|18. 941221 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
No matter its origins, Christmas means
light and hope
The Buddha was born as his mother traveled
to her home town, kings paid their respects, and the heavens led wise men
to bring him gifts. At the birth of Confucius, music filled the sky. A
Jewish story says that when Abraham was born, a great star appeared.
Krishna had to be hidden
to escape a slaughter of infants. A dream led authorities to search for
the infant Zoroaster, to kill him. Mithra, the sun god, was born at the
winter solstice, Dec. 25 on the ancient calendar.
The holy writings and traditions
of Christianity echo each of these earlier stories. Many religions embrace
the theme of the birth of a savior or great leader, or—to use a Buddhist
term—tathagata, to redeem the world.
We get mistletoe from the
Druids, laurel from ancient Rome and holly from the Celts. The Christmas
tree originates in pagan Germanic celebrations of green life in the dead
season of still, white snow.
In 1660 the Puritans enacted
a law calling Christmas customs such as exchanging gifts satanical practices.
They forbade observing Christmas because of its sources. Today perhaps
we can enjoy Christmas all the more as we see its parallels in other faiths.
But deeper than any single element of the story, or any one symbol, is
the universal human need to affirm light and hope in times of darkness
17. 941207 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
He speaks with modesty, vision
Many Americans are familiar with Protestant
evangelist Billy Graham, Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II and Jewish writer
Elie Wiesel. A Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama also has become a celebrity.
Religious teachers with less
media attention nonetheless have astonishing impact on the lives of millions.
Pandurang Athavale of Bombay, India is one who is honored by hundreds of
Kansas City area Hindus.
He is a modest man who nonetheless
speaks with power and vision. With simple stories of God’s love, he unravels
selfish desires with a larger perspective.
He tells about a potter who
prayed for sunshine so that his clay pots would dry, and a farmer who on
the same day, in the same region, prayed for rain. Instead we need to pray
to be cleansed from greed and to cooperate in helping one another.
Athavale teaches that we
develop deep relationships when we listen to one another without an agenda.
Often we want something when we listen, and this desire can distort what
He has inspired doctors,
lawyers and business people to go into the poorest villages without a purpose
other than to listen. As the villagers learn to trust their guests, they
disclose their needs and develop among themselves cooperative ways to improve
Athavale, educated in Western
thought as well as his own heritage, is uniting Eastern ways of inward
respect and cleansing with Western paths of social relationships.
I join with his admirers
to wish him well on his 75th birthday.
16. 941123 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Gratitude can enlarge horizons
"People too easily consider themselves
victims," says Kansas City psychotherapist Jim Roberts.
"Even when we really have
been injured, healing does not come from identifying with the victim role
but from realizing we are bigger than that. Practicing gratitude enlarges
Roberts notes that there
are only 39 books in print with "gratitude" in the title, compared with
279 with "anger" and 973 with "fear."
A Christian view
The Rev. Harold Johnson,
pastor of Meadowbrook United Methodist Church, says Roberts' view is in
harmony with the Christian teaching of God's grace, which we can reflect
in gratitude. "God continually gives us more than we deserve. His merciful
love is always available to us, regardless of our merit."
A Buddhist view
Chuck Stanford says, "Buddhists
are grateful for all experiences, not simply the ones that seem to be positive."
All experiences, even painful ones, are opportunities to learn," he says.
"Whether pleasant or horrible, experiencing the present fully, with a grateful
spirit, undergirds a thoughtful and compassionate life.'
A Muslim view:
Mervat Ibrahim says difficulties
are "opportunities to learn patience," and therefore it is right to be
thankful even for the evil we encounter. Some faithful Muslims give praise
to Allah 165 times a day, and at least a thousand times on Fridays and
other holy days. Ideally, she says, "we give thanks with every breath."
Thursday is Thanksgiving,
but we can practice gratitude anytime.
Yin couldn't exist without yang
In Tuesday's elections, voters chose from
opposing candidates. We often choose Republican or Democrat, incumbent
or challenger, liberal or conservative.
Some say these opposites
are contained within a process in which no part can exist without the other.
To think that light can exist darkness, that pleasure is possible without
pain, has been called a "Western illusion."
The yin-yang, an ancient
Chinese symbol, often is explained as the union of opposites. Yin is dark;
yang is light. Yin is feminine, receptive, moist; yang is masculine, expansive,
But yin and yang are not
so much opposites as they are complements. This is why they perfectly align
themselves with each other within a circle representing the larger reality.
