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Interfaith’s DIY Religion


The antagonist of my first novel, The Resurrection, is Benjamin Keen, a disgraced seminary professor who’d been labeled a heretic and banished from the school. Keen’s appreciation for florid beliefs and paganism has drifted past exotica into the realms of blood sacrifice. The cover for Keen’s madness is an interfaith group.

Which probably tips my hand how I feel about interfaith groups.

It’s disconcerting how harmless, even attractive, interfaith groups are made to appear these days. While the Religious Right has a problem with exclusivity, the Religious Left has a problem with inclusivity. But I’m not sure which is worse — a religion with membership requirements a mile long or none at all?

The NY Times recently featured one such interfaith group. In A Church That Embraces All Religions and Rejects ‘Us’ vs. ‘Them’ we’re introduced to Steven Greenebaum as he prepares to celebrate the end of his third year pastoring the congregation of the Living Interfaith Church.

He donned vestments adorned with the symbols of nearly a dozen religions. He unfolded a portable bookshelf and set the Koran beside the Hebrew Bible, with both of them near two volumes of the “Humanist Manifesto” and the Sioux wisdom of “Black Elk Speaks.” Candles, stones, bells and flowers adorned the improvised altar.

Koran. Hebrew Bible. Humanist Manifesto. Black Elk Speaks. The only thing missing is the Book of Urantia and the Satanic Bible. Or are they purposely missing? If so, why?

Perhaps his “portable bookshelf” just isn’t big enough.

Yearning for decades to find a religion that embraced all religions, and secular ethical teachings as well, he had finally followed the mantra of Seattle’s indie music scene: “D.I.Y.,” meaning “do it yourself.”

“Many of our most intractable ills may be laid on the altar of our divisions into ‘them’ and ‘us,’ ” Mr. Greenebaum, 65, said during his sermon. “Such a mind-set allows us to judge others and find them lesser beings. Now, I’m not here to try to convince anyone that there is no such thing as right or wrong. But I am here to say that there is no ‘them.’ And there is no ‘us’ who are somehow superior to them.”

I suppose if you’re following “the mantra of Seattle’s indie music scene,” such gobbledygook is to be expected. Nevertheless, Pastor Greenebaum manages to stumble upon the truth midway through his sermon:

“…I’m not here to try to convince anyone that there is no such thing as right or wrong.”

Stop the presses!

Did this interfaith pastor just admit some things are right and wrong? Because if some things are right and wrong, that includes religious things, right? For instance, the pagan who believed that sacrificing a virgin to the Sky god to ensure a spate of grain was indeed wrong. Or were they? If not, then who’s to say that sacrificing virgins for other means isn’t quite right? But IF virgin sacrifice is wrong for anything, why in the world would I include their sacred text — The Ultimate Guide to Maximizing Tribal Virgins — in my canon?

Translations: It is wrong to equate some holy books to others.

Even my rather spineless protag managed to suck it up and confront the mad prof. In his stand-off with Benjamin Keen, Reverend Ian Clark proclaims (probably to heavenly bells and whistles):

“Professor Keen… this is too much. I mean, where do you stop? Before long we’re all drinking goat’s blood and dancing around in loincloths, worshiping the sun or some other nonsense. I can concede elements of paganism without becoming one.”

Surely, a spirit of decency and respect is necessary when it comes to understanding world religions and interacting with their diverse adherents. However, it’s one thing to dine and dialog with pagans. It’s quite another to invite them into your pulpit.

