UU Church Today, Practice & Voice

The Problem of Religious Diversity

(re-posted from http://www.cloistral.net)

Tricycle posted The Problem of Religious Diversity to their blog, reprinted with permission from a book by Rita M. Gross entitled Religious Diversity, What’s the Problem: Buddhist Advice for Flourishing with Religious Diversity. Rita Gross is a Buddhist scholar-practitioner and retired professor of comparative studies in religion. It is pertinent to the life and times of All Souls Unitarian Church.

As a community in the early years of the new millennium, coincidentally marked by the arrival of Rev. Marlin Lavanhar in 2000, All Souls has repositioned and is transforming itself from a predominantly pale-faced Anglo Saxon congregation to a far more inclusive and welcoming multi-racial, multi-ethnic community representative of the entire spectrum of humanity. All Souls Unitarian Church is socially diverse; it is an exciting place to be associated and its social diversity does wonders for broadening one’s outlook on life. But, it is not just the social aspects that are important, it is the religious diversity of the membership.

Each one of us is different from every other person, even identical twins are different. We belong to the human species yet each person is unique. It is this uniqueness that creates differences.

Unitarians disagree with each other yet manage to coexist peacefully. We disagree with other religions yet respect their unique ways of living their spiritual lives. Even though I am indifferent to religion, I appreciate the sense of continuity and cohesion offered by the Catholic Church. For some people they need the comfort of knowing what to do and when, they like the structure provided by the Baptist faiths. As long as there is a human population, differences will arise among the people.

Rita Gross summarizes the problem best: We have created our problems, and only we can solve them. That becomes something of a bottom line for Buddhists. We need to train our minds to be less attached, less mistaken, less shortsighted, and, most of all, less self-centered. After all, discomfort with religious others is a form of self-centeredness.

How do we take that perspective into solving the problem of religious diversity? First, I would argue that religious diversity exists because it is psychologically and spiritually impossible for all human beings to follow one theological outlook or spiritual path. We are not built that way. That’s just not how we are. Religious diversity, which is inevitable, natural, and normal, flows from our different spiritual and psychological inclinations. Therefore, inevitably, we will encounter religious others. Second, I would argue that the acid test of a religion’s worth lies with what kind of tools it provides its adherents for coping gracefully and kindly with their worlds and the other beings who inhabit them. Discomfort with religious diversity and the wish to abolish it is a psychological and spiritual deficiency arising in an untrained human mind, a mind that does not know how to relax and be at ease with what is, with things as they are, as Buddhists like to say. Solving the problem of religious diversity has much more to do with human beings’ attitudes toward one another than with somehow adjudicating their rather different theological and metaphysical views. Thus, I am suggesting that we should start, not with religious creeds and questions about religions or metaphysical truth, but with questions about how people are—different from one another—and about how well religions function to help them live with how they are.

To me it looks like All Souls is performing well on the acid test of a religion’s worth. Belonging to All Souls helps us to cope gracefully and kindly with the world and its inhabitants, no matter who or what they are. Of course, there is always room for improvement. No slacking!

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