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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What Makes One a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagan, or Whatever?

What makes us whatever it is we claim to be spiritually? Is it our self identification alone, or a certain set of beliefs, a certain practice, or something else entirely? Realistically, between subsets - what Christians call denominations - of a particular religious tradition there isn't agreement on belief or practice. Within my Christian tradition of self-identification (i.e., the first tradition I claimed for myself as an adult), Anglicanism, a meeting in the late 19th century produced the following four items as necessary for ecumenical dialogue, known as the Lambeth Quadrilateral:
  • The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.
  • The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
  • The two Sacraments — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord — ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.
  • The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.
As far as that goes, I guess I could still claim my Christian heritage as part of my spiritual self-labeling as long as we don't push the definitions too much. That isn't the only formulation out there, however. Consider the "fundamentals" of the Christian faith, written as a reaction to modernism. In fact, the first formulation of American fundamentalist beliefs - the so-called Five Fundamentals - can be traced to the Niagra Bible Conference and, in 1910, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. These originate from more or less the same time in history as the Lambeth Quadrilateral:  
  • Biblical inspiration and the inerrancy of scripture as a result of this
  • Virgin birth of Jesus
  • Belief that Christ's death was the atonement for sin
  • Bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • Historical reality of the miracles of Jesus
I guess I am zero for five on that one, although I am willing to admit the historical reality of some of the miracles of Jesus. The truth is that you don't have to look too long or too hard to realize that there is no uniformity of belief across any tradition. What's more, you don't have to visit too many different worship services in any tradition to realize that there isn't much uniformity of practice, either. Whether we are looking at the Christian options of a fundamentalist mega-church, a Methodist worship service, and a Roman Catholic Mass or the Buddhist alternatives of Theravadan, Zen, and Tibetan, the primary gatherings are more than a little diverse. When we look between traditions, the diversity is even greater. So what is left? The truth is that what is left is self identification with a particular tradition.

I may only be able to claim I am a Methodist if I can show membership in a Methodist Church, but I can be a Christian (in the real sense of that term, rather than as it has been co-opted by Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Fundamentalists as if they were the only Christians in town) through self-identification alone. We can argue whether that self-identification alone constitutes a sufficient spiritual path or not, and I would say it doesn't, but that's a discussion for another time.

What, then, makes one Interspiritual? Self-identification with more that one of the great spiritual traditions makes one Interspiritual. It's not necessary to secure anyone's permission, or anyone's blessing, or even to be a member of communities in two traditions. In fact, some would find dual membership a wonderful blessing while others would feel fragmented if they had dual belonging and prefer to gather with a single group even as they identify with more than one. Perhaps more importantly, we may discover that at this point in the development of Interspirituality we may well be misunderstood and receive a lot of criticism and so a certain amount of self-confidence would serve us well. And, as with self-identification within a particular tradition, we should stress that self-identification alone does not constitute a sufficient spiritual path - but that's a discussion for another time.

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