been, in its former state, perfect.[ii] Therefore God cannot change because God is perfect. If God cannot change, anything purported to be the Word of God cannot change either, or it is not the Word of God. Once adopted, the scriptural canon of a particular faith cannot be changed, or it was never authoritative. The religious institution is therefore obliged to not add to, subtract from, or in any other manner alter its canon; for to do so would be an admission of fallibility. The scripture is declared God-inspired, therefore, if the scripture is fallible, then so is God. God cannot be; therefore the scripture cannot be – or so the argument goes.

The outcome of such reasoning, of such egoic reasoning, is that nothing of the canon can be added, changed, or deleted – ever.

Ego affects institutions as surely as it does people. If a given faith “knows” God, it follows that it provides a definitive explanation of all matters relating to God; such as the Will of God, and the way to God. Ego predisposes faiths to view any other faith’s version of God as apostasy and “false doctrine,” or else admit  theirs could be. “One God, and only one way(ours) to get to know God” – sounds suspiciously like ego to begin with. Considering humankind’s experience with God’s Creation, the significance of diversity, variability,  and change, within the grand scheme of things, should not have escaped our notice. It is a very small step for us to take, albeit with huge consequences, to view pluralism among faith institutions and scripture as God and Nature’s rule. Apostasy, heresy, etc. are natural processes which have the effect of increasing our knowledge of God; rather than watering it down or corrupting it.

Can anyone really think that they, and only they, know God so completely as to qualify them to fully inform others about God, much less write it all down? Not one among us can fully explain how the same elements found in rocks and minerals also become the building blocks of life; how then can any of us permit ourselves to believe we are able to fully explain God; not only for right now, but for all time?

We expect the teachings of faith to possess this quality of immutability just as we expect God to; but this is an expectation only ego is capable of forming. No human can fully know, or express, the Mind of God. Anyone claiming to is maintaining a secret agenda for good or ill; or has become ego-bound to the point where they have utterly beguiled themselves out of reason. The non-egoic thinker will automatically question what they read in their scriptures and discern what is God’s Truth from what is the writer’s agenda. The non-egoic thinker will realize that there is much more to God than the written word, any written word, is capable of revealing; that most knowledge of God is revealed through exchanges between the minds of sentient beings and the Mind of God – often through intermediaries, ‘heavenly’ or ‘earthly.’ Because God is all things, knowledge of God is simply not attainable from one source.

The Great Bard’s Hamlet says as much:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.[iii]

 

I, for one, remain skeptical that God encouraged the Hebrews to destroy the people that were already living in the land God had promised to them. Why would God not have required them to negotiate some sort of deal of mutual benefit to newcomers and indigenous alike? God is Father to both Hebrew and Canaanite, is He not? If you believe not, please explain to me who made the Canaanites? Today, the Jewish people are presented with an opportunity to do right by those who call Canaan home, just as they do. Not so very long ago, the world was presented an opportunity to do right by the Jews, and the Jews have come home. How many of us are given the chance, presented in both cases, to so perfectly right old wrongs?

The need to claim exclusiveness and authority for a particular scripture is ego’s need. The only way to separate truth from untruth in scripture is by viewing it through the lens of non-ego. You will seek to further expand your spiritual knowledge among the scriptural traditions of other faiths; not limiting yourself to your own. You will note in which ways scriptures converge and in which ways they diverge. I would guess all Faiths agree on God’s Love for Creation, for humankind, for all things with souls. But they depart from one another, and from God, in their insistence upon being the only way to God, and God’s only voice.

In order to respect God, one must know God. In order to know God, one must look past the ego, and see things as they truly are. To know God, begin by forming a general attitude of inquisitiveness toward life, and openness with respect to the answers life provides you with. Question everything. Allow your “head and heart,” in equal measure, to guide your assessment of whatever anyone (including the author of this book) wants you to believe about God.

 

III – Give one day of the week to your Family, Friends, and Community; God and Creation

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Catholic Version: Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day (Deut. 5:12-15, KJV).

Jewish Version: You shall remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy (Exod. 20:8-11, KJV).

Muslim Version: O you who have believed, when [the adhan] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumu’ah [Friday], then proceed to the remembrance of Allah and leave trade. That is better for you, if you only knew (62:9).

Hindu Version: No holy weekday.

Buddhist Version: No holy weekday.

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Each day of the week is the same as the next. The cultural tradition I was born into reserved Sundays for God, Family, and Community. When I was a child, stores and bars closed for the day; factories ceased production. In those days, most folks in Canada had Sundays off. There were not many distractions from the opportunity to connect with family and community on that day.

These days, things are different. The Canadian demographic has changed. Many Canadians are not of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and for these people Sundays may or may not have special cultural significance. The business model has also changed: Sunday is for many, a regular work day. I do not propose that Canadians, regardless of religious denomination, should reserve the same day of the week for family, friends, and religious observances; I am, however, proposing that each of us dedicates one day of the week.

