Tag: advocacy

Religion & Spirituality

Have you noticed that an increasing number of formerly “religious” people identify themselves by saying, “I’m not religious but I am spiritual,”? I suspect that for many it’s because they’d rather say that, than identify themselves as an atheist or agnostic.  Perhaps it’s because they have become disenchanted with organized religions for any number of reasons, but still believe in God and have a need to acknowledge a higher power, without having to profess a particular faith tradition.

I read in a recent report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, that approximately one-third of those who say they were raised no longer describe themselves as ; which means that roughly 10% of all Americans are former s. I’m not sure how many of those “ex-” call themselves spiritual, but I suspect it is a high percentage.

My own experiences in speaking to many folks who do not identify themselves with any religion but identify themselves as spiritual, is that there is often confusion between religious and . A person I spoke to recently told me, “I suppose if I were being admitted to a hospital and they asked my religion, I’d tell them I’m catholic, even though I haven’t gone to in years. If I were to say I’m a spiritual person, it might take too much explaining.” I’ve heard others say, “I’d tell them I’m a ‘recovering catholic’.” It’s this kind of ambivalence or confusion that prompted me to pursue this topic both here and on my blog.

Below, I have a number of links to the topic that I believe will be helpful in our dialoguing on religion and . I have them here as references that you may use when I bring up the topic on my blog. Or if you just want to explore the topic on your own, ly these articles and essays will be useful.

    1. Religion versus Spirituality a Spiritual Problem: Reconnecting Experience with Tradition by David Tacey – I suggest that this article by Dr. David Tacey be read first. I found it very helpful in distinguishing between religion and and realizing how they can work better together than separately. He argues that Spirituality and Religion are becoming disconnected and they need to be re-connected., since they both rely on the other. In his opinion, Religion focuses more on community and worship and, is usually, but not always, based more on an individual’s experience. I personally have a need for both a sense of community and my own sense of awe, when I meditate, read inspirational book, or just discuss a specific topic with someone else. All of these spiritual experiences can lead to feeling of awe.
    2. This is an article by Emmy Silvius, a lay theologian, that appeared in the Australian website – Her commentary is based mainly on Dr. Tacey’s premise of how religion and might be reconnected. Her belief is that Spirituality is not just a selfish, individualistic pursuit, but that it has a community aspect.
    3. The author of this web page asks the question: “I think that Spirituality is believing the universe is alive, and Religion is believing it expects something of you. What do you think?” Good question! Basically, it’s a position the Spirituality believers embrace. (see Mathew Fox’s website) So, what do you think?
    4. The Journal of Religion and Spirituality – This journal has a number of resources that can be very helpful.
    5. Enlightened-Spirituality. There are a number of interesting web pages on this web site. For example if you scroll down the main page, you’ll find information about how a variety of religions describe and practice : Buddhism, traditions of the Jewish Kabbalah, Hinduism, Islam etc.
    6. Interesting interview with Dr. Micael Ledwith – Since he retired as a catholic priest he has gone on to appear in the groundbreaking film, What the Bleep Do We Know? He has also produced three volumes so far in his own series of DVDs that deal with fundamental matters in relation to spiritual evolution, and three more of which were scheduled for release in 2010/2011. In 2008 Ledwith published The Orb Project, a book detailing his intensive five-year study of orbs, which was co-authored with German physicist Klaus Heinemann. He is currently working on a new series of books titled Forbidden Truth, a three-volume work that focuses on human destiny and the mechanics of spiritual evolution. The interview with Dr. Ledwith and SuperConsciousness Magazine speaks at length about his life, his choices, and his passion to know God as himself.
    7. The following reading illustrates some parallels between Native American spirituality and the Buddhist way of life. The authors of this web site chose themes and readings for their proximity to Buddhist teachings. They are not meant to suggest that Native American and Buddhism are the same or share similar historical source, both are different from one another but share some similar viewpoints and religious experiences.
    8. This web site is authored by Orrin Lewis, a Cherokee. He says in his introduction that, “This is my personal homepage – I am old-fashioned and I don’t like to put my picture on the Internet.” He might be old fashioned, but his web site contains a wealth of information besides this article entitled Seeking Native American Spirituality: Start Here.
    9. This article by Jody A. Long, J.D., Near Death Experience, Religion and Spirituality, is described by the author as one of the last frontiers of study surrounds and Near Death Experience (NDE). She also suggests that this is a highly sensitive issue due to the nature of religion. What this study attempts to do is to objectively look at the data submitted by NDErs to the website and to categorize the answers. Questions that are analyzed include pre and post NDE religious preference, and changed beliefs. There are some surprising results that focus on universal and order gained from NDE understandings.
    10. There are a number of rich spiritualities within the catholic tradition. These spiritualities have their origin in great spiritual leaders after whom they are named; for example, Franciscan is attributed to teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, and so on. A particular is a system, or schema of beliefs, virtues, ideals and principles which form a particular way to approach God and therefore all life in general.Even though these spiritualities are different, does not mean they are contradictory. They all have their roots in the same Christian heritage and they all aim at the same goal – to love as Jesus loved. The difference is a matter of emphasis. The differences give each approach its unique character traits.To mention just a few of the more familiar: Ingnatian Spirituality, Franciscan Spirituality, Benedictine Spirituality and Dominican Spirituality.
    11. In addition to those from the catholic tradition, here is a website that provides from other faith traditions including: Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox Christianity, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslin.