Image: http://sounddoctrineministries.wordpress.com/tag/coexist/

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{ 23 comments… add one }
  • christopher clack August 2, 2013, 7:46 AM

    “Koran. Hebrew Bible. Humanist Manifesto. Black Elk Speaks. The only thing missing is the Book of Urantia and the Satanic Bible. Or are they purposely missing? If so, why?”
    Your just playing a game here mike and a rather nasty one, as you know the koran, the Hebrew bible , even the humanist manifesto share many core values , the first two historical root connections with Christianity. so throwing in the likes of Urantia and the satanic bible is just a silly way of trying to associate and discredit what some interfaith groups try and do,. I have some dealings with interfaith groups and by and large they are trying to build bridges between the main world faiths, not with fringe crackpot groups, as you attempt to implie. You might not agree with interfaith ideas but this is not the way to show it.
    your aproach is not worthy

    • Jessica Thomas August 2, 2013, 12:09 PM

      It depends on your view of who/what inspired the Koran, Humanist Manifesto, Black Elk Speaks and the like. (Leaving out the Hebrew Bible for the sake of this conversation.) Because a common Christian view would be that the enemy (satan) inspired the Koran as much as the Satanic Bible. Granted, that’s a controversial position to take these days. “Unification” is much more PC.

      • christopher clack August 2, 2013, 1:07 PM

        ‘Leaving out the Hebrew Bible for the sake of this conversation’, for the sake of your point you mean.
        Do you believe that ‘Satan’ inspired the Koran?

        what ever way you look at it Mike durans wording on this is , in throwing in two major religions with a number of rather dubious belief systems to try and discredit interfaith groups is underhand.

        • Jessica Thomas August 2, 2013, 7:41 PM

          Yes I do believe satan inspired the Koran.

          • christopher clack August 3, 2013, 3:00 AM

            Unfortunately Jessica your belief confirms the worst possible picture painted here in the uk of the view of typical US christian. ((not my own view) If its a view prevalent in your country then God help us considering your country’s activities in certain parts of the world.

            • Jessica Thomas August 3, 2013, 5:46 AM

              Christopher, you say it’s not your view, and yet you speak to me as though you’ve already stereotyped me. I would state the same of the Cakkavatti Sutta, the Bhagavad Gita, or any other number of sacred/religious texts. If I thought those books were inspired by God, I would be a Muslim, or a Buddhist, or a Hindu. I chose to follow Christ because the Holy Spirit planted a seed of knowledge in me, that Jesus is the only way to God. I became baptized in my 20’s not even understanding what Jesus meant when He said He was the only way, but I trusted Him to reveal it to me. It wasn’t until 10 or 15 years later that I started understanding the full implications of what “no one comes to the Father but by me” means, and I can’t say it was a realization I embraced with excitement, but with much angst. I’d rather it be true that there are many ways to God, because many people I love dearly are traveling those other paths. But through prayer and study, God has shown me otherwise. At the present moment, I choose not to turn from the truth God has shown me, simply in order to give myself some temporary mental comfort, although, admittedly, it’s a daily temptation.

              • christopher clack August 3, 2013, 10:20 AM

                I said it was not my view of the typical american christian, it looks like it could end up being my view of you , going by what you say.
                Now what you say here , you talk of the books not being inspired by god, but is this the same as saying they are inspired by satan? It seems a much stronger thing to say, how do you think it would go down with a person of Muslim faith to tell them you believe there religion was inspired by Satan? what sort of world is that sort of positioning likely to make?
                Whats the likely hood of you having the same faith position if you were born and brought up in china , or India,or Saudi Arabia?
                Its not all just you. What you say above seems all very real and true and i readily believe it means everything to you, but i can find a Muslim who will say and believe almost exactly the same thing from their own faith perspective. I know you will believe they got it wrong but they will believe the same of you.
                “no one comes to the Father but by me” has come to mean to you that jesus is only in one place , your little club of Christianity , but this ‘me’ which you have so diminished,and objectified, is so much bigger broader then that.

                • D.M. Dutcher August 3, 2013, 11:18 AM

                  If the Christian account of things is really true, in both doctrine and history, any religion that comes after that changes or reinterprets both is at best a tragic mistake or at worse an active deception, yes by Satan. If we can only be saved through faith in Jesus, a religious system which thinks we can only be saved by works and rituals (Islam) or that thinks Jesus is a myth (humanism) is not of equal quality and is instead very, very harmful.

