Wednesday, 4 March 2009

What do we mean by unity?

Recently, a member of the clergy, related that ‘unity is embracing diversity’. Unfortunately, some people insist that religious ‘unity’ requires a strict adherence or even blind submission to the specific teachings of a particular religious institution. Failure to comply, or even question these teachings, is considered by some, dangerous if not downright heretical! Even today In some cultures, these heretics are sentenced to death or ostracized. But for Christians was Jesus not a heretic and a dangerous individual during his brief life here on earth? And, are we not all unique individuals created with a specific role to share God’s gift of love and compassion? Why are we so insistent on associating only with those who share our particular views and beliefs? Do we think that God will punish us if we challenge what the appointed religious authority teaches? What are we so afraid of?

Jean Vanier, in his book Becoming Human, offers the following compassionate insight in what means today to belong together in a pluralistic society. Some religious people, see pluralistic societies, where people of different cultural and religious backgrounds meet and mix – as dangerous. They feel that religious values cannot be maintained in such societies. We so often exclude those who are different. We may consider them inferior or weak. But such perceptions, lie in our own fear. Fear lies at the root of all forms of exclusion. We exclude because we are frightened of those who are different, whose who challenge our authority, our certitudes, and our value system. Yet, it is our own fear – fear of failure, of loss, of change – which prevents us from being most human .
It is not religion or culture at the root of human conflict, but the way in which groups use religion or culture to dominate one another.
We need to be vigilant in any situation where it is necessary to obey blindly. Rigidity, a demand for ideological conformity within the group, is rarely necessary. It is not a sign of a healthy group.

Noted author Dr. Christiane Northrup a specialist on various feminine medical issues, offers the following background on how tribal or group programming can negatively affect our physical and emotional health.
"Inheritance", is the tribal program­ming of many first- and second-generation immigrant families in the [North America], who often pass on the belief that to accomplish any­thing worthwhile, one must suffer and sacrifice personal happiness and pleasure.
The tribal mind is not an individual's mind. The tribal mind is primarily a collective brain that seeks to hold on to its own and fight for its own survival in the world. The tribal mind is concerned with loyalty, not love, kindness, or tenderness. What the tribe refers to as "love" is really obligation to the tribe. An example of this is a family member who says to another, "If you really loved me, you'd come to visit your family and me more often." Tribal conscious­ness, then, is not a high-level, highly evolved consciousness. Yet we all share it to some degree, and many [people] admit that as they get older, they can hear that tribal mind within themselves. "I sometimes hear my mother's words coming right out of my mouth, and I can't believe it," patients often tell me. Above all, the tribal mind seeks stability by keeping everything the same, e.g., family holidays and birthdays become "obligations," not joyful times of sharing.

Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr suggest that “a mature adult relationship with God is not possible in the beginning because we fear and avoid intimacy. We settle, instead, for tribal customs, laws and occupations as our identity. Membership in the group will become a gateway to, but often a substitute for personal encounter and inner experience" Interestingly, Fr. Rohr refers to 'non-groupthink' as Universalism and states "the only thing more dangerous than the individual ego is the group ego".

Ultimately, it seems that only after a deep personal experience of ‘the God within’ that we begin to trust in God’s gift of self. Only then will we perhaps find the courage to truly share and love God, our neighbour and ourselves freely. It is that gift and the acceptance of our diversity that will finally allow us to drop our fears and explore our faith beyond the confining boundaries of established group and religious formula’s.

So, what more can we learn about God through religious diversity? Here’s what one individual had to say:

From Buddhism I have learned a sense of the interdependence of all life and the non-dual oneness of the contemplative experience.
From Hinduism I have learned the richness of a mythology that is embracing and inclusive of the complexity of human experience, while honoring the divine in the midst of it all.
From Jainism I have learned the ideal of Aahisma-- nonharming-- that challenges my violent and power-based cultural norms.
From Islam I have learned the power of disciplined prayer and surrender to God through faithful daily acts of devotion.
From Judaism I have learned to delight in vital and living conversations with ancient holy texts interpreted through the centuries.
From Native religions I have learned the holiness of nature and the revelatory wonder that is the living breath of our mother earth.
From Zen I have learned the limitations of the rational.
From Catholicism I have learned the power of the sacramental presence of the divine within the created. From Protestantism I have learned the passion of a personal relationship with God.
From Science and Humanism I have learned of the exquisite order and relationship of all creation and the responsibility of human beings for the welfare of this fragile earth.
From Christianity I have learned that every creature is blessed by the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ and that wherever there is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [or] self-control," there is God's Spirit. "There is no law against such things."
(Galatians 5:22-23)
The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Christiane Northrup, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, Bantam Books, 2006
Richard Rohr, Things Hidden-Scripture as Spirituality, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, OH., 2007

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