Contributions to FaithSpace: Religions

Material below is a collection, not often in date order, of my contributions to Faithspace. Each text may begin some way in to the contribution, but then gaps are signified by three dots. The contributions here extract from the conversational style into something more neutral. They do not include contributions from other people unless absolutely necessary and then they are unnamed. Punctuation is altered for clarification. Extra text is in square brackets which sometimes involves a little removal of text in favour of the given alternative.

August 1 2006, 3:35 am

>Certainly Hinduism and Buddhism, as practised in the subcontinent largely ignore justice and any environmental concerns come out as side effects to faith.<

I really do not know how you can make such sweeping statements. Christians go on gobbling animals and acquiring, as in the Protestant ethic. but Buddhism, much Hinduism and Jainism have compassion so central to the faith that the environment benefits immediately.

Accuse me of a sweeping statement if you like, but these faiths do have core ethics.
August 2 2006, 12:15 am

I went to Western Buddhist meetings where the food issue was a core concern at the heart of the Buddhist religious message. I also was friendly with an Anglican chaplain and vegetarian who thought that a vegetarian approach should be at the core of the Christian religious message.

Buddhist actions are soteriological, ie about what Christians call salvation: in that everything is - but that is a crossover between the individual doing right action and the collective benefit that should be natural to the achieved bodhissatva. The individual who can be at peace will make a world at peace.

I just don't have time for competition between faiths based on sweeping statements.
August 2 2006, 2:34 am

In Buddhism and the environment, not eating meat is advancing your own compassion, and compassion is part of spiritual development. You then approach other animals with that stance in mind. Attitudes to the world about us aid our own development and the world.
July 14 2006, 8:31 pm

I neither believe in truth nor unity.

Religion is more like art, and what is good art to one person is not good art to another and so on. Clearly there are traditions and schools of thought. ...As for unity, it is better that we accept diversity, because we are diverse thinkers and doers, whereas what is required is that diverse peoples and organisations can co-operate as best they can.

Interfaith services do not mean giving up Christianity. They mean that the other group has a point of view and set of traditions worth listening to, even participating with. Truth is Two Eyed, as a bishop once wrote.
July 16 2006, 2:41 pm

That is not true. It is not true of Islam or Buddhism or Bahai, which welcome all that come to each.

Interfaith worship has different characteristics. One side of it is where each representative presents resources from their own faith that produces the means to worship through. People of other faiths or none can then make of them what they will, whilst the people of that faith worship in the company of others. So it is a listening and learning exercise amongst different people - valuable for the contact, support, understanding. The other approach is to see common themes and concerns, similar structures and concepts that have been passed around historically, and to have these presented in forms that clearly overlap between one faith and another, or alternatively where the concept differs can be placed alongside each other to see and appreciate the other. This approach is more sharing and participatory and, in my view, the better method. It shows what we have in common, brings people together who normally would not have been. The best still is where because one text in one area has such a similarity across faiths that people from the different faiths can swap and share, and do so without compromising their own known commitments.
July 16 2006, 3:59 pm

Judaism is a religion of a people and Hinduism is, in basis, a religion of a geography (though it has since expanded in its diversity). ...Sikhism that, although it is universalist, has remained tied to a region and a people by its customs. That some faiths are not inclusive does not mean all of them are not.

Islam is scrupulously multi racial, and is rigorously anti-racist in its core. The Hajj is significantly a sea of faces of every race and kind, all wearing white for the duration of the pilgrimage. Rich and poor, different ethnic groups, are all one. It puts itself as the last revelation for everyone.

...Buddhism as a core philosophy and salvation scheme applies to anyone, being a reformation out of Hinduism and its particularities. The Bahai faith, with origins in Iran and Iraq, is based on the universalism of the people of the world because it came out of Islam that had applied to the world and learnt from other world faiths and the universality of revelation and writing.

