Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Proselytizing, Interfaith Dialogue and the Courage of Convictions

From an interesting debate on Visionary Shamanism. I think this touches upon many of the issues which come up in spiritual conversations. There's a real desire to find common ground between different systems: people become a lot less comfortable when it comes to mapping out the differences between their visions of the divine. As a result we get bland platitudes aimed at the lowest common denominator of belief rather than honest discourse and critical inquiry.

That's the beauty of this group. I'm a follower of Spirit and view all Gods as the creations of men. This is based on personal experiences and visions both with and without the aid of plant substances.
And in the opinions of Galina and myself, you are mistaken. In your opinion Galina and myself are mistaken. That doesn't mean we need to have a holy war over it, mail each other anthrax spores, or advocate burning each other's books or hacking each other's websites. But let's have the courage of our convictions here. There's a difference between agreeing to disagree and agreeing that every belief is just as good and valid as every other. One is the cornerstone of civil society: the other is intellectual flabbiness and cowardice.

Nobody can "prove" that the gods exist independently, that they are all creations of men, that they are all emanations of Spirit, or that they are all silly myths which hold us back from Progress and Science (cue Thomas Dolby here).  But we can take our beliefs and draw them out to their logical conclusions, then examine the differences between Presupposition A and Presupposition B. We can point to the reasons we have arrived at our respective conclusions, and point to flaws or problems we see with the other person's conclusions.  In response the other person might point out places where we have misunderstood their beliefs or point out issues they have with ours.  This is an integral part of any honest interfaith dialogue: if beliefs are worth holding they are worth defending. 

For me, one of the big issues with a strong belief in the Gods is that people sometimes get the silly idea that they need to kill people who do not share their beliefs.  This is something that any Theist believer needs to address. Those who believe strongly in the Divine need to have in place a code of behavior for how you will deal with nonbelievers.  And one of the big issues with the idea that the gods don't exist save as human creations is it can cause religious belief to degenerate into a dog and pony show wherein gods and Spirits are called on to do tricks for bored suburbanites. The passion of St. Teresa of Avila or the Sufi Mystics is replaced by "I bought the makings of ayahuasca on eBay and saw some GREAT visions, man!" And I think that is a real loss: I'm not such a postmodernist that I believe there is no difference between Beethoven and Britney Spears.
One night, I was attending a Wiccan ritual and spoke with the others a phrase that bothered me as it praised a Deity that I don't follow. I thought to myself that I could not continue with the event but received the message from Spirits that were present that I should not worry because when it comes to religion, no-one has got it right yet. Not even me.
When we are dealing with other people and their beliefs, it behooves us to approach them with humility and respect. It could well be they have seen something we have not: as Bill Cosby used to say, "if you're not careful you just might learn something." There's a difference between  "I think my beliefs are a more accurate picture of reality than yours, but you may also have some valuable insights which I have missed" and "I am 100% correct and you are a blithering idiot."
If you belong to one of the "We're right and everyone else is wrong !" sects, then you really need to think about this being a suitable place to play. Dare not suggest that anyone is guilty of blasphemy here as that is offensive and something you are unable to prove
You find the term "blasphemy" to be offensive to your deeply-held moral beliefs - you think it's, dare I say, blasphemous ;).

Instead of seeing it as an attack, let's see it as a boundary marker between your beliefs and Galina's beliefs. Within her worldview there is no room for the idea that the gods are creations of men. Within your worldview there is no place for passionately held belief that those who say" the gods do not exist" are wrong.  At this point you have both done each other a great service: you have established a point where your worldviews are fundamentally incompatible. And you can't start establishing relations with the neighboring country until you've both ascertained where your boundary markers should lie.
The fact exists that if you talk to the followers of as many different beliefs as possible, everyone will ascertain that they have experienced events that support their faith. People of differing beliefs can witness the same event and both will claim that it supports or proves that they are right.
We are here to discuss and share not to try and convert others.
An honest discussion of the similarities and differences in spiritual beliefs is not the same thing as an attempt to convert others. Speaking for myself, I think that the gods are real - which means that their existence is not contingent on our belief or disbelief. I'm interested in discussing Polytheism, Monotheism and Atheism as they relate to Shamanic practices. I am not at all interested in convincing anyone to follow any One True Way, nor am I interested in a discussion which is reduced to bland platitudes about how we are all special snowflakes and everything we say and believe should be cherished as valuable. I'd rather have my ideas discussed in an honest, even a critical, fashion than have someone pat me on the head, give a gold star, and hang my finger painting on the refrigerator.
When I went for my medicine dream, I was shown that spirit resides in everything but that Spirit was not GOD in any way, shape or form. That is what the Spirits showed me and it is the foundation of MY path. I will share my path with others but only if they really want to walk it. There have been a few along the way who have tried to take my teachings and then attempt to convert me to their faith. It is something that can't happen because I am at peace within with my beliefs. That is the truth that is right but only for me because no-one else can see the world from behind my eyes through the filter of my life experiences.
Is your truth strong enough to survive someone saying "I disagree with this aspect of your belief?" and for you to offer reasons as to why that truth works for you?