Friday, May 8, 2009

Walled Hearts and Walled Religions

Many years ago when I was in undergraduate education as an adult, I wrote a paper for my"World Religions" course. In that paper, I wrote, "is a rose by any other name, just a sweet?" That question haunted me, but has come to have meaning to what I believe nowadays.

Is a rose by any other name, just as sweet? Yes, of course, it is. The word "rose" conjures up an image to those that have been exposed to roses and sometimes it can activate the sense of smell in our memories. But, what if someone had not known the flower by the name "rose"? If they smelled a rose, called a "chamelleon", would it smell the same? Yes! Would it be the same flower? Yes, even though it was called by a different name. The same goes for true faith and one's character.

My point in all of this "rambling" is this: is the "Christ figure" just as sweet by any other name? Is the Christ figure represented by other names, such as Gandhi, Mother Theresa, uncle Joe and aunt Harriet? Does the "image" of Christ have meaning besides the person of Jesus of Nazareth (if he is a historical person)? What is the Christ image? And does the Christ image have to be manifested in the same way as Jesus of Nazareth?

The Greek Fathers understood the image of god in man. They knew about representation within real time, not the "City of God" of St. Augustine. This is where all religions point beyond themselves to a world beyond our knowing. Some agnostics may find solace in idenifying with a community of faith as they understand the purpose of myth and myth-making. Others may find more solace in understanding their connectedness to sciences' "real reality" in this world. It really doesn't matter, as both types of agnostics will "do faith" in their own realms of influence. Both types have come to terms with faith as a real "unknown" and unknowable mystery about life in its complexity.

I named my paper "Walled Hearts and Walled Religions" because this is what I think hinders the "ideal" world, life and value. Walls bring definition, but do not bring resolution or reconciliation. Walls keep others out, while protecting one's understanding of oneself within comfortable zones of definitions, behaviors, and religious rites.

Today's world is torn because of these walls. Walls that hinder and resist. Walled hearts are not open to another's views. And walled ideas are not about academic or religious freedom. We are bound by the very definitions that we make. We enslave ourselves from our small-mindedness and our fears.

The reason I changed my major from sociology to religion and philosophy was because of an ethics course. That very ethics professor just recently died. I owe him a lot. I wrote a paper for that course about moral development and moral character. He told me at graduation that it was brillant. I found it hard to believe, but the more I have learned, the more I have come to understand that character is indeed the essence of life and it doesn't really matter about religion.

Moral behavior is more about attitude first and foremost, not behavior, as behavior is culturally bound. But, whenever moral behavior is defined by a tightly defined cultural understanding, it is a means of oppression and a hinderance to moral development. Ethics would not allow such "standards" to stand, as it is more important to protect human rights, than any cultural "ideal".

No comments: