Tuesday, March 27, 2007

More on Religion

"I came to the conclusion long ago … that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu … But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian." - Mahatma Gandhi, January 19, 1928

(When asked if he was a Hindu) Yes I am, I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew.

What if Westernized Christianity got it wrong? What if Jesus's Great Commission to us (“go and make disciples of all nations”) does not call us to convert individuals of another faith to Christianity? What if, rather, we are called to share the transformative influence of Christ’s message with members of other religions? In other words, we are called to help members of other religions to interpret and live out their faith in a more life-transforming way, in a way that is more in line with God’s purposes for their lives.

And, perhaps, (I would say it is very likely, in fact) this process of sharing in our faiths will lead us to grow in our interpretation of the Bible, God’s Word to us.

As Gandhi also said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Limits and Potentials of Words and Religion

Words are not reality. Words are just metaphors that tell us about the way humans categorize the world, the way we conceptualize our experiences. Words are the map, not the territory. Words should be judged based on usefulness; not “rightness.”

(For more about this, look here or maybe start here)

We don't "see" reality. The word "sight" is a metaphor that we use to conceptualize patterns of color and light that reach our eyes. Sight is a map, and the map is not the territory. Sight should be judged based on usefulness, not “rightness.”

We can't "hear" reality. The word "hearing" is a metaphor that we use to conceptualize vibrations in the air. Hearing is a map, and the map is not the territory.

"Smell" is not reality. "Smell" is a metaphor that we use to conceptualize gas molecules that reach our nose.

But then again, these terms, “patterns of color and light”, “vibrations in the air”, “gas molecules”, these terms are not reality either. These terms are words, meaning they are metaphors that tell us how we humans categorize the world. Really all we can say about the sense perceptions, sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste, is that they are metaphors that we use to conceptualize the “bits of reality” (patterns of color, vibrations in the air, gas molecules that reach our nose) that reach us.

The point is that reality exists completely independently of the words (the categorizations, classifications, and divisions) we use to conceptualize it. Words categorize, classify and divide reality in ways that are extremely useful to us; people find sight, hearing and smelling to be very useful metaphors by which to remember and communicate their experiences to others. However, the “rightness” of words is determined solely by the usefulness of those words; not by some philosophical or theological truth.

Applying this to religion, we see that “religion,” like any other series of words, cannot exist independently from humans, from our limited ability to conceptualize and interpret reality. All religions are just human creations used to explain who God is. And God exists outside religion. There is no “absolutely true religion,” in the same way that there are no “absolutely true words” that “correctly” describe reality. The “rightness” of religion must be judged only by usefulness, just as the rightness of any other words must be judged. Reality exists completely independently of the words we use to describe it, and God (whatever your conception of this word is) exists completely independently of the words we use to describe Him (or it, or whichever pronoun is most suitable to your line of thinking.)

Some religions are good at “drawing people closer to God”, “giving people direction in life”, or whatever you think that religion is for. But the idea that some religions are “right” and others are “wrong” is a misconception. Some religions are useful; others are less useful. That is all.

Addendum: The reason I consider myself Christian is that I think Christianity is the most useful religion for my life right now. (I also think the Christianity presents a very powerful set of beliefs for anyone to order their life by, but I’ll address that in a minute.) Christianity gives my life a strong sense of direction and a strong set of ideals to live by. But if someone is currently productively involved in another religion, Christianity probably would not be the most useful religion for their life, given their place in their society; such a person should not convert to Christianity, if doing so would decrease their usefulness to society as a whole.

Given Christianity’s prominence in my culture, even if I thought there was a more powerful, useful religion out there, I would be Christian right now, because given my place in my culture, it would still be currently the most useful for my life. The goal of society is for natural continued growth and evolution. You don’t have to believe in the most useful religion (whatever religion you believe that to be) to contribute to this goal.

I would hope these opinions would not make me “undevout” in the eyes of other Christians. I believe that the story of Christ’s death and resurrection, combined with its historical significance to our world, contains a very powerful set of ideals and a very powerful vision of the potentials that life has, and I love being part of a community that shares in this belief! The danger with religion, as with any words, is that we let the conception (the words themselves) cover up the purpose, the usefulness that the ideas have for our lives. We should remember that God exists outside of religion, and that all religions can be useful at bringing people closer to His purposes for their lives.