The... uniqueness of Christianity as inclusive? It is not. Arguably it has been less so than Islam, Buddhism and the Bahai. Christianity rejected its core ethnic origin of its founder, the Jews, through its anti-semitism, and therefore has difficulty including Jews (they often feel like they give up their Jewishness, and indeed have often converted to do precisely this; actual tiny historical Jewish Christian groups are made to feel marginal from both sides); this makes Christianity less inclusive because it is not secured from a core group. Recent Jews for Jesus developments are more about fundamentalism and religious politics than a genuine inclusive movement. Islam did not reject the Arab founders, of course, but it is universal in basic intent; Bahais did not reject its Iranian founders, of course, but it is based around being for the whole world and universal. Buddhism applies to any individual, and is devoid of ethnic categories: it had rejected caste.
July 18 2006, 2:07 am

I would like a unity with people of other faith. This does not mean I agree with the Christian theologian John Hick, who says that particular faiths point to a higher Real and there is, in this sense, a unity. I happen to think that the faiths are different packages, with different interlocking concepts, though there are borrowings between them. Rather I seek a unity of purpose and spirituality as intent.

As it happens I was and would be happy to go to Bahai firesides; however, I have fundamental disagreements with aspects of their faith: scriptural literalism, the unity of politics and religion, saying something is the case when it is not (eg the equality of men and women when only men can be in the Univeral House of Justice; also its attitude to gays and lesbians impacts on equality) and something of a record of dishonesty about and closed nature of historical records as kept at Haifa. I also think it is a curious mixture of Western modernism and altered Islamic prophethood made universal, and opens itself to becoming quickly out of date, and its Most Great Peace is a pipedream. Nevertheless, some of the purposes of its religion, such as emphasis on education, finding out for yourself, emphasis on equality (if tainted), and no confliect between science and religion (if modernist at source), and its focus on world community, are aims I find unity with.

As for Buddhism, I have more than a soft spot for Western Buddhism. Yes, other Buddhists criticise it, just as Tibetans and Mahayanas criticise Hinayana for being inadequate, or Hinayana sees Mahayana as unnecessarily over complex. Western Buddhism draws on both main traditions, and has people in it ordained through both, but it makes a distinction between what is the essential orthopraxy and what is cultural addition. There is no central definer of Buddhism, however. I feel a unity with Buddhists who are dedicated to the spiritual path, and never quite matched them, and would quite happily join in with them now.

I recently attended the funeral of a minister of some standing, if not equal reward, in the Unitarian movement, who was my minister for two periods of time. I recognised how I had moved on, and afterwards spoke with friends and gave good account of moving on. But I was very happy to be there, and fully participate. No it is not an adequate and sustaining spirituality for me, but that did not prevent full participation or desire for different words. At ne time the Hull church had a Reform Jew in the congregation, and we had the best of discussions. I would happily participate in his synagogue: one of my prayer books is the Orthodox Authorised Daily Prayer Book, read from "back" to "front".

I'm a supporter of interfaith worship, most definitely. I find lots of places for agreement and significant places for disagreement. I find a unity with many. They are all dealing with truths, truths of doing, thinking, feeling, God, prophetic figures, teachers and the people themselves.
June 21 2006, 1:34 am

I am a qualified RE teacher and one thing I often said in RE lessons is that they can disagree with me. Whenever possible there were a range of opinions put. I was also quite critical of visitors giving one sided presentations, and it allowed the pupils to be the same, and so it encouraged thought.

The problem with RE is that it is a Cinderella subject, unsupported, and a switch off lesson amongst lessons that were seen to be more serious. The result is it is marginalised. It is also caught up in a series of misunderstandings as to its purpose and is often confused with the dictates of the often ignored rules on assemblies.

Also RE contributes to the decline of religious institutions as it is a state provision and bad substitute for religious formation - which RE is not. Also as bad is the use of church attendance by some parents in order to get their children into the good school where a perceived religious ethos starts a virtuous circle of admissions. Here again RE gets used for what it is not.

The reason RE is liberal is because education should be open, critical and individualist. These virtues are worthy in themselves for individual development, which is why they have a place in churches - but churches are within a tradition whereas RE is only ever learning about and learning from traditions. Even Unitarianism, which theoretically comes nearest to RE if it follows its creedless logic (and often does not) - and its own education as in Sunday School is nearest to that of RE - is within its tradition and its flow...
June 22 2006, 3:18 pm

What is taught [in RE is] "what most Christians believe" and "what some Christians believe"; also taught is what Christianity believes in different Churches and at different times. It is all rather simplified, of course, with some shortcuts and cut corners. For example, I observed a lesson where the pupils were taught that some Christians believe the "I am the way the truth and the life" statement, whereas others emphasise the "many rooms in the mansion" statement.