                  It would be like someone telling you a recipe which replaces one ingredient with motor oil. Maybe they just don’t know, or maybe they are trying to poison you, but either way it isn’t good.

                  • christopher clack August 3, 2013, 12:24 PM

                    yea , yea, this all depends or your interpretation of ‘the christain account of things’ what that means, you talk as if the ‘Christain account of things is settled’ you will tell me you got the right and only angle on it, but i only got to look out into the world to see the division among Christians . faith or deeds or both or whatever, its not settled even among christains, but we do have, Christians like you maybe, who think they know.

                • Jessica Thomas August 3, 2013, 12:49 PM

                  In day to day interactions with Muslims and people of other faiths, I’m not going to say to them “Your holy book was inspired by satan.” That would be rude and insensitive. In this case, I answered you directly because you asked me a direct question.

                  I am more suspicious of some religious texts than others. I am particularly suspicious of the Koran because of the way it was written–by one man who translated what he heard/was told by an entity in the spirit realm. I feel the same way about the Book of Mormon. I don’t trust any text that is written by what the Bible says are deceiving spirits. The Bible warned us that they would come, and we are told to test them.

                  Other religious texts, that are more or less based on the musings of men, I am less suspicious of; however, I wouldn’t trust any man with my soul, only the man who died and then rose again three days later, as visual proof that death had no hold on him. Though these are supernatural things we are talking about here, when it comes down to it, the choice is actually quite logical. Jesus said, believe on the basis of my miracles that I am the Son of God. I believe based on the recorded miracles in the Bible and based on the name of Jesus Christ that still has the power to drive out demons to this day. I’m confident in my faith, because I’m confident no other faith can make these claims. And I am by no means hoarding the knowledge. I’m speaking freely here, and I will speak freely when people of other faiths ask me to explain my beliefs.

                  Of course a Muslim is going to say I’m wrong. I don’t believe we all have to agree to live in harmony. We don’t all have to bend our beliefs into some palatable amalgam lest anyone be offended. Personally, I have a stronger backbone than that. I welcome Muslims to “offend me” with their beliefs, because it would mean we are dialoguing honestly, not in some superficial manner that white-washes our differences and bypasses our God-given logical faculties.

                  Now I will ask you a direct question. If the Jesus I describe above is not your Jesus, then who is your Jesus?

                  • Jessica Thomas August 3, 2013, 12:53 PM

                    I apologize. I just realized, you never stated whether you are a Christian or not. If you are not a Christian, obviously we are going to disagree, so please disregard that last question.

                  • J.S. Clark August 5, 2013, 1:58 PM

                    “I welcome Muslims to “offend me” with their beliefs, because it would mean we are dialoguing honestly, not in some superficial manner that white-washes our differences and bypasses our God-given logical faculties.”

                    I really appreciate that. If a person is a Muslim or a Budhist, then the best assumption is that they are that way because they believe it is the best way of life. If so why won’t they be honest with me about what its really about? I don’t want to see an amalgamation if one is better than the other, I want to see the differences not the things in common.

                    Unless of course you believe they are all false, in which case the differences don’t matter as you seek some common ground which is what you really believe in.

    • Mike Duran August 2, 2013, 6:45 PM

      Christopher, why would a true interfaith group distance themselves from Urantians and Satanists if they belief all religions are different ways to God, as the article suggests?

      • christopher clack August 3, 2013, 2:53 AM

        Come of it mike, by saying a’true’ interfaith group your implication is that an interfaith group that does not support the likes of satans bible is not an interfaith group, so your setting up your own definition of what is and is not an interfaith group to prove your point. But many interfaith groups are more reasonable then this and in fact are mainly referring to the main religions of the world. Here in the UK most interfaith groups are made up of christians, jews and muslims. Your method is to just discredit them by association. This is not honest.