How can you have left without right, east without west, a valley without
As night and day endlessly
yield to each other, so yin and yang mutually arise and retire. This is
represented by the dot, the "eye" of each in the other, each containing
the seed growing into its complement. Nothing is static; all changes.
Sometimes yin and yang are
said to represent good and evil. This is a misunderstanding. Is dry better
than moist? It depends on the circumstance.
Failures sometimes lead to
spiritual growth. Achievement sometimes leads to ruin. We may be too quick
to judge an outcome.
If anything can be called
good, it is the balance of yin and yang, placed appropriately, according
to Taoism, one of the Chinese religions using this symbol.
14. 941026 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Confession helps keep faith pure –
God's voice can be distorted by custom and corrupted tradition.
How do we keep our faith pure?
Jewish-Muslim dialogue: I
listened to a Jew and a Muslim speak before a Kansas City audience during
the height of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The Jewish speaker acknowledged
hateful things said and done in the name of Judaism, and the Muslim speaker
spoke with shame about those who perverted his own faith into violence.
Instead of blaming each other's
religious groups, each sought to cleanse his own household. Jesus said,
"First cast the beam out of thy own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly
to cast out the mote in thy brother's eye." (Matthew 7:5).
Racism: If we are to "keep
the faith," we must acknowledge the distortions and corruptions that creep
into our own traditions. We can be healed by such confession.
Sometimes it takes years
to cast out the mote. Before the Civil War, some Christians used portions
of the Bible, such as Paul's letter to Philemon, to justify slavery. A
hundred years later, when I was a youth, some Christians argued that God
meant the races to be separate. They used stories such as the division
of lands to the sons of Noah.
Sexism: As Carol Lynn Pearson's
show "Mother Wove the Morning" painfully reveals, women have been mistreated
throughout history in the name of religion. Cultural practices and scriptural
citations still are used to justify denying women the protections and opportunities
When we begin to distinguish
God's voice from custom, not only do women benefit, but men also are freed
from the role of oppressor. But the greatest benefit may be a purified
13. 941012 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Some people still cling to their religious
prejudices – However, most folks are interested in understanding others.
Until I started writing this column a few
months ago, I had few personal encounters with religious prejudice.
Conversion or Understanding
Once, after agreeing to address
a group on "Cultural Backgrounds of Japanese Business Practices," the group's
president called to ask whether I "believed in the Bible" and whether I
planned to convert the members to Buddhism.
"No more Buddhists will leave
your meeting than come to it," I replied. "I think it is helpful to know
about those with whom we trade." I was disinvited.
This column's purpose is
understanding, not conversion.
However, some readers who
call me say it is wrong to even mention religions other than the "true
After a column suggesting
that heroes are those who help other people, a caller warned that I was
leading readers into the wicked "ecumenical church prophesied in the Book
of Revelation" and identified me with the "anti-Christ."
After my column about a Hindu
scripture, a reader called me: "If you think you're going to be reincarnated
as a flea, I suggest you go back to India. We exterminate them in America."
She continued: "Do not come to our country and murder Christians. You won't
get away with this."
Actually, I was born in Omaha,
Neb., am a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant and have not contemplated murdering
Christians. I'm proud to have many non-Christian friends who exhibit the
spirit of God's love.
Some callers remind me how
much prejudice persists. But most of you, with sincere questions and comments
about various faiths, are open to the infinite ways the Sacred unfolds.
12. 940928 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Bhagavad Gita teaches through its metaphors
Earlier this month about 700 people gathered
in Kansas City for a three-day conference on one of the most revered Hindu
scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita. The work dates to 150 years before Christ,
also known as before the common era in non-Christian cultures.
Kirit Patel, a Kansas City
Hindu, said the Gita answers three questions: Who am I? What is God? How
can I reach God?
The Gita is only 1,400 lines
long, but it has influenced leaders including Gandhi and Martin Luther
King Jr., scientists such as J. Robert Oppenheimer and ordinary people
throughout the world.
In the Gita, as the warrior
Arjuna positions his chariot for battle, he hesitates. He sees that war
will lead to the death of his kinsmen. Even God could not avert this war.
The god Krishna counsels Arjuna that he must fight—but fight without hatred,
even without obsession with winning.
The Gita was difficult for me when I first
read it. Now I understand it as a metaphor for our own inner battlefield,
where we must master our most astounding fears and disappointments.
The direction for this mastery
is clear: Do the right thing, without concern for reward or punishment.
Love without attachment.
