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Consciousness

The following article is excerpted from the forthcoming book by James L. Foster, Holonic Humanity: How God Makes Us Holy, due to be released in 2018.  It is a sequel to his earlier work, Holy Humanity:  We Are All Made of God Stuff, published in 2013.  The latter book, Holy Humanity, is reviewed in the January 2016 issue of Awareness magazine.

 

Consciousness

Such reality as we are capable of perceiving--that of which we are conscious--is affected by the very fact of our consciousness of it.  This phenomena is well documented by physicists wrestling with the problem of studying sub-atomic particles.  In their observation of these particles they have found that the very act of observing them alters their behavior.  There are even some quantum physicists who have concluded that matter could not exist without the consciousness of human beings. Quantum physicist Fred Alan Wolf has observed that "what we call 'consciousness' consists of waves of information that move from spirit into matter and then back again into spirit.  This flow of waves took place beyond time, in the sense that the whole action of that movement was instantaneous" (Wolf, The Eagle's Quest, p. 43). Therefore, consciousness is bound neither by time nor space Through it we may gain entree to both eternity and infinity.  This is also borne out by cosmologists on the macro  or cosmic level in what is described as the participatory universe.  In this participatory universe the cosmos creates us as physical beings, and then we create the cosmos.  The Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-77 CE) called this causa sui, cause of itself, a self-sustaining causal loop.  Spinoza reasoned "that all reality consists of a single infinite substance which he called Deus sive Natura, God or NatureSince the Creator is revealed in the Creation, the Creation itself must be divine.  Thus, humanity must also partake of all the qualities of divinity.  As such, we, who have always been and always will be, are manifestations of the  Creator who likewise has always been and always will be.  Together, we represent the whole of Spirit. Individually we are a part of Her, but since we individually participate in a holonic evolutionary process in which the part contains the whole, we also paradoxically contain individually the whole of the Creative Divine Spirit.  On this latter point, the Apostle Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians, prays that "you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:19, TNIV, italics mine.)   Fred Alan Wolf (referenced above) opined that "the breath of God was the movement of consciousness..."

We are eternal beings who both collectively and individually evidence our divinity by our continuing work of creation.  It is this cosmic consciousness which enables our creative interaction with the cosmos on both the earthly and astral planes.  It is also this cosmic consciousness of our oneness with the Ground of all Being which is recognized universally by virtually all the great mystical religious traditions of the world.  In this entire process can be seen the holonic evolutionary development of the human species from consciousness to self-consciousness to universal or cosmic consciousness.  Historian and theologian Karen Armstrong traces this development through our evolutionary history in her book, The Great Transformation:  The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (see bibliography). As a species we can trace this expanding consciousness over many millennia to this present day in which we can still see the expansion into what may be our final stage, universal cosmic consciousness.  Thus, our transition to universal consciousness demonstrates that the process continues.  We are still evolving!  quo vadis? Whither goest thou?  Where indeed?  Where are we headed?  Where is our consciousness taking us?  I am reminded of the Apostle Paul's observation in his loose translation of Isaiah 64:4:

"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, 

what God has prepared for those who love him'--these

things God has revealed to us through the Spirit;

for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God."(I Corinthians 2:9-10, NRSV)                                   

The Hebrew cosmogony in the first book of the Torah, Genesis, describes  the Creator as speaking or naming the cosmos into existence:  "God said 'Let there be light'; and there was light...God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night." (Genesis 1:2-5, NRSV) The Spirit continues this creative process, calling or naming into being the earth, the seas, the stars, the moon and the sun, plants, living creatures and humankind, the latter being made in Her image.  We were then given the responsibility of continuing the creative process.  As such we are self-replicating Creators who have the power to consciously continue naming the cosmos into being.  Indeed, there are no limits to our creative consciousness other than those we impose on ourselves by our disbelief.  What we experience as the cosmos today is the result of humanity's own creative consciousness through the centuries.  It is a process that not only continues today but is accelerating exponentially as our consciousness expands holonically.

Deepak Chopra discerns three levels of consciousness:  1) consciousness of physical objects, 2) consciousness of subtle objects and powers, and 3) consciousness filled with nothing but itself--pure consciousness.  The first of these is that of which virtually all of us are aware--physical objects (though we may not be aware of their true nature).  The second, subtle objects and powers, though common, are less likely to be recognized for what they are by virtue of the fact that they and their sources are often hidden.  (It is this author's hope that this entire discussion of "subtle energies" may make my readers more aware of these provisions of their own divine natures.) The third, pure consciousness, is ubiquitous particularly in the astral realm, but on this earthly plane it has been experienced primarily by mystics of the great religious traditions.  These often have difficulty expressing what they have experienced because of the inadequacy of their language and the disbelief of their hearers.

Pure consciousness, as a planetary attribute, is also conscious of us.  Earth, as a conscious entity, is what the earth scientists call Gaia.  It is a term of Greek origin referring to the Earth Goddess.  Planetary biologist James Lovelock, cultural historian William Irwin Thompson,  Christian theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, physicist Freeman Dyson, psychiatrist Richard Maurice Bucke, mathematician Ralph Abraham, philosopher Elisabet Sahtouris, and many others represent a broad consensus of scientists and philosophers and theologians who have concluded that the earth is a living, conscious entity and even "an immanent divinity."   That the earth is a living, conscious system is also an ancient realization, particularly evidenced in the shamanistic traditions of tribal cultures world-wide.   According to these traditions, there is no separation of living entities from each other and no separation from the earth.  The holonic principle dictates that we as constituent parts of the planet-- our physical beings made of the same elements as the planet--are therefore parts that contain that whole.  As such, our consciousness is derived from the planetary consciousness--and is, likely, the primary manifestation of  that consciousness.

Human consciousness is the medium of  our creative capability.  Just as God, the Great "I Am", created by calling the various aspects of Creation into being, we human beings are "the Great We Are"  continuing  to call the Creation by name, thus making it conscious of itself.  As divine beings ourselves we are with the earth the consciousness of Creation.  There is no other Divine agency of Creation.  That much of the process is unconscious makes no difference.  That we may be ignorant of who we are does not change who we are.  Our consciousness, sublimated and subtle or not, gives us the power to create. 

This is also the conclusion of Professor John Wheeler of Princeton University (and a colleague of Albert Einstein).  Wheeler  described what he has termed the "participatory universe."  He concluded that "we could not even imagine a universe that did not somewhere and for some stretch of time contain observers because the very building materials of the universe are these acts of observer-participancy." (quoted by Gregg Braden in The Divine Matrix, p.39.)  This is  one place where science and religion are finding common ground.  Braden later  observes that "In the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, it's believed that reality can exist only where our mind creates a focus.  In fact, the wisdom suggests that both the world of pure form and that of the formless result from a mode of consciousness called 'subjective imagination.'"  (ibid., p. 80, italics mine) 

Likewise in the Christian teaching of the Apostle Paul, creation and humanity is described as being in an intimate and dependent observer-participant relationship:  "All around us we observe a pregnant creation.  The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs."  (translation of Romans 8:22 by  Eugene H. Peterson, The Message:  The Bible in Contemporary Language, p. 2045)  The children of God, all of humanity, has the assigned responsibility of completing the creative work of God--the birthing of God's creation!

Our consciousness is not synonymous with the brain.  We continue to be conscious even when our physical brain flatlines.  This means that our consciousness originates elsewhere.  One theory put forth by English biologist Rupert Sheldrake is that we consciously or unconsciously tap into a "mind field" (also referred to as "the zero point field) --a sort of invisible parallel universe through which we access everything we know. In this scenario our brain serves only as the receptor of data from the mind field. (see Sheldrake, The Presence of the Past, pp. 210-215)    Another proposal is physicist David Bohm's  suggestion that the universe is all “thought” and that reality consists only of what we think.  In this scenario, we would presumably continue to receive input however we are receiving it now. (Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, pp. 56-62)   On this side of death all we can be reasonably sure of is that consciousness continues on the far side of death whether or not we have a functioning brain.

Deepak Chopra has observed that "to create in consciousness is our greatest gift, and what we create continues to evolve.  If you open yourself without judgment to your role as a creator, you gain much more freedom.  Genesis does not have to be a far-off event that put the universe into play.  It can be a constant event that renews itself at every moment." (Chopra, Life After Death, p. 158)  We already have the power to consciously create and destroy.  It is the power to choose life or death.  The biblical author of Deuteronomy counsels:  "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live." (30:19, NRSV)  Human consciousness goes beyond the limits of space/time.  As divine beings it is our consciousness, and subsequent naming all that we have conceived as manifestations of the Divine, that makes us  co-creators of the whole evolutionary process, leading to DNA and physical life on earth.  Holonic evolution is the original dominating force of nature.  Evolutionary growth, once it began, continues to this day and will never end.  It is also as observer-participants, conscious of this process, that we propel the process forward.   Creating does not require a gift of some special talent.  All it requires is that we pay attention, observe what is going on, and care about what we see.  Our gift to the creation is the gift of attention.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, reflected on the accelerating expansion of the universe and Albert Einstein's cosmological constant (which Einstein dubbed lambda).   According to Tyson, Einstein knew that lambda, as a negative gravity force of nature,  had no known counterpart in the physical universe.  "Lambda's sole job was to oppose gravity within Einstein's model, keeping the universe in balance, resisting the natural tendency for gravity to pull the whole universe into one giant mass.  In this way, Einstein invented a universe that neither expands nor contracts...."  ( Tyson,  Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, pp.99-100)  When data from the Hubble telescope confirmed that the universe is, indeed, expanding and that lambda is real and not just the product of Einstein's imagination,  "Lambda suddenly acquired a physical reality that needed a name,  and so 'dark energy' took center stage in the cosmic drama, suitably capturing both the mystery and our associated ignorance of its cause." (ibid, p.106)

Tyson continues:  "A remarkable feature of lambda and the accelerating universe is that the repulsive force arises from within the vacuum, not from anything material.  (ibid, pp. 112-113, italics mine).

So what do we know that is both real and not material?  My answer to this is consciousness--specifically human consciousness,  a consciousness already known to be capable of affecting matter at the microscopic particle level.  It does not take a great leap of faith to believe that human consciousness can also effect change on the macroscopic level.  Surely this feat (of slowing down the expansion of the multiverse) is not beyond the reach of the original Creator of the multiverse!  And since human beings are the incarnations of this Creator, we who are Her hands and feet and mind continuing Her creative endeavors through our human consciousness, it may be amazing but not unreasonable to believe, that our consciousness is the elusive "dark energy," the lambda, the cosmological constant that we seek.

None of what I have written about consciousness above qualifies as a definition of consciousness.  If it is not the brain per se, then what is it?  This question has stumped the minds of philosophers and scientists for centuries.  I am going to risk here endorsing the definition offered by Fritz-Albert Popp, a theoretical biophysicist at the University of Marburg in Germany in the 1970's.  He observed that in "quantum physics, quantum coherence means that subatomic particles are able to cooperate.  These subatomic waves or particles not only know about each other, but also are highly interlinked by bands of common electromagnetic fields, so that they can communicate together. ...The end result is also a bit like a large orchestra.  All the photons [light particles] are playing together but as individual instruments that are able to carry on playing individual parts.  Nevertheless, when you are listening [paying attention] it's difficult to pick out any one instrument [photon]." (McTaggart, The Field, page 43.)

The whole of creation is the orchestra and all of Creation consists of photons and nothing but photons. And we humans, who are ourselves conductors in the orchestra of Creation, also consist of photons--infinitesimal packets of light energy. Fritz-Albert Popp concluded that "Consciousness was a global phenomenon that occurred everywhere in the body, and not simply in our brains. Consciousness, at its most basic, was coherent light." (reported by McTaggart in The Field, p.94; See also my discussion of our identity as beings of light in Holy Humanity, pp. 115-117.)   Quantum coherence, photons able to cooperate, coherent light, beings of light giving attention to  Creation, conscious conductors of the orchestra of Creation.  How much more evidence do we need to demonstrate that we human beings are the consciousness of the Cosmos, the coherent light whose attention brings coherence to the entire Creation?

We are the consciousness of Creation.  All that we perceive on this cosmic plane--the world and all its creatures, the trees and flowers, stars, planets and galaxies--everything of which we are conscious--has being through our consciousness.  It is through continuing divine/human and planetary consciousness that the cosmos has awareness of itself. Because we are divine beings manifesting the Creator herself, we collectively and individually also reveal the eternal and infinite dimensions of the Divine.  As eternal beings we were observers and witnesses of the beginning of the cosmos and have continued observing and facilitating its evolution to this day.   We had no beginning and we will have no end.  As both eternal and infinite divine beings we have also been observers (and, thus, creators) of an infinite number of other worlds and parallel universes with infinite variations that were formed in consciousness. Therefore, consciousness, too, is both eternal and infinite, as is its primary manifestation--unconditional, everlasting, and infinite divine Love.   Agápé is the Greek term for this Love, coined over two millennia ago.

Goodbye Old World, Hello New

Goodbye Old World, Hello New

by James L. Foster 

There are four revolutionary movements currently underway, any one of which has the potential for changing the world as we have known it. All four happening simultaneously virtually guarantees that a new world order will be born in the lifetime of most of the readers of this article.  What I am talking about here is not technological (though communications technology may well be an enabler of the revolutions) and it is not political (though politics will certainly be greatly impacted.)  No, what is happening is much more basic, addressing the world views and the deep issues of faith and reason held by most of the human inhabitants of this planet.  What is happening is a fundamental mind change.

1.  The first revolution is within the Christian Church.  Because Christianity comprises such a large number of people throughout the world, a major shift in its understanding of itself in relation to other major faiths will have significant effects on every other religion.  These changes have to do with insights into the very roots of its origin in the 1st and 2nd centuries of the Common Era.  Because of the work of numerous Christian and Jewish scholars on the comparatively recent availability of both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hamadi texts, Christianity is wrestling with significant challenges to its exclusivist teachings and the identity of it founder, Jesus of Nazareth.  It turns out that these texts, originally suppressed by the Church Fathers, seriously undercut Christianity’s exclusivist claims of superiority and historicity.

One immediate effect of the deciphering of these ancient texts is the discovery that we have new grounds for relationship with other religions, since major Christian doctrines that have purportedly been inspired by God to the exclusion of all other religious doctrines, may have origins that are far more human than divine.  For the centuries-old barriers between religions to come tumbling down, has a potential for peaceful relationships—even appreciative relationships—that has never before existed on such a massive scale.  One significant example of how these non-biblical writings are changing our understanding of the Christian faith has to do with the identity of Jesus Christ—born of a virgin? No; Killed for our redemption? No; Son of God? No, unless we are prepared to accept that we all, like him, are sons and daughters of God; Non-political and sinless?  Hardly.  Exemplary, yes, but as human and divine as the rest of us.

Another major example of this change is in the discrediting of the historical doctrine of the Trinity (one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  This doctrine alone has been an impediment to interfaith relationships in as much as the Christian Church has characteristically taught anyone who thinks otherwise is destined for eternal separation from God—or, in a word, Hell.  As it turns out, contemporary historical research shows that it was not until 325 AD that this decision was made by a Church council that was badly divided.  Its conclusions were made not on the basis of reasoned theological debate but rather on the basis of political power and brute, sometimes lethal, force.

With these kinds of changes in the teaching of the Christian Church will come the opportunity for genuine dialog, particularly with Islam and Judaism.  If these three major religious faiths can come to the place of mutual respect and appreciation, the world we live in will be all the better for it.  Let the new dialog begin!

2. Nonviolent atonement is yet another challenge to a cherished doctrine of the Christian Church, this time on the basis of biblical exegesis.  Challenged are two theories of the atonement (the saving work of Jesus Christ by atoning for our sin), the Penal Substitution Theory authored by St. Augustine (4th and 5th centuries) and the Satisfaction Theory (authored by Anselm in the 12th century).  These theories have been bedrock theology in the Christian Church.

The first, Augustine, says the sin offended God’s honor and caused inconceivable debt and that the debt must be satisfied or punished to satisfy God’s honor.  Since the payment of the debt is so far beyond what humans could do, only God could pay it.  There fore Christ (who must be God) paid the debt by his death on the cross.

The second, Anselm, speaks of retributive justice.  God has to “get even.”  Sin incurred a debt and has to be punished (payback).  Therefore, since humans cannot possibly pay the debt, God punishes Jesus instead.

Both of these theories make of God a vengeful, violent ruler and compromise Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness.  If sin is paid for (i.e. the debt is paid and the account is balanced) there is nothing to forgive.  If God is truly forgiving, it means the debt is written off and there is no need for either repayment or punishment.

 Nonviolent atonement says that God is neither vengeful nor violent (the violence attributed to God, especially in the Jewish Scriptures, notwithstanding).  Therefore God cannot be blamed for Jesus’ death.  Jesus suffered the fate of many of his contemporaries—death at the hands of the Roman occupiers, with the probable collusion of Jewish antagonists.  It was man’s violence, not God’s that killed Jesus.

This distinction is important because it deprives us humans of a major rationale for engaging in violence, i.e., “God, our Father, did it, therefore, so can we.”  If, as God’s children, we wish to emulate God’s relationship to us in our relationship with others, we can no longer justify violence. 