Faith and Beliefs

I believe that since faith and beliefs are so often confused, it’s important for us to have a clear understanding of the differences. If I were to design a bumper sticker for this topic, it would be, Keep the Faith but Question the Beliefs.

Theologian and Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, Harvey Cox, in his book, The Future of Faith, describes a conversation he had with a friend, who described himself as “a practicing Christian but not always a believing one.” Initially Cox was surprised with his friend’s statement, but the more he thought about it, he came to the conclusion that to call oneself a practicing Christian but not a believing one acknowledges the certainties and uncertainties that mark the life of any religious person. When I read his book, I realized I had come to the same conclusion about the differences between faith and beliefs a number of years ago, but I just wasn’t able to articulate it as well as he did. In my case, the more I studied the tradition of the Church, and the fathers of the , the more I came to the conclusion that many of the beliefs of my pre- II background did not pass the litmus test of my conscience.

My faith was in the Jesus of what Cox calls the Age of Faith, the first three centuries after Jesus died, when the early was more interested in following Jesus’ teachings than making obligatory what to belief about Jesus. The Jesus that I believe in and in whom my faith is grounded in is: the Jesus who gave us the Beatitudes and his example of how to live; the Jesus who focused on compassion for the disenfranchised. As Dr. Cox observed, when he realized how faith and beliefs were not the same,

“To focus the Christian life on beliefs rather than on faith is simply a mistake. We have been misled for many centuries by theologians who taught ‘faith’ consists of dutifully believing the articles listed in one of the countless creeds, this came as a welcomed liberation.” Amen!

This webpage provides a number of references to faith and beliefs. It primarily focuses on the Christian tradition. It does not pretend to be all inclusive. The references are meant to be background for future discussions on my blog or as possible sources for your spiritual reading.

    1. From Blind Belief to Enlightened Faith – Reprint from the Theosophical Movement. The following is a quote from the article that is characteristic of the author’s position.

      “Blind belief passing through the fire of reason emerges as enlightened faith, casting off the ashes of exclusiveness, fanaticism and bigotry. If a man of religious belief passed from blind belief to real knowledge and practised the ethics of his own creed, he would soon be forced to discard the exclusiveness of that creed and to embody its universal aspects. Thus enlightened faith comes to birth.”