A temple in India displays
the essence of the Gita on a wall: "Thy business is with action only, never
with its fruits; nor be thou to inaction attached." One cannot avoid responsibility,
but one must not be eaten up by it. Action freed from desire is a path
11. 940914 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Heroes have lost sense of service
What is a hero?
Movies such as "Natural Born
Killers" and the "Go OJ" signs that appeared during O.J. Simpson's "Friday
Night Bronco Ride" suggest that the meaning of "hero" has degenerated.
Help or hurt? Arnold Schwarzenegger
says a hero never blinks when shooting. "You look weak if the noise makes
you blink." The hero is "above emotions" and looks at his "victim" instead
of his gun.
Do heroes have victims? Religions
usually present heroes who help, rather than hurt people. Nowadays a hero
is anyone who gets press, wealth, position, or wins a contest, regardless
Service: Scholar Joseph Campbell
defined the hero as "someone who has given his life to (serve) something
bigger than himself." The Buddha gave up kingship to teach ordinary people
the path to end suffering. Moses sacrificed a personal life to serve God
and lead a nation to fulfillment. Christ surrendered himself to his Father's
will to save all humankind. The divine voice instructed Muhammad to show
others a better way of living.
Modern heroes: At personal
sacrifice, Thomas Jefferson helped establish a new nation in freedom. Despite
ridicule, Susan B. Anthony advanced women's rights. Martin Luther King
Jr. forfeited his life for racial justice. Risking his reputation by disclosing
his homosexuality, Olympic champion diver Greg Louganis modeled a still
controversial way of loving. Until her death in August, Kansas Citian Dr.
Lydia Moore, paying herself $10.50 an hour gave up affluence to provide
medical services to poor people.
Do you, dear reader, find
such people more heroic that someone who doesn't blink when shooting his
10. 940831 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Why so many religions? Because there
are so many kinds of needs
Although I am seldom able to respond personally
to calls about this column, I welcome and consider every comment.
One religion or many? Some
callers disliked my recent description of religion as the variety of ways
people understand, celebrate and organize around experiences of the holy.
They say different organizations and beliefs distract from God's direct
revelation. "Why not gather together and praise God in one accord?" one
In the Varieties of Religious
Experience (1902), American psychologist William James similarly asked
"…is the existence of so many religious types and sects and creeds regrettable?"
His answer was no. "No two of us have identical difficulties, nor should
we be expected to work out identical solutions" to the religious situations
Perhaps the holy manifests
according to our needs. For example, God cannot appear" to the hungry,
Gandhi said, "except in the form of bread."
Connection or separation?
Janet Moss commented on my lament that our secular age separates "sports,
art, the law, education, science, government and family life" from each
other and the realm of the holy. (I hinted that this separation may arise
because we confuse "religion" with religious organizations.)
She said that she was raised
on a small farm where each day she experienced how all things are interrelated,
even though her institutionalized religion "made real attempts to compartmentalize"
life. She thinks that segregating values is dishonest, minimizes our accountability,
and does help us fulfill St. Paul's recommendation that we "pray without
ceasing." She expects to find God everywhere.
9. 940817 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Religion means many things to many
In my last column I explained why "religion"
was difficult to define and why some people disliked the word. Despite
these problems, I'll try to describe what "religion" can mean. Reader responses
may be included in a future column.
The holy: Religion arises
from experiences of the holy. These encounters or realizations shape or
direct or give meaning to all of life. Psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote
about "peak experiences" in art, love and therapy. The experience of the
holy is like this but cannot be reduced to psychology; in many cases, such
experiences are shared by an entire culture.
Three expressions: Scholars
recognize three expressions of religion: emotions, beliefs and organizations.
One expression is worship, attention given
to the holy. The worshipper may have feeling such as awe and gratitude,
a sense of relatedness and a desire to be of service to others.
A second expression is understanding,
elaborated in sacred stories and theology, conceptualizing the content
A third expression is social,
the way groups organize to honor, preserve, enhance and share their experiences
of the holy.
The secular: The root meaning
of "holy" (as well as "health" and "holistic") is "whole." Religion thus
is embedded in the connection among all things.
But our society seems fragmented,
broken, sick, not whole, the connections forgotten. Nowadays, religion
itself has become a partitioned activity instead of our search for, and
response to, the holy in all things. Our secular age separates sports,
art, the law, education, science, government and family life from overarching
direction and reverence.
8. 940803 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Different regions' definitions of religion
What is religion?
Religion is hard to define,
and the word is troublesome.
In the West: Some Christians
adopt the motto that "Christianity is not a religion; it's a way of life."