3. Nonviolent communication is a discipline taught by Marshall Rosenberg.  Though many of the principles he teaches have been taught before by the likes of Jesus and Gandhi, Marshall is a gifted in formulating a clear and doable way to put the principles into practice.  Nonviolence is broken down into many tiny and tangible steps, that when learned and put into practice can transform formerly confrontive and hostile relationships--whether these relationships are between individuals, groups, or nations—and whether or not both sides practice it.  These nonviolent “techniques” can be practiced, as it were, unilaterally by anybody, anywhere, in any circumstance.

Marshall’s books and seminars are proliferating as others take up the work of spreading his teaching.  What was originally one man’s crusade, is becoming a movement which will grow exponentially as others both practice and teach the disciplines he has so neatly packaged. 

4. A fourth movement gaining momentum in our day is the result of the writings of the French philosopher Rene’ Girard.  Rene’s writings have the effect of holding up a mirror in which we see ourselves for who we really are.  The starting point for Girard’s theory is “acquisitive mimesis”.  Girard proposes that much of human behavior is based on “mimesis”, an all-encompassing expression of imitation, but focuses on acquisition and appropriation as the object of mimesis, contrary to most of the extant literature on imitative behavior (Girard 1979, 9). Girard describes a situation where two individuals desire the same object; as they both attempt to obtain this object, their behavior becomes conflictual, since there is only one object, but two people.  “Violence is generated by this process; or rather, violence is the process itself when two or more partners try to prevent one another from appropriating the object they all desire through physical or other means” (Girard 1979, 9).  In his mimetic theory, Rene’ argues that imitation is an “ability that is fundamentally linked to characteristically human forms of intelligence, in particular to language, culture, and the ability to understand other minds. This burgeoning body of work has important implications for our understanding of ourselves, both individually and socially. Imitation is not just an important factor in human development, it also has a pervasive influence throughout adulthood in ways we are just beginning to understand.” – (Susan Hurley & Nick Chater)

A related area of Rene’s A thought is scapegoating.  “This scapegoat is, according to Girard, an arbitrary victim: For Girard, there are several conditions for the choosing of the scapegoat.  First, the scapegoat is, by definition, an arbitrary victim, at least to the degree that the victim has, in reality, no direct bearing on the problems that are causing the community disturbance.  However, the victim is not arbitrary to the extent that most scapegoats tend to have similar cultural traits that allow Girard to classify them as a group.  Normally they are an outsider, but on the border of the community, not fully alien to the community.  This victim belongs to the community, but has traits that separate him/her from the community.  Several common victims are elucidated by Shea, summarizing Girard's list in The Scapegoat (1986): children, old people, those with physical abnormalities, women, members of ethnic or racial minorities, the poor, and '`those whose natural endowments (beauty, intelligence, charm) or status (wealth, position) mark them as exceptional" (Wallace 1994, 253). 

Paradoxically, this victim is often deified.  Not only was the victim the cause of the violence, but, since this victim was sacrificed, s/he also becomes the salvation of the community, since sacrificing the victim becomes the method of ending the violence.  So the victim is surrogate because s/he was sacrificed instead of the entire community being sacrificed. 

Once this process is established, it becomes mythologized.  The immediate memory reconfiguration becomes woven into the oral history of the people.  This figure that was sacrificed was the deity who saved the community from destruction.  Since the pattern started with the cessation of violence by the original human sacrifice, the continuation of that pattern is understandable.  But as culture progressed, and specifically with the introduction of the Jewish religion into the world's culture, symbols--animal sacrifices and sacred rituals--were used in place of human sacrifices.  Thus Girard claims the origin of religion is rooted in violence. (Jeramy Townsley)

If any of this sounds familiar, we have only to look at our own religion and consider its origin.  And if it makes us uncomfortable, it may be that when we look in this mirror, we do not like what we see. (For more on this, see the review of the book by Suzanne Ross.

Conclusion

Each of these revolutionary movements, as I have called them, qualifies for such a designation.  According to Webster a movement is “a) a series of organized activities by people working concertedly toward some goal” and “b) the organization consisting of those active in this way.”

The first of the above listed revolutionary movements is represented by several organizations, the most notable of which would be the Jesus Seminar that includes such notable members as theologians John Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk and Marcus Borg.  Institutes for Christian Spirituality, the publisher of this journal, En Christo: A Journal for a New Christianity is another such organization.  The number of books that are being written to address the multiple changes that are already taking place continue to proliferate.  Change is hard, particularly when it is in areas in which we have a lifetime investment, but it is also necessary if we are to mature in our faith and vision of what God is doing in the world.  Teilhard de Chardin’s vision of the future of humankind was of a final stage of development during which we would mature spiritually to our fullest potential.  I have always hoped that he was right and that I may be one of the fortunate members of our species to participate in that process.  I dare to hope that the dramatic changes happening now in Christianity are an indication that it is so.

The second movement listed above, nonviolent atonement, is smaller but is quickly gaining momentum.  It, too, has just initiated in May of 2008 the formation of an organization called Theology and Peace to promote research and publications supporting fresh biblical understandings of the nonviolent, compassionate Father of us all.  Michael Hardin of Preaching Peace along with Catholic theologian Anthony Bartlett, Mennonite theologian Sharon Baker and approximately 40 other biblical scholars are among the charter members of the organization.

Marshall Rosenberg’s organization, Center for Nonviolent Communication, though new, is already spawning others devoted to spreading his program for teaching nonviolent communication in a wide variety of secular and religious contexts around the world.  It is already providing resources for the rapid dissemination of the principles he espouses.

Finally, the movement built on the teachings of Rene’ Girard, has fostered Colloquium on Violence & Religion (COV&R), a well-established organization with a world-wide constituency.  Other organizations, too, are involved in promoting Rene’s teachings on violence and religion, notably Preaching Peace, founded by Michael and Lori Hardin; The Raven Foundation, founded by Suzanne Ross, author of The Wicked Truth: When Good People Do Bad Things; and Institutes for Christian Spirituality.

How long will it take for these and other initiatives I have not covered to have a visible impact on our world?  My guess is years, not decades.  The impact is already considerable, but the world is a big place.   We will know that it is happening when these concepts become the fodder for conversations of the people in the pews.  The internet is providing the means for rapid dissemination of information, a phenomenon which Teilhard did not envision but would confirm his anticipation that each phase of human development would be significantly shorter than the one before.  God willing, this journal will have at least a small part in bringing about the revolution.

What We Will Discover When We Die

The following article is excerpted from the forthcoming book by James L. Foster, Holonic Humanity: How God Makes Us Holy, due to be released in 2017.  It is a sequel to his earlier work, Holy Humanity:  We Are All Made of God Stuff, published in 2013.  The latter book, Holy Humanity, is reviewed in the January 2016 issue of Awareness magazine.

 

What We Will Discover When We Die

(if we have not made the discoveries  beforehand)

 

Deepak Chopra has listed seven events which take place at the  moment we cross over to eternal life at the dawning of our new life  beginning at our physical death:

 

1.   The physical stops functioning.  The dying person may not be aware of this but eventually knows that it has occurred.   

2.  The physical world retires.  This can happen by degrees; there can be a sense of floating upward or looking down on familiar places as they recede.

3.  The dying person feels lighter, suddenly freed of limitation.

4.   The mind and sometimes the senses continue to operate.  Gradually, however, what is perceived becomes non-physical.

5.  A presence grows that is felt to be divine.  The presence can be clothed in a light or in the body of angels or gods.  It can communicate to the dying person.

6.  Personality and memory begin to fade, but the sense of "I" remains.

7.  This "I" has an overwhelming sense of moving on to another phase of existence."  (Chopra,  Life After Death: The Burden of Proof, 2006)

 

Others, especially those who have reported on their own near death experiences (NDEs) have characterized their experience somewhat differently, perhaps reflecting their acculturated expectations of the death experience.   These often included the inadequacy of language to describe the experience, feelings of warmth and peace and stillness, a perceptible rise in our personal vibration level, the experience of love as a vibration, the sensation of being out of our bodies, meeting other persons--known and unknown--who had died earlier,  meeting beings of light, a non-verbal and non-judgmental life review, entering a tunnel and moving effortlessly toward a bright light, disappointment at having to return to our former life, and an all-together new appreciation of death--almost a longing for it and a total lack of fear of it.  In our physical life our vibrational level was very slow and dense but we will feel our vibration level rise precipitously as we make the transition to pure Spirit.

 

Our afterlife is created by our own consciousness, but this does not mean that what we have created is not real.  It means that as divine beings we are quite capable of creating our own reality. We quite regularly do so, even in this earthbound life.

 

The following conclusions have come from a combination of insights I have received through (1) the first hand reports of those who have had near death experiences--particularly those recorded by Raymond A Moody, Jr., Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, George Ritchie and Ian Stevenson,  (2) my study of various religious traditions (primarily Christian, Hindu and Buddhist and shamanic mystical teachings--particularly the Christian mystics, including Jesus and Paul; the Tibetan Buddhist Book of the Dead; and the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita), (3) the writings of Plato (428 BCE), particularly in Phaedo and The Republic, (4) my reading of current discoveries from the sciences of quantum physics and cosmology, (5) the many intuitive insights I have received in the process of writing Holy Humanity:  We Are All Made of God Stuff and in this current writing on holonic humanity, and (6) current intuitions born of my contemplation of the meanings of "infinity" and "eternity" and "Spirit."  You, the reader, will probably have already discerned some of  the following affirmations.  If there are a number here that are new to you, don't worry about it.  Nobody is keeping score.

 

 

When we die...

 

 1.  We will discover that death as an end to life is a fiction and that death is, instead, a transition from our current life to an incomparably greater life.  This realization will be immediate and seamless.

 

2.  We will discover that our true essence is Spirit.  We are not the bodies we thought we were.  Our true identity, even throughout our earthly life, was and is, spiritual.

 

3.  We will discover that as our physical sensations recede our subtle spiritual sensations expand, eventually replacing the physical altogether.  Money, sex, power, sickness, sin--all these end. Our spiritual bodies will be ageless and free of sickness and all other limitations.  We will experience again, as if for the first time, pure consciousness.

 

4.  We will discover that there are some things we can take with us through death's portal--things we have learned during our earthly sojourn--our memories (contrary to #6 in Chopra's list above), and knowledge we have acquired, and understandings and experiences upon which we can continue to build in future sojourns.  We also take our consciousness of both our past and present.

 

5.  We will discover that Love can and does survive death.  Those we have loved in our earthly life we will still Love--even more and better than before.

 

6.  We will discover that connections made  during our life on earth continue into eternity.  This is particularly the case with those who we know to be our soul mates.  With them we have a bond that cannot be broken throughout eternity.

 

7. We will discover that we are reunited with loved ones who preceded us in death.  Our "homecoming"  will be the occasion for  celebration by those loved ones, family and friends, who have been awaiting our return.

 

8. We will discover that death is not painful. It is our somatic existence that was painful.  This we will realize immediately as we pass from sometimes excruciating pain to complete freedom from pain.

 

9.  We will discover that we are one with our Source, that we have never in fact been separated from our Source, and that our  only "sin" had been in believing we were separate when, in reality, we were not.  This, too, will be an immediate realization.

 

 

10.  We will discover that we really are One with the Many, that our perceived separation from others in this present life was an illusion.  If we had had this perception earlier, it would have significantly accelerated our holonic journey. 

 

11.  We will discover that to have been human was to be beautiful, even elegant and exotic.  Even in spite of our failures and mistakes, we were an incredible species.   We will come to see this because we will be seeing the essence of ourselves and all others, a startlingly beautiful essence in stark contrast to what we may have perceived in our earthly sojourn.

 

12.  We will also discover that the whole of Creation is stunningly beautiful and that we had not previously succeeded in destroying it.

 

13.  We will discover that our identity is spirit and we no longer identify with body, mind, or ego.   Each of these were limitations we no longer have.

 

14.  We will discover that the Cosmos was our planetary home, yet infinite;  full of life, and utterly the pregnant, nourishing and living dwelling of the gods.

 

15.  We will discover that we are not inherently evil,  that soul (that which is of God in us) is not evil.  Jesus came to show us who we are already (as did other prophets and avatars), not to save us from eternal punishment.

 

16.  We will, therefore, discover that we have no need to be "saved," not by Jesus or anybody else, that in all eternity we were never lost.  As eternal beings we were made to self-correct.  Jesus did not die for "anybody's real or imagined sins," as Christian theologian Roberta Bondi so succinctly put it.  And it was Bishop John Shelby Spong's conviction that "Humanity is not alone [as we once thought],...separated from God and thus in need of rescue." (Spong, Eternal Life..., p. 207)

 

17.  We will discover that Life in the astral realm is not just a time to do nothing, but rather a timeless experience of continuing holonic evolution.  We will be building on the things we learned in our  earthly sojourn.

 

18.  We will discover that we are enveloped in pure Light, that we have become one with the Light, and  Light Givers  ourselves.

 

19.  We will discover that our doubts and confusion have vanished, that what had been struggles on the earthly plane no longer exist.

 

20.  We will discover that the ability to choose did not end with our earthly passing, but is instead vastly expanded.

 

21. We will discover that the Big Bang, the beginning of our cosmos, the cosmos of which we were and still are caretakers, is but one of an infinity of Big Bangs distributing Life, Love, and Light through an infinity of universes.

 

22.  We will discover that creating is an endless process in which we are key participants as co-creators with our Source, that we as eternal Beings have indeed participated in the creation of an infinity of universes, including our own cosmos.

 

23.  We will discover that we are both within the interstellar void we helped create and that, at the other end of the size spectrum, the void is within us, in as much as infinity includes the infinitely small as well as the infinitely vast.  Infinity goes in every direction.

 

24.  We will discover that God is not just "out there" somewhere in the vast reaches of space, but is also "in here," in me, in you, in us.

 

25. We will discover that the whole of Creation, even our consciousness of it, and we ourselves, are made of Light, that God is Light, and that God is all there is--that God is Being itself, not a being.  (See my book, Holy Humanity, chapter 8, "The Omega Point", pp. 171-181)

 

26.  We will discover that the whole of the universe is imaged by Spirit, including all gods, all demons and angels and heavenly hosts, and that we, ourselves, are Spirit.

 

27.  We will discover (with the Persian poet, Rumi) that "death is our wedding with eternity" and is therefore an occasion for rejoicing.

 

28.  We will discover that death replaces time with timelessness, that eternity is not just a long, long time, but is the absence of time altogether.

 

29.  We will discover that such identity as we do have in the astral realm is non-local, meaning that we have not just expanded boundaries, but that there are no boundaries, that as spirit we may be in more than one place simultaneously.  Neither time nor space will have relevance in eternity and infinity.  The eternal "now" means that past, present, and future are all now.

 

30. We will discover that death fulfills our most audacious dreams.  If, for example, we have dreamed of travel, we will find that we can travel instantly, anywhere we choose, both within this universe, and beyond.

 

31.  We will discover that only our physical bodies were made of stardust--not our Spirit.  Our spiritual essence has always been.  We, along with all other divine beings, are uncreated, that there was never a time in which we were not.

 

32.  We will discover that our memories, both short and long term, are not contained in our physical brain.  We still have them, and that without our former physical brain.  They are, along with our memories of other lives, stored in an immense data field such as that postulated by Rupert Sheldrake as a "Mind Field" or the Zero Point Field thought by Albert Einstein to be the only reality.

 

33.  We will discover that Love is an emanation of Light and that as divine Lovers we spiritually embody  the Light, Power, and the Love of God.

 

34.  We will discover that there is no death in any final sense.  What we call death is just a transition to an old, but ever new beautiful and fuller life, in which we will continue to evolve into the fullness of God.

 

35.  We will re-discover that we are a part of God, that we have never been separated from God in the past and will never be separated from God in eternity.

 

36.  We will discover that many of the things we valued in this life--comfort, money, sex, privilege, material things--are gone but that the really important things--unconditional love, life, compassion, memories, knowledge, the capability to continue learning, loving relationships, and meaningful goals--these things remain

 

37.  We will discover that there is no Hell, at least no more than we had created for ourselves on earth.  In this latter sense we may have undergone a multitude of heavens and hells in many incarnations.

 

38. We will discover that the primary difference between the heavenly plane and the earthly plane is a matter of consciousness.  It is our consciousness in each that determines our perceived reality in each respective plane.

 

39.  We will discover that our physical body on the material plane was like clothing for the soul.  It gave us a planetary identity which is not needed in the heavenly realm.

 

40.  We will discover that the subtle energies we experienced on earth are no longer subtle, but are rather an acknowledged and trusted aspect of eternal life.  We will have immediate access to the entire spectrum of subtle energies.  These will replace whatever physical senses we lose at death.

 

41.  We will discover that our evolution continues, driven by our choices.  We can go wherever our desires take us and do whatever we wish to do.

 

42.  We will discover that as free spirits we can roam both the astral and the earthly planes.  We can roam  the cosmos, visit the places we were unable to visit in our earthly incarnation,  even return to our earthly home if we so desire, though this latter may be a bitter-sweet experience, as our presence will likely go unnoticed.   But as spirit beings we can be everywhere at once, should we so choose.

 

43.  We will discover that there is no retrogression in the spiritual realm--only holonic growth as we accumulate the skills and develop the will to be the bearers of unconditional agápé  Love. (See pp.16-23 above for the definition of holonic.)

