This has been an extraordinary week. On Monday, I was involved with a city-wide ecumenical worship service. It was the culminating event for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. At this event, we had a wide range of ecumenical communities represented. AME Zion to American Baptist to Unitarian Universalist. We came together knowing that there is much that separates us, but we have one thing in common: service to the world.
Today, Thursday, I was involved in a interfaith worship focusing on prayers for peace. Prayers were offered from the Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Native American traditions. The prayers were done in each one’s tradition. I experienced the chanting of the Buddhists, the words of the Christians, the song of the Qur’an in Arabic, the song of Jewish pleas for peace, and the prayers for healing of the world in Hopi along with the burning of the sage and the dropping of the flower petals (Buddhist). This was all done in the Chapel of St. Ignatius.
It was amazing to see all of these people come together in the name of peace. It has been the ultimate liturgical geek orgasmic week. However, I am very aware that there is a voice missing from the pleas for peace. And it isn’t that they don’t want peace, it is just that communities of faith do not know how to talk to them. It is the atheists. Atheists want peace and love every bit as much as theists. Someday, I’d like to see theists make room for atheists make room for theists. I think this is possible.
Why do I think we need to make room for each other? There is no way to prove either (any) stance. We all rely on the best information we have and it leads us all to a different conclusion. What if, now here’s a really scary concept, we are all correct. The atheist and the theist. Can both positions be true? Do they necessarily exclude each other? I don’t believe so. In my understanding of religious pluralism (and yes, I include atheism as a religious decision), each process leads to its own end. In the world of atheism, then it leads to its end which is a life lived without God. In the world of theism, it leads to its end which is a life lived with God.
Oh, and I know there are the inevitable questions about after life and all that. But really, what do we know about life after death? The only thing I know for sure is that I am clueless as to what happens. In my own fanciful beliefs, I believe there is a spark of humanity/divinity that is released into a pure energy of love. I understand the Bible to be full of metaphor and myth that relates a narrative about Holy Mystery and how to live into that Mystery. For Christians, we live into it with Christ. For myself, I am not counting on any sort of after life. It is not what I hang my hat on. What happens from death and beyond is unknowable and therefore not anything I need to worry about. I need to worry about what I do with my life today.
Anyway, I digress. What is the point of all the bickering about theism and atheism? Why can we not come together on our common ground? I believe ontological to humanity is the search to be loved. That crosses all peoples, all faiths (unfaiths). We can start there. In the desire to be loved, we give love. We can come together to love the world into wholeness again. Am I crazy?
I was totally surprised by a poem a friend of mine wrote called Auditioning for Heaven. I thought it was perfect. The surprise was that he was writing a poem with this title because I know him to be an atheist. The delight was in his final line that he is “headed someplace else.” The assumption for a lot of Christians would be, if not heaven, it must be hell. But that is not the place at all. He is headed for living life in this world. And we all should be. What is the point of a life lived for tomorrow? For another place? What do we miss? We miss the child on the corner who is crying because she is hungry. We miss the homeless wood carver extending his hand. We miss the dead spots in the ocean that need to be weeped over. When our eyes are in the beyond, we miss life. We all need to learn to live into our lives and we need to learn to do it together. That means that I am not threatened by your belief/unbelief and you should not be threatened by mine. I can hold mine to be true while you hold yours. I will even hold yours to be true with mine. I can hold quite a lot of tension!
Now I can hear the other side…“that is just relativism.” No. I hold some universal truths. It starts with the ontological need or yearning to love and be loved. If we start here, there are some boundaries. Do no harm would be one such boundary. I do not believe that we have the right to inflict harm on other people. I feel certain that many people of many different backgrounds of faith and unfaith would agree with that statement. However, I know there are people who don’t care about that principle. And they come from all backgrounds. The ones that disgust me are the ones of my own faith. I feel much more comfortable criticizing my own rather than criticizing other groups. If you are from another group, do a self-assessment of the state of your faith/unfaith community and I am sure you will find places where people are not living into the idea of “do no harm.”
Back to the original point, theist and atheist must come to grips with each other. We must be able to be in community with each other. And when communities come together today with the idea that they are praying for peace in the name of their faith community, then those who have no faith should be included in a way that lifts up the ways that they celebrate and hope for peace. So, to my atheist brothers and sisters, I want you to know that I missed your voice today. As much as I cherished what I saw with the blending and communing of so many faith communities, I missed your voice. Especially you, Marie.