8/24/2008

Heliocentric Pluralism: God's Countless Faces


"Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of Allah!" (Qu'ran)
"By hundreds and by thousands, behold my countless celestial forms." (Bhagavad Gita)


Many planets, one sun. Many suns, one galaxy. Many divine faces, one God.

In the late 16th Century, Christians could not tolerate a heliocentric universe. The Inquisition condemned masters of wisdom and science like Giordano Bruno and Galileo. Believers couldn't stand the thought that their religion was one among multiple systems of salvation, each appropriate for its planet, each planet being equally special in the eyes of the creator.

If, as Bruno taught, there are countless worlds circling countless suns, then the centrality of Christ is undermined by the possibility that God created other races in His, or Her, divine image; those races may be unfallen; and such worlds may have no need for the precious blood of Jesus, or the sacraments of the Christian Church.

Indeed, Bruno taught that God is present in every particle of the universe. The Divine is incarnate everywhere, from the furthest star to the subatomic particle, or seed as Bruno called it. Bruno was burned at the stake.

The heliocentric universe was a profound theological threat. Christendom survived it, though not without a Reformation and a cultural divide between science and faith. Now the Church is threatened again, in precisely the same way, by religious pluralism. What heliocentrism was to the 16th Century, pluralism is to the 21st. And there are as many Christians today who would burn pluralists at the stake, had they the political power, as there once were ready to burn Galileo.

Pluralism asserts that, for its own believers, another religion may have as much truth in its perspective as Christianity has for the Christian. Each religion is a relative point of view conditioned by its age, culture, geographical experience, and language. Each may equally shower its devotees with blessing, and all those blessings descend from one Godhead, whose names are many but essence is one. Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vedantihih, declares the Vedic scripture of ancient India: God is One, but the wise have called Him by many names. This is history's first expression of pluralism.

A second would be the Rock Edict of the Buddhist King Ashoka from India, 3rd Century BCE: “It is best not to criticize but to honor other religions. By so doing, one's own religion benefits, and so do other religions. But doing otherwise harms one's own religion and the religions of others. Whoever praises his own religion while condemning others, only harms his own religion. Therefore contact between religions is good. One should respect the doctrines professed by others. The King desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions.”

We modern Christians must endure a dizzying transformation of consciousness, as uncomfortable as the change we endured when we abandoned Ptolemy's earth-centered universe for the Copernican model. After this transformation, the Christian will say, "As I am assured of salvation through Jesus, so the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Muslim and Jew are equally assured of salvation through their faiths."

We must surrender our Christ-centered universe because it is, in plain speech, a self-centered universe. Our culturally-refracted vision has created a realm of Christian self-centeredness. We call it the world. It is merely our projection of the world. We can have our cake, but cannot eat it too. We must share it. The Christian may continue to enjoy a personal relationship of inexpressible love for Jesus. But none has any right to insist that this relationship is the way for others.

Why did we ever make such a demand in the first place? What ever drove us to convert others? Was it not our insecurity and secret doubt? Doubt is the believer!

If I must convert others to my point of view, I must be haunted by the secret doubt that I could be wrong. But if I am secure in my faith, rooted in the ground of love, what is it to me if others take a different path, and worship God by a different name? To insist that each soul mimic my relationship with God, is as perverse as insisting that everyone marry my spouse.

Why is my faith threatened if the God who reveals his love for me in the face of Christ reveals his love for the Hindu in the dance of Krishna, for the Buddhist in the smile of Sakyamuni, for the Muslim in the chanting of the holy Qu'ran? Rumi wrote: "The lamps are different, but the Light is the same."

Don't hide your lamp. Let it shine. But do not condemn the light that shines from other lamps, lest your's go out....