The same is done regarding all faiths, with a difference of approach between describing the faiths and describing variations among the people of faiths. Plus secularism too.
June 26 2006, 2:29 am

The way it is done is this. When Islam is being taught, in the Islam section, the teacher will add "Peace be Upon Him" after mentioning Muhammad's name. When God is being referred to during teaching Judaism, the word G_d is used. With Christianity, there is use of Jesus Christ as appropriate for the fully man fully God. So for a moment you place yourself in the respectful position of the believer. This is done whether the approach is phenomenological (just tell the religion as the religion does), critical (analyse and critique) or anthropological (use believers' experience), though there are still a few schools where RE is confessional and this is not done. The RE teacher is someone who relays the criticism of idols one minute and then passes round Ganesha carefully just in case he has become God in any context, this while the Qur'an is on a high surface.
September 16 2006, 12:03 am

The argument the pope is presenting is between a God who is so transcendent, as in Islam, that God can be unreasonable and even idolatrous if he wants to, and a God in Christianity which is bound by reason. The pope is saying that the Christian revelation into the Greek spirit is an essential part of the revelation and cannot be removed. He sees attempts to get away from Hellenisation (which holds the revelation) in the Protestant Reformation trying to get back to a pure Bible and revelation, but he says the Bible is bound within reason, in a liberal scientism (of Harnack) but this leads in the end to a redundancy of God, and a cultural pluralist position of trying to strip out Hellenistic reason from the Gospel and apply it to our kind of culturally pluralistic reasoning. Against this he says the Greek spirit is not just a culture in the past but an essential part of understanding God, and so people (like me) cannot strip away that culture for our own. The pope also speaks of one rationality.

So he wanted to refer to Islam for its view of transcendence, but I have to ask why he is making a contrast between an early Muhammad, who is tolerant, he says, and a later Muhammad who innovates and that innovation is violence. This seems to me to be false, because Muhammad will have had a consistent view of toleration (especially to people of the Book - pope makes a reference to this and the additional issue of pagan views) and about tribal behaviour. Muhammad lived at a time when people eeked out a living by raiding camel trains passing through the desert, and he was involved in this, but he also had a highly communal sense of the Muslim who did not raid from another Muslim. In the desert, toleration was a big issue. Muhammad was surrounded by enemies of interest who upheld polytheistic paganism when he wanted for his tribe a God of the same transcendent power as held by Jews and Christians.

The pope is hardly likely to see earlier popes as beyond the pale, and so will quote a predecessor [note: this is wrong, the Pope quoted a past emperor], but the predecessor is ignorant and presses buttons, and really he should not have quoted him. But the argument of nothing good coming from a later Muhammad, associating him with the unreasonable basis of violence (and this argument about violence as reflecting transcendence without reason, and reason not accepting violence - when we know reason has justified violence including that of forced evangelism), is offensive.

I think the pope wants to say something else. He cannot say Islam leads to violence, even part of it, so he kind of slips it in. He wants to say Christianity is superior because it follows, uniquely, reason. His policy is not to criticise or deviate from John Paul II who had a more open dialogue with Islam, but he is doing.

I reject his central argument anyway. The culture of Hellenism is not central to Christianity. It is possible, instead, to make reference to historical Jesus studies and apply these to our own culture. There is no one rationality. The pope wants one rationality - that held within Catholicism - but there is now a long history of rejecting that rationality, and I think we should.
Yesterday, 12:10 am

Islamic scholars not give Jesus the property of divinity, nor do they give it to Muhammad. They have in fact returned to the earlier Jewish view of special status but entirely human. These are chosen men, to whom revelation is delivered. It is that Greek spirit and concept indeed (the pope has this right) that generates divinity as a quality. And Islam rejects that Greek insight, because it received its Christianity from the Ebionites, who retained a more primitive view. And this is the crux of the matter. The pope says the Greek spirit is essential to the revelation, but there were Christians who were outside this particular spirit, and they ought to be counted as Christians too.

The pope is right on one thing, by implication, though - and how dangerous it is. By limiting God to reason, he is limiting the transcendence of God, and no Muslim can accept that, and a believing Jew finds it unecessary to add to the transcendent I Am at least in the sense of trapping God into a particular culture.

Yesterday, 9:17 pm

I have watched BBC News 24 in a kind of despair, that no one has actually mentioned the focus of the speech and analysed. It is all visual news of the reaction, the context of an angry bunch of Muslims with almost ready made banners.

I made a mistake in my writing (without looking back at it - I am lazy) ...the pope referred to a previous emperor not a previous pope.

A joke - does the pope's (half) apology mean he is not infallible? All right, I know that this infallibility thing is supposed to be limited. All good fun.

Still, there were other more sensitive ways and means of comparing Islam's utter transcendence of God with the pope's view that God is limited to revelation within Greek reason.

Yesterday, 11:06 pm

So an entirely appropriate illustration then to the main point, a past emperor saying "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

This comment was not necessary to the main point: the argument on the Muslim view of transcendence could have been illustrated differently and more sensitively.

Today, 2:58 pm

At last, one piece of reasonable analysis on BBC News 24 - and to extend it, and add some context, during the "Dark Ages" (as badly called) for the Europeans, the transcendence of the Islamic approach to God allowed Islam to advance reason well beyond that in the Christian West. They took hold of Greek learning and advanced it. They also imported and used Indian numbers, so that no one was held back by the Roman system of numerals. Islam stood for civilisation, for organisation within the space it called its own.

The key problem with Islam is not Muhammad or even its own potential, but that it clericalised and produced a restrictive education system out of one that had flowered, and that it fell behind from the Renaissance and Reformation. It needs its own reforming cleansing rather than, as has happened, lurching into its own forms of Puritanism. But on top of this is the resentment of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Western interference in its own states, the building up of a number of failed nationalist regimes that were corrupt, and continued regimes that allow Western bases all over them. From a religious point of view it is that the last and final revelation (as it sees it) which should be superior is playing second fiddle to powerful forces. Islam is being seen as having the power to do what the nationalist states could not do.

The Saudi and Pakistani/ Afghani extremists on the one hand, and Iranians on the other, and the money going to Western mosques to alter their outlooks, will be self-defeating. A number of Muslims realise that far from advancing the cause, this use of Islam is leading to a damaging reputation for the faith in its key ethical stances. Islam has a historical track record of tolerance, good relations and ethical behaviour, and this is being lost in the present. So some sort of reform is needed. Western Muslims are able to discuss and debate and they are doing, and have to impress on Muslim states the need for reform and openness. But it is a difficult time for Islam given the corner it feels it is in, its lashing out in places, and the sense then that it is even tighter in the corner. The West can help by standing back somewhat. It is probably going to have to walk away from Iraq and let it split three ways, and to make declarations of non-interference, and to get this Palestinian state up and running and not be a ghetto for Israel to play with.
August 13 2006, 1:31 am

A little thought the other way. I found Buddhist meditation to be more systematic than Quaker silence, in the same way that an Anglican service can be more to chew on than a Unitarian service. In the UK Quakers and Unitarians are pretty much cousins now, with equal non-credalism and backdoor pressures regarding conforming, and the Christian inheritance being there but a strong move away too.
August 16 2006, 2:31 am

Or let's add Baha'u'llah and the selling point of world unity for this age, a religion coming out of Shia Islam and learning from the Sufi texts, the New Testament and Western development. Yes, a religion to be new and attract needs a selling point, and the Bahai Faith also organised itself to be a world religion with a unity of politics and faith in a (necessarily altered) democratic centralist arrangement.
August 17 2006, 12:36 am

The correct approach to Hitler was not a deathbed conversion, which is a nonsense in history, but the approach of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which was to kill him. He even led to the destruction of Berlin, defended by teenagers threatened by SS lunatics, finally blaming the German people. As for others, some as disastrous in their monstrousness, whatever justice they may or may not have received, a conversion should make no difference to the justice received.

