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Constructive Religion: Freedom, Faithfulness and Examina

William Gralnick's editorial "Messianic, But Not Judaism" in the Palm Beach Post of 10/24/03 together with a recent personal experience makes me want to speak up.

The essence of Jesus is "Shalom". We need that Hebrew word because there is no real equivalent in English. It refers to inner peace, joy and the fullness of life. Neville Watson, John MacQuarrie and the Shalom Place provide more information on Shalom as the entire significance of Jesus and his life. "Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you." (John 14: 27, NJB)

Dr. Joseph C. Hough Jr., the president of Union Theological Seminary in New York, has been calling in recent speeches for Christians to adopt a new theological approach to other faiths, one that goes considerably beyond simple tolerance, as a response to Americans' growing awareness of religious diversity in the United States and the world.

"I have been deeply moved by the passionate witness of many Americans against religious intolerance in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedy. Certainly, this was important in a time when the justification of terrorism by the perpetrators was based on their own twisted religious fundamentalism.

Yet many Christians . . . seem unaware that toleration alone, while desirable, is not sufficient in a world of religious pluralism. Even the most influential theologians during the 20th century have failed to see the limitations of toleration. They have conceded only that other faiths may be ''lesser lights'' (Karl Barth), or that representatives of other faiths can be saved because they are ''Christians incognito'' (Paul Tillich), or ''anonymous Christians'' (Karl Rahner). Tolerance like this concedes only minimal value to other religious traditions.

...(We must) begin with the recognition that religion is something that we human beings put together in an effort to give some cultural form to our faith. Our faith is a response to the experience of the presence of God." Religion, our rituals, our music, even our theology, is a human attempt to express what we have experienced. Since we have only our human language and symbols to use in expressing our faith, religions differ as much as cultures differ. Therefore, we want to be careful about claiming that one religious form is the only one that is authentic or real."

This seems especially true when we see examples of the twisted distortion of Christianity with Jim Jones, David Karesh and earlier examples of Christian distortion in the Inquisition, the Crusades, and recently documented incidents in Utah in 1857 and in 1984.

So, let's agree that people of faith (any faith) need to be thinking people, and let's think about just who Jesus was and the nature of his invitation to us. We each need to find our own spiritual path, and I urge that we respect the paths of others. We'll each find the part of the message given to us that most appeals to us. The scripture I most resonate with is Matthew 5:23-24. "If you are offering your gift at the alter, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the alter and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."

Some find the promise of everlasting life the most appealing of Jesus's messages, and rejoice in the experience of being borne again. Dietrich Bonnhoeffer warns of cheap grace which he defines as the transformation of sin without the transformation of the sinner. Gordon Cosby points out that Jesus's invitation really is to a substantial commitment, even sacrifice. How many Christians really take seriously the invitation to take up Jesus's cross.

Gordon Cosby says in various sermons that the authentic Jesus requires that we:

If this is the authentic Jesus, opportunities abound to be faithful to Him. I'm grateful for all that my faith holds out for me and I'm hopeful that the practice of my faith has balance resembling the balance that Jesus has offered.

Andre Weisbrod sees those who evangelize in ways that are not respectful of others as "clanging symbols". Another person suggested they might be thought of in the same way we think of telemarketers. But America's greatness stems in part from our freedom of speech and freedom of worship. Felix Frankfurter says the constitution guarantees freedom even for foolish speech.

There has been a great deal of material gathered to enable me to write this response to Mr. Gralnick's editorial. I'd like to have done more with it and expect to improve this document sometime in the future. This is the best I can do for now.

                              signed, Carl House

Lovers Under the Skin12/ 3/03Nicholas D. KristofNYT
A Mind That Grasped Both Heaven and Hell11/22/03Joseph LoconteNYT
Terror in the Name of God11/16/03Isabel HiltonNYT
Noah's Curse Is Slavery's Rationale11/ 1/03Felicia R LeeNYT
America is Rooted in the Christian Faith10/26/03Joe AmyFreedom Forum
Magdalene The Apostle10/25/03Dinitia SmithNYT
Messianic, yes; but it isn't Judaism10/24/03William GralnickPBP
The battle of the deities10/23/03Ellen GoodmanBoston Globe
Mother Teresa's Private Agony10/18/03Richard N. OstlingAP-SS
The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows 9/ 7/03David Haward BainNYT Book Review
A Story of Violent Faith 8/ 3/03Robert WrightNYT
Joseph C Hough 1/12/02Gustav NiebuhrNYT
First Amendment to the U.S.Constition   
Justice Felix Frankfurter on foolish speach   
Background Notes for Faithful Faith   
The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer   
Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis  book review

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