The Olive Branch of Peace

I receive a significant amount of correspondence from well-meaning Christians expressing concern for my spiritual safety. Here is a quote from a letter sent to me several days ago from a wonderful young woman named Kristen:

“Please reconsider your religious beliefs. -And just hear me out: worshiping nature is like only paying attention to the stage production during a play. And what’s a perfect way for Satan to distract you and wezel his way into your life? By getting you to believe he doesn’t exist. He diseases the mind.

Please do one thing in this lifetime. Get a bible, open it to anywhere and read some of it. Consider it ‘just investigating’ like I did. When you’re ready, look at the last part of the Bible: the book of revelations. There are things prophesied 2000 years ago happening now!! How about that for magic and proof!

Wed. Feb. 27. This date came to me in a dream. I am not proclaiming to know for sure that anything will take place this day, but I feel compelled to share it with you. If something catastrophic does happen that day. Know I am telling the truth and that God wants you to break the hold that’s over you. And if your heart is changed, please try to change others, like I’m trying to do now.”

Contrary to what you may expect, I do not find such sentiments to be offensive or presumptuous as I understand the importance many Christians place on sharing the words of their Messiah. I value the sincerity of every attempt to reach out to me and my brethren with love and compassion. Keeping this in mind, if you monitor my blog, the CPA website, my Facebook posts or follow me on Twitter and have considered submitting comments similar to the above letter, I would like to offer the following statement –

While I respect your beliefs and sincerely appreciate the value of your scripture, the basic theological positions of our respective religious communities are quite different. This does not mean that we cannot find common ground to work toward peace and understanding, striving to move forward and promote constructive interfaith dialog whenever possible. Maintaining an aggressively negative policy of heated denial and unrelenting hatred clearly is not the answer. I think it is important to acknowledge that while our passions may conquer our patience from time to time, we recognize and love each other as unique and precious children of God.

May the strength of your faith guide you always toward truth and light. Blessed Be.

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About William Knox

Rev. William Knox is the founder and current Chancellor of the Contemporary Pagan Alliance. Ordained in 1995 as an interfaith minister, he serves as senior priest at the Sanctuary of Light in Ravenswood,WV. and is an invested brother in the Shanddite Order of Pagan Secular Monks.
This entry was posted in Equality, Faith, God, Paganism, Peace, Religion, Spirituality and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to The Olive Branch of Peace

  1. zenhantz says:

    Modern civilization, especially the hypnotic ease of TV, kills god over and over again. Because of modern science the human race is no longer evolving. Transcendental reality cannot be pursued aggressively when there are 200,000 new lives every minute. God the word is misused and has transformed beliefs of infinite invisible to a finite entity.

    • William says:

      Thank you for sharing your viewpoint. In one respect I agree, on a philosophical level – any attempt to place limits on God will ultimately proove futile.

  2. Ashana M says:

    I think “maintaining an aggressive, negative policy of heated denial and unrelenting hatred” really meets some individual’s personal goals for their faith. Peace and understanding is not at the core of religious belief for everyone. For some, religion offers a sense of superiority and a comfort in being right. Believing in God can confuse some people into thinking they are God.

    Also, I would find it hard to take the opinion of someone seriously when they can’t spell weasel and can’t be troubled to look it up.

    Best wishes.

  3. paulbrodie says:

    William, I think your general response is very well said. I am a Christian, attend church every week, and find it beneficial in my life to read regularly from scripture. But I have found that if I stick with my congregation, only read things from “my church,” and never have a calm, earnest conversation with anyone who believes differently than me then I am failing in my beliefs.
    I also see a lot of common ground out there that we can all find ourselves on. I’ve only read two of your posts and your about me section, but I think there are some fundamentals we’d disagree on. More importantly I think there are a lot of fundamentals we would agree on, but beyond that whether we agreed or not we would be able to have a civil conversation where we would be enriched.
    I have learned an awful lot about myself and my beliefs from people and friends who do not agree with me. I think the challenge of different ideas is important in solidifying belief. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    • William says:

      Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments. I agree that there are certainly fundamental differences that separate Christian theology from contemporary Pagan philosophy. In the final analysis, however, we both seek enlightenment through the process of nurturing our personal relationship with God. Our feet may follow different pathways but at the end of the journey our destination remains the same.

  4. (e)m says:

    I would have responded quite differently. I am always willing to reconsider my beliefs, but I ask the person trying to convince me of something to do the same. If I am trying to convince someone of something, and they show me that I am in error, I will change my beliefs.If they refuse to accept that they might be wrong, then there is no point in conversing with them.

    • William says:

      As ever your logic is impeccable, my friend. Unfortunately, as I’m sure you would be the first to agree, from the empiricists’ perspective at any rate, absolute belief in the accuracy of one’s religion cannot be justified through the use of logic alone. I will always choose to discuss the nature of spirituality with anyone who agrees to engage me in civil conversation, not to change their beliefs for I maintain that whatever path they follow is the correct one for them, but to gain valuable insight into their personal understanding of existential philosophy. Of course, I also hope that they will benefit from my perspective as well; in any event, I agree with Socrates in that the only true wisdom lies in knowing that one knows nothing.