    2. Faith Versus Belief. Posted in The Thinker by Jeffrey Ellis. In addition to this article there are a number of interesting topics that the website covers.
    1. The Omega Connection – Faith and Belief. A brief but interesting article.
    1. Bill Moyer’s website Faith and Reason, contains a wealth of information about faith and beliefs. It contains dozens of interview of religious leaders from every denomination, scientists who have positive and negative views about religion and in depth articles and programs both in text format or tapes of actual intervies. http://www.pbs.org/moyers/faithandreason/index.html
    2. Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith (New York: Harper, 2009). 16. The author of classic, The Secular City, writes his last book before retiring from Harvard University, on the difference between faith and beliefs and how important this distinction is for the future of faith.
    1. Donald F. Fausel, From Blind Obedience to a Responsible Faith: The Memoir of a Cradle Catholic. (Bloomington, IN. 2010 iUniverse) Fausel’s Memoir is a combination of stories of his life pre and post- II, including his time as a catholic priest, his struggles with many beliefs of the , his dispensation from the priesthood and his reflections on his life’s journey, back to a responsible faith in his catholic tradition.
    1. Judy J. Johnson. What’s So Wrong about Being Absolutely Right: The Dangerous Nature of Dogmatic Beliefs – This webpage is a commentary that Johnson contributed to her book in the Australian website a. After considering some of the major features of dogmatism: the power of dogmatism and its psychological aspects, its intolerance of ambiguity and its authoritarian positions, the author concludes that “It seems reasonable to conclude that, given that features of dogmatism become manifest in social institutions, the challenge for scientists, religious leaders, and politicians – indeed, for all of us – is to open our minds about dogmatic thought; first and foremost our own.”
    1. Faith and Foolishness: When Religious Beliefs Become Dangerous – This is an article in Scientific America, by Lawerence M. Krauss, that offers statistics about the high percentage of respondent who discard scientific facts in favor of their religious beliefs.
    1. What is Belief, What is Faith? This is a video on YouTube by Randall Niles.

      He suggests that beliefs are something we arrive at after a period of time when we intellectually accept a premise, either because of a preponderance of the or beyond a reasonable time, while Faith is when we put our beliefs into action. He provides an interesting but simple example (parable) of a tight rope walker who successfully walks across Niagara to the amazement of large crowd of on-lookers. When he finishes, he ask the crowd if they believe he can walk across Niagara Falls. They all shout yes! He then pushes a barrel across the falls and ask the same question and get the same answer. Next he puts a friend in the barrel and pushes the barrel across the falls. When he finishes he asks if they believe he can push someone across the falls in a barrel. They all respond excitedly, “we believe,” his response to the crowd is, “whose next?” That, says Randall, is the difference between Belief and Faith. Faith requires putting beliefs into action.
    1. Here’s a summary by Meghan Smith, News Editor, of The Gavel Online on March 25, 2011, of an address at Boston College by Vicki Kennedy, the wife of the late senator, Ted Kennedy. It is on faith and political beliefs. She said at one point, as a young girl, growing up in a Democratic family, she actually thought that Jesus must have been a Democrat, because He advocated for all the things that she learned growing up: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and reach out to the poor and disadvantage, all things that were a vital part of her family’s beliefs.
  1. Mark Powel, on Faith vs. Beliefs

    This is a video on YouTube by Mark Powell giving his views of the French Theologian Jacques Ellul on faith and beliefs. On the same You Tube page there are a number of other spiritual topics that Jacques Ellul presents, that are worth listening to.

The Gospel of Good Stewardship

The more I read and researched the faith community’s involvement as advocates for saving our planet, the more I was impressed, and encouraged by how much impact their commitment has had locally, nationally and internationally. It became apparent to me that scientists cannot make changes in global warming alone. They supply the empirical data that we base our judgments on as to whether or not our earth is in peril, and if we are responsible for its condition. The faith based leaders provide the theological underpinning based on a belief that we all are “stewards of creation”. 
Another surprise for me was that despite the diverse traditions and beliefs the major religious communities have, they are able to work together on their common concern for creation. , gay marriages etc. seemed to pale in comparison to their mutual concern for our responsibility for the future of mother earth. In this commentary, I will focus on the contributions of Popes John Paul and Benedict, and the catholic bishops in confronting the dangers of Global climate change. In a future commentary I’ll provide an ecumenical view of how the various faith communities are working together to preserve planet earth for future generations. 