 

44.  We will discover that if we eventually choose to re-incarnate, we will return to the earthly plane more highly evolved than when we last left it and it will likely be to a life of service to those who continue to struggle.  It may also be in the company of soul mates with whom we have traveled for eons.

 

45.  We will discover that death is not a movement to another place or time, but a change in our perspective, a change with which we resonate.  We resonate only with that with which we vibrate as in the quantum vibrations which connect us with all things physical and spiritual.

 

46.  We will discover that those persons who have shared deeply in our earthly lives will continue to share our lives throughout eternity.

 

47. We will discover that the mysteries we wrestled with on earth have passed into even greater mysteries on the astral plane, thus insuring that even as wholly spiritual beings we will never cease to be stimulated to dig deeper and to discern more.

 

48.  We will discover that on the astral plane we can only progress to greater understanding and enlightenment.  We cannot regress.  Our evolution continues on all planes.

 

49.  We will discover that we have finally transcended the limitations of our earthbound humanity--all of them.

 

50.  We will discover pure Truth, and further that Beauty is one of Truth's most eloquent expressions.

 

51.  We will discover that quantum physicist David Bohm correctly theorized that from a loftier perspective than that provided by earth we will see that everything and everybody are connected by a universal matrix (which he called the implicate order)--that there is no separation whatsoever, that we are all part of an undivided whole.

 

52.  We will discover that our consciousness is the key to our co-creative capabilities which, though potentially available to us during our life on earth, are fully available to us in our life hereafter.  We will discover that our consciousness does, both here and there, not simply observe the universe, but actively participates in its creation--fully so in our elysian identity  and partially so even during our earthly sojourn(s).  This is the implication of the Apostle Paul's assertion that "For now we see the dim image as in a mirror, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."  (I Corinthians 13:12)

 

53.  We will discover that earth is but a mirror of heaven, its beauty the obscure reflection of the heavenly realm.  The applicable rule of thumb is "As above, so below."

 

54.  We will discover that, collectively, as divine beings, we are the only intelligence and consciousness that the cosmos has.  Indeed, God has  no hands but our hands, no feet but our feet, no mind but our mind, and no heart but our heart.  God is all there is, and that all includes us as Her primary manifestation to the cosmos.  We humans, on both sides of the Eternal Now, have been and will continue to be the guardians of all Creation, including both incarnate and spiritual humanity, because we possess the only incarnate spiritual consciousness the cosmos has.  We are God's only self-conscious presence on this earthly ground and our presence makes it holy ground.   This  fact alone provides sufficient rationale for belief in reincarnation.  The Earth and all its creatures needs our representation as conscious agents of the Divine in order that it may fulfill the Divine mandate to bring about the  Kingdom of God throughout the Cosmos--"For God so loves the cosmos, that She incarnates Herself in her children to take up the task of filling the cosmos with Her Life and Light and Love." (a 21st century paraphrase of John 3:16 by the author).

 

Given the above, perhaps the only question we need to answer now, in this earthly incarnation, is...

 

How then should we live now?

 

Chances are that, in this life, we will not have completed our work, but that it will continue into eternity.  Whatever we accomplish in this life towards the goal of our evolutionary development will not be lost at death but will provide the foundation for our continuing development in eternity.  Our work will never be finished.  Even if we eventually reach the mountaintop, there will be others behind us who will need a hand up,  so our work will continue.  Our work will not be complete until all who follow us have joined us at the top of the mountain, so whether in this life or in the next, our work continues.

 

The next question we need to ask is:

 

What does  it mean to be the incarnate presence of the Divine now?

Inspiration

The following article is excerpted from the forthcoming book by James L. Foster, Holonic Humanity: How God Makes Us Holy, due to be released in 2017.  It is a sequel to his earlier work, Holy Humanity:  We Are All Made of God Stuff, published in 2013.  The latter book, Holy Humanity, is reviewed in the January 2016 issue of Awareness magazine.

Inspiration

One of Webster's many definitions of "inspiration" is "a divine influence upon human beings."  A common  verbal derivative of the term is "inspire" which means to infuse with life.  A lesser known cousin is a transitive verb "inspirit" which means "to put spirit into; give life to...," "to infuse" with life. It is this latter sense that is important to consider in the context of subtle energies.

One further term which begs definition is "life." In spite of the  branch of science we call "biology," sometimes called "the science of life," it has been difficult for scientists to pin down just exactly what life is--nor do we know where whatever it is originates.  One of humankind's modern quests has been to discover whether or not there is life elsewhere in the universe.  But how will we know what it is if we find it?  Just what are we looking for?  If life is something that is inspirited, as in Webster's definition above, how does one know whether or not any given living object embodies or is infused with spirit, thus giving it life?  To resort to an old conundrum, which came first--the chicken or the egg?  Did the chicken come from the  egg or the egg come from the chicken?  I think the answer is both and neither.  Life comes from the Spirit--whatever kind of life it is--plant, animal or human.  Our lives did not begin with the seemingly miraculous confluence of two cells, each dividing to make four cells, then eight,  then sixteen, ad infinitum, until we became fully formed human beings with trillions of cells.  Those first two cells, gifted to us by our parents, had beginnings elsewhere--or did they?  I would propose the wholly unscientific solution that our physical beings are the earthly home of Spirit which as such had no beginnings.  That is what it means to be eternal.  To be human is to be eternal, with neither beginning nor end.

Gregg Braden, quoting an article by molecular biologist Daniel E. Koshland, Jr. in the March 22, 2002 issue of Science offers seven determinates of whether or not something is living.  Living things, says Koshland...

1.  Must have a program to make copies of themselves.

2.  Adapt and evolve to reflect changes in their environment.

3.  Tend to be complex, highly organized, and have compartmentalized structures.

4.  Have a metabolism that allows them to convert energy from one form to another.

5.  Can regenerate parts of themselves, or their entire forms.

6. Can respond to their environment through feedback mechanisms.

7.  Can maintain multiple metabolic reactions at the same time.

 Though Koshland's criteria for life may indeed suffice for some living things,--perhaps weeds, mosquitoes and such--it is far too mechanistic and simplistic.  As such I find it a totally unsatisfying description of human life. In the first place, his and similar attempts to equate our human identity with our bodies fails to account for our physical existence, much less our psychic and spiritual endowments. Nor does he make any allowance  for the incredible complexity and depth of whatever it means to be living, functional beings.  Without the inclusion of Spirit human life is totally devoid of Life!  Apart from Spirit, we would not exist.

To be human is to be infused with Spirit.  Spirit is our essence.  We are the embodiment of Spirit.  Spirit is our eternal nature.  We were solely Spirit prior to our human birth.  We shall be solely Spirit after our physical death.  In our earthly sojourn we accept the yoke of physicality in order to accommodate our physical environment.  But our bodies are not our essence.  We are, first and foremost, spiritual beings, no less so than the angels of heaven.  Indeed, if the biblical author of the Letter to the Hebrews is right, we are the superiors of the angels. They are here to serve us, as the divine children of God that we are.  He writes...

"Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?"  (Hebrews 1:7-14).

In John's Gospel, "eternal life" supplants the phrase "Kingdom of God" which is the characteristic phrasing of the synoptic gospels.  Eternal Life is, in John's understanding, life under the rule of God, a life that is free from the constraints of time, decay and evil.  It is wholly a spiritual realm, preexistent and co-existent with this earthly life as well as a continuing life after our death in this earthly sojourn. Our essence does not change  just because we change addresses.  The life we live now is eternal life infused with the Spirit of God.  Apart from the life-giving infusion of the Spirit we would not exist.

So what is the situation with all the other creatures, both plant and animal, that appear to have characteristics we identify as life?  My conclusion is that they, too, are infused with Spirit.  They have their own life-callings, their own inspired roles to play in God's Kingdom.  As such they are due our respect and consideration as fellow inhabitants of God's Kingdom.  Whether they be weeds or trees, birds or fish or reptiles or insects,  they, too, are subject to God's rule and recipients of their own gifts of God's  spirit infusions.  And if, indeed, we have been charged with the responsibility for their care and welfare, we should take the responsibility seriously  as fellow participants in God's Kingdom.

I would suggest further that creatures in our folklore may be more real than fictitious.  Given the quite serious and contemporary explorations of quantum physics into parallel universes--i.e. parallel realities beyond those we can apprehend by our limited human senses--we may find that creatures such as elves, gnomes and other nature spirits actually exist.  Science has already demonstrated that there are many realities beyond the reach of our physical senses.  That some persons may have sensitivities that I do not have seems to me not just possible, but even likely.  That our Creator may have created more realities than just the reality my senses are tuned to, does not strike me as particularly strange.  The fact that I may never develop the  capability to personally perceive my mythological neighbors proves nothing.  That there are others who have developed such capabilities is reason enough to warrant an openness to whatever spiritual beings may exist.  After all, we humans are also, in essence, spiritual beings.  As noted above, apart from Spirit  we would not exist.  Perhaps nature spirits have as much trouble believing that we exist.

Following Jesus

Following Jesus

By James L. Foster  

Given the title of this publication it seems to me appropriate for us to consider how we are doing in following the one whom many of us claim as our leader.  In the records of his ministry and teaching given us by the writers of our gospels, Jesus has laid down some pretty clear markers of what it means to be en Christo, “in Christ.”  I think it is safe to say that none of us have followed him perfectly.  Indeed, if we look back over the last two millennia of the Christian Church, it would appear that on a number of issues we have not followed him at all. 

It is no secret that the Christian Church through the centuries has been wrong on many occasions and in many ways:  We were wrong morally by perverting the grace of God, as in the crusades (by which we set out under the banner of Christ to either convert the Muslims or to kill them), as in the inquisition  (in which we tortured or killed those who dared to disagree with the church), and as in indulgences  (by which, for a price, we offered to wipe the slate clean of the believer’s sins), as in papal infallibility (including our present Pope’s suppression of Nag Hammadi scrolls for 40 years), and as in character assassinations, Mary Magdalene, for example.  We have also been wrong intellectually, believing, for example, that the earth is the center of the universe, and that the world is flat, having four corners (Revelation 7:1).  We were wrong in our understanding of biology, believing and building our theology on the assumption that only the male contributed anything of substance to the character and identity of the new born child (the mother only contributed a safe haven for the fetus to develop). Therefore the birth accounts of the child Jesus, composed almost a century later, only needed to replace the human father, presumably Joseph, in order to eliminate inherited sin.  In later years, we have been wrong again in supporting slavery, shunning, and segregation; wrong in our participation in wars and genocide (for example Rwanda, Burundi, and Bosnia), and wrong in our support of consumerism, and neglect of the poor – to name a few.  Injustice has been our credo, and it still is.  We have a sorry legacy when it comes to following the teachings and example of Jesus.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), the gospel writer has Jesus tell the story of a man journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell among thieves who left him battered, bleeding and perhaps unconscious on the side of the road.  The Torah, the Law of God by which the Jews pledged themselves to live, demanded that human need must take priority over every other concern.  Yet, in this story, says Jesus, a Levite, a recognized leader in temple worship, who was surely aware of the Law’s command to show compassion to those in need, passes by on the other side of the road, ignoring the wounded man.  Next comes a priest, a holy man of Israel, ordained after becoming proficient in the study of the Torah.  He, too, sees the victim. Perhaps justifying his behavior in typical ordained practice by countering the text calling for compassion with another text prohibiting one from touching the flesh of a dead man, he refuses to stop long enough even to investigate and passes by on the other side of the road. *

Then, says Jesus, a half-breed, a Samaritan, journeys along that way.  He is not schooled in the Law and so may have been ignorant of the Torah’s demands.  But he sees a human being in need, and he responds without hesitating.  Going up to the wounded man, he pours oil in his wounds and binds them up.  He then gives the victim wine and water to drink and takes him on his own donkey to an inn, where he arranges to pay for his continued care and lodging until the healing process is complete.

Then Jesus says to the lawyer who prompted the story, “Go and do likewise.

This parable was a challenge to the defining prejudice in 1st century Judaism and it invited people to step beyond their prejudices, whatever they were, into a new definition of humanity, a humanity that emerges beyond the boundaries of our prejudices.

In this story and others, like the Prodigal Son and the Rich man and Lazarus, Jesus is shown to be a God-presence that calls those of us who would be his followers to become more fully human by opening up the dark places in our souls where our prejudices hide, the place to which we have assigned the Samaritans of our day.  For some of us the Samaritans may be persons of a different skin color.   For others they may be people who worship God in ways different from our way.  For still others the Samaritans may be those whose sexual orientation is not like our own.  To be followers of Jesus we are forced to heed his call to surrender all our killing stereotypes and to walk beyond all our fears into a new prejudice-free humanity, a humanity free of those barriers that divide us one from another.

The call of Jesus through his example and teaching to those who would be his followers is to put aside all gender and sexual distinctions.  The Apostle Paul apparently understood this when he said that for those who have clothed themselves with Christ, “There is no longer Jew or Greek…slave or free, male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)  These become only categories into which humanity is divided.  They are not divisions that indicate sin, as past rhetoric had suggested.

The portrait of Jesus drawn by the biblical writers shows him violating the sexual boundaries of his day, not just once but many times.  John’s gospel, for example, says that Jesus engaged the woman at the well (John 4:1-42) in a lengthy theological discussion, even though Jewish males did not converse with women in a public place.  No wonder his disciples were astonished when they returned to find the two of them in conversation, and though none of them said, “Why are you talking with her?”  you can be sure all of them were thinking it.

Jesus also had women disciples, among whom Mary Magdalene was prominent.  She was obviously a key person in the Jesus movement, despite the early church male leaders’ attempts at character assassination by turning her into a prostitute without a shred of evidence to support their accusations.  Apart from one unexplained comment in Luke 8:2 where Jesus is reported to have cast out demons in Mary Magdalene, she is described in very positive terms in every other reference.  She also went on to write one of the early gospels about Jesus, though it was never acknowledged by the Church Fathers.  But they do not reflect either the example or the teaching of Jesus.

As for those with a different sexual orientation, Jesus never says a word in any gospel about homosexuality.  Indeed, the word homosexuality does not appear in Scripture at all, nor does sexual perversion.  Jesus did mention adultery and fornication, both heterosexual sins.  And in the story in Genesis of Sodom and Gomorrah, though the inhabitants of Sodom were apparently homosexuals, their sin was in their attempted rape of Lot’s guests.  James is quoted in Acts 15:20 as advising the Gentiles to abstain from fornication, and Paul in Galatians 5:19-21 lists fornication as one of several works of the flesh, but makes no mention of homosexuality.  I know a few homosexuals and all of them with but one exception are people of integrity, struggling with the burden of rejection, placed upon them for the most part by Christians

The science is in and it is conclusive.  Sexual orientation, both heterosexuality and homosexuality, are natural, genetically imposed orientations with which we are born.  Just because homosexuality is not natural for those of us that have a heterosexual orientation, that does not mean that it is not natural for those born with a homosexual orientation.  The only thing that really divides us is the fear we have of an experience we do not understand, and for that we misquote Scripture to justify not following the teaching of Jesus.  Homosexuals are clearly the pre-eminent Samaritans of our day, and the call of Jesus is to reach across the divide with compassion and acceptance.

Another teaching of Jesus about which I suggest we should be very concerned is that reported by Matthew in the opening verses of chapter 7 of his gospel.  “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged, for with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

You, dear Christian friends, are my brothers and sisters.  But we also have other brothers and sisters who are not a part of our faith traditions and who are different from us in one way or another.  As we have opportunity, we need to embrace them, too, without judgment and without fear.  May there be for us no more Samaritans but only human beings who share the wonder of what it means to be a child of God.   

 

* Much of the interpretation of this parable is roughly quoted from the book  New Christianity for a New World  by John Shelby Spong, pp. 134-ff.

 

A Vision For the 21st Century

A Vision For the 21st Century

(Editor’s note:  John Lackey, a minister of the United Church of Christ, is here priming the pump for future dialogues.  In the future it is anticipated that reader responses to other readers and to the editor will constitute the bulk of the dialogue.) 

My vision for our world in this 21st Century is a biblically sourced vision having to do with economics. Douglas Meeks, in God the Economist,[1] points out that the Greek word from which we derive economy, “oikonomia,”is a compound of  “oikos,” meaning  “household,” and  “nomos,” meaning “law” or “management of the household.” “Economy” means literally  “the management of the household.” The Bible, throughout, is about a God whose purpose is to create a household in which all of God’s creatures can find home and abundant life.  This suggests lines from the World Citizenship Creed:   “I believe in the dignity of all humanity, that each person is a being of supreme worth...I believe in the stewardship of life and resources to the end that all may mutually benefit from the earth’s bounty and that no person may have to go without food or shelter...I believe in the global community, interdependent and mutually responsible for our physical and social environments...a world where justice and compassion rule and where greed and hatred are diminished...”[2]  The chief goal of this 21st century must be to develop the potential implied in these words.

This requires an understanding of today’s system of Global Economics--why it has failed to live up to its heralded promise that, in time, all of earth’s citizens would enjoy a decent standard of living. The basic problem is that global economics is under the control of the developed nations and giant corporations, which exist for profits and not for people. Even so, as Joseph Stiglitz says in Globalization and Its Discontents,[3]  “I believe that globalization--the removal of barriers to free trade and the closer integration of national economies--can be a force for good and that it has the potential to enrich everyone in the world, particularly the poor.” 