      • (e)m says:

        I am willing to be educated about someone’s beliefs. But the first line of communication to you was asking you to reconsider your beliefs. If we disagree about something: religion, politics, the best way to cook a turkey, whatever, we can have a discussion where we try to convince each other that the other person is wrong. If I am willing to reconsider my beliefs, you should be too. Otherwise, why are we talking. I want to more correct and less wrong. This is why I have discussions and arguments. If my position is wrong, I want you to show me that it is wrong. If you do so, you are doing me a kindness. If I am wrong and you let me persist in being wrong because whatever path I follow is right for me, then you are doing me a disservice. And a large part of this blog that you write is about convincing people of something. You try to convince people to act in favor of peace. Would you not try to convince someone of that position because it is the correct path for them?

        And you are right,

        Unfortunately, as I’m sure you would be the first to agree, from the empiricists’ perspective at any rate, absolute belief in the accuracy of one’s religion cannot be justified through the use of logic alone.

        That’s why I’m an atheist.

      • William says:

        The direct answer to your question is yes, I would indeed press the case for peace in all instances, but my original post was written to serve a larger purpose than is perhaps readily apparent. Your argument refers to the process by which two people engage in philosophical debate (reference our many discussions on the existence and/or nonexistence of God) and in that context your assertion that Kristen’s letter to me does not merit continued discussion is certainly valid.

        The letter does however signal a certain willingness to communicate and provides a viable opening to initiate positive interfaith dialog in the hope that we might establish an abiding sense of respect for one another while simultaneously increasing our individual understanding of the other’s faith. For such dialog to succeed, one party often must assume the sole responsibility for making the initial attempt toward bridging the theological divide, or for extending the olive branch if you prefer, before a true and meaningful conversation can take place. I admit the process is more a form of diplomatic discussion than academic debate and frequently little to no progress is made, but I firmly believe in the value of continuing to make the attempt.

      • (e)m says:

        I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you are saying here. Could you please rephrase?

      • William says:

        My apologies. It may be helpful to note that when engaging someone in a discussion about their religious beliefs, I never seek to convert the other person to my own religion. Most Pagans, myself included, don’t approve of proselytizing. Does my edit provide clarity?

      • (e)m says:

        Yes, thank you. I also don’t like Proselytizing. But I might have a different working definition of that word.

      • (e)m says:

        Sorry, I meant to add this to my original reply, but it is kind of unrelated to the bulk of that statement anyway. About Socrates. We know quite a bit of things. We learn more every day. To claim that we know nothing is false. We don’t know everything, and by my personal estimation, we probably never will. But to say that we know nothing is to deny the learning process, because if you always know nothing then your views will never change according to new information. The thing that always struck as funny about that quote is that according to Plato in the dialogues, Socrates claimed a number of positions. Most of which have since been dis-proven, or have never had any evidence backing them up, other than circular reasoning. Please bear in mind that I read a version translated into English, so the original meaning may have been distorted.

      • William says:

        Perhaps the most accurate interpretation essentially states that any measure of wisdom we individually possess is limited to our awareness of the extent of our own ignorance. Put another way, to acquire true wisdom we must first acknowledge the limits of our knowledge and secondly, we must unequivocally accept that what knowledge we do possess may in fact be flawed. This concept does not deny the learning process; it affirms the necessity for that process to continue throughout one’s life. To lack wisdom is to assume that one’s knowledge is perfect and cannot be improved.

      • (e)m says:

        I agree with that sentiment.

  5. castielnova says:

    I used to get this all the time when I frequented discussion forums that flitted about a variety of subjects. Then, I did find it patronizing. Nowadays I understand the viewpoint a bit more and even if I don’t appreciate it.

    • William says:

      I don’t consider Kristen’s letter to be patronizing. She is simply following the requirements of her faith and in doing so she expresses a very real concern for my welfare while also sharing her love of God. Now, I certainly do receive emails and comments to which I generally do not reply or repeat on my blog as they use scripture to justify spreading contempt, not love. Here’s a typical example of one of the milder ones (I copy/pasted it directly)

      Having read through your comments, I come back to the thought that “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord”. I presume that applies equally well to anyone who ever has, or will inhabit the Earth, regardless of their current belief system. I wish those who are currently atheistic, nonthestic, pagan or something other than Christian in belief, well, when it comes time to “bow the knee and confess”, because I firmly believe it shall indeed come. The question WILL come, “Why did you CHOOSE to believe in something other than Me? Did you not have a proper chance?”, and the question will demand an answer, having been posed by Christ himself. Because, you see, he will employ no other person to ask those questions. I shan’t provide the source; they’re contained within what is STILL the best selling book printed. But again, I wish you well when the time comes.

  6. gerberlama says:

    My heart is open to those on the path of purification and appreciate your approach, william, of non aggression. BEING a power of example is beautiful.

