It is easy to see moral and actual decay in religion. The extremists have taken over from the Whitehouse, to Jerusalem and on to Tehran. English kids find a new way of being cool with high explosives strapped to their chests. Christian love finds voice advocating the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Judaism is reduced to a brawl over dirt. Cardinals wail on about condoms and married priests as if these were the issues of our time. Even Hindu’s claim supremacy. Only the Buddhists seem above the fray – sitting idly by.
In New York and Melbourne the secularists declare victory and celebrate over cosmopolitans and another episode of Sex in the City (did I really need to know that you could change the taste of sperm with asparagus?).
But all is not what it seems. Today our priest, yes I am a Catholic, didn’t turn up for Mass (some emergency presumably). Of course there isn’t a spare priest to be found this side of Africa so the congregation was on its own. We simply pulled out the Communion books, one of the ladys stood up and led us and it all went swimmingly. The church really isn’t the priest or the Pope, it is the people and we will find a way.
And beyond this, I am surprised by the deepening faith and morality around me. There is an emerging collective will, an echo of which I saw today in my community’s response to our little crisis, that is stronger, more tolerant and loving than the religious extremists who gather the headlines.
One manifestation of this will is the great inter-faith dialogue which is going on. While the angry Mullahs and mad Texans are striving to drive wedges there is a quieter and firmer movement building bridges and understanding. The great prophets of our times – Bede Griffiths, Mother Teresa, Ghandi, the Dalai Lama to name a few – have shown the way of this dialogue. Writers such as Karen Armstrong have provided its intellectual underpinnings. It often finds voice in those who say they are without religion but practice a deep spirituality.
The religions talking is a glowing symbol of hope. It points towards a new spirituality of shared questing. It also reflects a true fear that the great moral challenge of our times is not personal but collective – solving the looming environmental crisis. Climate change and the resultant catastrophes draw no distinction between Muslim, Christian and Jew – we all huddle togehter under the same flapping canvas. If we cannot move beyond the clash of civilizations then it is certain we will be fighting over a poor, dry and dirty planet.
And this points to the great reality that only when I deeply undersand I am connected to You can I find out who I am. Our Earth – and God – are teaching us this lesson in a way that cannot be ignored.