Friday, January 21, 2011

The Dalai Lama and L'engle: Reconciling religious pluralism

Chrishall wilderness 3, originally uploaded by davieunited.

"This still leaves unanswered the question of how we should relate to the divergent and contradictory doctrinal teachings of the religions. From the Buddhist point of view, the belief in a transcendent God, with its emphasis on the idea of a first cause that in itself is uncaused, amounts to falling into the extreme of absolutism, a view that is understood to obstruct the attainment of enlightenment. In contrast, from the monotheistic religions' point of view, Buddhism's nonacceptance of God and divine creation amounts to falling into the extreme of nihilism, a view that is dangerously close to an amoral and materialistic view of the world.

"But, on the other hand, from the theistic religions' point of view, if one believes that the entire cosmos, including the sentient beings within it, is a creation of one all-powerful and compassionate God, the inescapable consequence is that the existence of faith traditions other than one's own are also God's creation. To deny this would imply one of two results: either one rejects God's omnipotence — that is to say, that although these other faiths are false ways, God remains incapable of stopping their emergence — or, if one maintains that although God is perfectly capable of preventing the emergence of these 'false' ways, He chooses not to do so, then one rejects God's all-embracing compassion. The latter would imply that, for whatever reasons, God chose to exclude some — in face, millions of His own children — and left them to follow false ways that would lead to their damnation. So the logic of monotheism, especially the standard version that attributes omnipotence, omniscience, and all-embracing compassion to God, inevitably entails recognition that the world's many religious traditions are in one way or another related to God's divine intentions for the ultimate well-being of His children. This means that, as a devout follower of God, one must accord respect, and if possible, reverence to all religions. ... Given the need for upholding the perspective of 'many truths, many religions' in the context of wider society, while the dictates of one's own faith demand embracing the 'one truth, one religion' perspective, I believe that a creative approach is called for here... One might, for instance, make a distinction between faith and respect as two distinct psychological attitudes in relation to the world's religions." ~ Tenzin Gyatso (the fourteenth Dalai Lama)from "The Challenge of Other Religions" in Shambhala Sun.

Having been raised in the American protestant church, I can already guess some of the pat answers with which people might respond to the Dalai Lama.  Pat answers, perhaps, but not easy, for even the easy answers of some Christians are more multi-layered and complex than some care to explore.  To say we cannot understand God's will or that God gave us free will and choices so that we choose the "right way" isn't acknowledging all of the Dalai Lama's dialectic.

For the last seven or more years I have been in a place of searching, questioning how to reconcile all that I DON'T believe and/or agree with in the Christian tradition (especially the American church) and the idea of one truth, one religion, with what I've learned, witnessed and experienced in the broader world.  Questions about translation issues, culture, the original meanings, and the beauty of metaphor reminding me of the differences between what is fact and with is Truth.  Reading as much as I can from different traditions, being open to the truth I gather, knowing that God is LOVE, one of the key points of Christianity I do agree with, and I believe gets buried far too frequently.  Reading and re-reading Madeleine L'engle, my childhood mentor, she reminds me that faith is mystery, and love is wild. And that we've lost a great deal of that mystery and wild love.

"The sects and fundamentalists are growing because they offer black-and-white answers to all the unanswerable questions. ... The damnation of others seems to be a large part of the pleasure of accepting the answers to the unanswerable questions. X and Y cannot be saved unless Z is in hell. ...What I believe is so magnificent, so glorious, that it is beyond finite comprehension. To believe that the universe was created by a purposeful, benign Creator is one thing. To believe that this Creator took on human vesture, accepted death and mortality, was tempted, betrayed, broken, and all for love of us, defies reason. It is so wild that it terrifies some Christians, because a tidy Christianity with all answers given is easier than one which reaches out to the wild wonder of God's love, a love we don't even have to earn."  ~Madeleine L'engle, Penguins & Golden Calves

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