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Spiritual Growth Requires Spiritual Freedom

ca. 7/16/08

[COMMENT:  The following email came from a relative who was responding partly to some comments I had made about Obama.  He is taking issue about any implication that some ways are right and some ways are wrong.  I put my responses in with his text.     E. Fox]
 

dear family,
starcross is a name taken by a very interesting group of people located in the hills between our city and the coast.  they are a catholic lay monastic community--although not officially in orders, they are trying to live a monastic life, along catholic principles.  they sponsor a house of hope, for aids orphans in uganda, and have adopted and raised several children of their own.  they survive on the sale of of an occasional book, wreaths, fruit baskets and olive oil at Christmas time, and of course donations.  their winter newsletter contained what i felt was a remarkable statement, that i've been wanting to share with you all.  this seems like as good a time as any.  love from
tom


SPIRITUAL GROWTH REQUIRES SPIRITUAL FREEDOM (Starcross Community Newsletter, Winter 2008)
 
On the last day of 2007 we received an e-mail from a large foundation saying a donation was directed to us by someone impressed with our activities.  However, we would need to make a "statement of faith" including a profession that, "The only hope for the salvation of any person is faith in the shedding of Christ's blood as atonement of sins, Christ's death on the cross and Christ's bodily resurrection."  Friends told us this foundation was a major channel for support of the "religious right."  In her response to them Sister Marti wrote "In our spiritual life as a monastic community, in our ecumenical activities, in our attempt to follow the corporal works of mercy set forth in the New Testament, and in our work with children impacted by the AIDS pandemic, we have been open to people of all faiths, and to women, and to homosexuals.  We have reason to believe that this would likely make us unacceptable to you."  It did.
 
        COMMENT: Whether the party should have required a statement of faith is up to themselves.  They are free to choose where they send their money, right?  there was no gun to anyone's head.  Everyone was free to say yes or no. 
 
        Sister Marti might be confusing being open to people with whom you disagree, and disagreeing with them.  I do not have to agree with people I serve or help.   Most of the time, I do not.  Being "open to people of all faiths" would in no way necessarily conflict with having signed the statement in question.  The potential donors were probably asking for what Starcross believed, not about whom they would serve.  I would suspect that the donors might respond that it was precisely because of their faith in Jesus that they would serve all those people whom Starcross also serve.  That is indeed the Christian way.  The greatest gift Christians can give is not food or drink, but a relation with God -- who supplies all food and drink.  
 
        In the end, it only makes matters worse to dissolve all intellectual and creedal boundaries, because then you also end up dissolving all obligation to serve the poor.  Sloppy thinking does not help honest servanthood.   
 
Starcross has been privileged to have affirmed many people as they grew spiritually. 
 
        COMMENT:  Does affirming people mean loving them as persons, or agreeing with their religion?  I am not inhibited from loving people of other religions even though I strongly disagree with what they believe.  Ask Mother Theresa. 
 
One close friend was an Episcopal archdeacon moving to a Quaker faith at the same time as another dear friend moved from being a Baptist divinity professor to Dean of an Episcopal Cathedral.  Christian to Buddhist to Atheist to Jewish.  Secular humanist to Catholic.  Catholic to Buddhist to secular social activist to independent Christian.  And how many, many start out saying "Well, I was raised Catholic... or Jewish...or Muslim...or atheist...BUT...."  You name it, we have seen it from our place on the spiritual crossroads.  And hardly any were trivial about the quest.  They were at all times authentic and deeply spiritual.  By contrast, there is a lot of trivial God-talk associated with the present political campaign.  Much of it seems frivolous and some of it, as Rabbi Jack Moline recently observed, raises to the level of bigotry.

Tests for orthodoxy do not bring a person closer to embracing what is sacred. 
 
        COMMENT:  Why not?  Such tests do not accomplish anything IF truth is, as is said today, "relative".  If you can rightly have your truth and I can have mine, and they are both true even if contradictory, if that really is the case, then, yes, orthodoxy has no real meaning. 
 
        But IF there is a determinate truth, then we have quite a different situation.  Ben at one point chided me that I should let people find their own beliefs.  Of course.  When have I not done that?  I taught my children to think clearly about things, and to make their own choices (that may not be what they actually picked up, from what I hear now from them...).  But I did expect them to learn and understand the Christian faith.  I did not "make them" be confirmed, which is the adult commitment to the Christian faith, because I knew that they had not arrived at that point.  I would never coerce religious belief.  I would however, expect intellectual, moral, and spiritual integrity, and an honest attempt to know what the Christian (or any other) faith was.  There is no other way to make an honest decision about it.   
 