This is turning religion into an idolatry, that some last minute conversion, when the game is up, should make any difference to the justice of the situation.
August 19 2006, 12:47 am

>so how can you honestly expect a bunch of uneducated yokels (which is what most of the apostles were) to come up with anything other than their remembered impressions?<

I suggest this is not how to see the process of the writing of the gospels. They were not written by the uneducated, and these writers used pseudonyms of the apostles. The gospels are not eye witness accounts that differ as at traffic accidents, but are crafted theological documents answering faith questions at a time via the device of biography. The evidence part is smoothed in and polished off. The biography is not a careful sifted account of the person's life, double and whatever checked, but a faith document about the direction for the community. Yes they draw on some traditions that carry the Jesus message, but they are mainly early Churches messages. The differences are differences of traditions, communities and locations rather than hearsay. They are all resurrection and after resurrection documents, transition documents, but are mainly forward looking and with purpose.

A further point. There is a tendency to think Jesus picked the lowly to be disciples. I suggest, in a land of crushing poverty and rampant disease, that they were all capable people. They looked after themselves, and were not at the bottom of the heap. As for uneducated, who knows, but they will have been self educated in their work. Jesus' social ethic stressed the reversal of the dominant ethic through change and preparedness (in the dominant ethic the least sinful were evidently the better off, by virtue that they were healthier and lived longer) but the people who helped him were not at the bottom of the pile themselves.
July 20 2006, 4:55 pm

Symbols are understood according to each respective faith, and some faiths are quite critical of symbolism, so that Islam, for example, would regard the images in eastern Orthodoxy as idolatrous.

June 3 2006, 3:53 pm

There are any number of issues I might disagree with Jonathan Sacks about (the Chief Rabbi of Orthodox Judaism) but his recent book The Dignity of Difference was a seminal piece from which, I think, more than those following Judaism can learn. The book was republished after disagreement among fellow rabbis - he altered chapter 3 but the main message was maintained. I have borrowed the first edition.

Following the events of September 11 2001 in the United States, the book is a response against tribalism, and it is an argument against universality. He is no postmodernist, and his position is God centred. He makes the claim that whereas God is universal, religion is particular, and God also deemed that humanity should be different. So he sees it as as God-sourced that difference is blesssed.

He puts it:

>The God of Abraham is the God of all mankind, but the faith of Abraham is not the faith of all mankind.< (53)

God the creator of humanity, having made a covenant with all humanity, then draws to one people and commands it to be different, in order to teach humanity the dignity of difference. Biblical monotheism is not theidea that there is one God and therefore one truth, one faith, one way of life. On the contrary, it is the idea that unity creates diversity. (53)

>God is God of all humanity, but no single faith is or should be the faith of all humanity.< (55)

(All chapter 3)

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (2002), The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations, London: Continuum.

Whether one believes that God actually does anything or not, nevertheless there clearly are biblical stories that promote diversity, including of religion. It is rather difficult for the Christian testament to do this, given that it is writing at the time of the difficult formation of a new religion with last day expectations and has not shown the same time developed maturity. Nevertheless diversity including that of faiths has been written about by theologians and we even have, with the last two popes in particular, recognition of the diversity of faiths. I am presently looking at Abbot Christopher Jamison's Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life, London: Weidenfeld and Nicoloson. He makes the point that they are Christian as well as monastic, but does refer often to the nearby Buddhist monastery with which they have very good relations.

I suppose my variation with Jonathan Sacks is not just that:

>Religion is the translation of God into a particular language and thus into the life of a group, a nation, a community of faith. In the course of history, God has spoken to mankind in many languages: through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians, Islam to Muslims.< (55)

But rather that the religion is the identification of God, and that there is no higher beyond the language being spoken through that can be received. That language is also in the reading and the understanding, which is beyond any scripture alone but immediately and concurrently engages with contemporary understandings.

This immediately and concurrently allows those yoked with universalist claims of faith to themselves also understand difference. Another means to do it, as well as seeing how belief alters, is to focus (like the universalism of Buddhism does) on practice over belief. Being faithful is not the same as being dogmatic, but rather it means being trustworthy, honest as possible, reliable, and practising these in the context of spirituality and its resources. Then, as a reliable people, Christians can meet others and understand all of our dignity of difference. It does have implications for dogmas and those oft quoted biblical lines taken out of context.

The phrase I like (and now I recall the original is from the secular liberal postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty) is that they should be of us without having to become like us. Being inclusive is to draw in others in communities, and to learn from one another.

