A Washington Post On Faith article in response to their question:
What do you think about Sally Quinn, a non-Catholic, going to Communion at Tim Russert’s Catholic funeral? What are some do’s and don’ts for observing the religious rituals of others?
All religious rituals, regardless of faith, are two-edged. The participants receive confirmation that they belong within a charmed circle while shutting out those who don’t. As a child in India, I joined celebrations among Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Parsis. I attended a Catholic school for several years and developed a loving relationship to Jesus and Mary. In a carefree way I felt that I belonged to all of these faiths, but that was childish. I was merely a guest, and the do’s and don’t of hospitality applied. No matter how many Passover Seders you attend, only conversion would make a guest Jewish, and some faiths, such as Hinduism, lack even a conversion process — unless you are born with a membership card, you are ipso facto excluded.
For both insiders and outsiders the mystical side of ritual is promoted, as in the transubstantiation of Christ’s flesh and blood during communion. Real flesh and blood becomes etherealized into spiritual essence, and real wine and wafers undergo the same conversion. In medieval times absolute faith was placed in mysticism, and communicants were conditioned to believe that a whole body of rituals — communal prayer, repeating the rosary, doing penance, attending Mass, and the communion itself — backed up with theology so complex and evanescent as to be unintelligible, secured entry into Heaven. To me, God is a state of universal awareness that can be united with human awareness through personal evolution and growth. Religion confirms the existence of God, it generally offers some form of union with him/her, but then ritual and dogma step in to block personal growth, not to encourage it.
The idea that a membership card gives you special privileges strikes me as an unfeasible way to approach the enormous challenge of transcending to a higher level of awareness. Devotees of every faith would hotly disagree, claiming that their fervent participation in rituals opens them up to a higher state, but if you strip away other feelings — of belonging, family warmth, selflessness, and love of God — I have witnessed no recognizable proof that simply attending church, mosque or synagogue confers higher awareness. The great Indian poet Kabir said that he had read all the holy texts, bathed in the holy waters, and listened to the priests in the temple but never found God in any of them. It takes one’s own inner journey to approach God. Rituals may light a lamp at the door, but they don’t walk the road with you.
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