        I tell people with whom I disagree to be the best <whatever> they can, and to keep asking honest questions.  The "honest question" part I do insist on (not coerce).  Persons who do not learn how to have open, honest discussion in pursuit of truth are immature and incapable of being good citizens.  Persons who believe and act as though truth is "relative" -- ditto. 
 
        The group to which Tom points seems to treat objective truth as irrelevant,  Would you want a witch doctor operating on your brain tumor?  Is truth not relevant there?  Is truth relevant in science or mathematics?  No one can even get out of bed without relying on objective truths (will the floor hold me up?), no matter how he philosophizes about the matter.  Without real truths, life would instantly descend into total chaos. 
 
        What is "orthodoxy"?  It means literally right praise.  It has come to mean right belief -- obviously tied together.  It has also come to mean "forcing belief on people", which is silly, and in many cases, I believe, deliberately misleading.  
 
        The world's religions are widely differing and conflicting on the nature of reality, of sin, salvation, heaven, etc.  There is no possibility that we are all "saying the same thing" or "worshipping the same God".  If that is true, then how can what we believe not make a difference?  If Buddhism is true, then acting like a Christian will lead in a destructive direction.  And vice-versa.  You can deny that only by smearing away all the actual differences. 
 
And, they can do great harm.  In Afghanistan a 23 year old student recently downloaded a critical article on the Prophet Muhammad, added some thoughts of his own on women's rights, and showed it around.  He has been sentenced to death by firing squad.  Also, how many great teachers have church schools lost by imposing professions of unquestioning faith and loyalty?
 
COMMENT:  The situation above is an example of tyranny, not of orthodoxy. To conflate the two is to misunderstand both.  Christian orthodoxy does not include forcing anyone to believe anything (despite those nasty Inquisitions - and, yes, they were nasty.  Those nasty Inquisitions were also among the first to condemn slavery.  An interesting mixed bag). 
        It makes no sense to say that defense of orthodoxy is tyranny.  2+2=4.  that is orthodoxy.  Does defending that, and marking 2+2=3 wrong mean tyranny?   
        There is nothing at all tyrannical about defending orthodoxy -- which is simply insisting on clarity about what a thing means.  There can be a great deal wrong with forcing people to believe an orthodoxy.  But marking it wrong is not tyranny. 
        On the other hand, every law we pass is enforcing someone's orthodoxy -- about whether murder is wrong, or driving on the right side of the road, etc.  Religious orthodoxy is just as important as legal orthodoxy.  Really more important.  But that is quite a different matter from forcing belief. 
        Treating truth as relative creates chaos, intellectual sloppiness, and moral suicide.  Even a brief comparison of the way students behave in schools today compared when I grew up shows that.  The Columbine school massacre came out of relative truth, not out of any enforced orthodoxy.  The logical consequence of relative truth is that I am morally free to do anything I want, carnage not excepted.  As one fellow said, "there is no right or wrong, only fun and boring."   A prescription for disaster. 
 
An awakening and awareness of the divine spark in our lives must unfold in the way a flower blooms.  And at every stage, including doubt, the process is holy.  If we must have a creed, let it be from Micah 6:8:
 
This is all that the Lord requires of you:  act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God.
 
COMMENT: Yes indeed, but that creed is an orthodoxy (1) which is "required" by the Lord, and (2) which would conflict with most of secular and pagan history and culture.  In the secular and pagan worlds, mercy does not make much sense.  The pagans were quite clear about that.  Just ask Julius Caesar, or Caesar Augustus, or Plato, or Aristotle.    The secular and pagan worlds are incapable of establishing an objective right and wrong, so that leaves them with power struggle.  Eat or be eaten.   (If interested, go to http://www.theroadtoemmaus.org/RdLb/21PbAr/Eth/DefO&L.htm )  All of them thought that the strong should rule the weak.  Morality comes out of the other end of a gun barrel, as Mao said.  It was only Judeo-Christianity which changed that.  And still is.  What you believe makes a difference.  Ideas have consequences. 
 
        So, yes, as the Starcross title above says, spiritual growth requires spiritual freedom.  But it does not require intellectual sloppiness or ignoring of the truths of life.  There is a severe discipline to freedom.  You do not just fall into it.  Spiritual growth requires 5 freedoms:  1. ...to be a truth-seeker;  2. ...to rest the weight of one's being on that which is dependable;  3. ...to be a truth-speaker;  4. ...to be obedient to one's purpose in life; and  5. ...to do all of the above with a loving spirit.   Those are five steps to the Christian life.  And it is a tough walk.  As in the Way of the Cross.   

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Date Posted -  07/16/2008   -   Date Last Edited - 09/15/2012