I am not one for original sin, but I do have a view of humanity that this remaining human species has had a hand in the destruction of others, particularly homo neandethalis and homo erectus. We have a very bloody history of trying to do one over the other. The Nazis were a particular example of this [and into a] ideology, of destroying anything seen to be inferior, and being cruel about it. The destructiveness of being imperial is something that has to be rooted out of religion, otherwise the inclusive and loving in religion is itself destroyed.

I am arguing for reform and change so that we build a world in which, as Sacks says, people no longer have to die for their faith. We learn to live and take and give with one another, whoever we are. Sacks does it through universality and particularity, others have done it through liberality, there is also liberal postmodernity (my preference). It is a social gospel, is it not, and whilst it reforms Christianity it also draws from Christianity.
June 3 2006, 11:41 pm

Islam does not claim to be syncretist. It claims that Islam has always existed from Adam, and that God has sent the same message to all the prophets. The problem is, it says, that all the religions have distorted the central message and therefore what we know as Islam solved the problem through the last prophet where the revelation was sealed in the sacred Arabic language.

The Bahai Faith is syncretistic in that it says messages have changed, and that each message has been sent by God for a particular era. They recognise that past prophets lead up to their faith, and of course their origins are in Shaykhi Shi'ite Islam and has been influenced through the New Testament and Sufi works, as well as coming from Iran/ Iraq into the Western orbit. The process continued after Baha'u'llah. The Bahai Faith is certainly its own religion and has its spiritual heart now in Israel and its administrative centre there but developed from the United States. It has many Western social notions, idea of time and beginning and end, and comes from the historical faiths of which it is one. Like Islam it regards its main texts as perfectly true, and it maintains monotheism.

All these faiths go through periods of rapid change and meet junction points where something has to change. The Bahai Faith had this problem in 1957 to 1963 when there were no more Guardians available from the family (due to ex-communications) and could not create one from the Hands of the Cause. So it had to face up to making a change, and now has its nine male only parliament (despite claiming male and female equality - this already is a problem for it) and it also has become inflexible regarding its religious inheritance and yet claiming no clash between science and religion.

Now the Bahai Faith, also expecting the Most Great Peace (hardly evidence for that) will have to learn theology. Theology is how a faith adapts and matures. The Christian faith has managed to adapt and mature. It has taken on various philosophies, changed its doctrines, and changed the meaning of doctrines. It may be that it cannot survive Western pluralism and secularisation, but it may show its flexibility still. It responds in various ways and some of these may work and some may not.

As for Buddhism, its lack of belief in a supreme being has helped it come to the West. But the adaptations are very many. I've been to both New Kampada (a Tibetan approach that the Dalai Lama rejects) and Friends of the Western Buddhist Order meetings, and they are quite different. One is clearly lock stock and barrel Tibetan cultural assumptions of deity helpers and capable of a simple interpretation of reincarnation, whereas the Western Buddhist Order makes a distinction between what is essential and what is cultural, and its views of reincarnation start from a different view of rebirth (that we are reborn constantly, that we change over time) and can be agnostic about coming back in another body later. Hinayana Buddhism is older and simpler than the Mahayana (including Tibetan) and so it is different too, being perhaps already more adaptable to the West without feeling too esoteric, whereas the Western Buddhists intend to be Western, and to bring Westerners to Buddhist practice. If you say to a Western Buddhist that they are like humanists, they won't much care, so long as you do the Buddhist practices, because it is in the doing of Buddhism that its truths produce themselves in individuals. This focuses on not being attached to what is transient, which brings peace of mind, and getting rid of the noise and clutter in the mind, for which there is more room for love, and a learnt love that will become almost automatic - a state of being as a Boddhisatva. This does not need the deities of the Tibetans, though a WBO person can read the Buddhist tradition as much as any other and see whether these are helpful.

Christianity adapted and changed as soon as it got going - that is exactly what the Bible is showing in the Christian Testament. It shows doctrinal development. It largely ignores the more solidly Jewish expressions in favour of the Pauline and strained from the Judaic. It later marginalises and isolates the Gnostic development. It becomes Greek-philosophical, and then Empire based. It becomes fixed and holy, as in the East. It sees the Church as crucial and the origins as a deposit (not the whole) of faith, as in Roman Catholicism. The Protestants both innovated and tried to go bck to its roots, but it diversified rapidly and in doing so it gave rise to biblical criticism and liberal approaches. It went rhough modernist phases and increasing secularisation and pluralism, and now here it is. It keeps changing.

