Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Preserving the Tradition

"Rock Solid"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

One of my major objectives in writing this daily blog post is to offer some insight and opportunity for dialogue about the  "similarities" among the many different World Religions and spiritual traditions. Interestingly enough I have discovered that this is a very sensitive topic for some people. 

Religious people fear that their faith may be "watered down" by dialogue with believers of other religions than their own. At times,  I even encounter atheists and agnostics who warn against "meshing" all religions together (you have to know what various groups believe so that you can argue against them).

I often hear people tell me that, when it comes to dialogue with various different religious groups, they are very concerned about the importance of "preserving the tradition" of their own particular spiritual path. By that, they usually mean that they feel it's very important to "hang onto" what is core and essential to their own belief system - if they lose the core, they lose their religion.

So for example, some Roman Catholics say that, at the core of their tradition is a belief that women are unable to be ordained as priests - if you start ordaining women, you are no longer Catholic. There are also many "Protestant" Christian fundamentalists who maintain that every word of the Bible must be taken literally as if each word was written by God - if you start challenging the "absolute" authority of the Bible,  you are no longer Christian.

As I see it, who gets ordained to the clergy or how to read the Bible are very much at the periphery rather than at the core of any essential tradition that must be preserved.

If you take a few big steps back and line up all the major religions and spiritual paths, there is in fact a common "wisdom"  at the very core of each tradition that is essentially shared by everyone. In fact, many religions scholars refer to religions and spiritual paths such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and others as  "Wisdom Traditions."

Yesterday I came across Anne Lamott's new book, Small Victories. I love the simple. straightforward and plain-spoken way in which she pretty much "nails" what is at the common core of all the "Wisdom Traditions:

All wisdom traditions have at their root three basic ideas: To take care of the poor, to cultivate a sense of presence or union with a power much greater than ourselves, and to soften the heart, which means 'you forgive and you don't hit back.'

Obviously there are major differences among the many religions and spiritual paths but, I think Anne Lamott really gets it right. These three basic ideas are at the core, and this is the tradition that must always be preserved and maintained come what may- any spiritual path that has deviated from this core has lost sight of their true identity. 

Regardless of who you ordain or how literally you read the bible, a religious institution that ignores the needs of the poor in favor of promoting hierarchical status and amassing wealth has failed to preserve the tradition. Churches or temples, mosques or synagogues that lash out with hate speech in judgment and condemnation, riling up believers, inciting them to attack the enemy have failed to preserve the tradition. They have lost their essential identity as a wisdom tradition. 

I am not at all in favor of "meshing" all religions together - putting everybody into one big pot where all the differences are melted down. In fact I am very much in favor of preserving the tradition, the core wisdom of each and every different path:  

Take care of the poor, cultivate the presence of a Higher power and don't hit back. 


  1. Interesting topic. I've been following your Blog for a couple of weeks now and I like your Teaching.

    As a recovering Evangelical Fundamentalist, I can relate to your observation that "Religious people fear that their faith may be "watered down" by dialogue with believers of other religions than their own.....they feel it's very important to "hang onto" what is core and essential to their own belief system - if they lose the core, they lose their religion."
    I've struggled through this fear myself and much of my long held Doctrines and Dogma have been decimated by the likes of Bart Ehrman, John Shelby Spong and Joshua Tongol, to name a few. I now feel as if I'm a desert nomad, drifting along in a proverbial No-Mans-Land with no solid theology to argue and defend. Could you address the predicament for me from your perspective in your own words?. Thank you. (mike)


  2. Thanks for your comment. As i see it, you arrive at wisdom when you no longer have a solid theology- where it's all about asking the questions. It's much more ambiguous to be at this place, but a lot more exciting.

    Send me an email if you want to talk more