Interfaith not dead

Posted on June 9, 2008. Filed under: Culture, Health, Philosophy, Spirituality |

I had the most delightful and emotionally satisfying experience recently. I attended a meeting at our local community group of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS). This organization, among other things, hosts monthly speakers on the topics of “Science and Consciousness.” For me, at least, these two items encompass just about everything I’m interested in, one way or another.

I enjoy learning about science because I enjoy it, not because I find its methods conclusive. Sometimes it does contribute to my sense of rightness about my chosen course: “See, I told you! I was right all along! Scientists have discovered a spot on the 3rd chromosome of the 16th strand of DNA which explains why I’m grumpy in the morning! It’s not my bad attitude, it’s my genes!” …Of course, I tend to ignore the scientific results that do not support my justifications for my own behavior. But, hey, I do that with religion, too, so at least I’m consistent.

This brings me to the topic of consciousness, which doesn’t necessary include religion, but can. I’m very happy to study religion as long as I’m able to be immersed in at least three of them at once. Otherwise it’s particularism, and I don’t like to get sidetracked in that way. Keeping a more universalist perspective allows me to include religious study within the broader field of the study of consciousness. My personal definition of consciousness is: “anything that asks a question.”

So, you can see why I like IONS. The presentation for this particular meeting was entitled “An Interfaith Panel representing Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Protestant faiths – ‘The End of Life and Beyond: An Interfaith Perspective'”. Obviously this particular topic leaned further towards the “consciousness” area than the “scientific”, although there were some surprisingly scientific dimensions to the discussion.

IONS decided to invite this panel after the IONS group coordinator heard a similar panel discussion at a Hospice event. Before I write further about the panel, just let me put in a plug for Hospice. Everyone associated in any way with this movement is to be commended, in my opinion. Hospice, is, basically, near-death care, including physical, social, and spiritual components. I could do an entire post about Hospice and my experiences with it, and perhaps I will. I’ll just say here that they are committed to honoring those who may be about to die, and that includes helping them sort out their spiritual beliefs during this critical time.

The panel was made of of people the Hospice director knows personally, and who, in most cases, work with the hospice patients as spiritual counselors. There are certainly other traditions which could have been included; for instance there are many Hindus and Sikhs in my area; but the meeting would have gone on for hours and hours if every perspective one could think of was represented. As it was, these panelists presented a wonderful, diverse, and yet complementary and respectful discussion about end of life and afterlife issues.

Each panelist gave a brief explanation of their tradition’s perspective on what happens after the body dies, and then followed with their own particular spiritual beliefs. It was surprising that there were often discrepancies, or slight alterations, between the personal beliefs and the mainstream religion’s “party line”, if you will. It seemed to me that everyone must personalize their religious beliefs (or lack of them) to some extent; we are all individuals, after all. The most surprising thing to me was that every one of the panelists stated that we cannot know for sure exactly what happens to “us” after we die. I’d thought that, with at least a couple of these religious philosophies, there were cut-and-dried, prescribed beliefs. And it could be that these five individuals don’t really represent the main teachings of their faiths. Even so, the responses ran from “We leave the details up to God”, to “There is beauty, and comfort, in the not-knowing.” As individuals, all said they believed that there is a part of “us” that does continue to exist. Whether it is “us” as personality, or “us” as soul, or “us” as a minute particle in the stream of consciousness remains to be seen.

I know in the scientific/consciousness community there is a continuing debate about “where consciousness resides”. Is it strictly a neurally-generated process, which shuts down upon our physical death, or does some part of our thought exist independently of our physical cells, both before and after physical incarnation? The panel at the IONS meeting certainly came to no conclusions about that. I came away with this perspective: These five people, at least, were able to treat each other with respect and appreciation for each others’ views. They weren’t just “tolerant”, they were actively, joyfully curious about each other and the larger World. Would that such dialogue exist amongst us all.

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10 Responses to “Interfaith not dead”

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I have lived among many religious people, Muse – from Muslim to Hindu to Jew to Christian to Zen Buddhist. I had the benefit of travel – my father was in the British army and we, as children, moved around the world with him. The downside is that you 1) always have itchy feet and after about two years you want to move 2) Never really develop friends, hundreds of acquaintances, but never friends.

This is where my cynicism comes in with politics – the ordinary people just want to live in peace with each other and are genuinely interested in what each of us do, tradition wise or other.

I love it when some actually ask me about my faith and are truly interested, the same with my love for English history and the traditions that go along with that – the English are weird by the way.

Great article again, Muse!!

