Dalai Lama: As a Buddhist monk, I believe all major religious traditions can help people find inner peace. They may employ different approaches and techniques, but each of them has the potential to help us become better human beings. Therefore, it’s important that there is harmony and respect among them.
A Case for Heresy
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a heretic is someone who believes or teaches something that goes against accepted or official beliefs. A heretic is someone with a controversial opinion. A non-conformer. A dissenter. A freethinker. Someone who does not accept the words that are held as dogma and doctrine by others. I suspect there are more than a couple heretics here this morning!
I began my own heretical journey when I was welcomed into this world by Lutheran parents. Parents who brought me to church to be baptized at one week of age because the pastor was leaving and they wanted to slip me in quick before he drove away.
When I grew older I attended public school. For a while I thought I was incredibly fortunate. Here I was living in the best place in the whole wide world learning the one true religion in the whole world. I was amazingly blessed.
But by the time I was in third grade I started wondering about things. Here I was being told at school about those terrible Russians that I was supposed to be afraid of. And for some inexplicable reason it started to dawn on me that Russian kids right at that same moment were in school being taught how terrible and frightening I was.
Then I started to think about those kids who lived in the most remote parts of China, who didn’t know about Jesus and would die without ever knowing Jesus. How come I was so lucky and they were not? What weird twist of universal fate left me in the most envious position in all the world and left others consigned to hell?
I didn’t even know the words yet, but that was when I became a heretic and a pluralist. I realized that those kids were being raised in another tradition and that I had no more right to tell them they were wrong and try to take that away from them than they had to try to take my beliefs and understandings away from me.
I still feel the same way. I haven’t met anyone yet who shares my exact same concept of reality, my version of Truth as best I have crafted it to date. And hopefully, neither have you. Because if you have then chances are one of you has not done their own thinking.
I am very proud to be a heretic and I like to be in the company of other heretics. Because I believe that without our own heretical insights and impulses our spiritual journey becomes stiff and halted, if not stagnant and dead.
If we are truly caught up in the mystery then we have to discover at some point that no one can give us the answers, because the answers are always inside of us. Truth can be pointed to, suggested, guessed at, but we cannot for all of our attempts ever fully find the words to express the great mystery of our existence. And so we speak in parable and metaphor, not in doctrinal certainties.
How liberating to find those places in which people can bring and share their heresies – not in order to convince everybody that they are the sole holder of truth, but so that we can all admit that the questions are still open and that mystery still remains.
Back when I was a Lutheran pastor, I got to spend time with Reverend Paul Rajashaker. Paul was raised in a Hindu home and became a Christian later in life. He suggested that the church’s approach to other traditions has been to embrace a “Theology of Hostility.”
Now as we seek to articulate our beliefs and our heresies, we also have to be wary of falling into the trap of a Philosophy of Hostility. Instead of explaining ourselves in contrast to others, as superior, better or above others, we must begin articulating who we are in a way that makes sense to the other and invites them in rather than shutting them out. And today we get to model that. We are so fortunate to have on our panel a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Christian and an Atheist. If I have to label myself these days, I explain that I’m a Christian Mystic Taoist. There are others here, following other spiritual paths.
And here we all are ready to show by example that if we are going to nurture religious diversity we have to begin by approaching people of other traditions and with other beliefs with genuine humility, eager to share not what we have been taught but what we have experienced to be true. We need to ask people who they are and be genuinely interested in the answers. And we must be willing to be changed by the witness they bring to us.
Because heresy does have a shadow side. It does tend to want to establish its own right thinking – declaring itself right and above reproach. When we end up thinking we are right and everybody else is wrong, we only perpetuate an ideology of hostility, pitting one set of human understandings against another.
The spiritual journey is not the practice of mindlessly repeating everything we have been taught. Nor is it the practice of disagreeing with everything for the sake of disagreement. The spiritual journey is about opening ourselves up to truth we do not yet have the words to describe or the language to share. Until finally we can move beyond this silly state of us vs. them and arrive together arrive at a spiritual reality that transcends barriers, boxes and boundaries.
To see a video of our Inspire! Religious Diversity, check out this Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7g1LIVSXLKNFsJ0vzSXDv7dQDqUI-98P