Other Faiths


I don’t know how much of a national story this has been, but the Washington area has been all agog for the last week-and-a-half over an incident at a Catholic funeral. Seems that the deceased’s daughter, a woman by the name of Barbara Johnson, went to the priest who was presiding and informed him that she was a lesbian, then presented herself for Communion at the funeral and was refused. Various non-Catholic activists and journalists became instant experts on Catholic sacramental practice, and pronounced anathema on the Rev. Marcel Guarnizo for his lack of pastoral sensitivity in turning away a person he knew for a fact was living in mortal sin. Then it turned out that the woman in question is not only gay, but a practicing Buddhist. This raises a really big problem for the Big Thinkers, like one of the Washington Post‘s high powered reporters, Michelle Boorstein:

The story we’ve been covering in recent days about a Maryland priest who refused to give a lesbian Communion at her mother’s funeral has set off many sensitive, complicated subjects for Catholics. Who is eligible for Communion? What are the responsibilities of a priest? What’s the spiritual purpose of a funeral Mass?

Now the latest issue: Can you be a Catholic and practice Buddhism at the same time?

No. Next question.

The latter camp, of conservatives, has in recent days circulated an academic paper Johnson, 51, wrote in graduate school, in which she defined herself as a Buddhist. On her Web site, for an arts education program, she describes herself as “a student of many things, from Buddhist philosophy to nutrition and alternative medicine.” She does not mention Catholicism.

“She is not even a Roman Catholic any longer, yet she presented herself for Communion..” wrote blogger Rod Dreher on The American Conservative.

“Aside from her homosexuality, the woman is a non-Catholic, literally an apostate, and she complains about being denied Holy Communion and wants to get the priest fired,” writes Catholicism.org.

This really is an open-and-shut case, unless you live in Postland.

Johnson’s depiction of her own blending of the faiths, while infuriating to purists, appears to put her in the mainstream of American religion. One recent Pew poll on multiple religious practices shows 88 percent of white Catholics cite at least one non-Christian religion that they believe can lead to eternal life, a higher percentage than the number of black Protestants (81 percent) or white mainline Protestants (85 percent) who said so. The same survey also found that roughly a quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation and a similar number believe in yoga not just as exercise, but as a spiritual practice. Among Catholics, the number expressing these beliefs is 28 percent and 27 percent respectively.

Poll numbers are fascinating things. They can tell you a great deal about what people think, believe, and do. What they cannot do is tell you what the truth is. Let’s say that Boorstein is correct, that Johnson’s approach to religion puts “her in the mainstream.” So what? What has that got to do with Catholic sacramental practice? Last time I checked, Rome doesn’t consult with Pew before deciding how it should order the church’s sacramental life.

In fact, this seems to be something about Catholicism–and Christianity in general, properly understood–that American journalists don’t seem to get. It doesn’t matter what a majority think about Christian faith and practice. What matters is what God, Scripture, and (if one is Roman Catholic) what the magisterium of the church says.

Johnson’s depiction of her faith mirrors that even of some clergy, including famed Trappist monk Thomas Merton who embraced and deeply studied Buddhism before his death in the 1960s. More recently, two Episcopal priests — including a bishop — described themselves as followers of Christianity and other faiths, one of Zen Buddhism and one of Islam.

I’ll get back to Merton in a moment. As for the other two, Boorstein bringing them in is a real joke. You’ll remember Ann Holmes Redding, the Islamopalian priest from Seattle, and Kevin Thew Forrester, the Buddhapalian priest who was a candidate for the episcopacy for the diocese of Western Northern Michigan. Even within an ecclesiastical organization as corrupt and shot through with apostacy as the Episcopal Church, these two were over the line. Forrester was the first candidate for ECUSA’s episcopacy  since 1930 to be defeated, while Holmes Redding was defrocked by her bishop. Using them to demonstrate how “mainstream” Johnson is is like using mold as an example of vegetables because it’s green.

As for Merton, there are many things that could be said about his relationships to Buddhism. He respected it, he learned from it, he understood it, he wrote about it, he valued it for its true insights, he engaged in dialogue with Buddhists–but “embrace” usually suggests conversion, and that was a step he never took, nor, I suspect, would his Trappist order have been pleased if he had, given that Buddhism is atheistic and sees salvation as individual extinction rather than as personal deliverance from sin into the eternal presence of the living God. In fact, this article from Thomas Merton Society–which is glowingly positive about the interactions the monk had with Buddhism–would be appropriately quoted here:

Thus, religious dialogue for Merton was not a syncretism or an eclectic accumulation that ignored real differences in an attempt to create a universal religion (without specific roots).

Boorstein goes on to describe Johnson’s approach to Catholicism:

In her 20s, Johnson remembers her growing doubt about Catholic institutions as she wrestled with accepting her sexuality, and later as she watched the clergy sex abuse crisis unfold. She went to services in other Christian churches: Unitarian, Baptist, Episcopalian.

“During that time I found a lot of answers in Buddhist teachings and texts,” she said

Johnson says she never stopped seeing herself as a Catholic, and never stopped attended [sic] Mass or taking Communion – albeit not very regularly.

But no doubt orthodox Catholics would see this approach as a violation of their faith and challenge the idea that she could she seek Communion if she also sees herself as a Buddhist.