I appreciate that, Will. I agree the English are weird. I don’t really have the right to comment on that, being only partly Scottish, which doesn’t count at all, but it has been my observation. And English history is indeed fascinating. Like that church they started over there, for instance. What’s up with that? The American version is losing some street cred lately, at least along the streets of Canterbury, because God (according to some, NOT me) doesn’t want any gay people in heaven, or something…but I digress. I do think you’ve demonstrated you relate well to people of different cultures, and you treat everyone respectfully. I admire that. I hope you are making more friends, now; you seem to be a bit more settled than you were growing up. Now we have blogging, so even if you move, you can stay connected to all us little pixel people. ๐Ÿ™‚

Your post reminds us that we can live peacefully and that most people wish to all we have to do is realize we are all one. (human)

It must be great to meet all these people and be be a part of it Muse. What an interesting life you have. I’m so glad you share your experiences with us! Thank you. ๐Ÿ™‚

Thank you very much, BD. Indeed, most of us are human. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Well, I try to keep things interesting around my life, I’m glad you think so!

I have heard it claimed that religions only lead to conflict and war. This is a pretty good way to refute that.

I think what this proves is that all religions have the potential to get along and understand one another, if people only take an interest.

Indeed, B0bby, very wise (in my opinion)! It’s not religions that cause wars, it’s people who interpret their teachings in certain ways that do. I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t have to be that way. It was refreshing to meet these people who believe that too! ๐Ÿ˜€

I am sure this was not meant to make me jealous but ….. not fair I want to hear and see and participate too!! Oh well I will have to live vicariously through you. Not the same though [bottom lip aquiver]

I had great fun when working at the church about fifteen years ago in a lay capacity as I volunteered to help teach scripture and Sunday School. I read a story from a book and helped them with art …they seemed to love it…no question of forcing it on them or anything…think they thought I was an aunt figure or something! Anyway there were some Catholic nuns and a Jewish mother [one of my closest friends now] and I loved having them over for coffee at our place. I once organised a Christmas party to thank the Scripture teachers of all faiths and I found the nuns and the female teachers to be a lot more eucumenical than the male vicars and priests. Felt a little like a mother who wanted to scold her children for being standoffish and rude! They were like spoiled naughty little boys who would not play ‘nice’.

So am thinking that as these ecumenical workers are dealing with people in end of life care, maybe they have found a common ground. That we all die and we all have fears and doubts of some kind, we are after all as you say, human. Perhaps they are more open to the kind of self questioning that is scorned in a lot of mainstream churches yet welcomed by anyone who has half a heart.

As for the gay thing all I can say is they are going to have a hard time when the genetic stuff cames in about it not being a choice for a lot of people. What then….they deny science? Oh wait they do already about evolution.

And Will….why do the Brits take offense to the term mad dogs and Englishmen out in the midday sun? Its so apt …especially here in Oz!

Oh, poor Magik! [pats you on the hand] Have a nice cup of tea, that will help the quivering lip. I know, I feel so blessed to be a part of things like this! Well, SOMEONE (hint, hint) ought to start an IONS community group in Aus, as the nearest ones to you are in New Zealand! I know you are a busy person, but here’s a link, just in case someone’s interested: http://www.shiftinaction.com/meet/groups
Sounds as if you were a splendid teacher. I would have loved someone like you when I was going through my, quote, Religious Education, unquote. I like what Will said about being asked about his faith by someone who is “truly interested”. So many really want to convert one to what they beleive is the right way. I realize it’s hard to be open minded with certain backgrounds, as inherent within the teachings of some is the notion that “we have the good, true, and only right way”. That does sort of limit the dialouge one can have…Still, though. The Roman Catholic representative on our panel was a Jesuit nun, and she was thrilled to exchange ideas and demonstrate respect for the others. If she can do it, so can we!
The end-of-life spiritual counselors at Hospice are trained to speak to the patients about their own spiritual needs and practices, and help to support those. I appreciate that the focus is not on “conversion” during those times.
So, we need new religious teachings on gay evolution apparently? ๐Ÿ™‚

I really enjoyed reading this! You have a fascinating blog. It’s one of those that once I’m here, I find myself reading and reading and getting more involved and time goes by.

From that comment ‘there is beauty and comfort in the not-knowing’ – I feel that is going to be resonating with me for awhile. Your mentioning about being surprised that everyone expressed an unsureness about what really happens, my thought is that anyone who would participate in such a workshop like this would be most open-minded. OR, rather, that any concrete hard-and-fast ‘believers’ probably would NOT attend such a workshop? but, what do I know…

Thank you, C! What a compliment—the fact that you spend time once you’re here makes my heart sing. Excellent point about the participants in the discussion probably being the more open-minded amongst their faiths. Others might not find such participation the best use of their time!


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