World Religions and Ecumenicism

For the past year, I’ve been teaching courses in Humanities at a local community college. In my professional role, I have to maintain a certain degree of detachment from the various topics from lecture to lecture. This includes the major world religious traditions. While maintaining my personal Christian faith, I have learned to appreciate the other traditions for their contributions to global faith and to personal enrichment.

There is a measure of humanity that needs and longs for rites and rituals. Each world religion offers fundamental practices that create affirmation and maturity. Rites of marriage or funeral ceremonies help us as people navigate life’s changes. Although I see those from a Christian lens I’m learning to broaden and to listen. This longing for religious structure at an instinctual level creates a bridge to communicate across religious and culture lines.

So this challenge has provoked me to consider how the Church can likewise relate to its global neighbors in faith. Brian McLaren’s upcoming book is going to grapple with this and I am curious to see what slant he takes. I know that I have been enriched by taking a less emotional and more objective look at Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism. Being new to the Emergent Village crowd, I’m curious if this resonates with others here.

I’m learning that loving ones neighbor means understanding them first — or at least trying to — before delving into the harder stuff. It’s too easy to dismiss any other tradition just because it’s different or foreign. We’ve so often assumed that we know and begun at the wrong end of the dialog. If we don’t listen and have hearts to consider that there is something worth receiving, we are all at a loss. Once mutual respect and conversation is established there can be greater room for intricacies.

I wouldn’t suggest a complete dismissal of uniqueness but rather an emphasis upon it. This extends the metaphor of the body of Christ to the next level in some ways. If we are all members of one Christological body, then how can the body of Christ relate to the body of Islam for instance? The “body of humanity” includes us all. Learning to relate within this broadest spectrum is truly a challenge that Christ commands with his maxim to love your neighbor regardless. He never qualified this statement. Granted there are versions of each tradition — subsects of each one times thousands — but as distinct religious bodies we can adhere to ourselves without losing the appreciation for the others.

This is rather ambitious of course since we have yet to work out this reality among our own Christianities, but loving ones neighbor must include this earnest effort to see the other, endorse it, hear it, and evaluate it from its own perspective. Stepping outside to listen and appreciate takes the edge off the initial awkwardness.

At a fundamental human level we can begin to see how the ties that bind us as God’s creation are in fact valuable points of contact.

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  • Samuel Maynes

    If you are interested in some new ideas on ecumenicism and the Trinity,
    please check out my website at http://www.religiouspluralism.ca, and give me
    your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be
    Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic
    theology.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan
    Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute
    Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the
    Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned
    Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their
    variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas
    reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept
    of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the
    first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known
    as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other
    names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

    2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or “Universal” Absolute
    Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna;
    represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of
    souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the “body of Christ” (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or
    Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus
    Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality –
    unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the
    absonite* Unconditioned Absolute
    Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected
    to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being –
    represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas,
    Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological
    variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of
    the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the
    Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two
    insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions
    of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit
    is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme,
    so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a
    synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe
    Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned
    Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit
    Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny
    Consummator of All That Is.

    After the Hindu and Buddhist conceptions, perhaps the most subtle expression and comprehensive symbol of the 3rd person of the Trinity is the Tao; involving the harmonization of “yin and yang” (great opposing
    ideas indentified in positive and negative, or otherwise contrasting terms). In
    the Taoist icon of yin and yang, the s-shaped line separating the black and
    white spaces may be interpreted as the Unconditioned
    “Middle Path” between condition and conditioned opposites, while the circle
    that encompasses them both suggests their synthesis in the Spirit of the “Great
    Way” or Tao of All That Is.

    If the small black and white circles or “eyes” are taken to represent a nucleus of truth in both yin and yang, then the metaphysics of this symbolism fits nicely with the paradoxical mystery of the Christian Holy
    Ghost; who is neither the spirit of the one nor the spirit of the other,
    but the Glorified Spirit proceeding
    from both, taken altogether – as one entity – personally distinct from his
    co-equal, co-eternal and fully coordinate co-sponsors, who differentiate from
    him, as well as mingle and meld in him.

    For more details, please see: http://www.religiouspluralism.ca

    Samuel Stuart Maynes