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Posts Tagged ‘interreligious dialogue’

While it might seem easy, discerning saints from sinners can be rather difficult. Hence, we are urged not to judge, lest we, too, be judged. This lesson landed on me when I found my opinion on a seemingly-saintly elderly woman change dramatically.

The elderly Philipino woman whom I met seemed at first to be very pious, having an explicit desire to gain the attribute of holiness. The simplicity of her faith appealed to me. Yet when I made reference to one of her priests being–to put it nicely–more of an administrator than a pastor, she replied that her priest “was Jesus.” I replied that the priests are in the line of the Apostles, rather than instantiating Jesus. I cited apostolic succession, and she relented. Not content to be corrected, she asserted that the Bible is sufficient as a source of historical evidence. I replied that a faith narrative is neither written with the intention of recording historical facts nor of the genre of historical writings that is taken as proffering historical evidence. The woman disagreed, insisting that a faith narrative can be considered as a source of historical facts. I asked her whether she knows or believes the so-called facts. She readily replied that she knows them. “Well,” I observed, “then it would seem that you have no use for faith then.” My unexpected comment stopped her in her tracks. “What do you mean?” she asked. “We have faith in things we don’t know–things we are not certain of, such as whether we will be alive tomorrow,” I replied. “It doesn’t make sense to have faith in something we know because there is not uncertainty about it. So if the Bible gives you facts that you know, that tells me that it is not a matter of faith.” Taken back, she repeated that she knew that the Bible proves that certain historical events took place. “And you can’t be wrong about that?” I asked. “Yes, I can’t be wrong about it.” As if giving the conclusion of a syllogism, I remarked, “Then that means that not only is faith unnecessary for you, but it is based on arrogance–that of presuming that you cannot be wrong.” My pronouncement stunned her into speechlessness. She stood staring at the ground as if unable to move. There was no anger or resentment–just a wall that was blocking her view and not letting her pass.

If Jesus is a door, then a believer opens the door and walks through; one does not keep holding on to a front door once one has entered a house. The elderly woman was stuck holding on to a doornob as if it were attached to a wall. For myself, I was simply stunned that religion could so distort cognition so much and involve denial to the extent that a human being readily admits to not being able to be wrong about something that most of us would say involves belief rather than knowledge. It is as if the domain furtherest from certain knowledge were somehow the most capable of proffering evidence about which a person could not be wrong.

Perhaps this exchange reflects the saying, “Where God builds a church, Satan builds a chapel.” My question is: In preaching against arrogance, was I in the church or chapel?

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In my posts regarding the Bible, some readers have sent me messages  stating that my statements are subjective–very suubjective in fact–while the person’s own biblical views are objective.   Such commentators are assuming that their own views simply reflect what is in the text, and that the Bible is objective fact.   I want to suggest that we tend to enable the cloak of religion to essentially excuse such presumption and utter rudeness–what is in actuality passive aggression.  On the street, were another person to say, “your view is subjective, while mine and that of my favorite book are objective,” one would quite understandably feel insulted and wonder how such presumption could have gone unchecked (presumably the other person is an adult physiologically).   In actuality, it is quite childish behavior.   Even if the person believes his or her favorite religious text to be objective, and therefore superior to any mere opinion, the objectivity is not something that can be proved, for it is itself a matter of opinion.  

For example, when I suggest that the biblical writers or the people written about in the Bible (assuming historical personage here) might have been influenced at times by their vested personal interest in writing or saying something religious (rather than it coming from God), I find it a sort of brain-sickness (to use a Nietzschean term) to suggest that I’m just being subjective and so my view should be dismissed while the person disagreeing with me is representing objectivity.  The sickness is in the extent of the presumption and passive aggression, as well as in the person’s blind-spot concerning it.  The corrective feedback loop is inoperative.  It is perhaps physiological/neurological in origin.  It is a bit like the street person who claims to be Julius Ceasar.   The guy has no clue, and yet presumes to be above everyone else. 

