Sunday, May 06, 2007

So a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim walk into a bar...

"What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor."
Babylonian Talmud, Shabbatt 31a

"In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you."
Matthew 7:12

"None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself."
The Hadith, sayings of the prophet

Today's sermon at the local United Church of Christ I attend was given by one of the four regular ministers in conjunction with two guests: a Rabbi and a Qur'an scholar. The three of them spoke of how the Golden Rule is manifested in each of their traditions, as well as how that ties into the interfaith partnership they've shared for the past few years, working to build bridges among faith communities.

As they spoke several things struck me, all of which I was hoping to at least paraphrase here, but of course I can't remember anything now. If you're interested in hearing what they have to say, check out the website for their weekly radio show. What I do remember is that while they spoke I felt connected to God in a way I rarely feel lately. I recognized truths in what all three of them had to say, and those truths excited me. I wished I could have this experience every week, if not every day. I'll have to check out their radio show myself.

As each man spoke about the Golden Rule, I thought about what that meant for me. What would I like people to do for me that I am not doing for them? What stood out to me as the one thing I want from others is respect. Perhaps because I feel rather alone in my personal belief system lately--whether I'm among Mormons, ex-Mormons, Christians, or atheists--I am very conscious of how I perceive others to be perceiving me. Most people are outwardly respectful, but I constantly wonder whether they are secretly thinking, He is wrong and I am right, and that is why I'm better than he is. The obvious truth here is that I would not worry that others are thinking this unless I were thinking it myself. As outwardly respectful as I may treat others and their beliefs, I am often silently patting myself on the back for being so morally superior. Even as I am writing this post, on some level I'm thinking of how open-minded and wise and self-aware it will make me look, how everyone will realize how much better my worldview is.

There's an interesting tension, similar to the one I'm experiencing, in the efforts of a Christian church to participate in an interfaith community. Just last week one of the themes of the sermon was that we should be careful in embracing the good in other faiths not to water down Christianity. If Jesus is nothing more than a wise teacher among many wise teachers, then what's the point? The central message of Christianity is not that Jesus was a pretty cool guy, but that Jesus is the Christ.

Then this week, in that very same church, a Rabbi and a Qur'an scholar not only participate in the sermon, but they hold trays of bread as the congregation comes forward to partake of Communion, and we are reminded that although we all use different words to describe our beliefs and our rituals, we are all worshipping the same God. There's a disconnect here, and I'm not quite sure what to do with it.

The thought I had this morning is that, as a song I had quoted in my sidebar not too long ago says, "God is too big for just one religion." Whatever Greater Power exists beyond this sphere--and I call it God and use the masculine singular pronoun to refer to it because that's what I'm comfortable with--it's highly unlikely that any one religion, philosophy, or theory completely understands it. Just as Mormonism speaks of the dual witness of the Bible and the Book of Mormon, two nails that hold the board steady, it seems to me that this elusive truth about God or Universal Consciousness or Whatever can be best approached through the lenses of various worldviews. As I've done this on a very small scale--comparing the religion I grew up in to the one I'm participating in now, throwing in the little I know of other faiths, and the quasi-New Age philosophies my therapist has been having me look into (more on that later this week), the things that stand out to me, that ring true, are the things these all have in common. The Golden Rule, for example.

This still leaves me with the question of how one embraces one's own faith while truly respecting the faith of another for what it is, not as some gross approximation of the real, pure truth one knows. A believing Mormon, for example, might say that her faith encompasses all the good found in other faiths, and I might say that mine is equally all-encompassing. But the truth is that neither of is truly accepting the other on his or her own terms. We are condescendingly acknowledging the other's valiant efforts to understand God while maintaining that my way is the right way. I may claim that relativism allows for many truths, but in so doing I'm denying the truth of worldviews that do not allow for relativism.

I suppose what I'm saying is that I don't quite know how to do it, but I'm going to try harder to respect other people's beliefs, not just in a superficial for-show sort of way, but in truth. If you have a good idea of how I can do that, please share. If not, let's figure it out together.


Lisa said...

Jesus Christ is our perfect example of respecting all people and their differences. I love Chapter 13 in first Corinthians. It talks about charity and how "charity never faileth". Charity is more than just learning to love. It encompasses many eternal principles. This scripture has been on my mind a lot lately.

Sir Jupiter said...

No better place than Seattle to acclimatize oneself to culturally, religiously and ethnically diversity!

Sir Jupiter said...

Having been written while I was hepped up on NyQuil, I hereby acknowledge that the previous comment left by me was *VERY* poorly phrased.

My sincerest apologies.

TK said...

It seems to me that the key to your dilemma might lie in separating the 'behavior' from the 'person', and altering that a bit to read ‘respect other people’ or ‘respect other people’s right to make their own search for truth’. ‘Truly accepting the other’ person doesn’t require accepting their beliefs - only them! Do you really care if people accept your beliefs as long as they truly accept YOU?

Does God love us for who we are (i.e.: for just BEING) or only for what we DO? I think He loves us because we’re his children. Period. Isn't that how you feel about your children? That doesn't mean that there's not choices that are better than other choices. I believe He’s pleased when we make good choices in the same way that you're happy when your daughter obeys you when you tell her not to touch a hot stove. You’re concerned for her welfare.

So if we are to follow the example of God, we will love and respect people for just ‘being’ - not for how they ‘perform’. So in terms of our love and respect for them, it won't matter what religion they choose. That’s not to say that choices don’t matter. But we can RESPECT people’s EFFORTS to make the right choices without agreeing with their particular choices.

Of course I think MY choice is right or I wouldn't have chosen it! But I have to respect other people’s right to make their own search for the truth. I might try to 'help' them if I think I can, but ultimately I have to recognize and respect their right. I personally believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints contains the fullness of Christ’s Gospel. But that doesn’t make me ‘better’ in my own mind; if anything, it only makes me more responsible for sharing what I have and living according to those teachings. When I get that perfected, THEN maybe I’ll have time to judge your choices. :) But that doesn't have any affect on my respect for you - or your ability to make your own choices.

Kristeee said...

I find that I'm more accepting when I see someone who "works" for their beliefs in some way, who makes some kind of an effort in their faith's behalf. Or is at peace with himself about his choice. So once someone has actually made a decision and lives accordingly, I think "props to him." It's those who are namby-pamby about it or say "well my father was a Catholic and my father's father was a Catholic, and his father was a priest . . ." so they're Catholic and don't go to church and don't believe any of the same things Catholics do . . . that bothers me (can you tell I spent time as a missionary in CATHOLIC Austria?)

mamamormon said...

Master Fob - you said, "The obvious truth here is that I would not worry that others are thinking this unless I were thinking it myself. As outwardly respectful as I may treat others and their beliefs, I am often silently patting myself on the back for being so morally superior."

I used to be that way. As I've gotten older (still not old....yet....), I've noticed that tendency has naturally gone away/calmed down a bit. The more one flocks up one's own life and the lives of others, the less sanctimonious one gets about the choices of their neighbors.

My thought process used to be, "This is right for everyone, gosh darn it!" and now it's more, "This is right for me. Tell me about what is right for you."

I still have some black and white issues, but as I become a little more seasoned and have more mistakes under my belt, I've calmed down tons.

Mr. Fob said...

Good point, Mamamormon. Probably some things just take time and experience to figure out.

mamamormon said...

Mr. Master - I hope I didn't sound too sanctimonious about how I overcame being sanctimonious

Mr. Fob said...

Ha! No, not at all.