This post was originally written for a friend's interfaith blog.
Interfaith discussions have resulted in some serious quarrels in my life.
The problem in interfaith discussions is that dearly held ideas are often incompatible. For instance, personal responsibility is a key point in my spiritual world view. In Christianity, Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins. One is absolved through the suffering of a third party. Convincing me these two beliefs are compatible is nearly impossible. Whether either of these concepts are correct or even reasonable is not relevant. Neither party can agree with the other. The best possible result is that each person will understand the other’s point of view, while still disagreeing.
The most dangerous factor in interfaith discussions is that people identify as their beliefs. This is revealed in the language we use. I am a Pagan. I am a Christian. If something about Paganism or Christianity is challenged, anger is the likely reaction because it isn’t the deity or religion being questioned but the personal identity of the listener. This natural emotional reaction makes disagreeing on religion a major problem.
Discussions within the Pagan community are often no better. A prominent commonality among Pagans is a joint sense of the other. The “other” includes those of the Christian faith and those that do not believe in, generally speaking, “our ways”. This creates a natural, albeit negative, bond which is quickly broken by conflicting concepts. The traditionalists dispute the eclectics. The studied derisively dismiss those with a less intellectual bend. Those that worship “nice” deities cannot fathom those that worship Kali. These disagreements turn sour for the same reasons. People wrap their identities in their beliefs, a recipe for disaster.
When the sense of self is not predicated on beliefs but spirit, religious disagreement can be respectfully held. Such people may say, “I love Christ,” or “Gaia amazes me.” A challenge to a detail of Christianity will not faze the lover of Christ. A statement that Gaia is a false goddess will likewise not disturb a lover of Gaia. Personal identities are not part of the issue.
Despite this, we are left with a polite, respectful, disagreement. We can get past this.
The commonality of religion lay in its depth. Those that reach past ego soothing beliefs find that like meets like in the most unusual ways. In my case, I am well known for being anti-Christian. I see the concept of original sin, not only to be incorrect, but demeaning. I think the idea of being ‘saved’ or going to hell is not one of loving compassion but a threat from an abusive deity. I see the Old Testament as proof that Yahweh is a violent war god and his son, a Trojan horse. This view has cost me friends and acquaintances.
One night as I performed magick in my temple space, the Virgin Mary appeared. She said, “We have a different view of war than you.” She left just as suddenly, leaving me with a sense of unease. I knew Her words were true. I knew I had learned something important. I did not understand.
Years later, I had another vision from which I gained a different understanding. Everything is perfect. This has become a spiritual truth for me. In holding that truth, I have been amazed at the horrific things that I can now see through the perceptual lens of perfection. This includes the wars of the Abrahamic religions, inquisitions and the many things I find troubling within those belief systems. To me, each human interaction both micro and macro, uplifting or hurtful, is the result of the perfect unfolding of Spirit.
While it is true that I often have to remind myself of the continually unfolding perfection in which we are, my feelings toward these religions have softened. I can see how the spiritual evolution of millions may be expanding within their world view. That I fail to understand exactly how matters not. Inversely, my Christian friends may ponder how I found the perfection they claim their god is through a Pagan path.
I believe esoteric pursuits hold the best hope for furthering interfaith dialogue past the point of agreeing to disagree.
The inner paths work because they bypass what we know or believe ourselves to know and focus on discovering that which is hidden. Letting go of all things that provide a false sense of identity is a necessary part of the process that intrinsically reduces religious conflict. Discarding belief for intuitional knowledge leads us to make otherwise impossible connections while bolstering our faith. The ability to reduce inner conflict is a byproduct of esoteric practices. That skill also works externally to avoid all manner of disputes, including those of a religious nature.
This has led me to my belief that an esoteric path, regardless of our religious persuasion, is a key part in creating a world where formal interfaith dialogue is spurned by the mixing of ideas rather than a need to quell violence. That day would be as perfect as today.