Friday, July 24, 2015

A Spiritual Litmus Test

"A Wilderness Path"

I just came across an interesting article about “holding opinions” in a pluralistic culture such as ours. Somehow, we have come to believe that not only is everyone entitled to their own opinion but every opinion is equally valid. The article goes on to say that some opinions are just plain wrong.

For one thing, we use word “opinion” in several different ways. A person who says “I like the color red” is expressing her opinion - it’s a statement of personal preference which is neither right nor wrong.  But when we hear statements like “it is my opinion that global warming isn’t real,” or “the Holocaust never happened,” these so-called “opinions” go way beyond expressing personal preference, and in fact, they are just plain wrong. There is plenty of verifiable historical evidence to support the reality of Holocaust atrocities, and there is an abundance of data gathered by scientists to support the facts of global warming.

As I see it, this idea of “holding wrong opinions” can also be immediately and directly applied to religious beliefs and to the spiritual life in general.

Just this morning I saw an article about a Ku-Klux-Klan rally that was recently held down South. Dressed in white uniforms and pointy hats, the members clutched crosses in their hands as their leader uttered heinous hate speech, proclaiming that the Bible teaches it is permissible for white people to kill “soul-less” black people. The leader of the rally outrageously celebrated and even honored the vicious acts of that deranged shooter who recently murdered those nine African-Americans at their church in Charleston. The Klan may hold this opinion about what the Bible teaches - but the fact is that it is just plain wrong, dead-wrong, utterly wrong.

The renowned religious scholar and author, Karen Armstrong, has suggested that there is a standard “litmus test” that can be applied to all religious traditions and spiritual paths to help determine whether or not a teaching or practice is “true of false, authentic or inauthentic.”  She writes:

World-Religious traditions are in unanimous agreement.
The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement,
spiritual experience, or devotional practice is that
it must lead directly to practical compassion.
If your understanding of the divine makes you kinder, more empathetic,
and impels you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness,
this is good theology.

But if your notion of God makes you unkind, belligerent, cruel or self-righteous,
or if it leads you to kill in God’s name,
it is bad theology.

Compassion is the litmus test.

I totally agree with Dr. Armstrong.

Everything people say or do in the name of God is not equally valid. In fact any teaching that is not motivated by compassion or any deed that is not an act of loving-kindness fails the litmus test.

When I hear so-called religious people utter slanderous hate speech against others I know they are “wrong.” Whenever I hear a call to violent action against other human beings uttered in the name of God, I know this is “wrong.” In fact whenever I see people saying their prayers in a church or doing a daily meditation and then going out into the world and treating others with contempt, I know this is “wrong”—they have failed the test.  

Some opinions, teachings and practices are right and some are just plain wrong.

Compassion is the litmus test.


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