Well, yeah. Boorstein and Johnson seem to think that Catholicism–or Christianity–is like a rubber nose that one can shape and form as one pleases. Or like a recipe for beef stew–one can throw anything into the pot that tickles one’s palate, and it will still be beef stew as long as there’s a little bit of cow meat mixed in. They can believe that if they want, but there’s no reason I can think of why the Catholic Church should agree.

UPDATE: Forrester was defeated for the Northern Michigan bishop’s seat, not Western. Thanks to Chris Johnson for the heads-up, and for giving us Forrester’s full name in the comments.

I thought that I would only have to write one post on the exploitation of the tragedy in Norway for ideological purposes. Silly me.

Th execrable Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite has been a frequent target of mine, but she hits a new low in the Washington Post this morning. Seems the mass murder in Norway was all about “right-wing” Christianity:

Anders Behring Breivik has now “acknowledged” that he carried out the horrific series of attacks in Norway that have left at least 76 dead. He has been described by police there as a “Christian fundamentalist.” His rambling “manifesto” calls for a “Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination.” Christians should not turn away from this information, but try to come to terms with the temptations to violence in the theologies of right-wing Christianity.

Let’s clear the field right away: Breivik is not, and does not claim to be, a Christian in anything but a cultural sense. He writes in his incoherent “manifesto” (3.139):

If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian.

Even someone as far removed from orthodox Christianity as Thistlethwaite would reject the claim of someone who wrote something like this to be a Christian. This, in fact, is much more akin to what the so-called “German Christians” of the Nazi era claimed, that they were Christians by virtue of blood and soil, of ethnic heritage, of cultural patrimony. To the extent that they understood what Christianity is about, they rejected it, as does Breivik, for all his pseudo-Christian ramblings.

Breivik’s chosen targets were political in nature, emblematic of his hatred of “multiculturalism” and “left-wing political ideology.” This does not mean that the Christian element in his ultra-nationalist views is irrelevant. The religious and political views in right-wing ideologies are mutually reinforcing, and ignoring or dismissing the role played by certain kinds of Christian theology in such extremism is distorting.

In fact, trying to discern a coherent political ideology in Breivik’s rant is next to impossible. He certainly doesn’t fit into anything like the convenient category that Thistlethwaite wants to put him. Oh, and I’ve got to say that for someone as thoroughly down-the-line left-wing in both her politics and her theology as Thistlethwaite to talk about how “the religious and political views in right-wing ideologies are mutually reinforcing” is the height of pot-kettle irony.

Christians are often reluctant to see these connections between their religion and extreme violence. They will dismiss it as “madness” rather than confront the Christian element directly. As a woman interviewed in Oslo observed, “If Islamic people do something bad, you think, ‘Oh, it’s Muslims,’ ” she said. “But if a white Protestant does something bad, you just think he’s mad. That’s something we need to think about.”

Ah, moral equivalence. Hey, it worked with the Soviets, right? Rather than drawing facile comparisons between apples and oranges, Thistlethwaite ought to learn something about the subjects she writes about. The connection between political and religious realms was built into Islam from the beginning. The early centuries of Islam are all about military conquest and the establishment of empire. Recognized, popular schools of Islamic thought, such as that of Ayatollah Khomeini, advocate a tight bond between state and mosque, and not only acquiesce to violence against non-believers, but positively encourage it. Followers of those schools applaud when they see infidels struck down (think of the reaction in parts of the Muslim world to 9/11, 7/11, 3/11 the Bali bombings, and others). When stuff like Norway happens, the reaction in even the most conservative Christian circles is universal condemnation.

Yeah, I know–details, details.

Exactly right. Christians do need to think about that, both in Europe and in the United States. Examining your own religion in its historic as well as contemporary connection to lethal violence is something Christians tend to shun. Stephen Prothero describes this dynamic in his students: “When I was a professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, I required my students to read Nazi theology. I wanted them to understand how some Christian bent the words of the Bible into weapons aimed at Jews and how these weapons found their mark at Auschwitz and Dachau. My Christian students responded to these disturbing readings with one disturbing voice: the Nazis were not real Christians, they informed me, since real Christians would never kill Jews in crematories.” Prothero confesses he found their response “terrifying.”

I’m not sure why their response is “terrifying,” though it may be wrong. These students evidently understood something that Prothero and Thistlethwaite don’t: that no authentically Christian theology or worldview could possibly countenance actions like the Nazi campaign against the Jews. The only way to get from Christianity to Nazism’s racial beliefs is to so distort the faith that it was no longer Christianity. The German Christians were, among other heresies, Marcionites (they rejected the Old Testament in whole or in part) and Pelagians (they reject the inherited sinfulness of humanity), and rejected most if not all of Paul’s theology regarding the breaking down of walls between Jews and Gentiles. Many of them essentially rejected the historicity of the Gospels by declaring that Jesus was an Aryan. Is it any wonder that people like this would approve of the Nazis’ anti-Semitism? Is it really any wonder that Prothero’s students had a hard time identifying this as “Christianity”? The truth is that the only way that the ideology of the German Christians could be supposed to be Christian is if the words “Christianity” and “Christian” have no intellectual content, so that they may be twisted and shaped into whatever form one wishes. The fact that the German “Christians” wanted to hold on to that word is no more morally significant than Theodore Kaczynski identifying himself as an “environmentalist.”

