Participating in Robust Interfaith RelationsPosted: August 30, 2015
Participating in Robust Interfaith Relations
SLIDE 3: THE FOOL HAS SAID THAT GOD IS DEAD
My father’s mentor at the University of Omaha was Dr. William Thompson, Professor of Psychology and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Thompson incidentally was also the father-in-law of billionaire investor Warren Buffet. My interest in Dr. Thompson today is that he was an amateur theologian of sorts and wrote a small book entitled The Fool Has Said That God is Dead, drawing his title for our Psalm this morning.
SLIDE 4: CONSCIOUSNESS OF ALL LIVING
Dr. Thompson approached his subject from the point of view of a psychologist noting that all living things demonstrate some level of awareness. Even tiny one celled creatures respond to stimuli like light, vibration, heat, cold, and this is true of plants as well as animals. Many flowers follow the sunlight during the day. Avid gardeners claim that plants grow better when they are treated gently, spoken to kindly, or when pleasing music is played for them. Now I know some of these claims are debated, but Dr. Thompson went even further to claim that the awareness of living things is a form of consciousness. Now clearly not intelligence as we think of human intelligence, but consciousness no matter how simple or even primitive.
SLIDE 5: HUMAN PURPOSE TO CONNECT WITH UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS
Now I know many people resist speaking of plants and even other animals as possessing consciousness, but maybe that is a sign of our arrogant claim to specialness that only we humans can possess consciousness. We should remember, that Charles Darwin, in the last book he published, The Formation of Vegetable Mold through the Action of Worms, in the year preceding his death, set out to learn how far earthworms “acted consciously and how much mental power they displayed.” Studying their feeding and sexual behaviors for several decades — Darwin was after all a naturalist with uncanny powers of observation — he concluded that there was no absolute threshold between lower and higher animals, including humans that assigned higher mental powers to one but not to the other. Dr. Thompson’s thesis was that he experienced all nature as possessing consciousness and that part of our human purpose is to learn to connect with the universal consciousness that is God.
SLIDE 6: SCOFFERS CRY: GOD IS DEAD
God is in all things, and we are a part of God. So if we join with the scoffers in proclaiming, “God is dead,” then we lose touch with the divine spark within us, and our lives become immeasurably impoverished stripped of mystery, awe and wonder. Without the divine spark in our lives we lose all sense of gratitude. Human life without the divine becomes in the words of the Psalmist, “like a fast-food meal full of empty calories and cholesterol over which we’re too busy to pray.”
SLIDE 7: MOST NON-CHURCH GOERS BELIEVE CHRISTIANS ARE JUDGEMENTAL
“Sometimes, atheists’ disbelief has its roots in science or philosophy. More often, it stems from unpleasant interactions with believers, either in lived experience, or in story or history. You know the list: the Inquisition, so-called witch trials, pogroms, the Crusades, discrimination of all kinds, threats of Hell. A recent study of non-church goers ages 16 to 29 found that 87% think that Christians are judgmental. (No wonder we experience difficulty in reaching out to the Millennials.)
SLIDE 8: GOD NEEDS BETTER REPRESENTATIVES LIKE US?
“Since God seems to have decided to not show up in person much anymore, but instead to rely on her people to be her representatives, you can hardly blame atheists if, having met only these kinds of representatives, they decide that God isn’t worth their time. In fact, that’s a decidedly un-foolish response under the circumstances. What God needs, then, is a different kind of representative, one that won’t convert people away from God, but will invite them to love. A representative who lives a life of grace and welcome and invitation and love and service, one who lives a life of adventure and tenderness. God needs representatives who are not fools. Representatives like us maybe?”
Because faith is a living as if something is true, how do we live as if God still lives?
SLIDE 9: WE PRAY
First, we pray. Now I know many of you get tired of me emphasizing spending at least half an hour a day in prayer. We are busy people and we can hardly be bothered to take that much time for prayer. Sort of reminds me of the sign my Far East History and Philosophy teacher in High School had on the wall: “God is alive and well in Argentina.” But if God truly lives in us how can we not set aside time for that relationship? How can we ignore the divine spark within that enriches our lives with mystery, awe and wonder?
SLIDE 10: WORSHIP — PUBLIC PRAYER
Second, we worship, we engage in public prayer, we join with a group of good spiritual friends to pray with and for each other. Jesus taught that when people pray together the power of prayer is multiplied, not arithmetically, but exponentially. Public prayer does not take the place of private personal prayer, however public prayer is a visible testimony to others of a communal faith in God. God is alive and well in this community of faith.
SLIDE 11: WHEN WE SHARE
Third, we demonstrate that God is alive in the world when we share, especially with the poor. We are the hands and feet of the Christ in the world, when we reach out to people in need and share with them. Sometimes they need clean water, or food, or blankets and warm socks in the winter. The poor are God’s most beloved, and those of us who have been inordinately materially blessed find our spiritual blessing in sharing with the poor, the mentally ill, and the homeless ones. God also calls upon us to reach out to the spiritually impoverished, the addicted, the depressed, the lost, the hopeless. Sharing hope can be every bit as important and more difficult as sharing socks, or food, or blankets.
SLIDE 12: ADVOCATE FOR JUSTICE
Fourth, we demonstrate God is alive in the world, when we advocate for justice challenging discrimination and racism, working for economic justice, so that the benefits of our society are more equitably shared and do not accrue solely to a privileged class.
Rabbi Rami in Perennial Wisdom of the Spiritually Independent makes this observation: “If it is true that ‘with God, all things are permitted,’ how then do we spiritually independent types decide what is right and wrong? We return to our philosophical principles: we are all manifestations of a singular Reality and, as such, are intrinsically called to love both neighbor and self.
“The principle is not rocket science: treating others justly and with compassion is good, while treating them unjustly and cruelly is bad. Of course we can argue over exactly what is just and kind in any given situation, but it is justice and kindness rather than obedience to an idea of God that motivates us. We can argue passionately about justice and kindness, and the end of our argument will always be a more nuanced understanding of these ideas. In short, the spiritually independent place values over theology.”
SLIDE 13: AFFIRMING THE FAITH OF OTHERS IN INTERFAITH RELATIONSHIPS
A fifth way we demonstrate God is alive in the world is by affirming the faith of others in interfaith relationships. All faiths share a common goal of serving an ultimate reality beyond ourselves. Dr. Thompson’s thesis was that all nature possesses consciousness and our human purpose is to learn to connect with the universal consciousness that is God. Other faiths may celebrate different holidays, sing different songs, follow different customs in prayer, but all faiths that point to a reality, a universal consciousness beyond themselves are worthy of being affirmed. When we cooperate with other people whose religious customs are not our own, we are not abandoning our faith, but rather we are affirming the most important values of our faith.
SLIDE 14: JESUS SAID, “I HAVE OTHER SHEEP NOT OF THIS FOLD”
As Jesus said, “I have other sheep who are not of this fold.” Think of Mahatma Gandhi, the Dali Lama, the great Sufi poet Rami, the Buddha, and all of the other great souls who must surely reside in the silent memory of God. It is for us to affirm their goodness and wisdom, rather than judging their theology. And so we are called upon to participate in robust interfaith relations like the Tri-faith Initiative in Omaha we talked about last week. God is not dead. God is alive and well among all those who embrace one another in God’s love.
SLIDE 15: GOD IS OUR BELOVED: PEACE, SHALOM, SALAAM, NAMASTE, ALLAH-U-ABHA