Shuck and Jive


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Wholesale God, Retail God

The other night I was talking with one of my daughter's friends. He is a young man about 20 or so. Knowing I am a minister, he told me why he doesn't attend church. His explanation went something like this.

"All the churches claim to be the true church. They condemn the other churches as false. They can't all be right. So they all must be wrong. I lost interest."

I remember thinking that very same thing for a long time. This mutual condemnation can be observed between Christian denominations and between Christians of the same denomination. The same is observed between religions as well.

How do we reconcile this? How can we appreciate the "truth" (if that is the correct word) of our own tradition as well as the truths of other traditions?

Marcus Borg in The Heart of Christianity uses an image from merchandising. He first of all says that all religions point to something "more" than what we observe. There is more to the universe than meets the eye. The fascination with the more leads to religious belief and practice. Borg suggests that there is a reality to this more. This more is the wholesale God. The specific religions sell various retail gods. It isn't that each one isn't true, it is just that they are packaged differently and sold in different outlet stores.

When I think of it this way, I can still practice my particular faith (ie. purchase from my favorite retail outlet) knowing that even though my store looks very different from my neighbors' stores, we are purchasing the same thing.

Matthew Fox says something similar with a different image, One River, Many Wells. I don't have to stop going to my well. But I go with an awareness that others have wells that draw from the same river.

Shalom, Salaam, Peace,
John

5 comments:

  1. Funny how that young man can so effortlessly grasp a truth that eludes so many with religious authority. You’re on the right path; it seems to me, by so earnestly reconciling your beliefs with those of others in the world in a nonjudgmental and understanding manner, the very opposite of the kind of fundamentalism that has been growing in our country and it seems the world. Just be careful about the retail outlet comparison or someone will start taxing you. :)

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  2. Thanks, Bobby!

    I appreciate your comments. Religion is at its best when it addresses the hard questions. You know it might not be a bad thing to tax churches. :)

    John

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  3. I think of religion as an example of the blind man and the elephant. All of the religions are attempts at grasping something that is too emmense for any of us to comprehend completely. So we pick the metaphors that work for us the best, that are the most comfortable for us, that give us a path and a way to encounter that which is greater than us. That doesn't mean they are all wrong. They are just different aspects of approaching an infinite reality.

    That being said, because religions are human products at understanding God, they all might be a little wrong. Humans are fallable, after all. But being a little wrong also means that they are at least a little right also.

    I like what Marcus Borg said in the last chapter of The Heart of Christianity about why one chooses to be a Christian (or Buddhist or Jew) if one recognizes that there is not just one right religious path. If we want to embark on a path, we pick one that works for us. I was brought up in a Christian family, in a Christian culture with Christian traditions. So Christianity is what is the most comfortable for me, even if I don't accept or literalize all the dogmas that are often associated with Christianity.

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