You can't see the entire mountain of truth from one point of view, particularly if it's the one that your feet are planted upon.
The following is from BBC Radio 4:
The Reith Lectures
Journalist, Sonia Sodha reflects on the first of Kwame Anthony Appiah's Reith Lectures.
Ask anyone what it means to be religious and you’re likely to get some sort of variation on “believing in God”. In fact, lots of the words we use to describe religion – such as “faith” and “creed” – relate to the idea of belief.
But in this year’s first Reith Lecture, the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah argues that in thinking about religion, we have focused too much on what religious people believe and not enough on what religious people do.
According to Appiah, there are three dimensions to religion. Yes, one of those dimensions is a body of belief. But Appiah argues we over-emphasise the importance of belief at the expense of two other dimensions: the rituals and social norms that people carry out as part of religious practice, and the communities within which religious practice takes place.
To illustrate this, he uses the example of Judaism. Appiah argues that even if someone studied the Torah in great detail, and embraced all the beliefs and principles it contains, that person would not become Jewish. Taking on the beliefs of Judaism without adopting its practices or becoming part of a community of worship isn’t enough.
Indeed, Appiah says it would be impossible to adopt all the beliefs and practices set out in holy books such as the Bible, the Torah or the Qur’an in abstract. All of these religious scriptures give ambiguous, and sometimes contradictory guidance.
Take the kosher dietary code set out in the Torah: it sets out a list of birds that Jews are forbidden from eating. But this list does not map out perfectly on to modern bird species, and religious authorities disagree on what exactly is on and off the list.
Here Appiah is pointing out that religious scriptures are not only open to interpretation, they have to be interpreted to make any sense at all. And the way that scriptures are interpreted – and religion is practised – depends very much on the cultural norms in the societies in which they are operating.
Appiah gives the example of his mother dressing for church. St Paul said in the Bible that women must cover their heads while in church. Given that this was the custom for respectable dress at the time this pronouncement was made, Appiah’s mother interpreted this as a call for women to dress respectably by local standards when they attend church, rather than a literal instruction that women should not go to church with their heads uncovered.
A line of Buddhas at the U Min Thonze cave in Sagaing near Mandalay, BurmaIn other words, Appiah is arguing that it’s not a case of religions shaping cultures and societies, so much as cultures and societies shaping contemporary interpretations of religion. In the past, societies have interpreted the Bible as making proclamations against homosexuality or gender inequality, but these interpretations reflect the cultural norms of the time. It is possible to read the Bible and conclude something very different.
Appiah contrasts his view of religion with that of fundamentalists. Religious fundamentalists argue no interpretation is needed to apply religious scriptures to day-to-day life: books such as the Bible and the Qur’an contain one version of the truth that all those practising Christianity and Islam must live by.
Is Appiah right?One critique of Appiah’s lecture is that he is arguing something quite uncontroversial, something that only religious fundamentalists and the strongest opponents of religion would really disagree with. Most Christians, Muslims and Jews do not seek to try to apply a literal interpretation of the Bible, Qur’an and Torah to the way they live their lives. Many religious scholars have long stressed the importance of interpreting religious scriptures to ensure they make sense in the contemporary world.Another critique might be that there are a number of important contemporary questions about the role of religion that Appiah’s analysis does not help us with very much. While he stresses the importance of interpretation to religion, he doesn’t say much about who is doing the interpreting – in other words, where the power lies in religious communities. Until relatively recently, men occupied the key positions of power in most world religions.
Appiah might argue that this simply reflects the structure of power in society at large. But religion has been used to move societies rapidly backwards in terms of gender inequality, for example in modern-day Afghanistan. Implicit in Appiah’s argument seems to be the idea of religion as neither a force for good nor bad; it simply reflects the societies we live in. But there are cases where religion doesn’t just reflect human behaviours and cultures, but seems to drive them – for better or worse.
Second, Appiah’s approach helps us characterise fundamentalism as the idea that religion is all about doctrine and literal application of religious scriptures, to the exclusion of everything else. But he offers little insight in how to challenge religious fundamentalism – one of the biggest questions facing world leaders with the rise of so-called Islamic State.
Third, Appiah does not address how religious identity relates to other forms of identity, and how we resolve differences when they clash. Take the burkini ban in France: should the French state be able to insist Muslim women wear less on the beach because the burkini is not thought to reflect French cultural values? Where do we draw the line when identities clash?
I am most familiar with major works of fantasy, science-fiction, philosophy, science, intellectual literature, and the story of the Christian Bible. I will focus on that tale, a fair choice I think because three major religions and their numerous sects sprang from its interpretation and additions.
I always had problems with the Roman Catholic interpretation and the orthodoxy it established for general Christianity. There were too many glaring plot holes, too many mysteries said the be impenetrable. Not meant to be known, so don't ask., just accept that God is weird. He's perfectly, good, informed, orderly, and unchanging, and completely unpredictable, occasionally cruel, but always loving. He can do anything, but is too lazy to stop horrible things and people. He's a he that isn't a he who is three but one, everywhere but nowhere, and part of us all but absent. He plays games of life and death for the apparent purpose of making us worthy to sit around singing his praises forever. All without a clear purpose. Hardly satisfying to my curiosity and imagination. It didn't make any sense. Blind faith is too easily misled.
