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Posts Tagged ‘religious pluralism’

Those who study religious pluralism – especially in recent years – talk about the necessity to honor the fact that some religions have very different “ultimates,” or core ideas about ultimate reality. Though there has historically been a tendency to try to boil different religions down to the same basic truths – such as loving one’s neighbor as oneself or fostering compassion – many scholars today feel strongly that this approach does a great disservice to all religions.

In a text edited by David Ray Griffin entitled Deep Religious Pluralism, Jeffery D. Long describes three basic types of religion that differ in these ways: their ultimate religious objects, their descriptions of salvation, and their worldviews. As he describes them,

  1. Theistic religions are oriented towards a Supreme Being, a personal God, and are productive of salvation, or a right relationship between God and the practitioner…
  2. Acosmic religions are oriented towards an impersonal Absolute, or Ground of Being, and are productive of realization or enlightenment…
  3. Cosmic religions are oriented towards the cosmos itself, the cosmic order, and the spiritual beings that inhabit it, and productive of harmony within this cosmos and right relations with these beings. (131-2)

I could feel the storm of protest arising in me before I even got to the next paragraph where Long then acknowledges that “some element of each category is present in nearly every world religion.” My protest would have been based on the fact that I’ve perceived for a long time that all three perspectives are ultimately true. Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950, who Long describes as a “Bengali sage,” was one who experienced all three religious perspectives, incorporating all three equally in his system of “Integral Yoga.” (145)

https://i2.wp.com/library.sriaurobindoyoga.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Sri-Aurobindo_bio-240x300.jpg

Sri Aurobindo

Pure Being is the affirmation by the Unknowable of Itself as the free base of all cosmic existence. We give the name of Non-Being to a contrary affirmation of Its freedom from all cosmic existence – freedom, that is to say, from all positive terms of actual existence which consciousness in the universe can formulate to itself, even from the most abstract, even from the most transcendent. It does not deny them as a real expression of Itself, but It denies Its limitation by all expression or any expression whatsoever. The Non-Being permits the Being, even as the Silence permits the Activity. By this simultaneous negation and affirmation, not mutually destructive, but complementary to each other like all contraries, the simultaneous awareness of conscious Self-being as a reality and the Unknowable beyond as the same Reality becomes realisable to the awakened human soul. (Life Divine, 28-9)

I’m especially intrigued by his understanding of these opposite ultimates – Pure Being and Non-Being, Silence and Activity – as complementary.  This idea of complementariness of seemingly opposing religions has been knocking around in my brain for months now, and I’m eager to read more of Aurobindo’s perspective.

 

 

 

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In Christ in a Pluralistic Age, process theologian John B. Cobb, Jr. builds a strong case for understanding the Logos as “creative transformation” and using the term “Christ” to indicate the incarnation of the Logos in creation. In popular usage, “Christ” seems to be understood merely as Jesus’ last name rather than as a descriptor of either his role or his impact on his followers. But Cobb asserts that “’Christ’ does not designate Jesus as such but refers to Jesus in a particular way, namely as the incarnation of the divine. It does not designate deity as such but refers to deity experienced as graciously incarnate in the world.” (66)

He draws from the artistic world to illustrate how Christ can dynamically move from a strictly external image to an internalized force, but insists that it cannot only be in art that this is true. “If creative transformation is Christ,” he writes, “it must be discernible in all life.” (63) In discussing creative transformation and novelty, Cobb talks about a “continuing restlessness in the human race” that leads us toward “spontaneity, growth, and self-transcendence.” (69-70)

Most of my adult life has been characterized by this “continuing restlessness,” and over the last several years, my process of discerning God’s call for me in that restlessness has been through a Jungian practice of dream work and examination of synchronicities, or meaningful coincidences.

There is a vibrant movement of Christian dream work that has developed through the work of Joyce Rockwood Hudson (author of Natural Spirituality: Recovering the Wisdom Tradition in Christianity) and Rev. Bob Haden (an Episcopal priest and Jungian analyst), both of whom are primary organizers for the annual Haden Institute Summer Dream Conference in North Carolina. This movement stresses the role of Divine Wisdom as the voice of God speaking to us in our dreams and through waking life synchronicities.

And so when Cobb describes Christ as incarnating the “cosmic principle of order, the ground of meaning, and the source of purpose,” (71) identifying this power only as “Logos,” I must disagree somewhat. In the Christian New Testament tradition, the word Logos is used primarily in the Gospel of John. In the Prologue to that Gospel especially – but generally in the New Testament – everything that is said about the Logos was already said in the Jewish tradition about Sophia (in Greek, Hochma in Hebrew), or Divine Wisdom, typically personified as feminine.

In her groundbreaking text She Who Is, Elizabeth A. Johnson summarizes the connection between Jesus and Wisdom in this way:

The Prologue to [John’s] Gospel, which more than any other scriptural text influences the subsequent development of Christology, actually presents the prehistory of Jesus as the story of Sophia: present ‘in the beginning,’ an active agent in creation, descending from heaven to pitch a tent among the people, rejected by some, giving life to those who seek, a radiant light that darkness cannot overcome (Jn 1:1-18). (Johnson, Elizabeth A. She Who Is.  10th Anniversary Edition. New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002, 96-7)

According to Johnson, Christians in the first century, in trying to communicate “the saving significance of Jesus, ransacked the Jewish religious tradition and the surrounding Hellenistic culture for interpretive elements. Along with Son of God, Son of Man, Messiah, and Logos, the tradition of personified Wisdom was ready to hand.” (95) She continues,

What Judaism said of Sophia, Christian hymn makers and epistle writers now came to say of Jesus: he is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15); the radiant light of God’s glory (Heb 1:3); the firstborn of all creation (Col 1:15); the one through whom all things were made (1 Cor 8:6).  Likewise, the way in which Judaism characterized Sophia in her dealings with human beings, Gospel writers now came to portray Jesus: he calls out to the heavy burdened to come to him and find rest (Mt 11:28-30); he makes people friends of God (Jn 15:15), and gifts those who love him with life (Jn 17:2).  As the trajectory of wisdom Christology shows, Jesus was so closely associated with Sophia that by the end of the first century he is presented not only as a wisdom teacher, not only as a child and envoy of Sophia, but ultimately even as an embodiment of Sophia herself. (95)

I think it’s crucial that we not lose this rich tradition when we speak of Christ and the Logos.

 

 

 

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