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STEWARDS OF OUR PLANET

The Stewardship movement is a shared sense of moral ; with roots that are in the beliefs of major faiths’ communities. All of our faith traditions call on us to serve the poor and vulnerable. In the case of global warming, the poor will be the ones who will suffer the most. In the Christian tradition, Jesus emphasized two great commandments, to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Most of us have the loving ourselves part down pretty well. It’s the love for God and his Creation and our neighbors that we need to work on. The catch is, our values aren’t our values unless we act on them.  

The religious leaders provide the theological underpinning in their interpretation of our responsibility for maintaining God’s Creation. I chose to first focus in this commentary on the Catholic theology of stewardship and sustainability of all creation, not because it’s my faith tradition, but mainly because when we think of the life that God has created, and the Catholic Church, we usually think of about things they are against, like abortion or same sex marriages. We don’t immediately associate the Catholic Hierarchy with promoting God’s love for the earth that he created. I believe that if the earth is to survive, it needs all faith traditions to prioritize sustainability as the sine qua non for mother earth’s continued existence.

STANDING IN SOLIDARITY

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis Assisi

It seemed appropriate to include a prayer from St. Francis of Assisi, who in recent times has been declared The Patron Saint of the Environmental Movement because his life and teachings were models of living in harmony with nature and being at peace with the earth and all living creatures. The prayer, like St. Francis’ life is simple and direct. Also, many of us hope that the fact that the new pope chose Francis as his name, is a sign he was sending a message of how he intends to model his papacy on St. Francis’ life. At this early point Francis has made several positive statements about his position on our responsibility for the environment. His first homily as a pope at his inauguration on the feast of St. Joseph is a good example. In several paragraphs he makes an analogy of St. Joseph’s role as protector of the holy family to our role of protectors of God’s creation. Pope Francis reminds us that “…whenever we fail to care for creation, and for our brothers and sisters, the way is open to destruction and hearts are hardened….and later he continues…To protect creation, to protect every man and every women, to look upon them with the tenderness and love, is to open up the horizon of hope…” [LINK] It seems obvious, that if we are not protectors of mother earth, what else will there remain to protect. To paraphrase the Sermon on the Mount, Blessed are those who protect Mother for they shall be the eternal children of God.

Up to this point, Pope Francis has continued to emphasize our role as protectors of the ecology. In an Audience he had with representatives of the Churches and Ecclesial communities of different religions, [LINK] He reminded the ecumenical group that, “The Church is likewise conscious of the responsibility which all of us have for our world, for the whole of creation, which we must love and protect.” In another part of his talk he pointed out that, “…men and woman, who although not identifying themselves as followers of any religious tradition, …are our valued allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building a peaceful coexistence between peoples, and in safeguarding and caring for creation.” Hopefully he will continue to prioritize in a ecumenical way the importance of supporting climate change and acknowledging the impact that our failure to act will have on future generations.

