Thursday, March 19, 2015

Right Beliefs

"Hope Springs Eternal"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House - 

I was sad and bewildered yesterday as I read a story that swept through the various news media. Apparently the Catholic Cathedral in San Francisco has installed a watering system designed to keep homeless people away from their church.  

The street people of San Francisco gravitate to the safety of the cathedral steps when night falls in the city and often sleep in the alcove just outside the doors of the cathedral, but not any more -  not unless they wish to be soaked by water draining down on them from spigots set up in the celling of the entranceway.

Cold water pours out of these newly-installed spigots for about 75 seconds every 40 minutes  throughout the entire night. If you are a homeless person sleeping there you can be assured that you will be drenched to the bone by the time morning comes.  One homeless man said, "If we stay there we will be wet all night long- hypothermia, cold and other stuff sets in." 

The staff of the cathedral admitted that this recently installed water system was specifically designed for the purpose of keeping homeless people away.

As I read this story about the cathedral in San Francisco I also recalled another story recently published about another great world cathedral--Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, the Pope's cathedral. Every night homeless people also congregate in the safety of Saint Peter's Square, but unlike San Francisco, in Rome the homeless people are welcomed to stay there and in fact they are greeted with open arms. 

Pope Francis has ordered that "Vatican Issued" sleeping bags be provided for the thousands of homeless people who flock into Saint Peter's Square every night.  Then in the morning breakfast is served and showers are provided, including barbers who are there to cut hair and help groom away the dust of the streets -  all measures that help restore the dignity of human beings and make them feel as if they have some worth.  Such a far cry from the dehumanizing practice of dousing street people with cold water to keep them away.  

The thing that I find most interesting about this "tale of two cathedrals" is that the infamous Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco is a stickler for preserving doctrine and adhering to "right beliefs," clear orthodox doctrine. He has even established a "catholic moral code" in which he lambasts gay marriage and condemns homosexuality, abortion and birth control and has forced his catholic school teachers to assent to this code as a condition of their employment. And all along the poor, the needy and the outcast lay outside his cathedral doors and are soaked with cold water - treated like animals. 

The Pope on the other hand (who is after all the "top dog" of the catholic church) doesn't seem to be all that overly concerned about adhering to orthodox doctrine and right belief. In fact, he has said that he refuses to judge people because of their sexual orientation, he has opened the doors to those who have been cast away by church law, and has declared that mercy and compassion always outweigh correct theology and right beliefs. I think this pope has it right.

The Buddha once taught

However many holy words you read, however many you speak,
what good will they do if you do not act on them?

Personally I have never been a big fan of holding on to "right beliefs." I think that teaching and doctrine in any religion should do little more then help people follow a path of compassion and kindness in the living of life everyday, and if the doctrine doesn't do that, maybe those "right beliefs" aren't all that "right" after all. 

As I see it, apart from whatever beliefs a person holds, the way in which one "acts" toward others is far more important than any "holy words" or sacred beliefs and teachings. 

The whole purpose of being a Christian is to follow a "way" through life as pointed out by Jesus.  Jesus welcomed the poor, comforted the afflicted, embraced the outcast and healed the sick. I can't even imagine him dousing homeless people with cold water. 

Listen to my podcast: "Desert Wisdom

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