When I consider the theological perspectives that “tempt” some Christians to justify hatred and even violence against others, such as, in this case in Norway, the following perspectives seem especially prevalent: 1) making supremacist claims that Christianity is the “only” truth;

So holding to biblical faith, as well as the orthodox faith of the church through the centuries, “tempts some Christians” to hate and murder others. You might as well say that believing in the crucified Christ encourages violence. Oh, wait–some “theologians” on the loony left do say that. (I should mention that she seems to be doing a weasel by using the expression “only truth.” What she means is the view that Christ is the only way of salvation.) In any case, Thistlethwaite has obviously not bothered to look at Breivik’s rant, which makes clear that his beef is with Islam–he says nothing negative about any other religion, and supports Christianity because of its place in European culture, not because it is the “only” truth. She simply assumes that Breivik must believe this, because a police official (!) called him a “Christian fundamentalist.”

2) holding the related view that other religions are not merely wrong, but “evil” and “of the devil”;

This view of other religions may or may not be true, but the fact is that there are countless people who believe this, including an awful lot of atheists who believe that all religions are evil, but who don’t go around indiscriminately killing people. In any case, Breivik never says this.

3) being highly selective in the use of biblical literalism, for example ignoring the justice claims of the prophets and using biblical texts that seem to justify violence;

Not surprisingly, selectivity in the use of “biblical literalism” is universal, which makes sense given that there is a variety of types of literature in Scripture, some of which is meant to be taken literally, some of which isn’t. Even Thistlethwaite takes some of it literally. Generally, those who use it to justify violence are those who would be violent anyway, but grab hold of some text or another justify what they want to do, rather than discovering a call to do what they wouldn’t otherwise.

4) identifying Christianity with a dominant race and/or nation;

See “German Christians” above.

5) believing that violence is divinely justified to “cleanse” or “purify” as in a “holy war”;

This idea used to be common within Christendom (as it has been and still is common in certain segments of Islam). But the only people who hold to this now are either the “German Christian” types or people who are so unhinged that they hear voices or see divine messages in the butter patterns on their English muffins.

and 6) believing the end of the world is at hand.

That must refer to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his threats to wipe Israel off the map to facilitate the coming of the 12th Mahdi, because it has nothing to do with Breivik at all.

Such theological views, I have found, are more accurate predictors of where political extremism and certain interpretations of Christian theology will mutually contribute to justifying lethal violence. This kind of specificity is more helpful, in my view, than the term “Christian fundamentalism.” Fundamentalism is a more historical term, dating from the “fundamentalist-modernist” controversy in the early part of the 20th century in the United States, and I find it is less helpful today in understanding right-wing Christianity.

This kind of specificity would be more helpful if it had any kind of link with actual examples, since Breivik doesn’t fit this mold. He doesn’t claim to be Christian in any sense other than the cultural; he has no interest in whether the theological claims of Christianity are true, much less exclusively so; he has no apparent problem with any religion other than Islam; his apocalypticism is cultural rather than theological; etc. But other than that he’s a textbook case of what Thistlethwaite is talking about.

I also think it’s funny that she gets all scholarly on the use of the word “fundamentalist,” considering she uses it all the time as a synonym for “right-wing Christianity,” but hey, maybe she was looking at her doctoral sheepskin when she wrote this.

The real point is this: she doesn’t show that there is any connection between violence and “right-wing Christianity” because there isn’t one. A handful of deranged people, many of whom don’t even fit the stereotype, do not make a “connection”–they make an excuse for religious leftists to throw slime at Christians with whom they disagree.

UPDATE: Here’s the aforementioned Stephen Prothero at CNN’s “Belief Blog” today:

He affirms Christianity. He describes himself as “100% Christian” in his apparent manifesto….

If he did what he has alleged to have done, Anders Breivik is a Christian terrorist.

Yes, he twisted the Christian tradition in directions most Christians would not countenance. But he rooted his hate and his terrorism in Christian thought and Christian history, particularly the history of the medieval Crusades against Muslims, and current efforts to renew that clash.

Here’s Breivik in his manifesto:

At the age of 15 I chose to be baptised and confirmed in the Norwegian State Church. I consider myself to be 100% Christian. However, I strongly object to the current suicidal path of the Catholic Church but especially the Protestant Church….

As for the Church and science, it is essential that science takes an undisputed precedence over biblical teachings. Europe has always been the cradle of science and it must always continue to be that way.

Regarding my personal relationship with God, I guess I’m not an excessively religious man. I am first and foremost a man of logic. However, I am a supporter of a monocultural Christian Europe.

Yeah, that sounds like a Christian to me. In some ways, he’d fit right into Thistlethwaite’s United Church of Christ.

UPDATE: Yet another academic, Marc Jeurgensmeyer of Southern Cal, weighs in at Religion Dispatches:

The similarities between suspected mass killer Anders Behring Breivik and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh are striking.

Both were good-looking young Caucasians, self-enlisted soldiers in an imagined cosmic war to save Christendom. Both thought their acts of mass destruction would trigger a great battle to rescue society from the liberal forces of multiculturalism that allowed non-Christians and non-whites positions of acceptability. Both regretted the loss of life but thought their actions were “necessary.” For that they were staunchly unapologetic. And both were Christian terrorists.

Thereby demonstrating (as if further evidence were necessary) that some academics would rather be politically correct than factually accurate. McVeigh explicitly said he was an agnostic. I know–details, details.