This raises some vital questions: 

(1) How did it come about that globalization became a  “domination system,” to use Walter Wink’s term?

(2) What changes are necessary if globalization is to be transformed into a just, humane system that benefits all of the earth’s peoples and nature?

(3) How does “outsourcing” fit into the picture?

(4) How can the greed in human character that drives the profit motive be transformed for the sake of both the victims and the oppressors?

(5) How can peoples of the developed nations begin to recognize how we support the system?

It seems that the needed reforms require that people around the world work together with collective action in shaping international agreements and regulating international corporations.  Global public institutions must be created to help set the rules.  Concerned world citizens need to join and support organizations that are working toward economic and environmental justice.

This kind of vision calls for a global communications system. It seems that such a system is available to us today through the World Wide Web. With global access to the Web:

(1) There could develop a common understanding about how the global economic system works and what is needed to change it.

(2) Workers in a given nation could share information with those in other nations about how the corporation-controlled system is affecting their lives.

(3) Peoples involved in the struggle for justice in their homeland could enjoy encouragement and support from around the world.

(4) Global action could be brought to bear on a local situation of injustice (refusal to pay a living wage, refusal to provide health care, damage to the environment, etc.). Peoples in other nations could write the corporation CEO with appeals for justice. When a corporation knows that the eyes of the world are on it, it may feel inclined to change its ways.

How important to the 21st century is the vision discussed here? William Sloan Coffin, in his Credo,[4] says it well: “the war against terrorism will finally be won by economic justice.   There is nothing meta-physical about terrorism. It springs from specific historical causes--political oppression and economic deprivation.  Until these injustices and our complicity and their furtherance are faced, our escalating counter violence will predictably result in more and more terrorists attacking more and more American institutions at home and abroad…”

What’s at stake in the 21st Century is world peace! This world must become a household in which all of God’s creatures find home and abundant life.

What Is Inner Peace And What Keeps Us From Having It?

What Is Inner Peace

And What Keeps Us From Having It?

 by Ralph Hubbard

In some ways inner peace is in the eyes of the beholder.  You know it when you have it.  People describe it in numerous ways.  One person said they have inner peace when they are fully confident in their own lovability.  Another said they believe inner peace is achieved when they are living in a state of gratitude for everything life has offered them. Another definition might be those rare moments when we let go of all anger, are not being resentful of others or judging them or holding that we are somehow better than another person or group.  Another might say they have inner peace when the inner commentary or chatter going on in our head, with all its accusations and demands, slows to a crawl. Inner peace is any and all of these thoughts.  However you define it, you will know when you are at peace.

All this is making the assumption that at some time in your life you have been at peace within yourself. Perhaps you never have.  At Living in Peace our belief is that when people have their own inner peace they are also at peace with their world.  We would like to help make those moments of inner peace not be so rare.  We would like to see inner peace become the rule rather than the exception in most people’s lives.

If you asked most people if they would like more inner peace, they will probably say," Sure I would like to have more inner peace”.  So what keeps us from having more inner peace and all the benefits that go along with it? One of the major contributors to our lack of inner peace is when we are resentful and angry with anyone or anything.  It is our resentment and anger that helps to rob us of our inner peace and joy.  We might be able to rationalize our anger and resentment and perhaps get a lot of people in agreement about why we are that way, but we all know how we feel when we are angry and resentful, and its not inner peace.

Resentment is probably the single most insidious force in our world.  It brings about enormous personal suffering, although we often don't see it at the time, and many believe it gives us justification to do almost anything to those we are resenting.  It is at the very root of the most horrendous atrocities that humankind has inflicted on other humans.  On a small scale some people believe resentment toward an employer can give them permission to steal time or supplies or worse, after all look at how badly they have treat you.  Or resentment toward a spouse can give you permission to cheat on them.  On a larger scale resentment toward another ethnic or religious group appears to give permission for discrimination or even genocide.  I doubt that many people reading this have participated in genocide, but I'll bet you can think of some small thing your own resentment has "allowed" you to do. 

Why would anyone want to hang onto a resentment when it seems to cause so much suffering?  Think about some little resentment you have held on someone.  The juicy little secret is that we believe we get something for holding the resentment.  At the very least, we believe we get to be better than the other person or group and it seems to make it O.K. for us to act anyway we want or do anything we want towards them.  We believe we are justified in our actions or thoughts.  Anytime I feel down, all I have to do is drag out some old resentment toward someone and I instantly get to be better than them.  With a “prize” like that it is no wonder so many people harbor resentments for so many years.  Try listing some of your resentments and count how long you have held them.  It will probably surprise you how the years add up.

The problem is that the “prize” is an illusion, it’s not real and the number of years you have held the resentments is how long you have had to suffer a loss to your inner peace.  We don’t really get to be better than those we resent.  We don’t really get permission to treat them in any despicable way we want.  If we really tell the truth to ourselves, holding our resentment doesn’t hurt the other person it only hurts us.  There is a huge cost to our holding onto resentments and at the very least, it cost us our inner peace.  There is almost no area in our lives that resentment doesn’t cost us.

If people got the huge cost to themselves and our world for holding resentment, they would run to the nearest church, counselor, coach, or personal growth training facility and beg to learn how to let go of their resentments if they didn’t already know how.

Letting go of resentments is not the only path to inner peace, but it is a great start.  Look for further discussions on this and other ways to gain inner peace in future newsletters.  The newsletters are a way Living in Peace can do its part to help people have more inner peace and become a link in the chain of world peace.

Ralph Hubbard

Ralph Hubbard has been on a path of self discovery, enlightenment, and personal growth most of his life. The last 20+ years he has learned much through the Kairos More To Life Foundation’s More To Life program. (www.MoreToLife.org He has seen radical change in himself and other people through this program and has seen many people loose their anger, resentments, prejudices, and intolerances and become at peace with themselves and their world.  His desire to pass this knowledge on to others, so we can have a more peaceful world, is what prompted him to start the Living in Peace organization.

Inner Peace is the Beginning of World Peace...

Post submitted by Ralph Hubbard

Inner Peace is the Beginning of World Peace...

Living in Peace, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating world peace one person at a time.  Our belief is that world peace does not begin by solving the differences between nations or political organizations or between groups with strongly held religious or ethnic beliefs.  Rather world peace begins with each individual taking responsibility for their part.  When we can let go of our own resentments, prejudices, fears, intolerances, and anger, we become a link in the chain of world peace. 

Our mission is to promote personal inner peace on a large

scale so that we will have a more peaceful world.

We believe inner peace is the beginning of world peace.  We will work individually and in partnership with other non-profit organizations and individuals with similar goals to promote this mission.

There are certain concepts or universal truths about human life that, if understood and practiced, can lead to more personal inner peace and ultimately a more peaceful world.  Making these truths become common knowledge among all people is the mission of Living in Peace so that we will have a more peaceful world.

Universal Truths That Living in Peace

Wants to Make Common Knowledge in the World

  1. Our emotions and feelings are not caused by the events in our lives, but rather by the mind’s interpretation of those events. 
  2. We can learn to hear our mind’s interpretation of events and thereby learn to catch or intercept the reaction of undesirable emotions and feelings.  
  3. Most of what our minds say to us when interpreting events is either false or questionable, because at a very early age our minds decided how life, people, and events were.  Beliefs, expectations, and judgments were then set in place that often were not based on facts or reality and do not serve us as adults. 
  4. Consciously telling the truth to ourselves about our mind's interpretations of events, and then choosing a new path based on this truth, is one of the easiest ways to maintain inner peace. 
  5. Our self-worth is not dependent upon anything external to us.  We have it because we are. 
  6. People hold on to resentments because there is an illusion that we get something for doing so. 
  7. There is great cost to us and to society for holding on to our resentments.  
  8. Forgiving someone or something that we hold resentment toward does not mean we are saying it is OK that they did what we are resenting them for.  It simply means that we will no longer hold ill will toward them. 
  9. Forgiveness is something that we do for ourselves and not necessarily something we are doing for those we have resented. 
  10. Self-forgiveness is an important step toward inner peace. 
  11. A peaceful soul does not hold anger, resentment, fear, intolerance, or prejudice.  
  12. In every event in life there is an opportunity for growth and a chance to get closer to that which sources us. 
  13. Having inner peace is a choice and every time we find ourselves out of sync with an intention of living in peace, we have a choice of how we want to live. 
  14. There is great power in our thoughts and we attract to us what we think.

Ralph Hubbard has been on a path of self discovery, enlightenment, and personal growth most of his life. The last 20+ years he has learned much through the Kairos More To Life Foundation’s More To Life program. ( www.MoreToLife.org )  He has seen radical change in himself and other people through this program and has seen many people loose their anger, resentments, prejudices, and intolerances and become at peace with themselves and their world.  His desire to pass this knowledge on to others, so we can have a more peaceful world, is what prompted him to start the Living in Peace organization.

Finding Our Way Home: A Brief Note On The Authority And Interpretation Of Scripture

Reader Responses

Michael Hardin of Preaching Peace, has shared the following letter, written in response to a friend’s request:

Finding Our Way Home: A Brief Note On The Authority And Interpretation Of Scripture 

You recently asked me to write something on Jesus’ hermeneutic. That one can even speak of Jesus’ hermeneutic is a blessing today. Between the churches removal of Jesus behind the veil of dualism and the academy’s burial of Jesus in historical science, it truly is a wonder that we are able to speak the words Jesus and hermeneutic in the same breath.

Some thirty years ago when I began studying Scripture, I found that I had a lot of questions. Every subject I tackled led to ten more subjects, all of which I felt driven to understand just to comprehend whatever book I was reading at the time. Over the years, I have accumulated hundreds of thousands of questions, the questions of the authors whose books I have read.

Their questions led me on some amazing journeys with breath-taking vistas around every corner. Writers from all places and times, backgrounds and faiths each seemed to have a piece to contribute to the overall picture. More so, many of these writers captivated me and I read everything they wrote that I could get my hands on. I could sense that somewhere deep within the questions was a solution. I knew that Jesus was that solution.

I believe that Jesus has something to teach us and tell us about the Creator that we have consistently missed throughout our history, Christians included. It is the secret of the kingdom of heaven: God is forgiving, God is not conflicted, and God is not violent. Jesus’ Jewish spirituality recognizes this through and through. It is the one singular thing his contemporaries did not want to hear. It is the one singular thing we do not want to hear. Jesus’ God is not an angry God. It is demonstrated in the way he lives and forgives others in the name of this God. It (this life of forgiveness) is, in a sense, ontologized within history as the eschatological horizon of the resurrection; the resurrection of the forgiving innocent victim. It is the one message that is differentiated from every other form of religious discourse. Jesus teaches us this.

However, it is necessary for us to understand the roots and trajectories of our sacrificial thinking as Christians. We need to deconstruct before we can re-construct. Sort of like what the folks on the PBS show This Old House do. They take an old house whose structure is solid, take it down to the basics, which are sound, and re-build on that structure. Christian theology, for me, is like This Old House. It is tired, old, worn, beaten and generally in great need of repair. Through the eyes of the folks who rebuild houses and see within a decrepit building a beautiful home that with time, effort and attention can be an enjoyable habitation, so also I think we can do the same with Christian theology. Theology is a beautiful science because theology is about Jesus.

Let’s look at some of the stuff on our theological house that is no longer useful. Let’s examine whether or not we need to restructure some of the interior of our house. Then let’s rebuild.

Using Paul Ricoeur’s language we might say that if the church is mired in a first naivete, the academy is no less stuck in critical distance. Neither one is able to speak of Jesus credibly with any sense of unity. It is the third stage of the understanding process, which Ricoeur calls a ‘second naivete’ from which I write. Since I am neither in the academy nor in the parish, I do not feel constrained by either when I consider the question of Jesus’ hermeneutic. The ‘historical Jesus’ is slick and slippery, and just when you think you have a grasp, he slips away. The ‘Christ of faith’ is a gigantic monolith, high and exalted, encrusted with traditions. If the ‘Christ of faith’ represents the ‘first naivete’ and the ‘historical Jesus’ represents the ‘critical distance’ then how shall we describe ‘second naivete?’ In order to do so, it is crucial to shift our perspective on the either/or of the question to this: what is the relationship of the Jesus of faith to the Christ of history? Must we not begin with the presupposition that as bearers of God’s Spirit we already know the Lord Jesus? What we need to discern are the ways both the church and the academy have embellished the living Jesus with their Christologies.

Christological duality, which is and always has been, the big issue in both the church and the academy, need not be necessary if one moves the question to a position of ‘second naivete.’ But how can we justify such on both anthropological and theological grounds? You already know how I will answer this: by turning to Rene Girard and Karl Barth. These are the two significant twentieth century thinkers who moved beyond Platonic dualism to construct a Christology that is true to Jesus. One did it from an anthropological perspective, the other from a theological one. But both succeeded because they both began with the cross of Jesus.

The early Christians understood that this whole resurrection/life thing existed only because there was a crucifixion/death thing. The resurrection was a vindication of this death that was forgiving, and this life and ministry that was all about forgiveness. In the resurrection God does not retaliate, God forgives. This is the message of the early church. It encompasses the entire Jesus reality: Jesus as Spirit and Jesus’ story were woven of the same stuff.

We also must not forget that the perspective of the New Testament is ‘from below’, that is, it is written from the perspective of the persecuted. This is of strategic importance. All of the complaints that have been made against the Christian churches are derived from the fact that the very church which is grounded in the forgiveness of the Cross of Jesus, and whose texts are written from the perspective of the persecuted, does itself persecute and justifies persecution by an appeal to these texts. There is very little that is apostolic about the modern church.

Michael Hardin

Michael is one of the initiators of a movement within the Christian Church to reinterpret both the Old and New Testaments in a way that demonstrates  that the God who inspired them is not a God of judgment, but a God of mercy, compassion, and justice.  He shared this way of understanding the biblical text at a workshop in Knoxville in October 2007.  He and his wife Lorri will be returning to Knoxville on March 15 and 16, 2008 along with two others in the vanguard of this peace theology, theologians Sharon Baker and Anthony Bartlett.  On the 15th they will be facilitating a day long workshop for clergy and lay leaders on the “Non-Violent Atonement of Christ.”  On the evening of the 16th, Michael will be repeating a workshop on “The Mimetic Theory of Peacebuilding. 

The Asian Jesus

The Asian Jesus

Michael Amaladoss, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2006; 180 pp, including Endnotes, Bibliography, and Indexes.

Michael Amaladoss, S.J., a native of South India, is a professor of theology at Vidyajyoti College in Delhi and director of the Institute for Dialogue with Cultures and Religions in Chennai.  Among his books and articles is Life in Freedom: Liberation Theologies From Asia (Orbis).  With a special interest in intercultural and interreligious dialogue and spirituality, Amaladoss has been a consultant to the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Other Religions and to the World Council of Churches.  He also has served as the president of the International Association for Mission Studies.  He is the author of 20 books and more than 300 articles in various languages.


Occasionally one picks up a book that proves to be an unexpected breath of fresh air.  For this reviewer The Asian Jesus turned out to be such a book.  It is written, I believe with two audiences in mind—the Asian religious (though not necessarily just Christians) and Western Christians.  For the former he supplies a great deal of material, including a few entire chapters, about perspectives on Christianity that are not unique to Asian Christianity.  For the latter, however, the preponderance of material is quite unique to Asians, this in large part because of the cultural and religious milieu in which the Christian faith has developed, often without the overwhelming influence of Western missionaries.  (Though Amaladoss nowhere makes this assertion, his description of the Asian cultural and religious influences on biblical interpretation certainly strongly imply that this is the case.)

The Asian perspective that Amaladoss unfolds is formulated in terms of a number of images of Jesus that Asians incorporate into their understanding of the Gospel accounts of his life and ministry.  These include the images of the Way (Tao), Guru, Moral Teacher (advaita), avatar, satyagrahi, and bodhisattva.  (There are others that Amaladoss discusses at some length—for example, sage, servant, dancer, pilgrim--but these are more conventional portrayals common to both Eastern and Western traditions.)

The Tao: The term Tao is used in both the Taoist and Confucian traditions in China and means simply, “the way.”  In India, one would use the term marga, and Buddha spoke of the eightfold path.  “It is in this context that we must understand the way proposed by Jesus.  He does not indulge in any metaphysical speculations… The framework of Jesus is a human community fragmented by egotism and pride embodied in structures of religious, social, and political power.  People are called to turn away from this self-centered arrogance.  This is achieved through the selfless love of others, shown in humble service and sharing… The way of Jesus therefore operates at the level of human and social relationships… It resonates with the nishkama karma of the Indian tradition and the wu wei of the Chinese tradition.  But it is set in a framework of cosmic-human-divine community building.” (pp. 58-59)

Amaladoss cites the observation of Indian writer George Soares-Prabhu: “The vision of Jesus indicates not the goal but the way.  It does not present us with a static pre-fabricated model to be imitated, but invites us to continual refashioning of societal structures in an attempt to realize as completely as possible in our times the values of the Kingdom.”  Amaladoss continues, “The Kingdom of God that Jesus announced and began to establish is not an institutional, politco-military structure.  It is a community of people who are ready to love and forgive, share, and serve.” (p. 59)

Amaladoss goes on to describe the way of Jesus as a way of love and service, a way of non-violent struggle, a transcendent way, and an inclusive way.  “The way of Jesus is the way of creation. It is the way that humans and the world live.  It is the life.  It is God’s gift to creation and humanity.  We can understand why some Chinese theologians call Jesus the Tao.  But the Tao of Jesus has a Confucian resonance because it concerns community building.” (p. 65)

Guru: In Indian practice, a guru is a person who has traveled a particular spiritual path and is thus qualified to lead others on that path.  “In the Advaitic (non-dual) tradition, in which true spiritual experience consists in realizing one’s oneness with the Brahman or the Absolute, gurus are seen as divine, because they have experienced advaitic oneness with the divine.  In the Bhakti traditions…in which the final experience is one of encountering Siva, the Absolute, in love… the guru [is understood to be] a divine-human person… Many Indian disciples of Jesus, whether Hindu or Christian, have considered him as their guru.  Christians stress the uniqueness of Jesus by calling him sadguru (true guru).” (pp. 69-70)  Jesus is thought to be “the guru of a cosmic movement that he initiates himself and perpetuates by choosing disciples and sending them to continue his mission.” (p. 76)  He is seen to be exemplary of what other gurus should be like.