        • Mike Duran August 3, 2013, 4:26 AM

          OK. So you’re suggesting that interfaith groups that do not include Urantians and Satanists are “reasonable.” How so? What makes the inclusion of those two groups wrong, but the inclusion of Humanists and Sioux Indians, etc., right? Why are “the main religions of the world” legitimate for interfaith inclusion and the others not?

          • christopher clack August 3, 2013, 5:01 AM

            I said they are ‘ more reasonable’ then you are making out by trying to associate them with the more extream or eccentric type of ‘religious’ group’ My point is aimed at the way you put the case not with defending interfaith groups.

            If you want to criticize this groups why not talk about what they actually do and say, rather then character assassination by trying to associate them with the more wacky groups.

            You refer in your article to right and wrong, then rumble on about pagans and sacrificing virgins, is it not more to the point and a point which the inter faiths hark on about is that many religions agree over wide areas of what is right and wrong, don’t they? is not that a more representative view of the majority of interfaith group?

            • Mike Duran August 3, 2013, 5:30 AM

              Christopher, you’re not answering my question for good reason. At the heart of interfaith adherents is a violent contradiction. It’s not “character assassination” for me to point out the utter hypocrisy of claiming that animism, humanism, polytheism, and monotheism do not jibe.

              So let me try again: Why would a true interfaith group distance themselves from Urantians and Satanists if they belief all religions are different ways to God?

              • christopher clack August 3, 2013, 6:00 AM

                I was not avoiding it , just cannot really answer this because of the way you put it, firstly i would have to accept that they believe ‘all’ religions are different ways to god , and secondly what are both parties counting as a religion? what you want to include as a religion is not what many interfaith groups would include.Your setting up a false situation to then be able to knock them down.
                You are generally missing the point of the interfaith argument which is not the differences between the religious faiths(and their are plenty) but the similarity’s.

  • Shay West August 2, 2013, 7:53 AM

    Okay, the pastors idea for the interfaith religion was so that there wouldn’t be us vs them and to end judgement…

    But doesn’t the Bible speak against that very thing? Leave the justice to God? Don’t point out the splinter in someone elses eye while ignoring the plank in your own? If Christians truly practiced what the Bible teaches about judging others, there wouldn’t be a need for someone to create an interfaith church. They would already treat others of different faiths with love rather than contempt.

    Perhaps it’s just in the nature of some people to assume they are in some exclusive Club Christian and look down their noses at those that aren’t, assuming an air of superiority. It’s easier to do that than to actually reach out to them.

    • Mike Duran August 2, 2013, 7:03 PM

      Shay, I think there’s a difference between positioning ourselves as the ultimate Judge and Jury of someone and speaking the truth, discerning truth from error, and respecting biblical warnings against false doctrine and false teachers. Labeling something as false teaching is not necessarily a “judging someone,” especially if it saves or protects someone in the process.

  • Not In The Clique August 3, 2013, 1:58 PM

    One thing I find that is common in both sides when there is debate on any “hot topic issue” is NOBODY ON EITHER SIDE ever asks “Well, what does God Jesus Christ Holy Spirit say ?”

    It is always about “the church constitution/canon says…..” or “the political correctness police say…..”

    Apparently NOBODY who involves themselves in such debates gives a “hoot” about what the “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16) has to say.

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  • J.S. Clark August 5, 2013, 2:09 PM

    Mike you really not how to pick topics =)

    I can see relating to anyone of any faith, but it seems fairly consistent to recognize that when you go to worship, you get together with the ones worshipping the God you follow. Even the one who said “judge not” (plus forgotten context), went to the temple of one specific God. He said the Shema was the greatest commandment “YHVH (specific God) our God is one God”. The Romans had their gods, but no one ever accused him of idolatry. Why? Because he never gave them a reason to. He ministered to romans, but he acted like one of God’s people. God went about for thousands of years making a peculiar people, a holy people. Their distinctiveness was because He is distinct. If He after working so hard to divide his way from all the competing “major religions” of the middle east, then to accept he wants that distinction to end requires you really to question God’s sanity and character.

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