Jeurgensmeyer’s point seems to be that if you are going to call Osama bin Laden a Muslim, then you have to call Breivik a Christian:

Is this a religious vision, and am I right in calling Breivik a Christian terrorist? It is true that Breivik—and McVeigh, for that matter—were much more concerned about politics, race, and history than about scripture and religious belief; with Breivik even going so far as to write that “It is enough that you are a Christian-agnostic or a Christian atheist (an atheist who wants to preserve at least the basics of the European Christian cultural legacy (Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter)).”

But much the same can be said about Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and many other Islamist activists. Bin Laden was a businessman and engineer, and Zawahiri was a medical doctor; neither were theologians or clergy. Their writings show that they were much more interested in Islamic history than theology or scripture, and imagined themselves as re-creating glorious moments in Islamic history in their own imagined wars. Tellingly, Breivik writes of al Qaeda with admiration, as if he would love to create a Christian version of their religious cadre.

If bin Laden is a Muslim terrorist, Breivik and McVeigh are surely Christian ones.

So here’s what religion is in the hands of one sociologist:

In case you can’t make out that warning in the corner, it says: “May be dangerous when used for political purposes.”

Every now and then, a news story comes along that makes me think, “did he really say that?” Such is the case with this Agence France Presse story about the Dalai Lama:

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama said Thursday that he is a Marxist, yet credits capitalism for bringing new freedoms to the communist country that exiled him — China.

“Still I am a Marxist,” the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader said in New York, where he arrived with an entourage of robed monks and a heavy security detail to give a series of paid public lectures.

Marxism has “moral ethics, whereas capitalism is only how to make profits,” the Dalai Lama, 74, said.

Huh? I suppose it’s possible that he imbibed too much Communist propaganda when he was younger, or maybe he just doesn’t know any better. Even though he’s the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, perhaps the Dalai Lama should pick up a copy of Michael Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. He doesn’t have to agree with the ethical vision presented there, but it would dispel his misapprehension that capitalism is devoid of morality.

One of the things I find most irritating about some religious pluralists is an arrogant solipsism that says they get to define, not only what their own religion teaches, but what everybody else’s religion teaches as well. Exhibit A for this mindset, on view now in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan, is Bishop-elect Kevin Thew Forrester. The Diocese of South Carolina, meeting yesterday in convention, went on record as opposing his confirmation as bishop, and quoted from a sermon of his as an example of why he should be turned down. According to Titusonenine, the swami said:

…One of the amazing insights I have found in the interfaith dialogue is that, no matter what you name that source, from which all life comes—you can name that source God, Abba; you may name that source Yahweh; you may name that source Allah; you may name that source “the great emptiness;” you can name that source many things, but what all the faiths in their wisdom have acknowledged in the interfaith dialogue is that, you and I, we’re not the source. We receive from the source, and what we are asked to do is give back to the source. In other words, what the interfaith dialogue has recognized is that there is a Trinitarian structure to life. That’s what I’m driving at this morning. We make the Trinity much too complex. The Trinitarian structure of life is this: is that everything that is comes from the source. And you can name the source what you want to name the source. And our response to that is with hearts of gratitude and thanksgiving, to return everything back to that source, and there’s a spirit who enables that return. Everything comes from God. We give it back to God. And the spirit gives us the heart of gratitude. That is the Trinitarian nature of life. And you can be a Buddhist, you can be a Muslim, you can be a Jew, and that makes sense. And we all develop more elaborate theologies, but the truth is we live and have our being in a God who asks only one thing of us: to grow into people who give thanks that God is our center, God is our life, that we are one with God. And as we grow into realization, that we are one with this God who lives in us, and the only thing God asks us is to give back everything in thanksgiving, we live. It’s what the Syrians said, “we will know what redemption truly is, we will come alive, we will be made to live,” because we will know—not because someone told us—because we know that God gives us life. And all God asks of us is “give it back to Me in return.”

“What the interfaith dialogue has recognized is that there is a Trinitarian structure to life.” What utter nonsense. I’d love to hear him say that to a Muslim or a Jew and find out how much agreement he gets. I think this passage from one of Forrester’s sermons demonstrates quite thoroughly that he not only doesn’t deserve a pointy hat, he shouldn’t be in a Christian pulpit at all. But what do I know–I’m still laboring under the delusion that a Christian preacher ought to be, you know, preaching Christ, rather than playing at his own make-believe game of religion.

Well, here we go again. The Episcopal Church seems to have become the home of choice for Christian clergy who want to go the syncretistic route. Episcodruid Bill Melnyk and Islamopalian Anne Holmes Redding come immediately to mind. Now, it seems the Diocese of Northern Michigan is prepared to elect as its bishop a priest who has also received lay ordination as a Zen Buddhist. According to the Living Church News Service:

The Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, rector of St. Paul’s, Marquette, and St. John’s, Negaunee, was put forward by the diocesan search team to stand for election as bishop/ministry developer under the “mutual ministry model” used by the small, rural diocese on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A priest of the diocese since 2001, Fr. Forrester also serves as ministry development coordinator and newspaper editor for Northern Michigan.

In recent years, he also was a practicing Buddhist, according to the former Bishop of Northern Michigan, the late Rt. Rev. James Kelsey.

