The famous “bell graph” comes to mind when I’m breaking down misconceptions and stereotypes. The graph line starts low, rises, peaks, tapers off, and ends low.
At the low points are extremes. There are extreme thinkers inside as well as outside faith circles. Extreme thinkers have thought patterns that include an ideology that their way of thinking is the right way, the only way.
They are almost in categories of their own–fundamentalist, material conservatism, megalomania, pious hypocrites trying to make peace at all levels. But we are all connected. The rational, practical, common sense people are mixed in with the extremists.
“We have to put a face to the practical and wise truth,” H told me one day. He, a Muslim, and me a Christian, we both agree, “the truth is one.”
I take this to mean, we have to stop de-facing the extremists by repeating “Oh, that’s not true religion.” As if it’s not a part of human nature. We have extremists in science also who use it to prolong mortal bodies, de-facing quality of human life.
Religion and science are human-made tools to find answers to the bounty of questions that plague our heads. Religion is not perfect. Science is not perfect. Neither are truth in and of themselves. We just want to find meaning in life and we use religion and science to do so. To say something is non-___ (put your religion in the blank), is to add to the stereotype of extremists who believe their religion is truth. It’s scary. As scary as surgeons who are switching out body parts and scientists who are growing diseases in petri dishes by the boat loads.
We need to be practical when finding our answers, without some “perfect ideology” dreamed up in our heads. It would be great if someone knew all the answers, but no one does, and no one ever has. There no perfect human life, but we won’t achieve even a reasonable, practical humanity when burdened by some goal of mortal perfection.
As a Christian, I read, from the Gospel, John, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” But I remind myself that Jesus didn’t really say this. Jesus was quoted, decades after the fact. Moreover, this statement takes on multiple meanings.
Does he mean we come to God only through Jesus Christ? If in the affirmative, what does it mean “through” Jesus Christ? Is a human being the truth? Is Christ my life? What is Christ? If Christ is an image of divine Spirit, do I know God through spirituality?
Along with E, H manages a local Café. When they were first preparing the building to open, a few extremists would drive by and yell obscenities, telling them to leave town. It hurt, not only the feelings of E and H, but even my feelings. I was ashamed. I live here.
I told E. “I read about forgiving our enemies and find it works.”
E replied, “Yes. Your Jesus said that and we have the same truth. I’m trying to forgive and have for the most part, because if I didn’t, the resentment would eat me up from the inside.”
I too worked on forgiving, my other neighbors. I too am doing it for the most part and feel a freedom.
Then, E and H invited me to the Sufi Center where they live. “Come for dinner and chanting,” they welcomed. I made plans to do so.
Three things I learned:
- The extremists need to be neutralized with pro-action from the practical minded.
- There is no sitting on the fence, no making peace with enemies. We make peace with spirituality.
- We can love the hell out of our enemies.