Thursday, March 25, 2010

Monotheistic religion and The Tent of Abraham

Some would call me an atheist, others would call me an agnostic, and still others would refer to me as someone who is open spiritually. I usually find myself not limited by definitions, especially when dealing with religion. Literalists and fundamentalists might view me as blasphemous, as not deserving of contact or conversation when it comes to the idea of questioning the meaning and existence of what we refer to as “God”. I have experienced this with family members and especially friends who used to be accepting of me until I “fell out of favor with God”. I then found them turning to the apostle Paul’s command to not associate with those brethren who refuse to accept “our teachings”.

This is the background and way of thinking with which I approached the book The Tent of Abraham by The Christian Joan Chittister, the Muslim Murshid Saadi Shakur Chishti and the Rabbi Arthur Waskow. The book centers around the Abrahamic tradition which is the common thread through these great monotheistic beliefs. Since I intend to make my life’s work peace and conflict resolution, especially as it relates to the situation in Palestine, it is important to understand the commonalities between these pious believers in God instead of focusing on the differences that tear the world apart.

Religion becomes a topic of environment (as I often state). Your place of birth, family history, etc… Through this way of growing up, we are taught to hate the other’s version of coming to a knowledge of God. Yet at the same time we are taught that God is too big for us to comprehend, and Her/His ways are unfathomable. If this is the case, what if God is simply the spiritual and extrasensory experiences we have in our day to day lives? What if God is the common factor that simply ties together the laws of nature and makes all of humanity equal and one? Most importantly, the world’s religions need to realize that there are different ways of coming to God or even of perceiving the spiritual.

I have great respect for the writings of the new atheists (Dawkins, Harris, Hutchens, etc…) as I am open to many different ways of thinking when it comes to religion. I especially appreciate their brilliant way of illustrating that when it comes to faith, all rationality is thrown out the window. When the contradictions of the various Holy Scriptures are pointed out to the religious, they dismiss the very questions as blasphemous. You can not argue religion. We all know this. It is precisely because of this dogmatism and fundamentalism that we are led to war. If God is bigger than we can imagine, how can God be confined to some pre-conceived notion and not be a changing and changed force?

What The Tent of Abraham attempts to do is look for the GOOD in religion. Even though I do not belong to any religion, I do believe there is much good to learn from it, yet humanity constantly gets in the way. It is only through education and open-mindedness that the wars between East and West (that are so often based on religion), can be averted. All religions preach helping the poor and taking care of those in your midst that are different than you. The pious woman or man is not to ignore someone simply because they are the “other”, because their beliefs don’t directly coincide. No, we are to work together for a common good. These brave members of the Abrahamic tradition have come together in this book to look for commonality. They are not afraid of questioning themselves for the errors of their religious traditions in treating the other as an equal. That is the kind of religious dialogue that I can respect. It is in the same spirit that I am drawn to Socialism as an ideology that supports equality vs. hate and ignorance of that other culture.

I am familiarizing myself with Judaism and Islam as I will be in the part of the world where the three religions collide. Having been raised Christian, I know that side of the story. This book helped me gain a better understanding of some of the other ways to God. Joan Chittister had one of my favorite quotes of the book when she stated of the Israeli/Palestinian situation that “Ironically, what binds these peoples together is exactly what is driving them apart. And yet, at the same time, it is precisely what drives them apart that may hold the key to bringing them together again.” May the respect among the peoples of Abraham be realized in our time. It will be my life’s work to do my small part in reconciliation and to counter the bias and hatred that is completely contradictory to the peace messages of these religions.

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