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I Have Failed, Part 3

by Rabbi Rami ShapiroMay 03, 2012
Grow

This rant was to have only two parts (you can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here), but private emails I received in response to them necessitated a Part 3.

I received very polite and thoughtful email from several people who described themselves as Interfaith Ministers. They wrote to tell me that I didn’t understand what was happening in the Interfaith world, and that if I did, I would be hopeful.

So I asked what was happening, and learned that some people are taking the best of the world’s religions and using these pieces in new ways to create meaningful ceremonies for people who can no longer fit into any one faith. As one email had it, “I take the best teachings of the Torah, the Gospels, and the Koran and offer a beautiful vision of God, humanity, and the world, one that transcends Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and has no need to label people as Jews, Christians, Muslims, or anything else. We are just human.”

Amen to that. But why is that Interfaith? That is a new faith; there is nothing “inter” about it.

Inter-faith implies that each established religion comes to table as it is—shadow and all. There is no need for any religion to disclaim its theology, or to pretend that other religions are as valid as itself. There is no need to create a new worship format, only a need to provide space for all worship formats. You can’t even say that each faith adds its piece to the puzzle, because each faith imagines that its piece is the whole puzzle. The point is, I guess, that there is no judging among or between religions in an authentic Inter-faith gathering.

If we reduce the great religions of the world to warehouses from which we can extract the teachings, texts, and techniques we like, and leave the rest, are we disrespecting these religions? And if we are, let’s be honest about it, and bold about it, and loud about it. Let’s say the old ways are dead, or worse—deadly. Is it time to harvest the wisdom they contain and leave the rest behind? And when we do will we find a universal faith rooted in compassion, justice, and the Golden Rule?

And even if we do, this isn’t Inter-faith but new faith. And if it is the latter how does it deal with the shadow side of humanity? If we only take the light from religion, the dark within ourselves will swallow us just as it did them.

I don’t have any clear answers here. I suspect, and it is only a suspicion, that the future of human religiosity and spiritual maturation does not lie with the established religions we have inherited from the Iron Age.

Where, then, does it lie? Where all religion lies: in us and our quest for meaning, purpose, and transformative love of and for all life.

What we need are practices that open body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit to the reality within and around us in a way that allows us to work with our shadow side and cultivate love; practices that allow us to realize the singular reality of which we are apart; practices that awaken our love for self and other in a way that allows us to harness our shadow side in service to justice and compassion for all beings. These we can extrapolate from the world’s religions.

What we need are revolutions of understanding that revision the teachings of the world’s religions for a post-tribal globalist civilization in such a way as to use the ancient icons to open us to levels of compassion and justice unimagined in the Iron Age.

What we need is a revival of mythic consciousness, poetic consciousness, and mystical consciousness that allows us to read the old in light of the new rather than darken the new with the shadow of the old.

What we need are new ways to gather that doesn’t brand us, or pit one brand against the others. What we need are ways of celebrating life and love in all its forms without artificially limiting that love according to tribal fears and xenophobia.

What we need are prophets: people like Bede Griffiths, Martin Buber, Sri Aurobindo, Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, and Ramakrishna (help me identify the great women!).

What we need is a rediscovery of the Divine Feminine, the Divine Mother as the source from which we come and the field in which we grow and play and have our being (to paraphrase St. Paul).

What we need is a revival of pilgrimage, of seekers walking the globe and visiting holy centers of love and learning regardless of the label foisted upon them.

What we need is an explosion of holy rascals like Thomas Jefferson who dare to separate the “diamonds” of wisdom from the “dunghill” of ignorance, arrogance, violence, greed, hatred, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, racism, Anti-Semitism, etc. that surrounds and obscures the truths found in all sacred scriptures.

What we need is rebellion against insanity and absurdity, and a revolution for justice and compassion.

What we need are havens for rebels and revolutionaries; places where they can go to set out of rhetoric into silence, out of doing into being, out of visioning into dreaming, and in this way to make sure their passion is fuelled by compassion, and their daring is given over to dance, and their pleading to play so that the fires that burn within them don’t consume them or the world they hope to love.

If all this is happening in the Interfaith community—more power to you!
 


Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. His spiritual advice column, "Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler," addresses reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more.

His newest book is The World Wisdom Bible.

He has this to say about religion: "To me, religions are like languages: no language is true or false; all languages are of human origin; each language reflects and shapes the mindset of the civilization that speaks it; there are things you can say in one language that you cannot say or cannot say as well in another; and the more languages you know, the more nuanced your understanding of life. Judaism is my mother tongue, yet in matters of the spirit I strive to be multi-lingual. In the end, however, the deepest language of the soul is silence."

To comment on this installment of One For the Road or submit a question, email the editors. Questions may be edited for length and clarity; all are published anonymously.


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