A being that powerful, perfect,informed, and orderly, shouldn't appear so random and capricious. Science and its mathematical language continues to reveal that most apparent randomness is just due to the number of hidden and known factors yet to be discovered. There is a common rule, or set of rules, that links the unpredictable behaviour, buried under the details of the story or blended into an apparent different one. A detective needs to dig into obvious holes in the initial story to see where they lead, to examine and compare every other story in the area for things missed, dismissed, that contradict or agree, or that unlock more of the story. The detective must keep an open mind and be willing to accept all stories but believe none, suspending disbelief enough to take a look from the storyteller's point of view. Perspective can change everything.
My disbelief was suspended enough to see how the pieces fit when I saw them in what I may have otherwise dismissed as a different story. Pieces that I was trying to discover through reading, viewing, and questioning, and assemble through fictional and philosophical writing into a the tale of the evolution of consciousness, spirit, the divine, and existence itself. Drawing from Taoism, Buddhism, metaphysics, Biblical theology, science, and the book Process and Reality by A.N. Whitehead, I formed my description of spiritual evolution. Thus, I was in a place where only the story and the messages mattered.
This allowed me to see the great similarity between the theology of "Mormons" of the Church of Jesus Christs of Latter Day Saints and my own developing ideas when I encountered it shortly afterwards. Their belief in education and asking questions in order to develop faith through testimony was greatly appealing and refreshing compared to my upbringing. They actually had a purpose for their rituals and even voted on whether to support leaders and such. No infallibility, just inspiration and direct prayers with simple but clear answers in response. No confessions to or absolution by anyone but the deity. It allowed me to view the Book of Mormon as another part of the Christian Bible. Things fell into place, holes filled, and the story started making sense.
No one is above the law, particularly the existential axiom of cause and effect. Something only exists if it is capable of causing an effect. Cause and effect are inseparable and eternal; the last effect is the first cause in an endless cyclical process called existence. You can’t start, stop, or control it, only try to cause a positive effect with minimal unintended negative consequences as nature runs its course. Cause and effect are the first natural law defining and defined by existence. Everything is bound by it and must obey its necessity. Nothing is supernatural even a god. Everything is united in cause and effect. Good and evil lie in choosing to cause an intended effect. That’s freewill. Its exercise can make us divine.
Destiny can be compassionate.
According to my understanding of the collective story, the Creator (aka God, Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, Nature, Physics, Evolution, Art, Invention, etc.) organizes the universe to generate new associations for all. The names are different titles for the story of creation, driven by a singular force. The unknown Dark Energy of expansion. The Void is infinite and eternal in expanse. This might be expressed in math as: 0/0 = 1 or Infinity/Infinity = 1 or X/X = 1 or Unknown/Unknown = 1.
That's my interpretation. I'm not saying that I have the Answer, just a clue revealed by stories.
A seed for a compassionate spiritual evolution theory.
And, that's my story.
From CBC Radio's Tapestry:
Sunday October 23, 2016Listen 21:00
I'm not in this because I'm filled with love and peace and joy.
I'm in it because I'm filled with dread."
- Karen Armstrong
Karen Armstrong is an author, commentator and former nun who has written extensively on faith and finding commonality in the world's major religions. She was a featured speaker at the 3rd Global Conference on World's Religions After September 11, which was held in Montreal in September 2016.
Armstrong argues that religion is too often a scapegoat, masking the real reasons for violence, hatred, and war. She points out that territorial, political, cultural and - above all - economic motives are to blame.
Religion may be inherently political, Armstrong says, but every single one of the world's major religions call for the same soluton to violence: compassion.
Compassion is the essence of the Golden Rule: love thy neighbour.
"The Golden Rule requires that you look into your own heart, discover what has given you pain in the past, and then refuse under any circumstance whatsoever to inflict that pain on anybody else."
This sentiment has been echoed by all the great prophets, including Confucius, Mohammed, Jesus, the Buddha, and Hillel the Elder.
"These sages, they were living in societies like our own where violence had reached an unprecedented crescendo. And they all said that unless we learn to treat others as we would wish to be treated we'll simply destroy one another. And that has never been more true than it is today."
Armstrong says 'love thy neighbour' doesn't refer to a sort of "soggy affection". Instead, it means assisting people in practical terms: coming to their aid in times of trouble and supporting them even when it goes against our short term interests.
"Who is my neighbour in this globalized world? Everybody is our neighbour. We are now so deeply interconnected."
Armstrong urges us to follow the lead of the Buddha.
"The Buddha looked at the world… with compassion and saw the world in pain and spent the next 40 years of his life trying to help people to live with their pain. This is our message now. This is what every one of us can do: to increase awareness of the pain of the world, to let it disturb us. It's not easy... We should all be sweating with the effort of how to bring the message of compassion - that alone can save our world - to public awareness."