In his Oct 15, 2004 address to the diocese’s annual convention, Bishop Kelsey took note of some of the milestones among the lives of members of the diocese. After recognizing recent university graduations, the bishop said Fr. Forrester “received Buddhist ‘lay ordination’,” and was “walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together.”

In his Oct 15, 2004 address to the diocese’s annual convention, Bishop Kelsey took note of some of the milestones among the lives of members of the diocese. After recognizing recent university graduations, the bishop said Fr. Forrester “received Buddhist ‘lay ordination’,” and was “walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together.”

Fr. Forrester did not respond to requests for clarification or comments on how as presumptive bishop he would model the two faiths in his episcopacy.

I’ll bet. It should also be noted that the Episcopal News Service story, which concentrated on Northern Michigan’s unusual process for seeking a new bishop, doesn’t mention this salient fact. Why am I not surprised.

Now, I know lots of Christians go all gooey over Buddhism, and think that Christianity and Buddhism are somehow compatible. But the truth is that in almost every respect, Christianity and Buddhism are polar opposites. Christianity posits a loving and righteous personal God who created the universe, called a people to Himself, and redeemed them when they were dead in sin. Buddhism is atheistic, sees salvation in terms of personal extinction, and requires that people free themselves from the worldly bonds that ensnare them. As for the spiritual practices of Buddhism that many Westerners find so fascinating, they do so in part because they don’t know the extraordinarily rich and deep spiritual traditions of their own faith. None of this is to say that Christians can’t learn some things from Buddhists, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with seeking to understand a religious tradition other than your own. But the evidence seems to be that Forrester isn’t in dialogue with Buddhists, or seeking to understand them, but has become one. I can only imagine what kind of theological contortions he must go through in an attempt to keep the inherent contradictions of the two faiths from blowing up in his head. But I got some picture of those contortions by finding this piece that he wrote in the July/August 2004 edition of the diocesan newsletter:

My soul-work has led me to see that the way of Jesus is the way of truth and life. Anointed by the Spirit, Jesus reveals to humanity that the way of God is the path of boundless compassion and of utter regard for all God’s creatures. I remember my astonishment upon first understanding that Jesus realized he was beloved by God at his baptism, and he had not even done anything yet. He had not achieved, changed, perfected, anything. He was loved by God simply because he was God’s child. We are beloved of God as we are, and nothing can ever change this. This is the simple truth so hard for each of us to know in our heart of hearts – at least it has been for me. Our hearts ache to know this love for ourselves. Awareness of belovedness, is, as I see it, the very life blood of the way of Jesus. For me it is sacred salve to the soul – salvific. It is the way of salvation – offering us healing from the fears, anxieties, and greeds of our own blinding egos.

I see now a Jesus who does not raise the bar to salvation, but lowers it so far that it disappears. Our own children, Miriam and Liam, have been welcomed to communion since birth not because of anything they know, but because of who they are – God’s beloved. There is nothing we can do or need do to win God’s love. That is precisely the good news. Human beings always want to make conditions. Jesus reveals that for God to love us there are no conditions. We are of God and belong to God because God has made us – each and every one of us, who are both beautiful and broken.

And yet, it has not been easy for me to see this belovedness in my own life, or in all of God’s creatures – such as those who flew planes into the Twin Towers. I seem to thrive on setting-up conditions for God’s love. My fear and ego needs have been blinding all too often. Sin is another word for such blindness. Sin has little, if anything, to do with being bad. It has everything to do, as far as I can tell, with being blind to our own goodness. And when we are blind we hurt ourselves and others – sometimes quite deeply.

Zen , for me, is about learning how to see the bedrock truth of our baptism – we are beloved. To say this may sound odd, at first. But 2,500 years ago, an Indian prince became known as the Buddha, or the Enlightened One, because he courageously sat and faced his fears, and after years of facing them, saw this basic truth about life: we are one, utterly one, yet we do not know it. We suffer because we fearfully cling to this or that thing (for me, trying to be perfect) in the hope that it will bring us happiness.

After his awakening, or enlightenment, it is said that the Buddha encountered some of his earlier friends. They noticed the change in him and asked if he were a god? He said no, I am simply a human being who is finally awake. The way of the Buddha is essentially about waking up to who we are, and what creation is – utterly one and sacred.

Universalism? Check. Pelagianism? Check. Gnosticism? Check. Pantheism? Check. Bishop of the Episcopal Church? Probably, but there are those who will squawk, according to the Living Church:

If Fr. Thew Forrester was an Episcopalian-Zen Buddhist, and if he was elected by the special convention as bishop, objections to his being seated in the House of Bishops would be raised, according to one senior diocesan bishop. That bishop said he hoped the House of Bishops was “still sufficiently faithful to recognize the total self-contradiction this would involve and deny consent.”

The House of Bishops? Sufficiently faithful? The same House of Bishops that thinks John Spong’s atheism is hunky-dory? I’ll definitely be preparing the flying pig for that event.

(Via Stand Firm.)

If you’ve never heard of [Christopher] Johnson’s Law, it goes something like this: anything you can say about the Episcopal Church by way of parody or satire will eventually become reality. From the Los Angeles Times:

Hindu nun Pravrajika Saradeshaprana, dressed in a saffron robe, blew into a conch shell three times, calling to worship Hindu and Episcopal religious leaders who joined Saturday to celebrate an Indian Rite Mass at St. John’s Cathedral near downtown.