Some Jews describe Judaism as a tradition more than a religion; sometimes
the phrase "non-religious Jews" is used to describe them.
"New agers" typically embrace
"spirituality" while rejecting "religion" because to them "religion" implies
an institution. Some American Sufis prefer to describe themselves as followers
of the "religion of the heart"; Sufism is a "point of view" or a "spiritual
path," not a codified organization, although there are many Sufi oraganizations.
In the East: Historically
what now gets labeled as "Hinduism" actually was a variety of practices,
grouped together by Arab explorers. Buddhism sometimes is considered a
philosophy more than a religion, even by some Buddhists, because the Buddha
taught nothing about God. Some Bahai's say there is only the religion of
Primal cultures: Many languages
and cultures have no word for "religion" because their ways were so interwoven.
What was "religion" for the American Indian? It is difficult to separate
their religion from hunting, basket-making, raising children or viewing
the seasons. To understand any single aspect of such a culture fully is
to understand the entire culture because each part of it implies the whole.
Some scholars today, even
in texts on religion, have abandoned the effort to define religion. They
simply describe what has been called "religious" in its many manifestations.
Despite these difficulties,
my next column will offer a way of understanding "religion."
7. 940720 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
'Om' sound reverberates down through
What does "om" mean?
Chanting "om" is now common
at "new age" gatherings, but it originates in ancient India.
Professor Robert Minor, a
Hinduism expert at the University of Kansas, says "like most religious
symbols, om has meant different things to different Hindus through the
Meanings: Some explain its
meaning by identifying its origin as "a-u-m," with its reverent pronunciation
and a following moment of silence representing four ascending states of
awareness. The "a" refers to ordinary consciousness in which we separate
the perceiver and the perceived. The concluding silence represents super
consciousness in which all distinctions are obliterated and the Atman,
the individual self, realizes union with Brahman, the Cosmic Self.
Others say the sound of om
is the essence of the four Vedas, the earliest of Hindu scriptures.
The first three elements
have been identified with a Triad of Hindu gods, Brahma (Creator), Vishnu
(Sustainer), and Shiva (Destroyer).
Usage: In Hindu usage, om
often begins a prayer.
Minor says that om "has been
considered the most solem of 'seed-syllables,' and has a complete, although
brief, Hindu scripture devoted entirely to it, the Mandukya Upanishad (600
B.C.). As a mantra (literally, 'mental device'), its meaning is said to
reside in its sound and what it invoke, rather than in any literal meaning."
Translation: Om can be translated
"yes," verily," or even "amen." But for those who find the sound of this
sacred syllable meaningful, no translation can convey its richness as the
basic "vibration" that calls the universe into being and integrates the
many worlds into highest awareness.
6. 940706 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
U.S. has special responsibility to
uphold God's rule of history
This Independence Day week,
Americans of various faiths consider what role the United States has in
God's rule of history.
REPAIR: Rabbi Joshua Taub
of Temple B'nai Jehudah doubts that humans are capable of understanding
God's plan, but we can find meaning.
El-Ghussein, a Kansas City Muslim leader believes that nations as well
as individuals are responsible and accountable for their actions, "to worship
God freely, to enjoy your environment justly, to celebrate diversity through
cooperation, to live in peace, harmony, safety, and tranquility without
imposing of exceeding the limits."
He notes that since the United
States is a leader of nations, it has a special responsibility to promote
ideals that "dignify humans on earth."
IMPROVE: The Rev. John
Weston of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church says that if all dimensions
of life were penetrated by the sacred, "each of us would be fully alive
to the equal reality of everyone else, always."
How can we move toward such
a world? Citing a famous American Indian motto to "think seven generations
ahead," he believes we can improve out national life by celebrating and
protecting the "inherent worth and dignity" of each person.
5. 940622 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Many faiths consider worship to be
a community activity
When do people worship?
Although many faiths encourage
prayer at any time, most traditions have developed special days for services.
Jews observe the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday in the home
and synagogue, and midday Friday is a special time for Muslims to assemble
in the mosque.
RESTING: Pastor Nick Jordan
of the Full Faith Church of Love West says Sunday worship celebrates the
resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week and keeps God's commandment
to observe a day of rest, as God rested from six days of creation. In today's
society, he says, "it is easy to forget God," adding that we are strengthened
and encouraged in assembling together as "we learn from God's word and
SHARING: The Rev. Mark Miller
of St. Jes Catholic Church understands the Sabbath as a community activity
a symbol of Christ sharing a meal with his disciples. Worship involves
three actions, he says: breaking bread together, breaking open the Word
(the Scripture) and recalling "the death and resurrection of Jesus as a
historical event and as a present reality in the suffering and oppression
of our brothers and sisters."
