Differences that bind

Garvey, John

OF SEVERAL MINDS John Garvey DIFFERENCES THAT BIND TOWARD AN ECUMENISM OF TRUTH There has been mourning over what some see as a decline in ecumenical fervor, and it has been tied to...

...they also have to do with such questions as internal church governance and uses and abuses of liberation theology, which could be seen as the most modern incarnation of imperial ecclesiology...
...Karl Barth once wrote that the unity of churches is not so much brought about as it is discovered, and the WCC statement is a case in point...
...There has been progress here...
...Similarly, although I believe in the conciliar nature of the church, it would be dishonest to ignore the ways in which bishops and emperors have used councils politically...
...When political and religious causes were equated (as they are today in Lebanon), religion was used in a way which contradicted much of what it was supposed to be about...
...There may be something here in common with the mystical understanding of the nothingness of the self before God, but as some of the dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism shows, the questions are not all that easily resolved...
...Here I want to be perverse, and to introduce a deliberately discordant note...
...Unless we can see sympathetically the Jewish reverence for God's unknowable and unsharable oneness we will not appreciate the tradition from which Jesus came, the tradition from which we have inherited so much...
...What is just as important is that we will also fail to see how radical and shattering the Christian claim is...
...It is true, in one very important sense, that the people have moved faster than the institutional leaders have...
...One Orthodox bishop not long ago said that it is time to move "from the ecumenism of love to the ecumenism of truth...
...We have a lot to learn from Catholicism about learning to distinguish between the sort of tradition which is a living language and the sort of tradition which, however good it may have been or may still be in some contexts, is not essential to what we must be as Christians...
...We assume that respect and interest in the other tradition is in order now...
...It is not all a bad thing that the most powerful reason we have for adhering to a religious tradition today is that we believe it to be true...
...This was made possible largely as the result of Orthodox participation in the discussions and work which went into the final document...
...One of the most important fruits of the ecumenical movement has been the discovery of the church as a mystery which reveals itself to us as we look to the depths of our own traditions with the perspective we learn from others...
...The conservatism of the institutions, however, is also important...
...The love of enemies does not appear to have motivated the Crusaders or Cromwell's troops...
...The excitement which attended the meeting of Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox minds during and after Vatican II, and the new Christian openness to Judaism and to other non-Christian traditions seems now to have dwindled into something less than excitement, something which even comes close to irritation...
...What is it, a Buddhist would ask, that we want to have saved here...
...1 remember sermons in which the priest talked about the veil which clouded Jewish understanding...
...Even here, however, the differences can be instructive...
...The horrors we see in Lebanon and Northern Ireland, or the Hindu/Sikh strife in India stand out as horrors precisely because we have known a much better way of experiencing religious differences...
...It is time to move to discussion of those issues which separate us for good reasons, to be as honest as we can about them...
...It is even a sign of health that we find ourselves occasionally uncomfortable at apparent and sometimes very real contradictions between our religious traditions...
...Like Talmudic law, they accumulate over history, contradict, and make for argument...
...among other things, we have learned much about the Judaic roots of our own tradition, and the Jewishness of Jesus...
...While people at the top of religious organizations move slowly and debate what seem to the rest of their congregations like minutiae, a lot of those who were born and raised in deeply different religious traditions approach one another with unprecedented respect...
...God put that veil there, to get even...
...This is not a difference which we can agree upon, and there is finally no middle ground...
...We are understandably delighted when people of differing and sometimes hostile religious traditions agree on a religious and not merely a civic plane...
...Or is the universe a product of illusion, to be transcended...
...To the Christian belief that the self is saved, the Buddhist would respond by calling the self an illusion...
...Thank God that sort of thing is almost entirely gone, and in those odd pockets where it survives it is seen as stale and weird...
...It is easier to see this when we are dealing with non-Christian traditions...
...An impatience with these differences won't teach us anything...
...It can't be true, despite the fact that harmony between believers and nonbelievers is greatly to be desired, that God at one and the same time does and does not exist...
...When I was a child, it was doubtful that Protestants could really be called Christian in any important sense, and they had the same suspicions of us...
...A God who can exist without mattering at all isn't worth believing in...
...the history of Orthodoxy may also have something to teach other churches about survival in hard times...
...Differences matter, and are instructive...