Advaita: As a moral teacher, advaita (Indian non-duality) presupposes a strong monotheism, a view that militates against acceptance of Jesus as God.  Asians who maintain this view may think of the unity of will between Jesus and God rather than the identity of being.  “Jesus was an exemplary human being who taught us how to live by word and example.  He shows us the way to self-discovery and moral behavior.” (p. 22)

Avatar: Avatar is the word used in Indian languages to refer to the incarnation of the Word in Jesus.  “God is believed to self-manifest in some earthly form to encounter the devotees and grant them liberation.” (p. 105)  Amaladoss cited Hindu Swami Vivekananda:  “Jesus had our nature; he became the Christ; so can we and so must we.  Christ and Buddha were the names of a state to be attained.  Jesus and Gautama were the persons to manifest it.”  Vivekananda goes on to note that one need not become a Christian to be a follower of Jesus.  “He (Christ) had no other occupation in life; no other thought except that one, that he was a Spirit.  He was a disembodied, unfettered, unbound spirit.  And not only so, but he, with his marvelous vision, had found that every man and woman, whether Jew or Greek, whether rich or poor, whether saint or sinner, was the embodiment of the same undying Spirit as himself.  Therefore the one work his whole life showed, was calling upon them to realize their own spiritual nature… You are all sons of God, Immortal spirit. ‘Know,’ he declared, ‘the kingdom of heaven is within you.  I and my Father are one.’” (p. 23)

Avatar can be variously realized at different places at different times.  The Hindu “devotees of Siva [the Absolute] think that God cannot become human.  But they still believe that Siva can manifest himself in various ways in the lives of his devotees.” (p. 105)  Because of this cultural/religious context, “Indians looking on Jesus will spontaneously consider him [Jesus] an avatar.  It is an Indian religio-cultural entry point to explore our experience of Jesus as a human-divine person (p.106).

Amaladoss suggests, “…the term avatar, meaning ‘manifestation,’ helps us look at the plurality of manifestations of the Word, of the Spirit, and of God positively and openly and profit from all of them” (p. 107).  He believes that Jesus’ disciples experienced him first of all as a human being.  But as avatar it was eventually recognized that Jesus had a deeper dimension as a unique manifestation of the Father, but a manifestation that was still subject to the limitations of it human nature.

Satyagrahi: Satya means “truth”. Graha means “clinging.”  The combination, satyagrahi, coined by Mahatma Gandhi, is someone who clings to the truth, namely, to God.  “Gandhi saw his own life as a quest for truth.  He knew that truth is absolute.  One does not possess truth; rather, one is possessed by it” (p. 86).  Gandhi held that “we cannot reach truth through untrue means” nor “peace through violence.”  As applied to Jesus, “the image satyagrahi points to the idea that Jesus, though he was a revolutionary, was a nonviolent one” (p. 87).

“What distinguished Jesus from the Zealots [of his day] were two things.  The Zealot effort focused on liberating Palestine from the colonialism of the Romans… On the contrary, Jesus does not seem to focus much on the Roman presence in Palestine.  He takes it for granted… The second difference between him and the Zealots is the means used to promote revolution.  Jesus is firmly committed to the means of love and nonviolence.”  Jesus believes the ends and the means must be the same.  “We cannot promote love through hatred, nor peace through violence” (p. 95).

“God, the Father of Jesus, is not a vengeful God who demands expiation for sins.  Jesus presented God as a loving and forgiving parent.  The suffering imposed on Jesus comes not from God but from Jewish leaders who seek to defend their own self-interest by doing away with Jesus.”  But “The murder of Jesus… does not put an end to the movement that he has launched. As a of fact, it acquires new vigor” (p. 97).

Amaladoss continues with an extended analysis of the role of suffering in Jesus’ life and, by extension, in the lives of his followers.  He asserts, “Suffering for its own sake is not a Christian ideal.  Suffering has meaning as an element of protest or as a manifestation of self-giving.  Without such meaning, suffering is not a virtue. It has no transformative value” (p. 104).

He concludes his discussion of satyagraha: “The image of Jesus as satyagrahi places the idea of salvation on a personal, human-divine level.  It is not something automatic effected by the cross and the sacrifice of Jesus.  It is a divine-human interaction marked by freedom on both sides… Jesus calls us to be satyagrahi in our turn.

Bodhisattva: Buddhists in Asia consider Jesus a bodhisattva.  In Buddhist tradition the bodhisattva is the model of the compassionate person.  In this sense Jesus is seen to be very much like Buddha.  “Having achieved personal liberation, the bodhisattva delays the personal enjoyment of it in order to help everyone become liberated” (p. 135).As a bodhisattva, Jesus is compassionate like no other.  His compassion operates around God’s gift of abundant life, which he not only promises but shares with others. (p. 136).  “The measure of the abundance of God’s gift of life is not our merits but God’s generosity.  The crucial element in the process of salvation is our openness to accept it as a gift of God, since God’s gift is always there.  Being sure of God’s unbounded love, we are ready to abandon ourselves to God. God then saves us.”  Thus, in a major departure from the understandings of Western Christianity, “Jesus saves us precisely by enabling us to respond to God in humility and faith, in egolessness and surrender, and thus receive God’s gift of life.  He enables us by being in solidarity with us” (p. 143).  “He saves us by freeing us, by forgiving us, by loving us, and by empowering or enabling us.” (p. 144)

This reviewer is struck by how much resonance there is between many of the beliefs of Asian Christians and the so-called “heretical” teachings of a certain 3rd and 4th century priest in Alexandria, Egypt.  His name was Arius.  His teachings were affirmed by most of the Christian bishops in the Eastern half of the Mediterranean world of his day but were opposed by most of the bishops from the West, thus creating something of an East-West divide in the Christian Church.  Could it be that the present Asian-West theological divide has its roots in that early division?  Interesting.

Jim Foster, reviewer

A Commentary on Creed

A Commentary on Creed

 

By James L. Foster

What is the worth of a person?  The answer will differ from person to person depending on one’s religion, one’s culture, and one’s psychological and philosophical antecedents.  Some religions teach that human beings are worth little more than worms, or as chaff that is blown away by the wind.  The Christian and Jewish teachings about the fall of humankind in the beginning leads some to the conclusion that sin has so corrupted the human race that even God rues the day that he created us.

In some cultures a person has value only as part of a collective group identity, the individual important only as a contributing member of a society. Individuals are expendable in the interest of the common good.  This is seen particularly in times of war when the young men of a warring state are called on to give their lives in defense of the nation-state.  Suicide bombers exhibit a similar conduct as they willingly kill themselves in behalf of their religious group or political ideology.

Others may discount their own worth because they have grown up hearing nothing but how bad and how worthless they are.  Low self-esteem is learned by children from the authority figures in their lives.  Parents and teachers and institutions that are long on criticism and short on love raise children who are likewise critical and unloving.  The victims of this psychological abuse are in turn often critical of themselves and their children in a self-perpetuating downward spiral.  Society joins in this travesty by creating so-called justice systems that are designed to further dehumanize the victims of childhood abuse.

This litany of negativity could go on and on and for a variety of reasons, such as poverty, displacement, rejection, greed, prejudice and injustice, but there are other ways to conceptualize the worth of a human being that arrive at dramatically different conclusions.

In the Jewish and Christian traditions there is the understanding that human beings are created in the image of God.  The Catholic theologian Matthew Fox writes of “original blessing” in place of “original sin.”  To be created in God’s image is to be created good, and the Creator in the Genesis creation myth is said to have proclaimed his creation of humankind as “very good.”  It is this image of God in all of us, this spark of divinity, that has often been overlooked in subsequent theological speculations.  But not always.  The Psalmist proclaims that to be human is to be a “little less than God.”  And in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes that God’s work in us is to the end that we will manifest God’s presence. (2 Corinthians 3:18)  Just because we may be ignorant of what God is doing in us or ignorant of the goodness with which we entered the world, does not mean that God has changed his mind about us.  God has the last word, and that word is that he will finish what he started in me, in you and in every other human being.

If we look for the image of God in each other, we will see it.  We will see it even in the most depraved individuals.  We will see it in the poor and starving refugees fleeing the violence of their nations.  We will see it in the eyes of malnourished and dying children.  We will see God’s image in our neighbors and in those of other races.  We will see God’s image in the Jew, the Hindu, the Muslim, the Bahai, and the Buddhist.  We will even see it in the atheist.  We will see his image in our own children.  We will see it in ourselves.  This is why I believe in the dignity of all humanity, that each person is a being of supreme worth, because when I look at a person—any person--I see God.

Oikonomia: Some Thoughts About Global Economics From a Christian Perspective

Oikonomia

Some Thoughts About Global Economics From a Christian Perspective

By John Lackey

Claude Monet sometimes engaged in “serial painting.”  That is, he painted different versions of the same subject, from different angles or different lights.  For example, he did three paintings from a balcony of the Savoy Hotel on the river Thames, from three main viewpoints.  In each painting he had a different end in view.

Similarly, these days those in power regard the global economy from different perspectives, with different ends in mind.  Some regard the global economy from a socialist perspective, some from a capitalist perspective, some from an imperialist perspective, most in the U.S. from a market perspective.

Then what is the Christian perspective on the global economy?  For my understanding, the answer is spelled out in Douglas Meeks’ book, God The Economist. Meeks points out that the Greek word from which we derive “economy” is “oikonomia,” a compound of “oikos”, household, and “nomos”, law or management.  The Christian perspective on the global economy begins with the notion of God as The Economist, and, says Meeks, “God’s purpose is to transform the world into a household in which all of God’s creatures can find abundant life” (p.24).  Meeks acknowledges that “there is, of course, no scientific economic theory in the modern sense in the Bible, even though the Bible is centrally concerned with economy” (p.3).

I contend that in this perspective on the global economy lies the best direction for building a just, peaceful, and humane global economy.

On Loving with the Love of Jesus: Love Is a Commission

On Loving with the Love of Jesus

Love Is a Commission

By James L. Foster

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”—Jesus

How has Jesus loved us?  The answer to this question is one we can contemplate but never exhaust, because it is a Love measured by eternity, a Love unnumbered by days.  It is a Love given in total freedom, unlike most human loves which are often driven by self-interest.  Self, alone, it seems, rather fears most that Love by which it may be redeemed, by which we may be forgiven.  However, the Love of God through Jesus Christ ignores our willfulness and becomes for us a royal rod disciplining our selfishness.  The Love of Jesus makes real to us the Love of the Creator God, sealing us forever in his all-sufficient atoning grace.

But Jesus Love extends even beyond its expressions of saving grace, though to be freed from the legitimate consequences of our sin is no small thing.  It enables new life on a higher plane.  It is Christ in us, alive, unbounded, uncontrived, transforming both others and us by his presence in us.  It is a Love that calls forth our unspoken dreams and forms within us a hope of it own designing. It is such a Love as opens to us eternal vistas and enables us to touch the Invisible.  It is a Love that God alone ordains.

To be conquered by the Love of Jesus is to become aware of new possibilities for our own participation in the Life of God.  “Hereby perceive we the Love of God, because he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (I John 3:16).

Jesus enlarges on his command to love “as I have loved you” as follows: “Greater Love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12).  But, we may ask, what kind of love is it that responds to another simply out of a sense of duty?  If we are simply obeying the Divine law, what virtue is there in it?  Should not Love proceed from heart-desire rather than from legalistic obedience?

The word in question here is “commandment,” translated from the Greek word entole’ by most modern biblical translations.  Entole’, however, may be just as legitimately translated as “injunction,” “charge,” “commission,” and “precept.”  If, in fact, Jesus had intended to dictate a law demanding strict adherence, he had available two other terms which would not have been given to such ambiguity—“epitage,” a command or mandate given by a person in authority, and the still more concrete dia’tagma, an authoritative edict as in Hebrews 11:23, “By faith Moses was hidden by his parents…and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

In as much as Jesus chose entole’, and given the nature of agape’ Love as a chosen, gifted, way of life, it is reasonable to assume that “charge” or “commission” better conveys his intended meaning. “  This is my charge to you, that you love one another..." or “I commission you to love one another.”  The latter term also carries with it a sense of enablement in keeping with the nature of agape’.

What does it mean to be commissioned to love as Jesus has loved us?  It means that we are committed to living out the Love of God just as surely as was Jesus.  It means that we take up his ministry of Love and that, like Him, we give our lives in Love.  To receive Jesus’ commission is to take up his work where he left off, to continue it in the same way, with the same empowerment and, remarkably, with the same identity.  It was not just happenstance that his followers early on were called “Christians”—little Christs—in Antioch of Syria.

Contrary to the understanding of many fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, we are not so much called to relationship with Jesus as to identity with him.  Whereas he was “the light of the world” (John 9:5), we are now “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).  Whereas initially “all the fullness of the Father” dwelt in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:19), by virtue of the love of Christ we can now be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).  It is into Christ we come by believing (John 3:16).  And it is the suffering and the joy of Christ, himself, in which we participate (I Peter 4:13).  Finally, it is his divine nature of which we partake (I Peter 1:4).  In short, what Jesus is commissioning us to is a real and mystical participation in himself, the continuation of his living, loving presence here and now in our physical beings.

This is not a call to give up our uniqueness.  We are each unique forms of Jesus.  This does not make us less, but rather enlarges our vision of who and how great Jesus is.  To the extent that we individually and corporately “faith” into him, to that extent we are him and his expression of himself is enlarged.

Jesus says that “whatsoever you shall ask in my name, that will I do….” (John 14:13).  For the first century Hebrew to whom this was originally addressed, a person’s name was held to be virtually identical with his or her identity.  Thus, the only way a person might legitimately ask anything “in Jesus name” is by sharing in that identity.  When we ask, it is Jesus asking, because we, in our union with him, have taken on his identity.  Likewise, when he suffers, we suffer; when he loves, we love; when he rejoices, we rejoice—and vice versa.  We are in him, little Christs, and are thereby committed to that same ministry of agape’ Love to which he was committed in his life as Jesus of Nazareth.

The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, stated that “we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the demonstrated presence of the Lord, are metamorphosed (Greek, metamorphu, transfigured) into the same image from one demonstration of his presence to another, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (3:18).  God is about the business of restoring his image in us.  He is doing it through his first born, Jesus Christ, through whose Love we are called—relentlessly called—to be Love.  This is our commission.  It is by Love that we were born to be Love, transformed, transfigured, metamorphosed into that expression of God himself we were meant from the beginning to be.

Love is a Gift of God

Love is a Gift of God

“For God so loved the cosmos that he gave his only begotten son, in order that whoever believes into him should not perish but have everlasting life.” 1

Love is our gift to the world because Love is God’s gift to us.

Bear with me while I tell you of a dream through which God’s gift of Love was made more real to me than it had ever been before.  I was in a huge auditorium-like courtroom.  I was on trial.  The charge: unfaithfulness to God.  Everyone I had ever met was present and filled the auditorium. The charge was presented, I pled guilty, and sentence was passed—death and hell.  Though it was a dream, I felt deeply the trauma of that moment, knowing as I did that the sentence was right and just.  But then I flashed back in the dream to a point just before the sentencing.  In this flashback, Jesus entered the courtroom from a back entrance.  The court proceedings stopped. The courtroom fell silent as Jesus walked slowly down the long aisle and over to where I was seated.  He said nothing but motioned for me to stand.  When I did so, he took my seat.  The court proceedings resumed and Jesus took my sentence.

I was appalled and overwhelmed and incredulous and grateful.  I awoke crying, having learned experientially something of the cost of God’s Love.  Never since have I been able to contemplate casually the cross of Jesus.  Never since have I been tempted to denigrate the Love of God, for I know the dream portrayed the reality.  What I experienced there was a vision of what has really transpired—and that billions of times over.

Dorothy Day asks, “What is God but love?  What is religion without love?  We read of the saints dying for love and wonder what it means….  Our Lord did that, but most people no longer believe in Him.”2  Aren’t we a crazy people?  We say we are dying for love, we sing odes to it, we saturate our language with it, and bombard ourselves with televised and printed images of it, but when we are presented with the real thing, we neither recognize nor accept it.

