Monday, May 01, 2006

Religious Progressives

What is a religious progressive? That was the topic at a conference I attended this weekend in Nashville, TN. Most of the participants drew their insights from Jim Wallis (“God’s Politics”) and Michael Lerner (“Left Hand of God”), two wonderful thinkers who find in their respective faiths (Christianity and Judaism) a politics of compassion that surpasses the fear-based religions of the Religious Right.

I could and did nod in agreement. There is little if anything that either Jim or Michael says that I cannot support. But I have a contrarian streak; I need to stand out; to say something different. This is a psychological disorder, I am sure, but it is mine nonetheless. So when asked to define “religious progressive” I suggested that a religious progressive is someone who has progressed beyond religion.

At the heart of religion, or at least at the heart of the three Abrahamic religions, is the illusion of scarcity. God chooses Jews not Christians or Moslems; saves Christians not Jews or Moslems; and gives the one uncorrupted revelation to Moslems not Christians or Jews. Because God’s love is scarce, the religions that compete for that love share a zero-sum theology: for one to win, the others must lose.

Of course there are liberals in all three faiths who have outgrown this, but that isn’t enough. We have to name it and openly reject it. We have to own the fact that scarcity infects all three Abrahamic faiths in a way that makes them intrinsically fear-based and violent, and then we have to reinvent our respective faiths from a position of God’s infinite and timeless love (ahavah rabbah/ahavat olam, to use Jewish terms).

A true religious progressive is one whose faith is not in religion, but in God; not in the known but in the Unknowable; not in this or that belief but in the realization that belief is simply the projection of ones own ego.

The religion of a religious progressive is the religion of radical humility, hospitality, and holiness: admitting to not knowing the nature and mind of God; welcoming all to God’s feast regardless of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, etc.; and using justice and compassion toward all beings as the standard by which to measure the value of any creed or system of belief. Religious progressives can be Jewish, Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, New Age, etc. What matters is not the label but the ability to hold it lightly, and to transcend it in the greater reality of the One Who is all.

Let us religious progressives stand for that, and we will stand for something invaluable.


AaronHerschel said...

It sounds like a religious progressive is simply someone who’s accepted a secular humanist morality without quite accepting the defacto agnosticism it implies. But why not? If we read religious texts skeptically, with the idea that they are human documents enlightened in some places and reactionary in others, then why not apply that same skepticism to their central tenant (the existence of God)?

I wouldn't mind being wrong here. I just don't see how God, as Western religion concieves of him, can survive our radical doubt. Even if we redifine God as the all embracing Tao-ist totality, I'm not sure we're left with any uplifting faith. Life is life, "that which is" is, I am that I am, and we knew that already. We're simply left on our own to wrestle with it.

AaronHerschel said...
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Rachel said...

There's much food for thought here; thank you.

Your notion that a real "religious progressive" is someone who's progressed beyond religion made me laugh a little. There's a certain "if you see the Buddha on the road, kill him" irreverence to that statement, which shakes me up in good ways.

I see here an assertion that we need to transition from attachment to religion (doctrine, practice, perhaps in our paradigm halakha) to attachment to the One Who transcends all of our categories, religious and otherwise. In other words, that real religious progressives are interested in attaining what Ken Wilber calls a second-tier consciousness, a consciousness which integrates and transcends the categories that marked earlier stages of spiritual and personal development. (Is that about right, or have I mistaken what you mean?)

I'm particularly struck by your point that our relationship with God needn't (and shouldn't) be conceptualized as a zero-sum game. This is the essence of post-triumphalist thinking -- that our way is a way but not the way; that God, in Reb Zalman's metaphor, broadcasts on all channels and we receive based on what frequency we're attuned to (but what we receive, or what "they" receive, isn't the only emanation.)

I hope we'll have some of these same kinds of conversations at the this summer.

dmann said...

I am sure the Rabbi is a busy person but it would be quite interesting to see his responses to some of the comments. I am intrigued by the existential nature of aaronherschel's post. (A previous post of his quoting Camus was enlightening). Certainly the rabbi's nondual spirituality is part of his definition of a religious progressive.

I'd also be interested in knowing, since Rachel has mentioned him, if the Rabbi is familiar with the works of Ken Wilber and what the Rabbi's thoughts might be concerning Wilber's integral approach, which certainly touch upon spirituality.