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.
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.