Love is a free gift.  Agape love is a free gift of God.  Perhaps it is the very fact that it is free that makes it difficult to accept. In our Western society at least, we have our minds set against anything labeled “free.”  Such a label often means that (1), the gift offered isn’t worth much and (2), there’s a catch to it.

What about the gift of agape?  What is it worth?  The value of a gift may be measured either by its cost to the one who gives it or by its worth to the one receiving it. In the case of God’s gift of agape, I think it can fairly be said that it cost him a great deal. God laid the life of his “only begotten son” on the line in giving his Love.  If our freedom to accept or reject his Love means anything at all, then his gift was at the risk that nobody might accept it, that all of us might choose to go our own way.  There was the risk that all the pain and trauma of the cross might have been for naught.  But that risk, that insecurity, that possibility of indescribable heartbreak was, for God, part of the cost of loving.

Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s gift of his own life for us.  It was a gift so reckless and given with such abandonment of self as to exceed the limits of human credibility.  But it happened. History attests to it and both our faith and life experiences affirm it.  From the standpoint of the one giving it, it was a gift of unsurpassed worth, costing Life itself.

Love?  Would there have been resurrection?  For all his riches, God had nothing greater to give.  Having given his Love, was there anything left that could have been as effective in wooing us to him?  If Love had not worked, nothing else would have. Perhaps all, all, would have been lost—which leads us to the second question.

Is there a catch to God’s gift of Love?  Is it a gift with strings attached?  After all, what is it that Love wants to effect?  What is the goal of Divine Love?  Love has been defined, as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”3  Love may also be defined as the pull towards unity of that which should never have been separated, as the urge towards the healing of relationships that are broken, thus a move to wholeness.  Yes, if spiritual growth, unity, restoration and wholeness constitute a “catch,” then there is definitely a catch to agape Love.  God is out to kill us with Love.  He is out to kill that man or woman who is living the illusion of separateness, transforming us into that image of himself in which he first created us.  He is out to kill the illusion and confront us with our essential unity with each other, with our shared identity, and with our birthright of oneness with himself.

The pull towards unity, towards oneness, is the pull on the created towards the Creator.  The Hebrew prophet spoke for God, “You shall seek me and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).  In loving us, it is God’s purpose to bring us back to himself, to reestablish the union which once was and, in so doing, to restore us to our true selves.  Yes, there is a “catch” indeed. In responding to God’s gift of his Love we are freed from the bondage of our illusion of separateness and we come into the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God. In responding to his gift, we reestablish our “luminous and noble” place in God’s family.

There is imagery in Francis Thompson’s poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” where God is portrayed as the relentless pursuer, we the pursued. God pursues us until, at last, there is no escape.  But we try to flee, even though we should know that the quest for independence is futile.  “This is eternal life,” Jesus prayed, “that they should know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) God so loves that he gives—even to the point of pursuing us to do it.

Love is a gift of God.  It is the free and sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ.  It is a gift of union, of wholeness and of life—and that eternal.  It is also a gift which, when openly received, transforms us and infuses us with the same capacity and compulsion to be channels of agape for others.  It is only natural that when we come into union with the giver of Divine Love, into a real oneness, we will participate in the giving.  In receiving Love, we become Love. Love becomes our nature.  And in so becoming Love we learn first hand a little of what it cost God.  We, too, experience the pain and trauma of being misunderstood and rejected.  But worse still, we see those we love still trapped in their illusion, still trying to go it alone when all the freedom of life in God, life in its unimaginable fullness, is theirs for the asking.  We learn what God has always known—that we must love and accept all persons just as they are and love them for who, in God, they can become.

>When we give the Love that God has given us, we allow ourselves to be drawn closer to those we are given to love. “…this aspect of love says, ‘I love you as you can be, beyond who and what you are now, in your boundless possibilities.  I dream of you, for you, and with you toward a limitless future of love’.  In Gabriel Marcel’s phrase…’I hope in you for us.’”3

The gift of God’s Love is given to others through us. We, too, are Divine Lovers.  The gift we have been given is ours to give.  “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.” (Luke 12:48)

Notes:

1 Author’s translation of John 3:16.  The use of “into” to translate the Greek eis is consistent with the usual translation of that preposition.  It also adds significantly to the meaning of the text.

2 Robert Ellsberg, ed., By Little and By Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day (New York: Alfred A. Knopft, 1983), p. 226.

3 W. Harold Grant, Magdala Thompson, and Thomas E. Clarke, From Image to Likeness: A Jungian Path in the Gospel Journey (New York; Ramsey, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1983), p. 192

 

Loving with the Love of Jesus

Loving with the Love of Jesus

LOVE IS A DECISION TO EXPRESS THE LOVE OF GOD, TO ALLOW OUR BARRIERS TO FALL

By James L. Foster

It is popularly thought that love is something you “fall” into, that when it comes to loving another, it just happens.  We fall in love with one person.  We don’t fall in love with others.  (Or, if we do fall in love with more than one person, our relationships are thereby made very complicated.)  We typically assume there is some mystery associated with falling in love and we often attribute it to God.  How we account for the equally prevalent experience of falling out of love is another matter that somehow does not fit the “providential” mindset quite so easily.

Falling in Love vs. Divine Love

Psychologist Scott Peck, exploring the phenomenon of falling in love from a psychological perspective, categorically states that “falling in love” is not real love at all, and he gives the following reasons:

 

  • Falling in love is not an act of will, it is not a conscious choice…

  • Falling in love is not an extension of one’s limits or boundaries…

  • Real love is a permanently self-enlarging experience.   

Falling in love is not…

Falling in love has little to do with purposively nurturing one’s spiritual development.  If we have any purpose in mind when we fall in love it is to terminate our own loneliness and perhaps insure this result through marriage.Peck concludes then with a speculation about what falling in love is: 

Peck concludes then with a speculation about what falling in love is:

Deepak Chopra cites what he calls a “key” concept:  “When you fall in love, you fall for a mirror of your own most present needs.  The intense desirability of another person isn’t innate in that person.  Desire is born in the one who desires. ”Chopra’s observation brings us to the next logical question—the reverse of Peck’s question, if love is not “falling in love,” then what is it?  With agape in particular (though I think also with eros and phileo), it is an act of will, a conscious, deliberate choice to love.  We love because we choose to love, not because we stumble into it.

The Implications of Choice

The fact that we can choose to love means that it is possible to choose to love another person or persons regardless of whether or not we find them attractive or desirable.  It is possible to love someone who ignores or rejects us or makes unreasonable demands on us.  It is even possible to love someone who is our avowed enemy.  It may not be likely that we would “fall in love” with our enemy, but as spiritually enabled children of God we have the freedom to choose to genuinely love those who do us harm.  If this is not a possibility, it makes a mockery of Jesus’ admonition to love our enemies:  “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spite-fully use you and persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44)  It is not without reason that this is often seen as one of the most difficult commandments, but it may also be one of the most essential, being at the very of heart of Jesus’ teaching.

>We are free to choose Love.  As God’s sons and daughters we do not have to conform to the world’s way of response to those we identify as our enemies.  We do not have to “get even,” or return insult for insult or hate for hate.  We can choose to live our lives on a higher, nobler plane, on the plane of agape, Divine Love.  By the grace of God and the power of his Spirit, we are enabled to choose.

But suppose our master, Jesus, had chosen the usual human response to his tormentors.  It is said that he had at his command legions of angels.  Could they have not wiped out the despised Roman legions, the recalcitrant Pharisees, and all those responsible for nailing him to the cross?  But Jesus chose the way of agape instead.  By accepting the cross, Jesus empowers us to do likewise, to actually love those who are nailing us to our own contemporary crosses.  Jesus did not die in order that we might be freed from death or suffering, but that we might be free to love as he loved.  The call of God is not to painless invulnerability, but to loving presence like that of our master, a presence not immune to pain, injury, rejection or death.

We have a choice.  We need not be bound and manipulated by those who would inflict pain or even death on us.  We do not have to cringe in fear before the “authorities.”  We have the capability to love them with Divine Love, no matter what.  We can “turn the other cheek,” not because we do not doubly feel the pain of being struck twice instead of once, but because, our Love for our enemy prohibits our striking back and we can accept the blows to our bodies without in any real sense of being diminished.

Agape, An Expression of God’s Grace

The grace of God becomes tangible to us in God’s Love.  “By grace are you continually saved,” writes the Apostle Paul.  “It is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).  We are “called by his grace” (Galatians 1:15) and we have received grace “exceedingly abundantly with faith and Love” (I Timothy 1:14).  Further we are empowered with charismata, gifts of grace (I Corinthians 12:4), and are ourselves “stewards of the manifold grace of God”. (I Peter 4:10)   And nowhere does our stewardship of the grace of God come more to the fore than in our choice to allow agape’ to become tangible through us.  When we choose to love another, we choose to express God’s grace by his grace.  It is his grace that enables the choice to Love and it is his grace made manifest in Love.  Grace can be defined as “unmerited favor” and as “Divine assistance given to man.”  We receive it but we do not earn it.  We extend it through Love to others though they, too, do not earn it. In loving others with Divine Love we become channels of that grace which we ourselves have received.  We become Divine Lovers.

Barriers to God’s Grace

When we choose to express God’s grace, to open ourselves to be its channel, we make no small choice.  Apart from God’s grace, it is our natural inclination to erect barriers between other persons and ourselves.  By erecting such barriers we hope to avoid the pain of their rejection.  We also build barriers around those people and things in our lives we value most highly.  We are possessive of our children and spouse.  We lock our houses to keep out unwanted intruders and put our most treasured items in bank vaults where no one, not even we ourselves, can enjoy them.  We invest in insurance and seek written guarantees that we will continue to possess that which we have accumulated.

We erect psychological barriers as well.  We wear blinders that allow us to see only that which does not threaten our comfort or sense of security, blinders that keep us from seeing and feeling the suffering of those around us.  That way we can sit comfortably in our warm, locked houses, surrounded by our possessions, reasonably safe from whoever may be standing without, hungry, shivering in the cold and desperate.  That is, we can sit this way until God, in his infinite grace, breaks through our barriers, shatters our complacency, and exposes us to the unmitigated suffering of others created in his image, huddled on our own doorsteps—unmitigated because we will not open our doors.

Our barriers, which we have often spent years constructing, become a heap of rubble at our feet when we become Divine Lovers. Instead of being security conscious we become God’s fools, rashly allowing ourselves to be immersed by the moral, material, social and physical needs of the lepers who surround us.  For them, we risk our own poverty and deprivation. For them, we risk becoming social outcasts.  Why?  Because the Love of God within us compels us.  Having lost our blinders, all reality stands exposed before us, the sordid as well as the beautiful, the suffering masses as well as the prosperous and healthy, and moved by the compassion of God, we embrace it all.

It does not usually happen all at once.  As God removes our blinders he also prepares us for what is coming.  He does not do this by reinforcing the barriers.  He prepares us by giving us his strength, his sensitivity and his wisdom. His gifts of grace—faith, healing, knowledge, and discernment—are given to enable us to meet specific needs.  As God opens our eyes, he also opens our hearts, and that which is needed most by the people we meet—Divine Love—comes pouring out.  We can’t help it.  It’s there and it happens, when by God’s grace, we choose the way of Love.

Divine Love—agape’—is a decision.  It is not something we fall into or fall out of.  It is a decision to express the grace of God that we ourselves have abundantly received and of which we, as Divine Lovers, have become stewards.  It is the decision to let our barriers fall, to stand naked in the chilling wind, becoming fellow sufferers with our Master and with humankind, and warming our needy brothers and sisters from the inside out.

The Inspiration of Scripture

The Inspiration of Scripture

By James L. Foster

If you are convinced that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, or further, that God dictated it word-for-word, and if you believe that the Bible’s attestation of its inspiration is a valid criteria for judging the validity of its claim or, in addition, that the Bible’s transmission and translation has been faultless through all of the centuries since it was originally penned, and if you are so convinced of these claims that you are closed to hearing evidence to the contrary, then perhaps this article is not for you and you should move on to other articles.  However, if your primary concern is to discover truth wherever it may lead you, or however uncomfortable it may make you feel, then read on.  But know also that the author of this article is coming from a place of deep commitment both to the person of Jesus Christ and to the study of the biblical record, a serious study that has spanned the past 55 years.

Is the Bible the inspired Word of God?  Perhaps before answering this question one should consider the various elements of this statement.  Those who make this claim are at least implicitly assigning to the word “God” a personal quality that at best is questionable.  Even though the biblical writers themselves attributed various personality characteristics to “God”, it is apparent that they, like the rest of us, struggled to describe that which is utterly indescribable.  The biblical writers of necessity had to resort to anthropomorphic language to describe God because that is the only language they knew.  The assertion of the unembodied voice coming from a burning bush, whether it was real or in a vision, proclaimed God to be “I am I am.” (Exodus 3:14) which may come closest to a description of the Creator of any to be found.  My understanding of this seemingly bizarre identification, is that God is whatever is, is Being itself, as opposed to a being.  Any lesser description than this tends to be merely a magnification of what it means to be human.  We have created God in our image as a person like us, only bigger. With this kind of anthropomorphism it is only logical to speak of God as one who speaks, who has desires like us, who is, on occasion offended and displays human emotions like jealousy and anger and love.  How else can we speak of God?  Even our pronouns attribute to God personhood Language fails us when we try to speak of the ineffable.

So how does God as Being itself communicate?  And how can we know that it is Being that is communicating?  There are no easy answers, but one can be sure it is not by long conversations carried out between two individuals face to face as one man to another.  The biblical writer characterizes God’s communication that way because there are no other options.  However, there is communication between Being and humankind, perhaps in the form of ecstatic visions, both aural and visual.  But when this happens, they must still be reduced somehow to words if they are to be shared with other human beings.  But the words necessarily must fall far short of the reality.

So how is it that we can speak of inspiration at all?  If Being does not in itself physically speak, then where do inspired words come from?  They can only come from the inner depths of the man or woman who has somehow touched the ineffable reality we call God.  The words first arise out of Silence and, however inadequate a representation of Being they may be, they are then committed to some form of human communication.

Some of these words, in all probability, have come to be included in one or another of the sacred writings of the world.  Some have surfaced in the writings of saints, and, occasionally they may even be heard in a Sunday morning sermon.  But none do more than approximate the truth they seek to communicate, because the medium can never be the equal of the reality that is its source. God cannot be contained by words.

It also seems rather presumptuous to me that any collection of words can be labeled “the” word of God, as though there are no others.  Let alone the fact that all our words fall lamentably short when it comes to communicating the ineffable, it is none the less the case that many persons throughout history have apparently had experiences with Being that they were compelled to try to communicate.  These persons come from every age and every religion.  They include both ancient and modern seekers whose writings are such as are recognized by others to have some special merit, some ring of truth.  As such, their writings are often carefully preserved in order that the truths they enunciate may serve as a guide for future generations.

Problems arise, however, when these writings are rewritten or translated into other languages by persons not necessarily so inspired as the saints who originally penned them.  The processes of transmission and translation have been shown to be rife with errors, either intentional or accidental.  This is certainly true of the biblical writings we have today and, I suspect, is likewise true of most, if not all, other sacred texts.  There are also demonstrable errors of fact that even the original authors included in their writings.  To enumerate all the errors to be found in the Bible would require a book length treatise.  Whence come the errors?  Did the original authors misunderstand the messages they thought they were hearing?  Or, alternatively, did Being itself get it wrong on occasion?  Not likely!

Then there is the oft quoted biblical passage, 2 Timothy 3:16, in which the Apostle Paul categorically states, “All scripture is inspired by God…”  This is commonly applied to both the Old and New Testaments, in spite of the fact that the New Testament and some of the Old Testament had not yet been written or included in a canon, official or otherwise.  There were no gospels, for example, and no Acts of the Apostles.  There may have been a collection of Jesus’ sayings, and some of the Apostle Paul’s letters and the Letter of James, but none of these had been formed into a canon of scripture at the time Paul wrote to Timothy.  So what were these scriptures that he claimed were inspired?  To include Paul’s letters would seem to be a self-serving claim.  It is as though I should say of this treatise that it is to be treated as divinely inspired scripture.  I could say it, but my saying it would not make it so.  (Self-attestation is always suspect. as a witness to truth because of the obvious conflict of interest it presents.  Whether or not a particular writing is deigned to be inspired is for others to decide, not the author.)  What was available as scripture when Paul wrote Timothy is the Psalms, the Torah and some of the historical and prophetic books of the Old Testament, though at the time of Paul’s writing even these were not combined into a widely accepted canon.

As to the formation of the canon in the second and third centuries CE, the process was so fraught with power politics, that it hardly inspires confidence that they got it right.  It was not a meditative and spiritual or even a reasoned process leading to a well-considered conclusion.  It was a contentious and sometimes violent process through which those who had the most political power got to have the final say.  Through threats of excommunication and imprisonment and death, unscrupulous religious leaders with highly questionable motives decided what writings were to be included in the official canon of Scripture.  All other writings were to be destroyed. Is this how divine inspiration works?

Add to all of the above the widely divergent interpretations of what has come down to us as Scripture, and one is forced to conclude that whatever divine truth there may be in the Christian Scriptures may be something like the proverbial needle in a haystack That truth may only be discerned through a process of inspired reading not unlike the original authors may have experienced in the process of writing.  Prayerful reading of a text may not be a guarantee of divine discernment, given our tendency to be subjective, but openness to truth wherever it may be must certainly be one prerequisite to finding it.  With that openness we may even find it in unexpected places and from seemingly unlikely sources.  This prescription for seeking the divine communication, even if subjective, is still better than uncritical acceptance of self-serving claims of inspiration.

