“A rabbi, a priest and a Methodist pastor arrived at the pearly gates and were greeted by St. Peter. He marked off their names in his large book, then led them to an elevator which was to take each of them to their final destination. As the elevator approached the 2nd floor, St. Peter mentioned that this was where Lutherans spent eternity, and the next level – the 3rd floor was for Episcopalians. As the elevator neared the 4th floor, St. Peter put his finger to his lips and said ‘Ssssh’
The 3 clergy looked at him quizzically and he whispered, “The 4th floor is for Presbyterians – they think they’re the only ones here,…”
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This joke alludes to a real issue in a good number of religions; the issue of who’s “right“.
While there are adherents within each religion who are open-minded and practice their particular “brand” based on personal preference or family history, there are also many who believe that they are the REAL religion, and that they’re the only ones who understand it and practice it properly. While others may or may not be destined for eternal damnation, they’re certainly not doing things according to someone’s rule book – usually the judging person.
One of the things that first separated me from the religion of my birth was the petty and pompous, “we do it RIGHT, and they do it WRONG” which didn’t feel very much like the God of love they were always preaching about. It seemed that a lot of people felt that God loved them, but others – not so much. Most frustrating, this was not limited to scathing assessments of other (different) denominations. Too often this discord boiled over when new ministers took over, congregations merged or the parent organization made substantive changes.
The most ridiculous aspect of this was that the judgment was almost always based on petty and trivial things like how you were baptized, what prayers you said or how you said them; when you held communion, and whether it was wine or grape juice; which charities you gave to & why; what side of the sanctuary the men and women sat on and if they were mixed or separate; dancing – evil or inane; whether the preacher wore a robe or a suit; which version of the Bible was used, and whether or not you went to church every day, on Sundays and Wednesdays or only on Sunday. Even as a kid I struggled to grasp that a God so magnificent and powerful would really give 2-hoots about such things and I had a deep sense that the more intransigent a person’s position, the further from any “truth” they stood.
I think often about my departure from the religion I was born in to, and of the very human traits that seem to compel people to dig their claws into certain ideas that they claim as “right” or “principled” in the name of all that is Divine, all while pointing out how everyone else is missing the point, off-track or out of touch. This approach worked well when people were less sophisticated and fear was a daily supplement served along with religious teaching. In the modern world, where thinking and sentient people have a multitude of options on how to spend their time, it doesn’t work. A lot of us are tired of that old, worn out approach and want something different from our spiritual and religious experiences.
“Evidence” of this trend is unfolding everyday as many mainline Protestant congregations find they are losing ground or splitting into separate factions as the “us vs. them” crowd refuses to evolve. Exhibit ‘A’ on the power of the message of open-mindedness and inclusion, however, may be the extreme popularity and growth of the Joel Osteen ministries. Several weeks ago I listened to Joel tell his large congregation of Evangelical Christians that it was not their place to judge the Hindu, Muslim, Jew or other Christians just because they worship God in a different manner. I almost fell over. He went on to give one of the most inclusive sermons on interfaith relations that I have heard from ANY pulpit or preacher’s lips and I must say I was impressed. Joel’s messages are usually spot-on biblical principles, but he doesn’t seem to have a need to thump people over the head if they believe differently than he does. From outward appearances, it seems that people from a variety of religious and spiritual backgrounds would be welcomed into his congregation and never made to feel that their traditions or practices are wrong or “less than“.
My religious/spiritual views and beliefs don’t align with Joel’s on many levels, but I think he understands finitely that people interested in growing spiritually and living inspired (in Spirit) lives have moved past the divisiveness of yesterday. People seeking to belong to a religious or spiritual community are increasingly looking for one that is inclusive and non-judgmental, as well as one that is open to evolving into a practice that is relevant to the world today – not stubbornly stuck in the past, or “the way we’ve always done things before“.
New Thought principles, such as the concept of Oneness, feel to me like the antidote to the “We’re Right & They’re Wrong” affliction; and they will remain so,…as long as those same human impulses aren’t allowed to take root and grow unchecked in New Thought organizations locally, nationally and beyond.