Buddha Image from Wikimedia Commons

Image from Wikimedia Commons

In every movement there are small elements that shriek and cry out that they alone represent the entire movement, while the rest of the larger group finds it difficult to recognize much similarity.  Outside of every movement it seems that a vocal few usurp the position to define and articulate the movement, forcing members to defend their belief, stance, or thought rather than define it themselves.

Of course, these are wild and overblown generalities, but there is something to support them.  All around the world groups claim the attention of the media and are given a platform.  Because it draws in viewers, these shrill voices have airtime to share their opinions, and a sad byproduct is that the voices of the rest go unheard.  Radicals, fundamentalists, and others with little grip on a shared reality are presented as speaking for the majority.  The vastly larger portion of Christians, for example, would never recognize as a Christian act the stalking of funerals for deceased service men and women and the screaming of pejoratives through the gates at surviving family members.  It seems that the louder and more shrill a person’s voice is, screaming at the top of their longs asserting their faith, perhaps the desperate volume is to silence their own doubts.  I don’t remember Mother Theresa ever shouting, “No, really, I believe!”  Or Mohandis Gandhi shrilling crying to his fellows, “Follow me!  I know the way!”  These paragons of spirit lived their faith, and never had to scream it.

World faiths have at their core the drive to find perfection, and the faithful desire to become perfect.  This is the drive to perfect the inner being, not force others into line.  When war and ignorance are perpetuated in the name of religion, it is because the root tenets of the faith are lost or misunderstood.  A while ago I heard a commentary by an outspoken atheist, who made the statement that ignorance is the province of faith, and that only the faithful believe the earth is flat.  I immediately thought of the religious astronomers of the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, and Celts, the faith of scientists like Hypatia of Alexandria, Ibn Khaldun, Viktor Frankl, and Warner von Braun.  The earth is flat and ignorance reigns when politics, not faith, takes over the religion.

It is easy to let our differences and disagreements grow until they become the only things we see – but it is also just as easy to see those things we hold in common as fellow humans and creatures of hope.  As a non-Episcopal I was invited to speak at St. Mark’s Episcopal and teach Sunday School for a month.  They could have focused on our differences in doctrine, but instead focused on our similarities and shared ChristianityIt was a beautiful experience, and the Dean Waldon even reflected on it in his Christmas message.

When we choose to honestly follow faith, respect the faith of our neighbors, and determine to find those things which unite us, it may not dramatically change the rest of the world – but it will certainly make our little corner a much better place, and we can catch a glimpse of that for which we hope.

Flammarion Woodcut