Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Pluralistic Sophia (expanded)

I suppose to many, religious pluralism embraces many derogatory issues, like “the path of least resistance”, or watering faith down to the lowest common denominator. I suppose it falls victim to political correctness and attempting to be warm & fuzzy, believing that all paths lead to God.

I can't honestly say I know the proper or official definition of being a religious pluralist, so you'll have to put up with me and the terms and words I choose to use. But I believe there is a certain kind of religious pluralism that doesn't embrace the path of least resistance, or watering one's belief-system down to the lowest common denominator, or being politically correct, or believing all religions are alright and that all paths lead to God. Hardly. I think, possibly, just the opposite.

It is not that I believe all religions lead to God, but that none do. God's wisdom - Sophia - is subtle, elusive, hidden between the lines.

I believe God 'distributes' His wisdom – His Sophia – with all peoples of all nationalities, in all geographic locations, and all cultures. Whether this Sophia speaks their “culturalistic languages” or that they hear her voice through their “culturalistic filters” matters little. The outcome is the same. She meets them where they are.

A think a common accusation levied against pluralists is that they water down the 'truth' to the lowest common denominator. I'd rather see this aspect as deliberate choice to focus on what unites us rather than on what divides us for the sake of relationships, simply getting along, peace, mutual respect and tolerance. In a single word, Compassion.

But what about the actual truth itself, outside of social or civil environments? This doesn't address how to 'hear' God's wisdom; God's Sophia.

It is easy to find common ground within various belief-systems but I'm not totally convinced this is necessarily the voice of Sophia. After all, this could just be various cultures or people in agreement.

I think it is in the contradictions (or possibly paradoxes) in which Sophia is most challenging and speaks the loudest.

It is not in their shared commonalities that she speaks and challenges us to change and grow and learn but in their apparent conflicts. It is in the parts that don't 'fit'.

If God's word and will were so simple, so clear in its intent, then why are holy scriptures so ambiguous? Outside of personal and/or private manipulation and agenda, why can so few people agree? We would be following an apparent omnipotent deity who failed in His endeavor to successfully communicate to us.

If I'm trying to communicate an idea or message to you, there's three places for it to go wrong.

Firstly, I may not have the idea or message straight or correct in my head to begin with. If this is the case there will be guaranteed failure.

Secondly, I may not properly articulate my idea or message and it may be misunderstood.

And finally, you may not properly interpret or understand my idea or message.
If any of these occur the effort to successfully communicate will fail.

Let's lay down several assumptions:
1) the bible is the final and total revelation of or by God.
2) that God is omnipotent,
3) God is omnipresent,
4) and most importantly, God is omniscient and omnibenevolent.

Now, if God has attempted to communicate a message to mankind, there's three areas it could (at least potentially) go wrong.

1) the communicator doesn't have the message properly
2) the communicator doesn't articulate the message well enough or clear enough for the recipient to understand
3) the receiver doesn't proper receive or understand the message.

But, when dealing with an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent entity, these “rules” change somewhat. The first two point deal with errors or flaws with the communicator, which in the case of God, cannot be, or else we need to reevaluate one of our presumptions (omnipotency and/or omniscience). If there were errors or flaws then they would be deliberate omissions, which could put into question God's omnibenevolence.

The problem cannot be in the articulation of the message itself (the bible) unless we are willing to compromise that God is its author, or had less than genuine intentions. (An alternative possibility is that the bible is a sort of hybrid of human and divine authorship and editing, but this carries its own set of problems and issues and is an avenue I don't really want to explore in this topic as I don't think it would be constructive).

And finally, as far as the recipient not correctly receiving or understanding the message properly; I struggle with this one. A perfect God would know how to successfully reach and communicate His message, unless the deliberate intention was to make it veiled, hidden to all except a select few (which would only work with the selected-damned of extreme Calvinism, but, I should think, would compromise this God's omnibenevolence).

We find ourselves in this conundrum because of an assumption; that the bible is the final and total revelation of God. This assumption includes that the bible is somehow the answer or the solution; that it is in and of itself the goal, or contains the goal, or is some sort of map to the goal.

What if it isn't? What if it is directional in the sense that it points to a process, a direction of growth, a spiritual evolution, rather than a goal?

In Christianity alone there are over 35,000 denominations. It isn't just Christians disagreeing and dividing amongst themselves. It isn't just Catholics and Protestants. Catholics don't agree with Catholics and Protestants don't agree with Protestants. Muslims divide into Sunni and Shi'a, as well as Sufi and others. Jews divide into Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionists, and others. Buddhists divide, Hindus divide... every single spiritual path divides. Yet, ironically enough, we have a wellspring of time, experience, and resources at our disposal. Hindus trace back over 4,000 years. Moses led the Hebrews out of captivity more than 3,000 years ago. The Buddha taught his wisdom and shared insight over 2,500 years ago. Jesus preached 2,000 years ago. Muhammad brought forth the Qur'an over 1,500 years ago. Humanists have been around in one form or another since before the Renaissance. If there was one correct way to view or encounter or experience the sacred, in our ever shrinking world, it should have been made absolutely crystal clear by now.

I think the truth is right before us; we're just hold onto the wrong paradigm. All of us know the Golden Rule: Do onto others as you would have other do onto you. The Rabbi Hillel living a generation before Jesus taught this exact same thing. 500 years earlier still Confucius taught the same thing. Muhammad and Buddha likewise.

In nearly all of our religions and sacred traditions we are called to compassion via the Golden Rule. Interestingly it has always been made absolutely crystal clear how we are to treat one another.

Let's make a few assumptions once again. Let's assume God exists (in whatever form we wish to define 'God' as). Let's also assume God has tried and continues to try to communicate his message to us.

Why has God failed to successfully communicate to the world what's the one true, right belief? And more importantly, why has God left absolutely no ambiguity as to how we are to treat one another? Why is Compassion the one message or instruction we are called to?

If we return to the 3 points of potential failure in the act of communicating and factor in the conundrum of God's 'omni's' traits I think we find a clear solution. Whether we choose to approach the problem from a single faith point of view, or even from a global, pluralistic multi-faith point of view, we are given little to no wiggle-room.

God's message - Sophia's wisdom - to the world through numerous times, places, and cultures was never a message of the one true right faith. (That was us looking for something's that not there). Sophia's message was a calling to Compassion. Plain and simple. The rest is our controlling, self-serving propaganda.
I don't believe God's 'revelations' are the answers in and of themselves. I believe they are progressive; that they're directional. I believe there is a divine agenda afoot – a prime mover in and throughout human history.

That is how I see being a religious pluralist. It is no path of least resistance. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not for those who seek spiritual security.

...And to those who would argue with me that there is only one true religion (theirs) and the consequences of turning from this religious truth is to be brutally tortured relentlessly and continually for all eternity......if this is really the case (and I've seriously pondered this), then I am truly screwed, no matter which way I slice and dice it. It paints a picture of a truly dismal and near Lovecraftian cosmos. Because the only hope I have - at best – is to lie to this terrorist and tyrant god and hope he doesn't see through it.

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