Monday, May 26, 2014

Pointing to the moon


In a globalized world, if there is any truth to religion, if there is some ultimate reality that humans can apprehend but that is not susceptible to scientific study, then one can reasonably expect all of the world's great religions to point toward that reality. My e-book, Charting a Theological Confluence, presents the rationale for that conclusion more comprehensively and systematically, analyzing four Christian options for understanding other religions. Those options range from narrow exclusivity to a broad pluralism that seeks genuine interfaith dialogue and mutual learning.

I have recently been leading a discussion group in the parish in which I serve of Paul Knitter's book, Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian. Knitter is a laicized Roman Catholic priest who now teaches theology at New York's Union Theological Seminary. He identifies himself as a hybrid, i.e., a person whose religious affiliation represents an amalgam of different traditions. He contends, correctly I believe, that everyone's faith is actually an amalgam of traditions and ideas—there is no such thing as a purely orthodox Christian, Buddhist, etc., because everyone unavoidably places his/her own imprint on any idea, a notion that coheres with what cognitive science teaches about how the human brain functions.

Knitter's methodology in Without Buddha is instructive. He begins by describing some aspect of Christianity that causes him difficulty, explores some aspect of Buddhism, and then considers what Buddhism and Christianity can learn from one another with respect to the issue(s) being discussed.

If a literal approach to Christian doctrine or the scriptures causes you difficulty (e.g., you have qualms about reciting the Creeds, finding the ancient formulations of Christian dogma problematic), you may find Knitter's book helpful. One of his overarching metaphors is that religious language is like a finger pointing at the moon: the finger is not the moon, but only a tool for giving the direction in which to look if you wish to see the moon. Similarly, religious language does not represent propositional truth but is only a finger for pointing to that ultimate reality which no words can adequately describe.

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