Marcus Borg on pluralism


Related to the subject of Pluralism Sunday, which takes place this coming Sunday, here is a quote from Marcus Borg's book The Heart of Christianity:

When a Christian seeker asked the Dalai Lama whether she should become a Buddhist, his response, which I paraphrase, was: "No, become more deeply Christian; live more deeply into your own tradition."...By living more deeply into our own tradition as a sacrament of the sacred, we become more centered in the one to whom the tradition points and in whom we live and move and have our being.

A Christian is one who does this within the framework of the Christian tradition, just as a Jew is one who does this within the framework of the Jewish tradition, a Muslim, within the framework of the Muslim tradition, and so forth. And I cannot believe that God cares which of these we are. All are paths of relationship and transformation. (p. 223)


Ray said...

From the same chapter. I think, is the following -

"In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James, includes some comments about the world’s religions. Based on his study of religious experience, he concludes that the religions of the world are most similar in the experiences they report, the path they teach, the practices they commend, and the behaviour they produce, the “fruit” of compassion.

They are most different, he concludes, in their beliefs and doctrines. When one thinks about it, this is only what one would expect, for beliefs and doctrines are what are most affected by the particularities of culture and language. What is most affected is what is put into words. For James, their words differ, but their views of reality and the lives they mediate are similar….

[Another] way of expressing the same point is the language of “internal core” and “external form.” The internal core, the heart of religion, is the experience of the sacred, “the real,” “the More.” the external form is the particular expression of the religion: it includes the particularities of what is done in worship, the particular words (scriptures, stories, teachings) in which the tradition is articulated, the particular practices enjoined, and so forth. Religions are similar in their internal core, different in their external forms…

…Significantly, the external forms matter. Serious religious pluralism (as distinct from nonchalent pluralism) involves recognising that the external forms of religion are quite different. Respecting the integrity of the “other” involves such recognition. Though we might affirm that “human beings are all the same” in some important sense, to refuse to recognise that being French or being Iraqi is different from being English or American is to fail to recognise the distinctiveness of the “other.” So also among religions: to be Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist or Christian involves being different from one another. not only are the religions different; we might even learn to appreciate and relish their distinctiveness. The world is richer because of its distinctive cultural-linguistic traditions.

Additionally, the external forms matter for both a negative and positive reason. negatively, when the external forms are emphasised, then the differences between religions are more apparent than their similarities. When the external forms (especially scripture and doctrines) are absolutised, as they are in religious fundamentalism, then religious exclusivism is the inevitable result. Authentic dialogue becomes impossible, conversion is the goal, and conflict is often the result.

Positively, the external forms matter because they are sacraments of the sacred. They mediate the sacred, they mediate the path. in a primary sense, they are the path: practical means for living life with and in God.

This point is important because of a common contemporary contrast between spirituality and religion. Most of us have heard people say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” we know what they mean: they have a spiritual interest or sensitivity, but they are not part of any particular religion. And the contrast often contains a value judgement as well: spirituality is “good”; religion is “bad,” or at least unnecessary. The first is seen as personal, the second as institutional, and we live in a time when many don’t think much of institutions.

In an important sense, religions are “institutions.” Their external forms - their scriptures, rituals, teachings, practices, organisation - are to a large extent “institutionalised.” They are “traditions,” and traditions are intrinsically “institutions.” Religion is “organised religion.”

But the contrast between spirituality and religion is both unnecessary and unwise. To use an analogy I owe to Huston Smith, religion is to spirituality as institutions of learning are to education. One can learn about the world, become educated, without schools, universities , and books, but it is like reinventing the wheel in every generation. Institutions of learning ar the way education gets traction in history; so also religion (its external forms) is the way spirituality gains traction in history. Religion - its external forms - not just spirituality, matters. Its forms are vessels of spirituality, mediators of the sacred and the way."

The Heart of Christianity - Rediscovering a Life of Faith by Marcus Borg p217-219

A marvellous book.

Eileen said...

Bam - That brief little snipet captures why I love Marcus Borg.

True ecumenical relationships cannot be built if one clings in arrogance to the idea that your religion is the only path to God or the only proper way to experience spirituality.

All those who believe that its their way or the highway and that the world needs to be converted to that way to be saved, should save us all some trouble, and just stay home.

JP Manzi said...

This was the first, but surely not the last, book, I have read from Marcus Borg. At first, this paragraph made me feel uneasy. Growing up in a conservative christian church it is supposed to make us feel that way. Now, after much thought, prayer and reading the likes of Borg, I have found the inner beauty in that thinking. It is no longer a conversion to christianity that I want of people, its a conversion to a deeper experience with God, the Divine Presence.

Ray, indeed, a marvelous book.

Greg said...

Gotta love Borg! =)