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Thank You, Jim Foster

A Jewish Perspective

A Jewish Perspective

Excerpts from Spirit Matters by Michael Lerner; Hampton Roads Publishing Co., 2000

“There is no verifiable data that can validate the statement that all truth must rest on verifiable data….In other words, scientism itself is another faith, its own foundation just as tenuous or just as solid as any other spiritual or religious tradition.” (p. 64)

“There are many scientists today who recognize that they need to validate the realm of the sacred.  In an ingenious argument in his posthumously published Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, anthropologist Roy A. Rappaport argues that understanding how the sacred is embodied in spiritually oriented rituals may be indispensable for the survival of the human race.  ‘In a world where the processes governing its physical elements are in some degree unknown and in even larger degree unpredictable, empirical knowledge of such processes cannot replace respect for their more or less mysterious integrity, and it may be more adaptive—that is, adaptively true—to drape such processes in supernatural veils than to expose them to misunderstandings that may be encouraged by empirically accurate but incomplete naturalistic understanding.’” (p. 66)

“Psychologist Abraham Maslow posited a ‘hierarchy of needs,’ suggesting that we must first satisfy our material needs and only then address our ‘higher’ needs.  While this account may apply to people who are literally starving, for most others it is deeply mistaken.  Throughout history, human beings have frequently been willing to sacrifice material well-being for the sake of spiritual connection and ethical purpose.  Rather than thinking of material needs as the foundation and the spiritual dimension as a kind of accessory, we should understand the spiritual needs are equally real and equally essential to our being.” (p. 76)

“We may be encouraged to meditate or to do yoga or even to pray.  These practices, healing as they are, will not fill the vacuum of meaning in our souls unless they are part of a larger effort that changes our relationships with one another and the world—and changes the ‘bottom line’ of the world of work. Meditating for fifteen minutes will not offset forty hours spent manipulating others for self-advancement or corporate profit any more than it will offset the devastating psychic impact of knowing you are producing goods that are using up the world’s precious resources, destroying the environment, or encouraging people to be profligate shoppers and mindless materialists…. spiritual healing must address the spiritual healing of the entire society, not just the internal lives of isolated individuals.” (pp. 89-90)

“In a world governed by the thought patterns of the market, love relationships become unstable and difficult to sustain.  Yet all people are faced with the reality that if they play by different rules, rules of trust, mutuality, and commitment, they are likely as not to find themselves on the short end, being taken advantage of by someone else who has assumed that they had to play by the ruthless and narcissistic rules of the world of work.   “Love, of all things, should operate by a different logic.   “That different logic is the logic of the Spirit.  The less awe and wonder in our lives, the less we are able to see each other in anything but instrumental terms—and the more most people feel alone and scared.” (p. 98)

Has somebody taught you that your real value is that you are so different from others in some respect or other—and that its only the ways that we are different that makes us really count?  Well, that belief itself is part of what spiritual practice seeks to overcome.  You are certainly valuable in your uniqueness.  But you are also valuable for what you have in common with everyone else—your ability to embody and emanate Divine energy.” (p. 100)

“We are loved by an eternal love that has sustained the universe since its inception….We are recipients of the loving energy of the universe, so powerful that it brought about the attraction between beings that ultimately led to our own conception and birth.” (p. 101)

We are manifestations of the Unity of All Being, a moment in the development of Spirit, part of the consciousness that pervades all Being.  And our lives feel meaningful us to the extent that we can connect them to the highest calling we have, a calling to more fully manifest Spirit in our lives.” (p. 101)

“So many people struggle with the same internal conflict—a fierce need to be in a very different kind of world, matched with a pathogenic belief that nothing can ever change.” (p. 129)“I often talk of God as ‘the Force of Healing and Transformation in the Universe,’ the Force that makes the transformation from ‘that which is’ to ‘that which ought to be’ possible.” (p. 133)

“…To see the world from the standpoint of the development of Spirit is a faith choice just as seeing it as little more than a jumble of random and indifferent facts is a faith choice.” (p. 134)

“It takes an act of faith, a leap toward belief in the Spirit and a rejection of the dominant cynicism of the contemporary world, to begin to believe that the goodness and generosity we’ve personally experienced are not exceptions, but are the underlying reality of our spiritual nature.” (p. 134)

“…loving another person is at once a manifestation of Spirit and a way to make Spirit stronger and more present in the world.” (p. 135)

The alienated world is not merely imposed upon us.  It is something we recreate everyday through our own levels of despair and depression, through our certainty that nothing fundamental can change, and through the cynicism that closes us off from the realm of the Spirit.  I’ve called these pathogenic beliefs, because the more we believe our own cynicism and despair, the more we help create a world in which our worse fears come true.” (p. 135)

“…To look at the world as it really is requires noticing the specific contributions you can make, and then to make them, confident that if we each do this we can together heal the planet.  Every act of love and kindness counts.” (p. 135)

“To the extent that we allow ourselves to see ourselves and each other as manifestations of the universal spirit of love, the scarcity model (that there’s not enough love to go around) starts to recede and we become more and more aware of the love that surrounds us and is part of us. (p. 136)

“What Lewis et. al. demonstrate in their physiological conclusion that relatedness and communal living are the center of human life is that there is no division between our spiritual needs and our physiological needs—they are one. (p. 137.  The reference is to the book, General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon.)

“And as we develop our sense of awe and wonder at the universe, we become increasingly unable to view the world as nothing more than a disposable ‘resource’ to be used for human consumption and discarded.  It is this sense of the miraculous and the sacred that will eventually provide the foundation for saving the planet” (p. 147-148)

“Thinking about the world as sacred makes it possible to stand up to the underlying logic of the globalization of capital….” (p. 153)

“Spiritual communities frequently teach and model a basic truth denied by the dominant society that: people are willing to take risks and make sacrifices for causes that go beyond self-interest.” (p. 154)

“Enmeshed in celebrating its own material successes, American society has become oblivious to the suffering it causes other human beings as it has to the destructive ecological consequences of its profligate consumption.  Yet future generations may look back on this period as one in which the wealthiest parts of the world became ‘silent executioners’ by willfully shutting our eyes to the pain of others and to the ecological destruction our economic system generates.” (p. 187)

“Recognizing philosopher Emanuel Levinas’ shrewd observation that ‘justifying the pain of my neighbor is the source of all immorality,’ more and more people are allowing themselves to identify with the suffering of those who are physically distant.” (p. 187)

“The spiritual approach must always insist on the limits of our own knowledge, a deep humility about the appropriateness of the means to our ends, and a willingness to recognize that even the highest spiritual goals can and often have been misused for destructive purposes.” (pp. 247-248)

“In the language of the spiritual tradition, we must have a deep sense of humility rather than the kind of self-righteousness that has all too frequently dominated the practice of religious and political movements.” (p. 257) 

The Necessity of Interfaith Dialogue: A Muslim Perspective

The Necessity of Interfaith Dialogue:

A Muslim Perspective

by Fethullah Gülen  

Introduction

Today, people are talking about many things: the danger of war and frequent clashes all over the world, water and air pollution, hunger, the increasing erosion of moral values, and so on. As a result, many other concerns have come to the fore: peace, contentment, ecology, justice, tolerance, and dialogue. Unfortunately, despite certain promising precautions, those who should be tackling these problems tend to do so by seeking further ways to conquer and control nature and produce more lethal weapons. Besides obscene material are spread through the mass media, especially the Internet. At the root of the problem is the materialist world view, which severely limits religion’s influence in contemporary social life. The result of such a situation is the current disturbed balance between humanity and nature and within individual men and women. Only a few people seem to realize that social harmony and peace with nature, between people, and within the individual only can come about when the material and spiritual realms are reconciled. Peace with nature, peace and justice in society, and personal integrity are possible when one is at peace with Heaven.

Religion reconciles opposites that seem to be mutually exclusive: religion–science, this world–the next world, nature–Divine Books, the material–the spiritual, and spirit–body. Religion can erect a defense against the destruction caused by scientific materialism, put science in its proper place, and end long-standing conflicts among nations and peoples. The natural sciences, which should act as steps of light leading people to God, have become a cause of unbelief on a previously unknown scale.  As the West has become the main base for this unbelief, and because Christianity has been the religion most influenced by it, dialogue between Muslims and Christians appears to be indispensable.

The goal of dialogue among world religions is not simply to destroy scientific materialism and the materialistic world view that have caused such harm; rather, the very nature of religion demands this dialogue. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and even Hinduism and other world religions, accept the same source for themselves, and, including Buddhism, pursue the same goal. As a Muslim, I accept all Prophets and Books sent to different peoples throughout history, and regard belief in them as an essential principle of being Muslim. A Muslim is a true follower of Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and all other Prophets, upon them be peace. Not believing in one Prophet or Book means that one is not a Muslim. Thus we acknowledge the oneness and basic unity of religion, which is a symphony of God’s blessings and mercy, and the universality of belief in religion. So, religion is a system of belief that embraces all races and all beliefs, a road that brings everyone together in brotherhood.

Regardless of how their adherents implement their faith in their daily lives, such generally accepted values as love, respect, tolerance, forgiveness, mercy, human rights, peace, brotherhood, and freedom are all values exalted by religion. Most of these values are accorded the highest precedence in the messages brought by Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, upon them be peace, as well as in the messages of Buddha and even Zarathustra, Lao-Tzu, Conficius, and the Hindu prophets.

We have a Prophetic Tradition almost unanimously recorded in the Hadith literature that Jesus will return when the end of the world is near. We do not know whether he will actually reappear physically, but what we understand is that near the end of time, values like love, peace, brotherhood, forgiveness, altruism, mercy, and spiritual purification will have precedence, as they did during Jesus’ ministry. In addition, because Jesus was sent to the Jews and because all Hebrew Prophets exalted these values, it will be necessary to establish a dialogue with the Jews as well as a closer relationship and co-operation among Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

There are many common points for dialogue among Muslims, Christians, and Jews who take their religion seriously. As pointed out by Michael Wyschogrod, an American professor of philosophy, there are just as many theoretical or creedal reasons for Muslims and Jews drawing closer to one another as there are for Jews and Christians coming together. (Faruqi, Ismail, R., Ibrahimi Dinlerin Diyalogu (trans), Ist. 1993, pp. 51–3.) Furthermore, practically and historically, the Muslim world has a good record of dealing with the Jews: there has been almost no discrimination, and there has been no Holocaust, denial of basic human rights, or genocide. On the contrary, Jews have always been welcomed in times of trouble, as when the Ottoman State embraced them after their expulsion from Spain.

Muslim Difficulties in Dialogue

The followers of other religion, namely Christians, Jews and others, may be facing internal difficulties in dialogue. However, I would like to make a brief survey of certain fundamental reasons making it difficult for Muslims to establish dialogue. The same reasons are also responsible for the present misunderstanding of Islam in the world. According to Fuller and Lesser (Fuller, Graham E., Lesser, Ian O., Kusatilanlar–Islam ve Bati’nin Jeopolitigi (trans), Ist. 1996, p. 41-2), in the last century alone, far more Muslims have been killed by Western powers than all of the Christians killed by Muslims throughout history. Many Muslims tend to produce more comprehensive results from this. They believe that Western policies are intentionally designed to weaken Muslim power. This historical experience leads even educated and conscious Muslims to believe that the West is continuing its thousand-year-old systematic aggression against Islam and, even worse, that it is doing so now with much more subtle and sophisticated methods. Consequently, the Church’s call for dialogue meets with considerable suspicion.

In addition, the Islamic world entered the twentieth century under the direct or indirect domination of the West. The Ottoman Empire, the defender and greatest representative of this world, collapsed as a result of Western attacks. The struggles against foreign invasions throughout the Muslim world were followed with great interest in Turkey. In addition to this, within Turkey itself, the conflicts between the Democratic Party and People’s Party in the 1950s led to Islam’s being perceived by conservatives and some intellectuals as an ideology of conflict and reaction and a political system, rather than as a religion primarily addressing one’s heart, spirit, and mind. Perceiving Islam as a party ideology in some Muslim countries, including Turkey, contributed to this impression. As a result, secularists and others began to look upon all Muslims and Islamic activities as suspect.

Islam also is seen as a political ideology because it has been the greatest dynamic in the Muslims’ wars of independence. Thus, it has become identified as an ideology of independence. Ideology tends to separate, while religion means enlightenment of the mind together with belief, contentment, and tranquillity of the heart, sensitivity in conscience and perception through real experience. Religion also has the nature and ability to penetrate by means of such essential virtues as faith, love, mercy, and compassion. Reducing religion to a harsh political ideology and a mass ideology of independence has led to walls forming between Islam and the West, and has caused Islam to be misunderstood.

Christendom’s historical portrayal of Islam also has weakened Muslims’ courage with respect to interfaith dialogue. For centuries, Christians were told that Islam was a crude and distorted version of Judaism and Christianity. For a very long time the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, was considered an imposter, a common or ingenious trickster, the Antichrist, or an idol worshipped by Muslims. Even recent books have presented him as someone with strange ideas who believed he had to succeed at any cost, and who resorted to any means to achieve success.

Dialogue Is a Must

I believe that interfaith dialogue is a must today, and that the first step in establishing it is forgetting the past, ignoring polemical arguments, and giving precedence to common points, which far outnumber polemical ones. In the West, some changes are witnessed in the attitudes of some intellectuals and clerics toward Islam. I must particularly mention the late Massignon, who referred to Islam by the expression: "The faith of Abraham revived with Muhammad." He believed that Islam has a positive, almost prophetic mission in the post-Christian world, for: "Islam is the religion of faith. It is not a religion of natural faith in the God of the philosophers, but faith in the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Ishmael, faith in our God. Islam is a great mystery of Divine Will." He believed in the Divine authorship of the Qur’an and the Prophethood of Muhammad, upon him be peace. (Prof. Griffith, Sidney, ‘Sharing the Faith of Abraham: the ‘Credo’ of Louis Massignon’, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, vol.8, No.2, pp.193-210.) The West’s perspective on our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, also has softened. Together with Christian clerics and men of religion, many Western thinkers besides Massignon, like Charles J. Ledit, Y. Moubarac, Irene-M. Dalmais, L. Gardet, Norman Daniel, Michel Lelong, H. Maurier, Olivier Lacombe, and Thomas Merton express warmth for both Islam and for our Prophet, and support the call for dialogue.

Also, expressions regarding Islam in the final declaration of the Second Vatican Council, which began the process of dialogue, cannot be ignored. This meant that the attitude of the Catholic Church toward Islam had now changed. In the second period of the Council, Pope Paul VI said:

On the other hand, the Catholic Church is looking farther, beyond the horizons of Christianity. It is turning towards other religions that preserve the concept and meaning of God as One, Transcendental, Creator, Ruler of Fate and Wise. Those religions worship God with sincere, devotional actions.

He also indicated that the Catholic Church commended these religions’ good, true, and humane sides:

The Church reaffirms to them that in modern society in order to save the meaning of religion and servanthood to God – a necessity and need of true civilization – the Church itself is going to take its place as a resolute advocate of God’s rights on man.

As a final result, the written statement entitled "A Declaration Regarding the Church's Relations with non-Christian Religions," which was accepted at the Council, declared that:

In our world that has become smaller and in which relations have become closer, people are expecting answers from religion regarding mysterious enigmas in human nature that turn their hearts upside down. What is man? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is goodness and reward, what is sin? What is the source and point of suffering? What is the path to true happiness? What is death, what is the meaning of judgement after death and receiving the fruits of what one has done on earth? What is the mystery surrounding the beginning and end of existence?

After stating that different religions attempt to answer these questions in their own ways, and that the Church does not reject altogether the values of other religions, the Council encourages Christians to have dialogue with members of other religions:

The Church encourages its children, together with believing and living as Christians, to get to know and support with precaution, compassion, dialogue and co-operation those who follow other religions and to encourage them to develop their spiritual, moral and socio-cultural values. (Translated from: Prof. Yildirim, Suat, ‘Kiliseyi Islam ile Diyaloga Iten Sebepler,’ Yeni Umit, No. 16, p. 7)

Another important point is that the current Pope, John Paul II, admits in his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, that (in spite of Muslim neglect and carelessness) it is still the Muslims who worship in the best and most careful manner. The Pope reminds his readers that, on this point, Christians should take Muslims as their example.

