Sunday, February 04, 2007

on being from many traditions

A while back, the Maven asked if I would react to a couple posts she had written (see here first). The Maven's basic question, after she explained how she had moved from tradition to tradition, was: "Who should I be?" At that point, I didn't have much time to ponder the question, so I wrote her a brief emailed reply:

You ask some important questions, and of course, "Who are you!?" is among the first questions you hear when sitting across from the Zen master. Most people freeze because their minds start whirring. Learning how to answer the Zen master without hesitation when he asks that question-- ah, that's the trick. "Don't make anything," as the Korean monks say.*

I've mulled over a lengthier version of what I wrote above, but can't seem to think of anything. The Maven, however, wrote a followup post to which I might be able to provide a longer answer. In this post, she asked: "Can a 'Christian Pluralist' who is also not a 'Scriptural Literalist' remain in the Episcopalian faith? Isn't religious pluralism at the heart of ecumenism?"

I would say that pluralism is an attitude that cuts across religious boundaries, which means a person can belong to any specific tradition and still be a pluralist. Pluralism isn't a religion unto itself.

People who belong to a given tradition often find themselves in disagreement with parts of it, especially as they learn more about their tradition's history and doctrines. Such disagreement is natural. It's also subject to change: as we become older and more experienced, we often find ourselves dropping certain disagreements and picking up others to replace them. Reflective people do not have a blind faith, which is good: as theologian Paul Tillich noted, doubt needs to walk hand in hand with faith.

Whether religious pluralism lies at the heart of ecumenism is another matter. I think it's possible to have an ecumenical attitude-- one that welcomes and respects those of other traditions-- without necessarily being a pluralist. Evidence for my contention abounds: people who attend large ecumenical/interfaith events generally skew inclusivist, not pluralist. The Catholic Church hosts among the largest such events, and the Church's official stance since Vatican II has been one of inclusivism.

Any large religious tradition, even those that appear generally fundamentalist, will be host to a wide spectrum of beliefs and attitudes. The Southern Baptist Church comes to mind as an example. Southern Baptism is often associated with heedless religious conservatism, but you have only to meet a few thoughtful Baptists to realize that the situation is more complicated than that. The same goes for Islam, a religion of 1.3 billion people, not all of whom believe the same thing. Far from it!

So yes, it is eminently possible to be a non-literalistic Anglican pluralist. Long live variety!

*The line "Don't make anything" packs a lot into a tiny space, and probably needs to be unpacked. The line refers to what is the often-destructive tendency of the discursive intellect to carve the world into a whole host of dualistic categories, thereby "making" such things as good/evil, this/that, and so on. When the Zen master asks a direct question, such as "Who are you," he or she is expecting the student to answer in an unfettered manner that demonstrates the ability to act purely according to the dictates of the moment. "Don't make anything" is therefore in close association with another Korean Buddhist maxim: "Follow your situation."


1 comment:

Maven said...

Thank you Kevin. You did not disappoint. I am glad I asked you for your insights!

When I think of, "Who am I?," in a soft inner voice I hear, "Just be."

And granted I've asked the same query to two different Episcopalian priests, naturally they want me to remain, given the fact that the church is bleeding congregants left and right due to one reason or another.

And given this wandering path I've been on for the last 20 years or so, I'd feel just as comfortable in a Reform synagogue, Quaker Meeting of Friends, as well as a mainline-to-liberal Anglican church.