Sunday, April 16, 2006

Religions and Truth

So now that "holy week" is over within my faith community, I'm going to try to find time and words for a few posts that have been brewing in my mind for a week or so. They are a bit broad in scope, so might have to be split up a bit. You can tell by the title of this one that I have all the answers - aren't you glad you stopped by?

I recently read "The Heart of Christianity", by Marcus Borg. The author has been (not sure if currently) a member of the controversial "Jesus Seminar", and an outspoken advocate for allowing our views of the world to influence our approaches and beliefs surrounding spirituality. I found a lot I agreed with in this volume. I found myself immediately rereading a few chapters, because I needed the first readings often to challenge my preconceived notions of certain terms like "born again" and "salvation" - terms that in many ways have lost their meaning to me. At least they had lost the meaning I attached to them growing up in a Christian subculture - a subculture that I left for many years.

I especially liked Borg's equating being "born again" with the natural process that we each need to go through when moving from the self-centered nature of a child to the (hopefully) less self-absorbed nature of an adult. My "takeaway" was that the experience of religious faith had the goal and potential in the past of providing a framework for this natural life process within communities that shared religion and culture - even though the reality of many religious settings has been far from successful in this regard. Our natural rites of passage that carry us to adulthood are best experienced within a caring community. And in spite of all the blemishes and distortions, I think the church could fill this role for those with or without "traditional" family structures. (Unfortunately, finding such churches is far from easy.)

Borg continually returned to his version of a statement that I've heard from many lips in the past few years - "all religions are the same", or "all religions lead to the truth". I usually rebel against this blanket statement. My version would be "all religions are similar in that they probably have some mixture of truth and distortions". And I'm certain I allow the fundamentalists of various religions to magnify my naturally cynical view - they are indeed (and unfortunately) the loudest voices.

In Borg's case, he chose to say that the purpose of all the "major" religions was to mediate the sacred, and provide "sacremental" access to the mystery of God. I do believe he tried too hard at times to not offend any religious traditions, and also tried to "overload" the word "true", just has he attempted to overload the term "born again". So I would balance his emphasis on the natural growth process with a (hopefully) healthy cynicism about any specific religion having a corner on or understanding of all the truth.

I have certainly found more than enough truth to last a lifetime within my own faith community of Christianity. It has little to do with doctrinal certainty, and much to do with a realistic sense of hope that can fuel my time on earth. And hopefully there is something more after that. I'd be very interested in learning more about how other faith communities or religious orientations have nurtured this "natural" growth in their constituents. Any experiences to share or sources to recommend? Do you agree or disagree? Or am I talking in circles?


julieunplugged said...

I agree with your assessment of Borg's book. I found it helpful in the discussion of the varieties of faith (his Latin words that enunciate the nuances) but I got lost when he got into other religions. I think he falls into the "pluralism" camp whereas I fall into the "radical, incommensurable difference" camp. :)

The "born again" experience is something that interests me a lot though. I want to explore the idea of metanoia and what that means both in Scripture and in the hands of postmodern theologians. the idea that religions mediate the sacred is certainly (to me) obvious, but perhaps the other part is that they catalyze a metanoia... a transformation. Whether or not the content of this conversion is univeral or distinctive is important to address. And also whether it is necessary. :)

Good thoughts.


Chuck said...

"radical, incommensurable difference"...I like that, and would agree with it. My hope is that people from a variety of perspectives can accept the inadequacies and strengths of our own faiths and identify the common threads. My fear is that we will fall back on what is easiest and most "secure" in the short term.

And I agree wholeheartedly that the goal is transformation. That's why I liked Borg's non-methaphorical use of the journey from childhood to adulthood - it is a universal journey with the potential to impact an entire community and society, either positively or negatively. Not that the journey is over when we reach adulthood...

brian said...


I really agreed with almost everything Borg said. While I don't think any religion has a complete handle on the truth, I think the underlying core of most of the major religions is essentially the same. I see most religions as overlapping, it not concentric circles. What I find though is people tend to focus on the extremities and emphasize the differences, usually in an effort to make themselves feel special (can you tell I'm a Universalist).

Borg's take on being born again make a lot of sense to me. In the Christian subculture I was raised in, being born again meant speaking in tongues. Obviously, to the vast majority of Christians it means something different than that. So, what does it really mean? I think Borg's definition is as good as any other I've heard.

Great job with your blog. I look forward to reading more.


kevin beck said...

Good post. In my more "fundamentalist" days, Borg was a four letter word. Now, I find him fascinating and insightful--even if I don't always agree. SHoot, I don't always agree with myself.

I don't think it is an issue of allow our views of the world to influence our spirituality. It just does. Being aware of it s crucial.

Challenging those preconceived ideas is tough--at least for me, but it is well worth it. I can't believe that first-century people thought of things like salvation and being born again like most folks today do. Perhaps it is time to take a second look.