HONORING: Ike Anyanike,
a Kansas City attorney, says no weekly Sabbath is observed as part of the
traditional life in his Nigerian homeland. Instead, deities in charge of
different aspects of life (such as harvest and fertility) are honored with
festivals throughout the year. A person also can visit a shrine for a particular
deity at any time of need. One might, for example, visit the shrine of
the deity of commerce before embarking on a business trip.
4. 940608 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Religions vary on question of immortality
of the soul
Do we survive death?
Is the soul immortal?
Today we look at answers
from several living religions.
REINCARNATION: Meghnad Desai,
a Kansas City Hindu, says many of his faith believe that after death the
soul finds a new body for a new life.
The process repeats until
one learns all the lessons one needs to be liberated from illusion: to
know one's identity with God.
DON'T ASK: "How do you preserve
a drop of water?" The Buddha answered, "Throw it back into the ocean,"
suggesting that we arise from and return to the universe but do not retain
personal identity after death.
John van Keppel, a Kansas
City Buddhist, says the Buddha taught that "worrying about death is a waste
of time. All things are impermanent." As the current film "Little Buddha"
shows, some Buddhists believe the life energy flows through successive
ENTERNAL LIFE: Many
Christians believe that the soul is rewarded or punished after death, and
they hope for reunion with loved ones in God's presence. Others, such as
Kansas City theologian Tex Sample, warn against a preoccupation with life
after death unless talking about heaven is a way of improving this life.
JUDGMENT: Paradise or hell
awaits the soul, says Zelfiqar Malik, a Kansas City Muslim, citing several
passages from the Qur'an. Each person will be judged according to his or
her deeds. Some traditions suggest that those whose deeds are not worthy
of eternal damnation will be purified by hellfire and released into God's
3. 940525 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Ancient beliefs about life after death
Do we survive death? Is the
Scholars think that humans
developed ideas about life after death as early as 70,000 years ago. Evidence
to support this view includes graves oriented to the east (the direction
of renewal), bodies placed in a fetal position (suggesting rebirth) and
corpses dusted with red ocher (simulating life-giving blood).
Live now: One of the oldest
texts exploring immortality is the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. Arrogant
Gilgamesh sees his best friend die and he worries that he, too, may be
mortal. His valiant search for eternal life ultimately fails but he returns
from his journey perhaps with enough wisdom to realize that even heroes
must accept human limits and live this life to the fullest.
Immortality: Ancient Egyptians,
on the other hand, were obsessed with death. Osiris, the mythis first pharaoh,
was murdered and dismembered. Because of the efforts of his wife, Isis,
he was resurrected as a grain for. He eventually became the model for even
common folk to achieve immortality.
Group Survival: Ancient
Hebrews seem to have been more concerned with the survival of the group
in this life than with personal immortality. Their task was to improve
The Soul: Although
earlier Greeks found little in their ideas of a shadowy afterlife to cheer
them, Plato developed the idea of immortality; he believed the soul existed
before birth as well as persisting after death.
Ancient beliefs were varied,
and the questioning continued. What do today's religion's say? Their answers
are summarized when this column next appears.
2. 940511 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
You need to know who you are
Why learn about other religions?
In my first column I suggested that though we are different, we are all
kin. To get along, we need to know who we are.
In addition, learning about
other faiths helps us understand our own. Kipling once asked rhetorically,
"What knows he of England who only England knows?" Do I really know Kansas
City if I have never been anywhere else? Similarly, a pioneer in religious
studies, Max Muller wrote, "He who knows one religion knows none." We know
our own tradition best when we can see how it looks with others.
But the most important reason
to study other faiths may be that we need all of them to face three great
The Environment. Are we polluting
and desecrating the world? Primal religions, such as the American Indian
ways, may help us recover a sense of the sacred in the world of nature,
and find deeper messages in our own scriptures about our relationship to
Personal Identity. Does the
loss of a wholesome sense of self lead to addictions like substance abuse,
co-dependent relationships, and compulsive shopping? Oriental religions,
such as Hinduism and Buddhism, focus on the inner life, and can lend us
methods like meditation to heal the wounds.
Social Covenant. Why have
crime, power struggles, and moral decadence diminished our sense of community?
The monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam can teach us
rules and attitudes by which justice and compassion can be realized.
The eternal questions of
faith are lodged in such issues. Let us explore such questions--together.