THE GREEN POPE

Francis I is not the first pope who addressed the issue of climate change straight on. Although many of us will remember Pope Benedict XVI for his deep-rooted conservatism and, on many levels his efforts to keep the Church from embracing the 21st Century; others will blame him for how the ’s child abuse scandal was mishandled, and how his views on contraception have contributed to the spread of AIDS, but I suspect that relatively few know that he was named the Green Pope. Whether or not Benedict should be given the title of Green Pope is debatable and not all that important. As far as his position on the environment is concerned, I believe there is little doubt that the stance he took was a progressive one. Given the alternatives of either denying the dangers of global warming or taking a neutral position, he chose to be a prophet for God’s creation.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

What Father Mc Donald doesn’t take into account in his article is the impact the writings and actions of both popes have had on the response of the People of God from the bishops on down, or perhaps  from the faithful on up. I’d like to think of it as a shared interest. Since, I’m most familiar with the United States Conference of Catholic s (USCCB) and the Australian Catholic s Conference (ACBC), I’ll just focus on a very few of the many initiatives that were stimulated by John Paul II 1990 message referenced above. Here’s one from Australia—the website for the Catholic care Australia. It was established by ACBC in 2002 as an agency of the Catholic s Commission for Justice and Development.  It’s a good example of how John Paul II’s call to “stimulate and sustain the ecological conversion” was heard and responded to in Australia. If you haven’t already, check their website [LINK] it has dozens of projects where folks can become agents of for the planet.

Here’s one project that ACBC is currently piloting; an initiative for schools, parishes, organizations, and congregations to achieve ecological sustainability. It’s called ASSISI, an acronym for, A Strategic Systems-based Integrated Sustainable Initiative. Click here to find out more about ASSISI or here to check resources, references, and other projects. I have dozens of references but here’s one more from the 2002 Australian Catholic s Statement on the Environment entitled What Can We Do? [LINK] It has a number of suggestions that you and I can take as shareholders of planet earth.

This posting on the website of the USCCBs is a good example of the type of the s in the United States have taken. It’s under the title of U.S. s Call for Moral Focus on Global Change.[LINK] It includes a letter from the Chair of the s Committee, Thomas Wenski to the members of the United States Congress. The letter refers back to 2001 when the bishops’ statement Global Change A Plea for Dialogue Prudence and the Common Good, [LINK] which I believe is a classic statement that served as a basis for taking personal action. It’s a comprehensive resource for parishes, with information that can use to better understand the connection between faith and the environment, and the urgency of dealing with “…the moral and human dimensions of climate change.” Then there is the Stewards of God’s Creation a book that the USCCBs developed which is also a resource for distribution to parishes, religious organizations, and schools that includes much of the information in the documents above, along with a DVD.

A section on USCCB’s website, A Catholic Resource for Environmental Justice and Change [LINK] provides dozens of resources. Just click on one of the sub-titles on the left hand side of the page. For example, What are Catholics Doing provides description of programs in eight states and one region which received grants from the USCCBs. Now that’s faith in action!  Another sub-title What We Can Do has four topics: A Personal Reflection, Taking Action in My State; Taking Action Nationally; and Taking Action Globally. You can also join their mail list for up-dates.

This is a short story about St. Patrick’s Grammar School in Chatham, New Jersey and their Environment Club, whose president was fifth-grader, William Brockman. To make a long story short, I just wanted to quote President Brockman’s wise words,

“There’s so much we can do to save the planet. At St. Patrick’s, we are learning as much as possible. We are environmentally aware. We need to conserve energy and our non-renewable resources. God has gifted us with the earth. We must do something to protect it.”

Out of the mouths of children… If you’re interested in the whole story, here it is [LINK]

Until the next time when the topic will be on the interfaith environment initiatives. I’d like to leave you with The St. Francis’ Environmental Pledge, from the Catholic Covenant, [LINK] with the hope it might motivate you to get involved with environmental movement.

I/We Pledge to:

  • PRAY and reflect on the duty to care for God’s Creation and protect the poor and vulnerable.
  • LEARN about and educate others on the causes and moral dimensions of climate change.
  • ASSESS how we-as individuals and in our families, parishes and other affiliations-contribute to climate change by our own energy use, consumption, waste, etc.
  • ACT to change our choices and behaviors to reduce the ways we contribute to climate change.
  • ADVOCATE for Catholic principles and priorities in climate change discussions and decisions, especially as they impact those who are poor and vulnerable