Firstly, if your days looking busy put this back in the enveloped because I started writing and couldn’t stop! Yes, it’s long, so you’re warned. Not for everyone.
Decided to go on? Well, know this. In the years preceding the birth of Jesus there were two Rabbis who led schools of teaching in Israel. The first was Rabbi Hillel, who was said to have been a kind and gentle man. The other was Rabbi Shemmai, reportedly a stricter and short tempered teacher. There are numerous examples of how each approached and interpreted Hebrew Scriptures. With me so far? A story is told of how a foreigner came, first to Rabbi Shemmai saying he wanted to convert to Judaism. He told the Rabbi he would do so if the Rabbi could teach him the entire Torah, that is the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, whilst the foreigner stood on one leg. Shemmai was outraged by what he saw as a frivolous request and is said to have chased the man away. So the man went to Rabbi Hillel and made the same request. Hillel accepted the challenge and told the man:
What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah: the rest is the explanation of this – go and study it.
Did the man convert? I don’t think we know but the point is that two people can have very different approaches to the same thing and will, invariably, choose the one that suits their agenda.
Where am I going with this?
Well I had a little rant in my last letter you may remember when I reminded you of people who happily find texts to support their view or support their agenda and pluck these from a greater body of writing with no reference to context, or anything else, unless that would help them. This more than troubles me because, whilst having an errant view is one thing, teaching it to others as the only and correct view is another. And to present it as authoritative! In Mein Kempf, Adolf Hitler advocated that should a lie be required it should be of such proportions that it would be unbelievable that anyone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”.
That’s it isn’t it?
There are people who approach things differently, even the same thing as witnessed in the differing approaches of Hillel and Shemmai. There are those who are strict in their way and those who take a gentler approach. That’s true throughout life and we gravitate to those who best answer our needs. But there are those who will tell us we have a need and then, surprisingly, offer the solution. I guess it is a technique used by successful advertising agencies today. To establish a need in our lives we were not aware of and then offer us the answer. But this has been going on for years and people have unwittingly been manipulated into positions they never thought they would be in.
It’s not what we are told but more the fact that there is often a whole volume that we are not being told and that’s a different sort of lie, a lie by omission. It’s, I’ll tell you what I want you to believe and do it with passion but neglect to make mention of other options, opinions, theories or teaching.
Politicians, media channels, advertising, they all use this and its clever because, well, you can’t point a finger and say you lied to me because they didn’t. Regrettably this has been used by religious groups and organisations throughout history, most prominently by radical groups throughout the world today. By a selective reading of religious text we can make them say whatever we want them to say and, so, many have managed to build a doctrine of hate. We can look back a thousand years to the Crusades and see this practice at work. It’s not new and history bears a sad and sickening testimony to religious zealots who have done everything to deny the message of love and tolerance that sits at the very heart of most religious texts.
I find myself now, when approaching religious or spiritual teachings, giving an initial cursory acceptance of what I’m being told but wishing to go away and read more widely on the subject if it’s of interest to me. It is said that “when the student is ready the teacher will come” and if someone introduces me to something that gains my interest or intrigues me I think I view that person as a teacher. As said, I will follow this up on my own and seek learning that may both support or disagree with what I’ve heard. Why read literature that opposes what I am studying? As Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
Basically, if I am familiar with all sides of a teaching I can make an informed and, hopefully, balanced decision. Also, to aid a balanced decision it is essential to understand where a quote or teaching comes from. As I said, a clever person, be they Muslim, Christian, Hindu, whatever, can string together texts from their holy books to create a position or doctrine and from the same book one person can build a teaching of love and acceptance and another can bring forth a call to crusade or jihad. These text can be used to build or, alas, pull down.
They can also be used to control. I think during my early grappling with religion I fell foul of a mild form of this as, and here’s where you’ll see what I mean by omission, I became involved with a church that taught one particular interpretation of the Bible. Ok, it was well meaning and caring but the result of the teaching was a feeling of guilt and restriction. Have you ever noticed what a powerful tool guilt can be and how people just take it on board? Also, have you ever noticed how many rules there are in some religious organisations which eventually led me to question.
Religion is a defence against experience of God.Carl Jung
Ok guys, so I’m a slow learner but come on. Even I began to realised that some of these rules weren’t in the book so I raised questions and I read, which caused more questions which aren’t always received well. Especially if you discover other renderings that are being taught elsewhere and there’s a thought you have been sold short. Someone once told me, “Question everything”. Ever had a conversation with a young child and not been very far in when you discover her favourite word is “Why”? There can come a point when you just want to reply, “Because it just is”. Well once you have established an alternate view or reading it doesn’t hurt to go to this place with “Well, why do we believe this…and not that?”. You’ll get to see how the teaching stands up.
I read, I travelled, I embraced things that some would have declared heretical, I experimented because how can I knock something I have never tried, at least as long as it doesn’t offend my sense of morality. It was only then that I began to discover God and to my initial surprise, God turned up not only in “other” religions but also in philosophy, science, in quiet places of meditation, in nature. I began to think that God just delighted in surprising me! “Yeah, I’m here, despite what you were taught”. Fortunately, God also hung about outside of the church because that’s where I ended up. Nice to have the company.
So now I look in on so many religious settings and occasionally see the “truth being distorted with such impudence” by omitting all that does not support or further the cause. Hate is so present in the world today as you’ll be very aware. And fear is a common place tool in gaining converts both in and outside places of worship. The need to respond is an imperative in order to avoid…Hell! If that isn’t using fear, tell me what is. Indeed, for religions that claim a foundation of love is it not strange that Hell is the tool of choice for making converts?
Be cautious of lies, big and small, seriously and in jest, for if a man tells a small lie, he will have the audacity to tell a big lie.Imam Ali
That’s where the lie is. For me the heart of religion is love, and that is the whole gospel. There’s nothing else. As Rabbi Hillel said “the rest is explanation of this”. If I knew nothing else this would be enough. I know so many are taught that they have to do this and that but they actually don’t. All you need is exposure to love, remembering God is that love. Once this happens everything else will be completed. There’s a verse somewhere that says “deep calls to deep” and that for me is so much truth. That inside each of us is a longing, a yearning that cries out to be answered and that within Source is a responding call. Even as I write it makes me shiver. The meeting of these calls is so deeply intimate, so vital that it surpasses all requirements of religion.
A truth can walk naked…but a lie always needs to be dressed,,,Khalil Gibran
Why is this not talked about more? Well, firstly, if people start communing in any direct way with God, with the spiritual, then they begin to slip out of the control of organised religion. It’s a step in the wrong direction to experience God and then have someone tell you what God’s like and what God requires, isn’t it? Secondly you’re not told because those doing the talking often don’t know this, haven’t experienced the communing. Don’t get me wrong, not knowing is OK, its what you do with your not knowing that counts. If you’re open and show you’re still a seeker then I’ll walk with you. I’ll even hold your hand. But if you teach as if you do know, if you lie, you steal from people the possibility of God.
So what is the agenda? Is it God is Love and if you want to know this, deep to deep fashion, let’s walk together? Or is it, God says this is required of you and I’m here to tell you and you need to do as God says and by the way this is the only path to God and all those others are wrong and….
You know you are responsible for those you chose to follow so, “I was told” is never an acceptable excuse?
Yours, with a hand held out,