The National Post one of Canada’s national newspapers carries a daily online column devoted to religious news - with a definite traditional Roman Catholic bias. The Holy Post Blog invites readers to share their beliefs and faith experiences. While some entries provide spiritual inspiration the majority merely provide space to spout blasphemous rhetoric at those who do not agree with a particular point of view. As a relative new participant I quickly found that many of the articles and responses were driven by conflicting theological points of view. This in itself is not necessarily bad if we are prepared to learn from them. However, it raised an important question for me. Is it necessary to subscribe to a belief system in order to discover and experience God within? (Readers please don't send me your answers I'm not yet finished with my questions).
As a catechist, in a local parish for more than twenty years, my primary duty was to instruct and introduce interested enquirers into the Roman Catholic faith. Following the direction of Vatican II and beginning in early eighties the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults or RCIA was established. Prior to this time 'Instruction' came under the exclusive domain of the Roman Catholic clergy, usually on a one-on-one basis. But these were exciting new times, not only for most members of the Catholic Church but also for those seeking a greater understanding of the Creator. It was during those promising years I too took part in those RCIA sessions and became a full-fledged member of the Catholic Church. Never in my wildest imagination had I ever thought of sharing my search for God as a catechist with so many eager enquirers. It was precisely during one of these sessions, dealing with a difficult theological question, that a moment of pure inspiration arrived. Without going into unnecessary detail about the question I will share what we all learned that night.
Our faith journeys will never be similar. While we can learn a lot from those who have gone before us our journey will nevertheless remain unique. Thus our EXPERIENCE of God will also be unique. As long as we trust God to guide us we really need not fear the obstacles we will inevitably encounter along the way. Soon we will learn that obstacles are heavenly mentors sent to help us overcome the trials and tribulations we all come to face. Thus, it is only in retrospect that we finally begin to understand the true meaning of salvation. Perhaps the only place where we will run into unresolved conflict is when we insist that EXPERIENCE must somehow conform to prescribed belief systems.
We often hold onto our conflicts because our adopted belief system has become a matter of comfort. History has taught us that holding on to such conflicting beliefs is the chief cause of much unhappiness, pain and suffering. Instead, be kind to yourself. These belief systems are part of your particular culture, and were primarily formed through your parents, friends, teachers, media, etc. Don't blame others for your misfortunes. They too were taught in-turn by their parents, friends, etc. Can you now understand why Jesus spoke about this in these rather disturbing terms " If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple"? (Luke 14:26) Anthony de Mello, J.S. (1931-1987) reflects on this passage as follows: If you wish to attain to lasting happiness you must be ready to hate father, mother, even your own life and to take leave of all your possessions. How? Not by renouncing them or giving those up because what you give up violently you are forever bound to. But rather by seeing them for the nightmare they are; and then, whether you keep them or not, they will have lost their grip over you, their power to hurt you, and you will be out of your dream at last, out of your darkness, your fear, your unhappiness.
As a responsible adult we must make decisions by letting go of many of our false beliefs and learn to listen to our heart. The heart is the place where God resides. God lives in every human being. Learning to trust in God in this way can take a lifetime – although as children we often understood this naturally. As we grew a little older however, doubt began to creep in, negative influences increased and we somehow lost our direct connection with the Creator. The role of institutional religion is to reconnect us with our heart – not our head the place of our ego.
It should come to no surprise to anyone that many conflicts or wars continue to erupt because we listened to our ego instead of our heart. Religious institutions are no exception and historically they were often behind the cause. While we may be prepared to accept that the major religions share the same God we still differ on many theological issues – most tragically between the conflicting Christian faiths. Why do we immediately exclude others who do not share our belief systems? Did Jesus dismiss the Roman soldier when he asked him to heal his master, because he did not share the Jewish faith? Did Jesus ignore the Samaritan woman at the well because she was of a tribe that did not share the same Jewish faith? Did Jesus insist that the soldier and woman first accept a rigorous set of prescribed Jewish laws (all 613 of them) before he would entertain their hopes and questions? If God accepts us where we are, why do we insist that all others must also blindly follow our rigid belief system to be members of a religious institution? As Christians don't we share a living Christ who teaches us a way to live not by exclusion by rather by unconditional inclusion? I am still learning that other faiths have much to offer and can help us better understand our common Creator. Perhaps if we had paid more attention to our EXPERIENCES of God, rather than our conflicting beliefs or theologies, we might have discovered that God never banished us from the Garden of Eden to begin with.
Bernard Haisch in his recent book 'The Purpose-Guided Universe' observes "By simple logic, a lot of religious beliefs and dogmas must be wrong because they flatly contradict each other." Haisch goes on to quote Eckhart Tolle who writes in his 'A New Earth':
And so religions, to a large extent, became divisive rather than unifying forces. Instead of bringing about an ending of violence and hatred through a realization of the fundamental oneness of all life, they brought more violence and hatred, more division between people as well as between different religions and even within the same religion. They became ideologies, belief systems people could identify with and so use them to enhance their false sense of self. Through them they could make themselves "right" and others "wrong" and thus define their identity through their enemies, the "others," the "nonbelievers" or "wrong believers" who not infrequently saw themselves justified in killing.”