...I suppose one way of reading this is to assume that fear is something Christians shouldn't have, but it seems likely (unless angels are something like Smurfs) that the reason for asking people not to be afraid is that there is something frightening about an encounter with a messenger from the one who wills us into being...
...The institutions, according to those who are close to these attempts at dialogue, haven't moved as fast as the people who live in and with them...
...The psychology which has developed around the radical Buddhist questioning of the ego is an extremely important contribution to religious thought, one which is especially valuable to Christians in a time when the self is so likely to be identified with transitory bundles of feeling, will, memory, and deliberation...
...Most of them, awkward as they may be ecumenically, were born of real insights and understandings...
...It is a difference, however, which can teach us to regard our own belief with humility and 27 February 1987: 103 even a certain terror an emotion which does not occupy much current religious thought, but which ought to have a place in a tradition which believes in an unknowable God whose messengers, the angels, routinely announce themselves by asking people not to be afraid...
...But all things can't really be true about the one thing which matters most to us, or should...
...Another important difference can be found in conversation with Buddhists who, although they are not, strictly speaking, atheists, do not find such questions as the existence or nonexistence of God particularly important...
...And if God is real, what is he, she, or it...
...We feel an understandable impatience with the things which separate us...
...What is it that will rise on the last day...
...OF SEVERAL MINDS John Garvey DIFFERENCES THAT BIND TOWARD AN ECUMENISM OF TRUTH There has been mourning over what some see as a decline in ecumenical fervor, and it has been tied to a number of variously rising balloons fundamentalist intolerance, resurgent Catholic papalism, a weariness with slow interfaith progress, strife within Protestant denominations, etc...
...The divisions in Christianity, and within particular churches, remain scandalous...
...A lot of what excites us about agreement is an understandable and entirely secular concern: we have seen what religious differences can do to communities and to the individuals who get mauled by such differences...
...The fact that this concern is secular does not mean it lacks moral merit...
...We have learned a lot from ecumenical contact with Judaism...
...They touch not only the rift between churches that happened, partly because of imperial politics, at the Council of Chalcedon...
...We will not be faithful to everything we have been given if we do not recognize this...
...I believe that Orthodoxy has a lot to teach Catholicism about liturgy and spirituality...
...A World Council of Churches committee has adopted a statement on Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry which comes much closer to an Orthodox and Catholic approach to the sacraments than would have been possible twenty or thirty years ago...
...but I also believe that the idea is important enough to deserve the best defense it can get, and this is not addressed by ignoring the actual history of the institution or by vague talk of the Petrine ministry...
...Has the universe been called forth from nothing by a creator God who has revealed to us that it is good...
...The idea of the self or ego as a subsistent entity is considered a distracting error by Buddhists, even a tragic one, an error which is the source of much suffering...
...Nor will an open-mindedness so open that it is willing to sacrifice important distinctions for the sake of agreement...
...The things which separate us are important...
...I do not know that the nontheism of Buddhist thought can be reconciled with Christianity and its essential and central teaching that we are here because God intended to call us forth from nothingness, but I believe we can learn from the difference...
...We cannot both be right about this: to say that Jesus is divine is either to be right, or to assert something idolatrous...
...Christians must understand how blasphemous the Christian claim appears to religious Jews...
...It is unfortunate that he came close here to implying a contradiction between the two forms of ecumenism, but what he meant makes sense: we know now that we can deal with one another without rancor and with respect...
...Both Catholicism and Orthodoxy could learn something from evangelical Protestants about the place of the Word, not only in liturgy but in daily life...
...We need to be instructed by the differences, and not move past them too easily...
...Does it make sense to speak of God in personal terms, or is God to be seen more as an impersonal and pervasive force...
...But like the Talmud, even in their contradiction they may have something to teach us, and there is an uncomfortable gratitude we should have for them, even as we celebrate those things which more clearly unite us...
...In any case, this is an ecumenical difference which cannot be resolved, if resolution means agreement, without Christian's becoming Jews or Jews becoming Christians...
...104: Commonweal...
...Honesty about these things is important for reasons that transcend historical accuracy...
...The secular perspective brought to politics by the Enlightenment is frequently and rightly blamed for many things, but one of its services was to free religion from its association with coercion, allowing it to be persuasive...
...I believe that the Orthodox are right to reject the claims of the papacy to jurisdiction over the whole church...
...What we must never lose sight of is the fact that the Jewish rejection of Jesus" divinity is based not on blindness, as one anti-Semitic Christian opinion would have it, but on reverence and a rejection of idolatry...

Vol. 114 • February 1987 • No. 4


 
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