I assume that every human being is subjective, so even if one views his or her favorite book as objective, that claim cannot go beyond that person’s subjectivity.  In other words, we can’t possibly be objective about objective truth (which is not to say that it does not exist).  I also take it as palpably insulting to tell someone that they are subjective while the person himself claims to have an objective source.  As I mention above, it is really a case of passive aggression.  Why there is so much of it in religion, I don’t know.  However, I suspect that the phenomenon of religion has a vulnerablity to it, and may even facilitate that sort of brain sickness–under the rubric of superiority, of course.   Confronting such a sickness with itself assumes a strength that does not exist in such fecklessness.   In my subjective opinion, the only reaction I can recommend is to treat it as an attack and walk away (i.e., state your decision not to continue, based on the insult–calling it what it is).   Trying to get the other person to confront their sickness is like trying to get an active alcoholic to confront his or her disease.  Both, I submit, are mind diseases.  Both defend themselves by the presumption that they can’t be wrong about themselves and others.   In dealing with such illnesses, dialogue is impossible.  Typically anyway, the person presuming to be objective will view the notification of the insult as the insult and will find it convenient to walk away rather than to confront the possibility of what may lie within himself.

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I submit that perspective is half the battle. Those of us trading comments on this blog are  similar  in the sense that we are sufficiently interested to comment in ethical or religious matters.  We are perhaps of the more sensitive sort, being oriented behind the lining of an existence that others take at face value and simply live out.  So when I’m reading a comment here, I don’t really stop to ask..is this person Catholic? The differences between our vantage-points within this domain are dwarfed by how different we are from those people who are primarily interested in what the stock market is doing today or who is playing tomorrow. Too often in religious discussions, we lose sight of this distance and overstate the extent of our own differences. That there isn’t more fellow-feeling simply a grace de our shared interest in the domain suggests to me that we might be taking the obvious for granted. A shared recognition of our domain-interest could act as a check on the overstating of differences that is unfortunately typical in interreligious dialogue. 

Just as a spiritual pursuit involves assuming a perspective that includes transcending our realm, interreligious dialogue has as its perspective the distance existing between the table and the stock-ticker or sports stadium.   Concentrating on maintaining such a perspective can draw on the same sort of concentration that one uses to transcend the world in entering into a religious experience.   I don’t think, however, that the religious perspective of transcendence of this realm is suffiicent for interreligious dialogue.  Hence, I add here an inter-domain perspective wherein all participants at the table are essentially one point in being sufficiently interested in religion as distinct from other competing domains such as government, business, hollywood and sports.  Viewing the chasm existing between these domains and religion,  one’s perspective changes regarding the other people sitting at the table of interreligious dialogue.  Suddenly nuanced differences in cognitive beliefs or rites become less important as we gain a sense of being on the same planet of religiosity. 

Gaining and achieving perspective is at least half the battle.  One could call this: having a sense of what really matters rather than trying to get everything one wants.  Too often, religious discussion is simply an exchange of veiled self-centeredness.  So humility is perhaps the rest of the battle.

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In reading several replies to my posts on religion, I have been very impressed with the quality of the thought expressed, even where I find myself completely disagreeing with the view being expressed.   I am far more taken that the persons would put such thought and effort into their replies than I am distressed by the disagreements.  The unity, in other words, is in the good-faith effort and mutual desire not to get sidetracked into a shouting match.  Such unity does not require uniformity of belief.   Wouldn’t it be ironic if unity requires disagreement?   The latter need not rule the day.   This is not to say that differences will be resolved.  In deciding to reply not just to what I agree with, I have been assuming that the differences are real. Were I to paper over them for fear of precipitating a fight, I would be left with tissue paper discussions that feel good but are ultimately not fulfilling.   So, in replying to a comment,  I mention both where I agree and disagree, but orient myself to the good-faith effort and excellent thought that is palpable in the comment.   I am more overawed by the effort and thought involved than detracted by the disagreements.  As human beings, each of us with our own minds, how could we ever expect the absence of disagreement; surely unity does not depend on uniformity of opinion.

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