The rare joint service included chants from the Temple Bhajan Band of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness [ISKCON] and a moving rendition of “Bless the Lord, O My Soul” sung by the St. John’s choir.

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, just in case you don’t know, are better known as Hare Krishnas, the folks who sell flowers on city streets and the Bhagavad Gita in airports, and have in the past been associated with a variety of cult-like practices for which they have on occasion paid substantial damages to those who have been victimized.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience in worship service,” said Bob Bland, a member of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church of Thousand Oaks, who was among the 260 attendees. “There was something so holy — so much symbolism and so many opportunities for meditation.”

Not to mention the propagation of heresy and silly publicity stunts.

During the service, the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, issued a statement of apology to the Hindu religious community for centuries-old acts of religious discrimination by Christians, including attempts to convert them.

So evangelism is now a form of discrimination? Does that even begin to make sense to anyone?

“I believe that the world cannot afford for us to repeat the errors of our past, in which we sought to dominate rather than to serve,” Bruno said in a statement read by the Rt. Rev. Chester Talton. “In this spirit, and in order to take another step in building trust between our two great religious traditions, I offer a sincere apology to the Hindu religious community.”

I’m not sure how sincere it can be when Bruno didn’t do any of the things for which he was apologizing. But I’m sure it made him and the assembled multitudes feel better, which is really all that such apologies are about most of the time.

The bishop also said he was committed to renouncing “proselytizing” of Hindus. Bruno had been scheduled to read the statement himself, but a death of a close family friend prevented him from attending the service.

Swami Sarvadevananda, of Vedanta Society of Southern California, was among about a dozen Hindu leaders honored during the service. He called Bruno’s stance “a great and courageous step” that binds the two communities.

“By declaring that there will be no more proselytizing, the bishop has opened a new door of understanding,” Sarvadevananda said. “The modern religious man must expand his understanding and love of religions and their practices.”

Expanding our “understanding and love of religions and their practices” apparently means a combination of syncretism and Christians abandoning distinctives of their faith, something which is never demanded of any other religion. Bruno, of course, is more than willing to indulge them, especially since doing so costs him nothing, given that judging by his actions and words he doesn’t really believe in evangelism anyway.

All were invited to Holy Communion, after the Episcopal celebrant elevated a tray of consecrated Indian bread, and deacons raised wine-filled chalices.

In respect to Hindu tradition, a tray of flowers was also presented. Christians and Hindus lined up for communion, but since Orthodox Hindus shun alcohol, they consumed only the bread.

As per my discussion of bishops whose obedience to the canons of the Episcopal Church is purely political, I believe that a presentment is in order here. Bruno, being the one responsible for this travesty (who not only authorized it but would have been there if he could have), has clearly, willfully, and knowingly violated Canon I.17.7, which states that “no unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.” Perhaps they could also charge him with abandoning the communion of the Episcopal Church,” (just as ECUSA HQ has done with Bishop Schofield of San Joaquin, and is going to do to Bishops Duncan and Iker of Pittsburgh and Fort Worth as soon as possible) since he has obviously decided that EpiscoHindalianism is the way to go.

In her homily, “A Vision for Inter-Religious Dialogue,” [the Rev. Karen] MacQueen said in both Hinduism and Christianity devotees believe that “the Divine Presence” illuminates the whole world.

MacQueen, who spent two years studying Hinduism in India, said both faiths revere “great figures who embody the divine light, who teach the divine truth.”

For Christians, Jesus preeminently embodies the divine light, she said. For Hindus, she said a number of figures embody the divine light and teach the divine truth.

So the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is pretty much the same thing as what Hinduism teaches about some other people. He’s a teacher, they’re teachers. He’s close to God, they’re close to God. Just call Him Swami Jesus, and we can all sit around and sing “Kumbaya.”

“To my knowledge this is an unprecedented event in L.A., California and the U.S.,” said the Rev. Gwynne Guibord, head of the ecumenical and inter-religious affairs for the diocese, which initiated Saturday’s project.

Too true. You’ll have to look far and wide to find such a grotesque parody of Christian faith.

(Via MCJ.)

UPDATE: Couldn’t help but notice this item from the Ecumenical News International. I’m sure an apology will be forthcoming from ISKCON soon:

In a corner of the town where charred metal remains of a van, motorbikes, computers and other office equipment dot the main road in Daringabadi town in Orissa’s Kandhamal district, residents says it is hard not to be afraid. The ash heaps and metal frames are all that remain of the contents of the two-storied office of World Vision, a Christian relief and development organization. It was emptied by a frenzied group of local business people and others said to be Hindu extremists who broke into the premises on Christmas day. Victims told Ecumenical News International they are being targeted because they are Christians.

“They wanted to set the building on fire. But, when the owner told the mob that he was a Hindu and pleaded them not to destroy his property, they obliged him,” Michael Pradhan, director of the World Vision office at Daringabadi, told ENI.

So the attackers removed everything, including files, from the rented office, carried the contents across the road, before setting them fire to them so that the smoke would not blemish the recently painted building.

“This is not mere arson. There is a vicious mind-set and careful planning behind all these. It really worries us,” said Pradhan who estimates the value of the World Vision vehicles and equipment that went up in flames at more than 1.2 million rupees (about US$30 000). The value of the documents cannot be measured in money terms, he stated.

