The Sound of Silence: Valuing the "Via Negativa"

Essay by Joran Slane Oppelt on 27 December 2018 15 Comments

It is by first passing through and celebrating our sense of awe, wonder, gratitude and joy that we are able to enter into darkness and the mystery of The Void. This is what carries us through the other side into a new season of creation and reinvention. This is the lantern that we bring with us into the cave, that burning ember — or promise of the birth of the Christ child within — that gives us hope.

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Question

 
What is the relationship between Christianity and other religions?

Answer

 
Dear Pauline,
 
Every religious system the world over begins as a way of enabling people to enter the experience of transcendence and meaning. There is something about self-conscious human beings that forces us to seek to commune with the source of our life. That experience is so deep that I am not sure there is such a thing as a nonreligious human being. There are certainly human beings who reject a particular religious content but none that fail to raise the ultimate questions that create our various religious answers.

All of this is to say that the great religions of the world have codified that eternal quest into systems of thought that now dominate the various regions of the world. Christianity is today primarily the religion of the Western world and those areas that have been colonized by Western powers. Islam is the religion of the Middle East stretching into Africa in the West and Indonesia in the East. Hinduism and its child Buddhism dominate the religious landscape of the East.

There are clearly many divisions inside each of these religious traditions. There are also minority religious movements like Jews and Jains that are scattered throughout the regions of the world and that live under the domination of one of the majority traditions.

Conflict arises in the world of religion when any system decides that it has captured the Ultimate Truth of God and therefore all other systems are defective or subject to conversion. I honor the pathway that Christianity has offered me since it enables me to walk into the wonder of God. This does not mean, however, that I am, somehow, incapable of also honoring the pathway that others walk. If we believe that God is one then all pathways to God are in the last analysis, journeys toward the same goal. I intend to live within my faith traditions as deeply as I can. That does not mean that I will ever allow my devotion to the God I meet in Christ to be used to denigrate any religious system different from my own. I hope that religious maturity might soon lead us all in this direction.

~ John Shelby Spong

 

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