Editor's note. Your questions
and comments are valued and Vern Barnet and the Religion Editor are planning
ways to respond to as many as possible.
1. 940427 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Introducing a new column on various
Today I begin a column that
celebrates many answers to religious questions.
My role is not to persuade
others that my own views are correct but rather to awaken and deepen the
questions and to encourage the exploration of answers from many religions.
Are all religions at their
core different? Scholars such as Huston Smith and Diana Eck have explored
different attitudes about approaching other religions. I admit I do have
a bias. First, some other views.
1. Superiority. Some believe
that one religion (namely theirs) is so superior to all others that they
need know little about other faiths, or even that such information may
be harmful. With this attitude, theologians such as Karl Barth proclaim
the one true religion.
Others say that religions are fundamentally the same. The languages and
images may be different because religions arise from varied cultures, but
all faiths point to the same Reality. Something like the Golden Rule can
be found in almost all scriptures of the world.
3. Kinship. My own view is
that we are all neighbors and must come to know each other better
without assumptions about either superiority or universality. Only later,
after many deep encounters, are we ready to discuss superiorities and universalities.
Studying yoga does not mean
I become a Hindu, any more than eating Chinese food converts me to Confucianism,
or standing in awe at Caravaggio's painting,"St. John the Baptist" or the
Guanyin statue at the Nelson Gallery, means that I am a Christian or a
I have something to learn
from every tradition that enriches and helps me understand my own. Such
acquaintance affirms my kinship with all peoples. This column is
space for making acquaintance.
B. "Q&A" for
April 30 -- second column in response to Billy Graham's answer to a question,
before Vern's "Faiths and Beliefs" column began
Irish violence, the
Israeli-Palestinian dispute, "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia, Hindu-Muslim
and Sikh issues in India, and other conflicts are sometimes called "religious."
Pat Buchanan has called for a holy war in this country against those with
whom he disagrees. Fred Phelps proclaims that "God hates fags."
Religious wars are caused not by God or by Satan, but by people. (Satan
is a figure not found in most religions.)
Yes, some scriptures depict God leading battle. Deuteronomy 20 has God
commanding slaughter and the enjoyment of women in some cases, and the
destruction of everything that breathes in other cases.
St Paul musters Christians to metaphorical battle in Ephesians 6:13: "Take
unto you the whole armor of God . . . ." A famous hymn uses military imagery:
"Onward Christian Soldiers." The Crusades, the enslavement and conversion
of native peoples, and other adventures stain Christian history.
Others teach non-violent methods to change the world. Gandhi, for example,
a Hindu who influenced Martin Luther King, Jr, a Christian, taught us never
to forget the good in our oppressors or the evil within ourselves. Methods
for resolving conflict must be respectful, humane and creative, not destructive.
Many traditions practice tolerance. Christians and Jews flourished under
Muslim rule in Spain for seven centuries. A common question in Tibetan
Buddhism in getting acquainted is, "And to what revered tradition do you
belong?" The Christian faith says that God is love.
Religions are human inventions, and can teach hate or love. But I believe
that there is a universal Process beyond all religions drawing us to the
redemptive power of love.
for 1994 April 2 -- first column in response to Billy Graham's answer to
a question, before Vern's "Faiths and Beliefs" column began
As I survey the
religions of the world (some teach one God, some many gods, some no God),
it seems the primary question of faith is not about God, but "Is life worth
living?" Science cannot answer this question.
Religious urges to respond "Yes" to this question have historically produced
science, with many other dimensions of culture, including the arts, sports,
and the law. These urges include wonder, thanksgiving, compassion, and
action to make things better.
Religion does not compete with science to explain the world. Religion is
the discovery of how to live in the world.
Most philosophers and theologians now agree that the classical proofs for
God's existence are either faulty or besides the point. In addition, no
one has ever been able to develop a consensus explaining how an all-powerful
and all-good God can permit such horrors as tornado and flood, Nazi Germany
and drive-by shootings, painful cancer, oppression, exploitation, and eternal
You say there is no room for God. Some theologians agree. They say it is
blasphemous to say God "exists." They regard God not as another being,
even a Supreme Being, existing in the universe or somehow above it. Rather
God is the "Ground of Being," to use Paul Tillich's phrase, or "Being Itself,"
to use an expression common among mystics. [Oriental faiths often consider
the Infinite to be a process under way, rather than an entity perfect from
the beginning of time.
[Your desire for truth is itself a religious impulse, and may lead you
to answer that life is worth living.]