In addition, Islam’s resistance to materialist ideologies and its important role in the modern world has amazed many Western observers. The observations of E.H. Jurji are very significant here:

In its self-respect, self-maintenance, and realistic zeal, in its fight for solidarity against racist and Marxist ideologies, in its vigorous denunciation of exploitation, as in the preaching of its message to a wayward, bleeding humanity, Islam faces the modern world with a peculiar sense of mission. Not confused and not torn apart by a mass of theological subtleties, nor buried beneath a heavy burden of dogma, this sense of mission draws its strength from a complete conviction of the relevance of Islam. (Izzeti, Abu’l-Fazl, Islamin Yayilis Tarihine Giris (trans), Ist. 1984, p.348)

Muslims and the West have struggled with each other for almost fourteen centuries. From the Western perspective, Islam has threatened Western doors and opened many of them, facts that have not been forgotten. That said, the fact that this struggle is leading Muslims to oppose and resent the West, will never benefit Islam or Muslims. Modern modes of transportation and mass communication have turned the world into a global village in which every relationship is interactive. The West cannot wipe out Islam or its territory, and Muslim armies can no longer march on the West. Moreover, as this world is becoming even more global, both sides feel the need for a give-and-take relationship. The West has scientific, technological, economic, and military supremacy. However, Islam possesses more important and vital factors: Islam, as represented by the Holy Book and the Sunna of the Prophet, has retained the freshness of its beliefs, spiritual essence, good works, and morality as it has unfolded over the last fourteen centuries. In addition, it has the potential to blow spirit and life into Muslims who have been numbed for centuries, as well as into many other peoples drowned in the swamp of materialism.

Just as religion has not yet escaped the onslaught of unbelief based on science and philosophy, no one can guarantee that this storm will not blow even stronger in the future. These and other factors do not allow Muslims to view and present Islam purely as a political ideology or an economic system. Neither do they allow Muslims to consider the West, Christianity, Judaism, and even other great religions like Buddhism from a historical perspective and define their attitude accordingly.

When those who have adopted Islam as a political ideology rather than a religion in its true sense and function, review their activities and attitudes they claim to be based on Islam, especially political ones, will discover that they are usually moved by personal or national anger, hostility, and other similar motives. If this is the case, we must accept Islam and adopt an Islamic attitude as the fundamental starting point for action, rather than the existing oppressive situation that we face. The Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, defined a true Muslim as one who harms no one with his/her words and actions, and who is the most trustworthy representative of universal peace. Muslims travel everywhere with this sublime feeling that they nourish deep in their spirits. Contrary to giving torment and suffering, they are remembered everywhere as symbols of safety and security. In their eyes, there is no difference between a physical violation and a verbal violation, such as backbiting, false accusation, insult, and ridicule.

A Muslim’s beginning point must have an Islamic basis. In the present situation, Muslims cannot act out of ideological or political partisanship and then dress this partisanship in Islamic garb, or represent mere desires in the form of ideas. If we can overcome this tendency, Islam’s true image will become known. The present, distorted image of Islam that has resulted from its misuse by both Muslims and non-Muslims for their own goals scares both Muslims and non-Muslims. Moreover, as was stated in the Zaman newspaper in an interview with Professor Sidney Griffith, director of the Institute of Christian Oriental Research in The Catholic University of America and a sincere supporter of Islam–Christian dialogue, how the West sees Islam is illustrated by the fact that in American universities Islam is not taught as a religion in theological schools, but as a political system in the political science or international relations departments. Such a perception also is found among Westernized segments of the Islamic world and non-Muslims in Asia and Africa. Strangely enough, many groups that have put themselves forward under the banner of Islam export this image and actually strengthen it.

Islam’s Ecumenical Call for Dialogue

Fourteen centuries ago, Islam made the greatest ecumenical call the world has ever seen. The Qur’an calls the People of the Book (Christians and Jews primarily):

Say: "O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we take not, from among ourselves lords and patrons other than God." If then they turn back, say you: "Bear witness that we are Muslims (i.e., those who have surrendered to God’s Will)." (3:64)

This call, coming in the ninth year of the Hijra, begins with the "la (no!)" in the statement of faith, "La ilaha illa Allah (There is no god but God)." More than a command to do something positive, it was a call not to do certain things so that followers of the revealed religions could overcome their separation from each other. It represented the widest statement on which members of all religions could agree. In case this call was rejected, Muslims were to adopt the attitude expressed in another sura: "Your religion is for you; my religion is for me." That is, if you do not accept this call, we have surrendered to God. We will continue on the path we have accepted and leave you to go on your own path.

Elmalili Hamdi Yazir, a famous Turkish interpreter of the Qur’an, made the following interesting observations regarding this verse:

It has been shown how various consciences, nations, religions, and books can unite in one essential conscience and word of truth, and how Islam has taught the human realm such a wide, open, and true path of salvation and law of freedom. It has been shown fully that this is not limited to the Arab or non-Arab. Religious progress is possible not by consciences being narrow and separate from each other, but by their being universal and broad. (Hak Dini Kur’an Dili, Ist., Vol.2, pp.1131-2.)

Islam gave as a gift this breadth of conscience, this broad path of salvation, and this law of freedom. Bedi?zaman Said Nursi explains this broadest scope of Islam from a contemplative observation he had in the Bayezid Mosque in Istanbul:

Once I thought about the pronoun "we" in the verse: "You alone do we worship, and You alone we ask for help" (1:5), and my heart sought the reason why "we" was used in place of "I." Suddenly I discovered the virtue and secret of congregational prayer from that pronoun "we."

I saw that by doing my prayer with the congregation at the Bayezid Mosque, every individual in the congregation became a kind of intercessor for me, and as long as I recited the Qur’an there, everyone testified for me. I got the courage from the congregation’s great and intense servitude to present my insufficient servitude to the Divine Court.

Suddenly another reality unveiled itself: All of Istanbul’s mosques united and came under the authority of the Bayezid Mosque. I got the impression that they confirmed me in my cause and included me in their prayer.

At that time I saw myself in the earthly mosque, in circular rows around the Ka‘ba. I said: "Praise be to the Lord of the worlds. I have so many intercessors; they are saying the same thing I say in my prayer and confirming me. "

As this reality was unveiled, I felt I was standing in prayer in front of the blessed Ka‘ba. Taking advantage of this situation, I took those rows of worshippers as witnesses and said: "I witness that there is no god but God; again I bear witness that Muhammad is God’s Messenger." I entrusted this testimony to faith to the sacred Black Stone. While leaving this trust, suddenly another veil opened. I saw that the congregation I was in was separated into three circles.

The first circle was a large congregation of believing Muslims and those who believe in God’s existence and Unity. In the second circle, I saw all creatures were performing the greatest prayer and invocation of God. Every class or species was busy with its own unique invocation and litanies to God, and I was among that congregation. In the third circle I saw an amazing realm that was outwardly small, but, in reality, large from the perspective of the duty it performed and its quality. From the atoms of my body to the outer senses, there was a congregation busy with servitude and gratitude.

In short, the pronoun "we" in the expression "we worship" pointed to these three congregations. I imagined our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, the translator and propagator of the Qur’an, in Madina from which he was addressing humanity, saying: "O mankind! Worship your Lord!" (2:21). Like everyone else, I heard his command in my spirit, and like me, everyone in the three congregations replied with the sentence: "You alone do we worship"(Mektubat, 29. Mektub, 6. Nukte, Ist.).

How To Interact with Followers of Other Religions

In the Qur’an God says: "This is the Book; wherein there is no doubt; a guidance to those who fear God" (2:2). Later it is explained that these pious ones are those: "Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them; and who believe in what is sent to you and what was sent before you, and (in their hearts) have the reassurance of the Hereafter" (2:3-4). At the very outset, using a very soft and slightly oblique style, the Qur’an calls people to accept the former Prophets and their Books. Having such a condition at the very beginning of the Qur’an seems very important to me when it comes to starting a dialogue with the followers of other religions.

In another verse God commands: "And discuss you not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation)" (29:46). In this verse, the Qur’an describes what method, approach, and manner should be used. Bediuzzaman’s view of the form and style of debate are extremely significant: "Anyone who is happy about his opponent’s defeat in debate is without mercy." He explains further: "You do not gain anything by his defeat. If you were defeated and he was victorious, then you would have corrected one of your mistakes." Debate should not be for the sake of our ego, but to enable the truth to come out.

Elsewhere, in Sura Mumtahana, it is stated: "God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for God loves those who are just" (60:8).

Some Qur’anic verses level, according to some, certain degree of harsh criticisms against the People of the Book. However, such criticism is directed against wrong behavior, incorrect thought, resistance to truth, the creation of hostility, and undesirable characteristics. The Old and New Testaments contain even stronger expressions against the same attributes. However, immediately after these apparently sharp criticisms, and threats directed at those who engage in such behavior, very gentle words are used to awaken hearts to the truth and to plant hope. In addition, the Qur’an’s criticism and warning about some attitudes and behavior found among Jews, Christians, and polytheists also were directed toward Muslims who still engaged in such behavior. Both the Companions and expounders of the Qur’an agree on this. Further discussion on this matter is beyond the scope of this paper.

God-revealed religions strongly oppose disorder, treachery, conflict, and oppression. Islam literally means "peace," "security," and "well-being." Naturally based on peace, security, and world harmony, it sees war and conflict as aberrations to be brought under control. An exception is made for self-defense, as when a body tries to defeat the germs attacking it. Self-defense must follow certain guidelines, however. Islam has always breathed peace and goodness. Islam considers war an accident, and has established rules to balance and limit it. For example, it takes justice and world peace as a basis, as in the verse: "Let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from Justice" (5:8). Islam developed a line of defense based on certain principles that protect religion, life, property, the mind, and reproduction. The modern legal system also has done this.

Islam accords the greatest value to human life. It views the killing of one person as the killing of all people, for a single murder engenders the idea that any person can be killed. Adam’s son Cain was the first murderer. Although their names are not specifically mentioned in the Qur’an or the Sunna, we learn from the Bible that a misunderstanding between Cain and Abel resulted in Cain unjustly killing Abel in a jealous rage. And thus began the epoch of spilling blood. For this reason, in one of the hadiths, the Messenger of God, upon him be peace, says: "There is no case on earth where a person has been killed unjustly that a portion of the sin for murder is not credited to Adam’s son Cain, for he was the first person to open the way of unjust killing to humanity." (Buhari, Diyat 2, Enbiya 1; M?lim, Kasame 27) In the continuation of the story of Cain and Abel, the Qur’an states that one who kills a person unjustly is as if he/she killed everyone, and one who saves another is as if he/she saved everybody (5:32).

Love, Compassion, Tolerance and Forgiving: The Pillars of Dialogue

Whether in the form of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or other world religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, religion commands love, compassion, tolerance, and forgiving. Therefore, I would like to say a few words concerning these fundamental, universal values.

Love is the most essential element in every being. It is a most radiant light, a great power that can resist and overcome every force. Love elevates every soul that absorbs it, and prepares it for the journey to eternity. Those who make contact with eternity through love exert themselves to implant in all other souls what they receive from eternity. They dedicate their lives to this sacred duty, and endure any hardship for its sake. Just as they say "love" with their last breaths, they also breathe "love" while being raised on the Day of Judgment.

Altruism, an exalted human feeling, generates love. Whoever has the greatest share in this love is the greatest hero of humanity, one who has uprooted any personal feelings of hatred and rancor. Such heroes of love continue to live even after death. These lofty souls, who, by kindling each day a new torch of love in their inner world and making their hearts a source of love and altruism are welcomed and loved by people, receive the right of eternal life from such an Exalted Court. Not even death or Doomsday can remove their traces.

The most direct way leading to the hearts of people is that of love. This is the way of the Prophets. Those who follow it are not rejected; even if they are rejected by some people, they are welcomed by many. Once they are welcomed through love, nothing can prevent them from attaining their goal.

As for compassion, everything speaks of it and promises it. Therefore, the universe can be considered a symphony of compassion. A human being must show compassion to all living beings, for this is a requirement of being human. The more people display compassion, the more exalted they become; the more they resort to wrongdoing, oppression, and cruelty, the more they are disgraced and humiliated. They become a shame to humanity. We hear from Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, that a prostitute went to Paradise because her compassion compelled her to give water to a dog dying of thirst, while another woman went to Hell because she allowed a cat to starve to death.

As for forgiving, it is a great virtue. It is wrong to consider forgiveness separate from virtue, or of virtue as separate from forgiveness. Everyone knows the adage: "Errors from the small, forgiveness from the great." How true this is! Being forgiven means a repair, a return to an essence, and finding oneself again. For this reason, the most pleasing action in the view of the Infinite Mercy is the activity pursued amidst the palpitations of this return and search.

All of creation, both animate and inanimate, was introduced to forgiveness through humanity. Just as God showed His attribute of forgiveness through individual human beings, He put the beauty of forgiving in their hearts. While the first man dealt a blow to his essence through falling, which is somehow a requirement of his human nature, it was God’s forgiveness that gave a hand to him and elevated him to the rank of Prophethood.

Whenever a human being has erred, mounting on the magic transport of seeking forgiveness and surmounting the shame of personal sin and the resulting despair, they attain infinite mercy and overlook the sins of others. Jesus said to a crowd of people eager to stone a woman: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Can anyone who understands this binding, fine point incline even consider stoning someone else when he or she is also a likely candidate for being stoned? If only those unfortunate ones who demand that others pass a certain litmus test could understand this!

Malice and hatred are the seeds of hell scattered among people by evil. In contrast to those who encourage malice and hatred and turn the land into a pit of Hell, we should carry forgiveness to those whose troubles are pushing them into the abyss. The excesses of those who neither forgive nor tolerate others have made the past one or two centuries the most horrific of all time. If such people are to rule the future, it will be a fearful time indeed. For this reason, the greatest gift today’s generation can give to their children and grandchildren is to teach them how to forgive, even in the face of the crudest behavior and most upsetting events. We believe that forgiveness and tolerance will heal most of our wounds only if this celestial instrument is in the hands of those who understand its language.

It should be such a broad tolerance that we can close our eyes to others’ faults, show respect for different ideas, and forgive everything that is forgivable. In fact, even when our inalienable rights are violated, we should respect human values and try to establish justice. Even before the coarsest thoughts and crudest ideas, with the caution of a Prophet and without boiling over we should respond with a mildness that the Qur’an presents as "gentle words." We should do this so that we can touch other people’s hearts by following a method consisting of a tender heart, a gentle approach, and mild behavior. We should have such a broad tolerance that we benefit from contradictory ideas, for they force us to keep our heart, spirit, and conscience in good shape even though they do not teach us anything.

Tolerance, which we sometimes use in place of respect and mercy, generosity and forbearance, is the most essential element of moral systems. It also is a very important source of spiritual discipline, and a celestial virtue of perfected men and women.

Under the lens of tolerance, the merits of believers attain a new depth and extend to infinity; mistakes and faults shrink so much that they can be squeezed into a thimble. Actually the treatment of He Who is beyond time and space always passes through the prism of tolerance, and we wait for it to embrace us and all of creation. This embrace is so broad that a prostitute who gave water to a thirsty dog touched the knocker of the "Door of Mercy" and found herself in a corridor extending to Heaven. Similarly, due to the deep love he felt for God and His Messenger, a drunk suddenly shook himself free and became a Companion of the Prophet. In another example, with the smallest of Divine favors, a murderer was saved from his monstrous psychosis, turned toward the highest rank, which far surpassed his natural ability, and reached it.

We want everyone to look at us through this lens, and we expect the breezes of forgiveness and pardon to blow constantly in our surroundings. All of us want to refer our past and present to the climate of tolerance and forbearance, which melts and transforms, cleans and purifies, and then walk toward the future without anxiety. We do not want our past to be criticized, or our future to be darkened because of our present. All of us expect love and respect, hope for tolerance and forgiveness, and want to be embraced with feelings of liberality and affection. We expect tolerance and forgiveness from our parents in response to our mischief at home, from our teachers in response to our naughtiness at school, from the innocent victims of our injustice and oppression, from the judge and prosecutor in court, and from the Judge of Judges (God) in the highest tribunal.

However, deserving what we expect is very important. Anyone who does not forgive has no right to expect forgiveness. Everyone will see disrespect to the degree that they have been disrespectful. Anyone who does not love is not worthy of being loved. Those who do not embrace humanity with tolerance and forgiveness will not receive forgiveness and pardon. One who curses others can only expect curses in return. Those who curse will be cursed, and those who beat will be beaten. If true Muslims would continue on their way and tolerate curses with such Qur’anic principles as: "When they meet empty words or unseemly behavior, they generously pass them by" and "if you behave tolerantly and overlook their faults," then others would appear to implement the justice of Destiny on those cursers.

The Last Word

Those who want to reform the world must first reform themselves. In order to bring others to the path of traveling to a better world, they must purify their inner worlds of hatred, rancor, and jealousy, and adorn their outer worlds with all kinds of virtues. Those who are far removed from self-control and self-discipline, who have failed to refine their feelings, may seem attractive and insightful at first. However, they will not be able to inspire others in any permanent way, and the sentiments they arouse will soon disappear.

Goodness, beauty, truthfulness, and being virtuous are the essence of the world and humanity. Whatever happens, the world will one day find this essence. No one can prevent this.

Interfaith Relationships

Interfaith Relationships

Interfaith Relationships is building mutual respect, appreciation, and celebration among diverse religious, ethical, cultural communities and civic organizations.

Why do this now?:

  • There is lack of understanding and respect for our diversities that has often resulted in fear, distrust and the dehumanization of people of different religious, ethical and cultural traditions.

  • Interfaith Relationships works for a positive appreciation of diversity, espousing compassion as the central asset of religious, ethical, and cultural life, and that any interpretation of sacred writings that fosters violence, hatred, or disdain is illegitimate.

  • Learning practical ways to encounter people of diverse religions, ethics, and cultures, we discover opportunities to learn from each other, living in community together, developing/increasing mutual respect and discovering areas of commonality.

This will be explored in further posts.