These days, we are looking for a minute here – a few minutes there, to accomplish our community ‘obligations.’ In this we are sorely remiss. We need at least a full day each week, where the focus is on family, community, and other people; not on the job, the neighbour’s weedy front yard, the hockey game, the 6 pm news, and our selves. We need to do this so as to remain grounded and capable of maintaining a positive perspective in a threatening world. We need to refresh ourselves socially and spiritually, to take a break from ourselves, just as surely as we need to have two days off from the job, out of every seven, in order to refresh our bodies and minds, and to avoid wanting to strangle any of our coworkers J. If we do not, we risk drifting so far into bad habits and attitudes, that we no longer recognize them as bad habits and attitudes. This one day observance provides us with the opportunity to form substantive personal and community connections, and to more fully appreciate them.

So, for one day a week, focus your mind and efforts on things that are truly valuable. That which is truly valuable, our God has already given us. If we do not acknowledge these gifts on a regular basis, we will soon take them for granted. We might not realize how blessed we were, until after they are lost.

What has God given us which is of value? Easy one to answer. First, we have been given life. Second, we have been given love. Third, we have been given free will, which permits us to choose the world we want to live in. What better way to acknowledge these gifts than to:

Take an hour or two one day of each week, to gather your family and/or circle of friends together in prayer to your God and to learning and elucidating your scriptures; even adding to them.

  1. Reserve part of the day for doing things in which family, friends, and neighbours can participate. From grandmother to grandson. This could include a few hours of volunteer work – like cleaning up your local park or your street.
  2. It would also be a good idea to invite your neighbours over for tea on a regular basis – does not matter if they are younger or older than you – they are your neighbours. Do this, and in an emergency, your neighbour is not only closest, but also most willing to help.

This is not easy. Friends and neighbours may belong to different faiths, not to mention different generations. Here one must be flexible. There is nothing wrong with establishing new traditions to match your personal circumstances; this is, after all, the way every tradition has its start.

The important thing to recognize is that we must afford sufficient, contiguous time for bonds to form among human souls, in the home, and in the community. You would not bake a cake for a few minutes here, a few minutes there, and expect a quality result. Neither can you expect to form relationships of quality, if you accord your time to family, friends, and community, in a haphazard way. Because of the conflicting demands placed on our time, it is easy to go weeks, even months, without making proper time to connect with families, friends, communities – and our God.

Reserve a day for family and friends, and for prayer. Reserve time to perform community service on a volunteer basis. Cultivate community, inclusiveness, and tolerance.

Family and faith institutions are of their nature suited to the task of community building. These micro-settings are able to provide the social intimacy individuals need to acquire the tools and perspectives that are favourable to building strong communities and lasting personal relationships. We must start with re-institutionalizing the family as the atomic unit of Canadian society. Only the family unit keeps individuals together in a continuum from newborn through old age. [iv]

How might we organize families to facilitate collaboration among them in their communities, and among communities? A Muslim cabbie I once took a ride with explained to me how this could be done: by utilizing the mosques, churches, synagogues, devalayams, and temples – anywhere people regularly gather.

Some might argue that institutions of faith no longer have credibility; this in reaction to the personnel scandals within them and the general failure to modernize God’s Message. But none of the faith institutions ever codified violence, sexual abuse, deception, or greed into their governances and scriptures. Their malfeasances arise out of the waywardness of people employed by these institutions; people who have chosen to act contrary to the dictates of their own faith. It is the people and the leadership of these institutions, not the institutions themselves, that are wholly responsible. The ensuing, ill-advised cover ups, are also due to the choices made by individuals within the institutions – not the institutions themselves.

It is a grievous miscalculation to equate the failures of these individuals with the failure of the institution. Does anyone hold Jesus responsible for the murder of innocent Muslims, Christians, and Jews, simply because these Crusaders proclaimed “In the name of Jesus Christ!” and “God wills it!” as they rode to the slaughter? Remember, Jesus was that guy who, after being ridiculed, maligned, and then crucified, used one of his last breaths to ask his God to forgive the people who not only did these things, but were standing around watching him suffer. Jesus was so imbued with God/the Divine’s Love he was incapable of expressing anger even then.

[i] God is perfect. But ego is not able to understand perfection the way God does. Perfection is change; but ego believes perfection is in stasis. The ego has a natural resistance to change.

[ii] That is why ego is always seeking affirmation from other people. If it has done anything inferior, then it must be inferior, so goes ego’s  thinking. Ego can only see life as a static and binary, rather than evolutionary, with many interceding shades of grey between two poles.

[iii] Hamlet I.v.167-8

[iv] Reinvigorating the family will probably involve some major ‘backward’ shifts: 1 – primary income-earner families.  2 – mom, or dad, not working until children in school fulltime.  3 – children not attending school fulltime until they are 5. Let them be children a little while longer.