At Pobingia village, 90 kilometres from Daringabadi, Pentecostal Pastor Lothra Digal rues that he has no clue as to the whereabouts of his 17-year old son who has been missing since a 24 December attack on the churches in the neighbourhood.

As about 500 armed people converged on the village, Pastor Digal fled to the jungle along with others. He returned to the village five days later after the violence stopped.

Five Christians have been confirmed dead after the violent attacks, which Christians say were instigated by Hindu extremists in the Kandhamal district of Orissa.

Church officials said, however, the death-toll among Christians could be much higher as many are missing after they fled because of the attacks on villages scattered across the jungle region.

More than 70 churches and 12 major Christian centres were destroyed or damaged in the wave of violence.

About 2500 Christians are temporarily housed at a refugee camp at Barakhama where they shelter in a dilapidated school building after many were rendered homeless when their houses were set on fire.

There are a number of places in India where this sort of thing is done with impunity, with the connivance of the local officials. All in all, I think that “proselytizing” is preferable to violence as a religious activity.

I file this one under “Other Faiths” because it is pretty clear that Theo Hobson, author and commentator for the Guardian of the UK, is talking about a different religion than the one that goes by the name “Christianity.” He still uses that word, but it makes no more sense than calling an orangutan a Brillo pad:

The liberal Anglican priest (let’s call him Father Giles) is bitterly critical of the church’s collusion in homophobia. But he fully believes in the authority of the church, and his own authority. He affirms the right of the church to define orthodoxy: the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, is decided by the corporate mind of the church. Likewise a true sacrament is something authorised by the institution. He claims to have authority by virtue of having been ordained into the church. Christianity is not a subjective free-for-all, he insists: it is a communal, traditional thing, with rules.

To this point Hobson (or Father Giles, if you prefer) is correct, save the delusion that homosexuality is somehow exempt from the general proposition that the church has the authority to proclaim the truth of God’s revelation.

Yet when the church claims authority to rule on sexual morality his tune changes. This aspect of its teaching is mistaken, he says, and amounts to a betrayal of the Gospel. The problem is that this tradition of sexual moralism is part of the traditional authority of the church, which Father Giles claims to affirm. In other words, he accepts the authority of the church when it suits him and rejects it when it does not.

This is also correct. And given that it is, Hobson decides that he wants to keep the name and invent something entirely new to go by that name (something like deciding that you’re going to keep the name “Ford Motor Company” but have it manufacture lawn furniture):

In my opinion, the gay crisis shakes the foundations of ecclesiology. Organised religion has always been authoritarian, in calling certain moral rules God’s will, in saying that moral and doctrinal orthodoxy must be upheld. As I see it, Christianity rejects this; it dispenses with the moral “law”. It claims, scandalously, that God wills a new freedom – from “holy morality”, from the bossy legalism inherent in religious institutionalism. Liberal Christians should be truly liberal, and see that the concept of an authoritative church has had its day – that God calls us to something new.

This thing of which he speaks already has a name, several in fact. You can call it “antinomianism” or “hedonism” or “anarchism” or “Unitarianism.” But it isn’t Christianity, any more than a banana is an AK-47, a telephone is a baboon, a school is a cardigan sweater, a congressman is a general (though some think they are), a lawyer is a pig (well, sometimes), or a lizard is a Las Vegas lounge. Feel free to provide you own in the comments.

(Via T19.)

I don’t often find myself on the same side of issues as Wiccans, but in this case from Louisiana I’ll make at least a partial  exception. According to the Religion News Blog:

A man who describes himself as a Wiccan priest has filed suit against Livingston Parish over its soothsaying ordinance.

Inspiration from the divine transmitted by a Wiccan should be treated legally the same way as a message from God transmitted by a Christian minister, Cliff Eakin said Wednesday.

“To dictate what you can and cannot do in a spiritual sense” violates constitutional rights, he said.

Agreed. The law can’t distinguish between true and false communication between the divine and human beings–that’s what people like me are for.  :-)

“No person shall engage in the practices of soothsaying, fortune telling, palm reading, clairvoyance, crystal ball gazing, mind reading, card reading and the like, for money or other consideration,” according to the ordinance the Parish Council approved May 10.

That doesn’t mean that local governments can’t regulate businesses. Palm readings, tarotists, and others are not operating religious establishments, they’re running businesses, and for the parish to shut them down (in the belief that they are taking money from people fraudulently–which has enough empirical support that Eakins’ lawyer says that the ordinance isn’t necessary because the parish can use the fraud statutes instead) is as legitimate as shutting down brothels. What “and the like” means, though, is anybody’s guess, and ought to be eliminated so people will know what kind of business is acceptable and which isn’t.

Eakin said that when he owned a metaphysical shop in New Orleans, he usually gave divinations for free.

But he added that he believes Wiccans should be able to seek small contributions for the practice, in much the same way Christian churches receive tithes and offerings.

Now this is where he starts to really go off-track. Churches aren’t businesses that charge fee-for-service. Where they do that (say, in-house bookstores), those ventures are subject to the same regulations as any other business, but the religious institution is not. Wiccan covens, if they choose to do palm readings when they meet, shouldn’t be subject to any government control, but when they or others charge fee-for-service, that’s no longer a donation, and should be treated as a business transaction, and one that can be legitimately outlawed.

The suit, filed on behalf of his business — Gryphon’s Nest Gifts Inc., says that the business seeks the right to perform divinations in Livingston Parish for profit.