And now it must change again to take account of difference. Faiths have to adapt and have to mature, and it never ends. All faiths show a curious mixture of conservatism and modernity, and religious langauge seems impossible unless it is old in concepts (try the Unitarians as a kind of proof). So it has and it will change, and what seemed fundamental a while back will not. After all would any of the present denominations be formed today? Not really. But we can see where they might be today, given liberalism, traditionalisms, conversationism.

But I am responding to a wider still toleration of difference. I mean treating they as we without them having to become we.
September 19 2006, 4:29 pm

There are so many different ways of understanding God. There are philosophical ways, and here is where there is a realist and non-realist argument, and a non-realist argument restricted to the spiritual or that extends into other discussions of reality.

There are also ways within faiths and differences between them. The Christian way inherits God as transcendent, present, active, wisdom, into its own formula including into it the messianic figure. It makes personality of it, and it is an awkward formula that does not seem to work but expresses God as complex and communal. This God is revealed in and through human characteristics, whether a person, events and reasoning.

Then there is the transcendence of Islam, pure and perfectly free, that tries to be as un-human as possible and expresses a purity of word at a distance through intermediaries. Some Christians like to stress transcendence and the freedom of God too, and others understand the literalness of the Book.

Then there is the spirit of Hinduism with which the soul can unite, but also presence in 33000 forms that when active are God each time. It also has the trimurti of creator, sustainer and destroyer-recreator. Hinduism reflects the diversity of God and presences, and has various avatar presences, and has a key place for narrative and story. Some Christians like the diversity and inclusiveness of Hinduism. There is the recent example of Anglican priest Rev. David Hart, who has been doing some Ganesha pujas from his base now in Kerala in India, joined the Ganesotsav procession and changed his middle name from Allen to Ananda Krishna Das.

And then in Buddhism there is no God at all, except there are transient deities in some cases as helpers that are as transient in the world as we are. Buddhism attracts the rationalist, contemporary, philosophical and humanist tendency in Christianity.

This is just to mention a few but the point is that each package moulds the understanding of God, and then within each religion that understanding changes too. In Judaism a movement towards activity and presence is countered with an equal response back to monotheism and transcendence. Each religion, with the exception of Islam in maintaining one pure transcendent God, and in Buddhism by rejecting a one God (or at the very least regarding it as an irrelevance), demonstrates variation and varieties of understanding.
September 1 2006, 3:24 am

Christianity has always been syncretistic. It comes up through different cultures, and is in different cultures. The Celtic Christians (ah that debate!) were aware of drawing on the culture, on religious foundations. The point I make is to have a Christianity now compatible with non-supernatural culture and with current philosophical movements rather than importing the historical Greek (burnt into the New Testament).
October 6 2006, 1:53 am

Where was I last Wednesday? Worshipping the triune God. Where was I the Sunday before? Worshipping the triune God. None of that excludes the languages and perceptions of the Gods in Hinduism, of Islam, or meditation with Buddhism and Jainism (etc.). One this study door next to me is the Hindu 3-0 which represents the trimurti and the frightening God-void of zero (and it has Ganesh within, that classic of faithful service even through misunderstanding), and downstairs there is a Trinity icon, the young Krishna who was such a playful and naughty God, and five Buddhas. There is Hanuman behind me (Hindu monkey God, who helped Rama against Ravana, a classic story of good against evil) and Shiva dancing in his ring of fire (a classic of destroying and renewing, as all nature must do). They all represent ethical and philosophical views and reflections of what is significant and windows to great cultures and their achievements. These are all great classics: gosh I must be turning into the Roman Catholic theologian David Tracy. There is an Anglican priest, David Hart, who has been conducting worship in India to Ganesh, and, if he can live it, and represents it, I would go and participate in that service and when he presides over Christian communion. Sometimes we need big obstacles in life removing and this is a reflection upon it, so good for Ganesh, and good too for the material in life, the importance of the body, the importance of the world, and for the ethic of immediacy and doing the right thing.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful