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Rev. Don Stevenson: To my Christian brothers and sisters, on 'blending of faiths'

November 09, 2011|By THE REV. DON R. STEVENSON

I grind painfully as I listen to persons who are in their own corner of religion, so to speak, persons who claim from their own faith summit that their view is better than another’s. The truth is, faith’s many paths proceed toward the same summit.  The reknowned Christian scholar in world religions, Huston Smith, writes: “To claim salvation as the monopoly of any one religion is like claiming that God can be found in this room but not the next, in this attire but not another.”   

Truth is one, not many. And God speaks to the human heart through the creation, and that creation includes many diverse people with many different spiritual postures and faith expressions. For one to bark from their own religious mountain that their view of God bests anyone else’s, claims a spiritual arrogance that dilutes the benevolent character of the God they would proclaim. Myopia and arrogance are blendings we must avoid.

Seemingly, we get very confused when we equate the divine with talk about the divine. The Bible and other “sacred stories” are faith expressions that point (without perfection) to the Holy One, but are never the Holy One themselves. I would yearn for more maturity in religion, with an avoidance of running around trying to convince others that our truth should be their truth. I am for the free expression of faith but not for the coercive convincing of it.  

This fearful talk about interfaith connecting as causing one’s faith to weaken and dilute is nonsense. I am a Christian and, for me, Jesus is the most complete expression of who God is.  However, I do not hear Jesus saying,“I am the greatest.” It is the greatness of God to which he speaks. And this Christ teaches me that God made all of us, that we are a part of one another.

From this belief and perspective, I come to interfaith dialogue not to press my theology on another but to live out the inclusivity of love that my faith and other faiths compel. (It is important that we remember that the central theme in all the major religions is a love of God and others).

When I am in dialogue with sisters and brothers of non-Christian traditions, I am more a follower of Christ, not less. Interfaith dialogue, i.e., the coming together to talk and affirm the oneness we all have in God, is not about the consolidation of religions but about the universal affirmation of God-values like love, peace, tolerance and respect. And the last time I checked, Jesus was for all of these and more. In fact, his great prayer in the Gospel of John, Chapter 17, is a petition to God that we “all might be one.”  And that “oneness” is not “me-istic” but “God-istic.”

As I dig deeper into my own faith tradition, I often find someone else digging in my direction toward the core of their tradition. And when this happens, on some transcendent level I discover new patterns of faith in the other that illuminate, not dilute, my own faith journey.

Interfaith dialogue enlarges our understanding of the truth of which our own faith tradition declares. We can learn about the infinite center of human life from Hinduism, contemplation from the Buddhists, the nature of surrender from Islam, the power of a prophetic conscious from Judaism and how to hold human suffering from Christianity.

It is precisely my own Christian faith that leads me to tables of interfaith dialogue, and in so doing the God in me meets the God in another, not for purposes of debate or to discern betterment, but to be present to the oneness to which we all aspire and of which we all need.

• The Rev. Don R. Stevenson is founder of the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County.

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