The suit maintains that the parish ordinance violates the plaintiff’s right to free speech.

And that’s the problem: religious organizations by definition are not-for-profit entities. As for businesses, they don’t have an unfettered right to free speech (fraudulently promising something and then not delivering on the promise is an example), and there certainly is no freedom of religion argument. So what does that leave Eakin with? The right to read palms, but not get his own greased in return.

Have you ever wondered why Muslims become Christians? In most of our experience, it doesn’t happen that often, but it does happen, and the Fuller Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies has done some research to find out what factors are most important in the conversion process. According to the Christian Post:

The survey, conducted by Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies between 1991 to 2007 among 750 Muslims that had decided to follow Christ, was able to track some influences that helped the converts make their decision. The respondents were from 30 countries and 50 ethnic groups–representing every major region of the Muslim world.

According to the survey, some participants said that they saw no discrepancy between what Christians preached and what they practiced in their lives.

An Egyptian said he recognized the contrast between the love of a Christian group at an American university and the unloving ways of Muslim students and faculty at a university in Medina, according to an article on the survey featured in Christianity Today magazine.

That doesn’t surprise me. In fact, I believe if a widespread survey was done of Christians throughout the world, the integrity of Christians who practice what they preach would turn out the be one of the, if not the most important way that Christianity becomes attractive to non-Christians. That practice needs to line up with biblical standards for love of neighbor as well as love of God–Fred Phelps may practice what he preaches, but it’s a message of hate, and in flat contradiction to the Scriptures, so it won’t attract anyone. But a genuinely loving, caring, other-centered life lived in the name of Christ is going to be appealing to almost anyone.

Others noted that Christians treat women as equals and Christians have loving marriages.

The story didn’t say, but I’d be very surprised if the number of female Muslims who become Christians far outstripes the males who do.

The next most important influence was the power of God to answer prayers as well as healing. These revelations of God include supernatural intervention such as Christian prayers healing disabled people when Muslims could not and deliverance from demonic powers.

My impression is that, the 72 virgins suicide bombers expect to be waiting for them in heaven notwithstanding, Islam is by and large not a particularly supernaturalist faith. Oh, certainly God is supernatural, and heaven and hell await, but perhaps because of an over-emphasis on the transcendence of God, Muslims don’t typically look for Him to intervene and be active in their lives. Somone who knows better may correct me, but I suspect that accounts for what Fuller found.

The third most popular influence listed by respondents was dissatisfaction with the Islam they have followed. The former Muslims said they were unhappy with the Qur’an, which they said emphasized God’s punishment more than His love and the use of violence to impose Islamic laws.

This is also hardly surprising. Islam is a legalistic religion, and Christianity is a religion of grace. Yes, Islam has its gracious side, but that’s not what the typical adherent experiences, I expect. Christianity certainly has its legal aspects, and we’ve lost a lot of people by making those entirely front and center, rather than focusing on God’s grace, but if the cross and resurrection of Christ (which atone for sin and deliver us from the powers of darkness) are central to our faith, grace should be the predominant tone.

It is also noteworthy that more than one in four respondents (27 percent) said dreams and visions were a factor in their decision to commit themselves to follow Christ. For 40 percent of respondents, visions or dreams occurred at the time of conversion, and for 45 percent they occurred after they committed to following Christ.

This is as much a function of the place of dreams and visions in the cultures from which Muslims comes as it is of Islam, I think. In any case, it’s an important element for us to keep in mind when we undertake to evangelize Muslims.

Moreover many converts were attracted to the assurance of salvation and forgiveness. In Islam, God forgives and punishes whoever He will so Muslims have no certainty of salvation. But in Christianity, a person can be sure of their salvation if they place their faith in Jesus Christ.

Muslims who read the Bible were also convinced that the Bible is the truth and were attracted to the unconditional love of God.

Many thanks to Fuller for this information. We have a growing number of Muslims here in northern Virginia, as well as in other parts of the U.S., so this information should be kept in mind as we interact with our Muslim neighbors.

This is the sort of thing that doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) even surprise me any more. From NewsBlaze:

Recitations from ancient Sanskrit scriptures will reverberate in a Christian church in Nevada on the occasion of coming Thanksgiving eve service.

Rajan Zed, the prominent Hindu chaplain, will read from Rig-Veda (oldest existing scripture of the world dated from around 1,500 BCE), Upanishads (Hindu scriptures containing mystical teachings), and Bhagavad-Gita (famous philosophical and spiritual poem) in Trinity Episcopal Church in Reno (Nevada) during Twenty-second Annual Thanksgiving Service of Northwestern Nevada to be held on November 21 evening.

I’m sure you’re thinking right about now, “so the Episcopalians are letting local Hindus rent their facility for the evening. Isn’t that hospitable of them?” Sorry to disappoint you:

Despite conflicts around the world, various faith traditions in northwestern Nevada will come together to share the spirit of love on Thanksgiving, Zed says. Shanti-Shanti, the only Sanskrit rock band of the world, will perform on the occasion. Choirs from area Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Trinity Episcopal Church will also sing. A procession of the clergy dressed in an array of religious garb will be held before the Service.

Isn’t that cute? A clerical fashion show. If it’s a big hit, perhaps they can arrange for it to be at a casino next year, maybe with Heidi Klum as MC, and Tom Cruise as special guest on behalf of Scientology.

(Via MCJ.)

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