  7. chrissy50 says:

    William, PEACE is such a universal quest. Thank you for your post, for your understanding and tolerance of others’ beliefs . . . not many people are like that, I’m sure you know. Though I’m Christian, the “church” I mostly attend right now is Al-Anon, which proscribes no religion at all. We are united through our love for an alcoholic in our lives, or having grown up in a dysfunctional family. A higher power is essential, I think for spiritual growth. But if someone had told me, when I first attended Al-Anon, “THIS is what you have to believe. You have to do it THIS way,” or “You’re doing it wrong,” I would have been out the door so fast their heads would spin. If the world lived that way, placing principles above personalities, imagine what peace we could really have.

    Peace be with you, this day and always.
    -Chris

    • William says:

      May peace be with you also and thank you for your words of support. I suppose what truly confuses me about many evangelical Christians is their apparent inability to comprehend their own scripture. While I don’t claim to be an expert on biblical study, the gospels are quite clear when they teach that only God can judge the purity of one’s heart.

      This message is repeated over and over again throughout scripture, and yet I see so many who claim to be Christian displaying a judgmental attitude toward everyone who disagrees with them, in direct violation of their own doctrine.

      Much like the one gentleman I quoted above (his name is Carlos) they do not allow love and forgiveness to control their actions, choosing to continue down a seriously misguided path as their hatred continues to harden their hearts and ultimately blinds them to the true message of Christ.

      Carlos refers to the Day of Judgment in his message but he either doesn’t understand the meaning of the passages he quoted or he uses them purposefully to express derision, I’m not entirely sure which. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, expresses the concept of judgment eloquently when he says:

      “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” – 1 Corinthians 4:3-5

      Normally I am not particularly fond of Paul’s writing, for a plethora of reasons, and I rarely quote the bible to begin with, but as a means of illustrating my point in this instance he proves quite valuable. Paul not only professed his faith, he lived it, with every step, each breath, and every stroke of his pen. Whatever spiritual path we choose to follow, the philosophies we hold dear and the strength of our individual convictions should form the very bedrock of our lives.

  8. Rather than a pagan of ancient Roman times, you sound to me as being closer to the philosophy of Plotinus and Porphyry (of Roman times), who “worshipped” not Nature (as some lady attributed to you), but the gods, and lived in harmony with each other; their faith lied in a philosophy akin to that of Socrates and Plato, as you must know, and their aim was union with the One. The name of Epicurus also comes to mind.

    On a different tack, someone wrote recently that “moderate Islamism does not exist”, and I have to reluctantly agree with that opinion. Clearly, the same can be said with respect of the extreme religious Right in the US and, by extension, of the neo-cons; obviously they are still out there and kicking high and low. God, being impartial (and most tolerant) allows for all those positions, beliefs. an attitudes (even plain hate, ‘self-righteous’, of course – they alone know the truth). All power to you!

    • William Knox says:

      Yes and no.

      Please forgive me if I chuckle to myself for a moment as I’m sure that answer is not nearly decisive enough to satisfy your expectations… allow me to attempt an explanation. First, I freely admit to agreeing with Porphyry on many levels, particularly where his personal feelings mirror those of Gandhi; to avoid offending anyone I will refrain from expanding on that line of thinking. As a fellow student of philosophy I’m quite sure you understand my meaning here.

      You are correct in your assessment that my approach to substance theory appears similar to that of Plotinus but it is certainly not identical. I conceive of God as both immanent and transcendent simultaneously and I disagree most strenuously with Plotinus’ assertion that the One is not a sentient being; in my opinion such thinking is more in line with Spinoza’s philosophy than my own. As to Epicureanism, I will agree to stipulate that the Gods do indeed consist of the same substance as humanity and by extension the rest of creation but I find Epicurean’s belief in the mortality of the soul to be spiritually offensive and dismiss his writing vis-à-vis the nature of death as overly simplistic.

      I agree that one could easily infer, based on the study of scripture alone, that none of the Abrahamic religions are in any way moderate in philosophy or even remotely tolerant in perspective, but I believe such reasoning to be assumptive at best. You are certainly correct that there are extremists in every religion and it does appear that Islam claims more than its fair share but moderate Muslims do exist, particularly here in America. It is this very softening of fundamentalist Islamic thought by exposure to contemporary western philosophy that contributes to the unrelenting hatred Islamic extremists in the Middle East exhibit toward the United States and indeed toward true democracy in general.

      I would like to thank you for your insightful commentary and I look forward to more in-depth discussions in the near future. We are all explorers in our own way, seeking fundamental personal truth in an infinite universe. With this in mind I will conclude with a suggestion from Emerson – “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Excellent words to live by.

  9. Obviously you are more “in touch” with the Greek philosophers I mentioned than I am, and I am sure that your points or comments concerning them are well taken. Yes, God, the Supreme has to be both transcendent and immanent, since He cannot be exhausted by His creation, but also there is nothing that is not divine in its essence (God is in all hings). As from Meister Eckhart, “Before creation, God was not God” (transcendence), and “God is in the creatures, but above them”. (Transc.-Imman.). In the tradition of Advaita vedanta (advaita: ‘not two’) there is the distinction between God creator (saguna Brahman), Ishvara, and ‘nirguna’ Brahman, this last without determination, undefinable, attributeless and unknowable by the mind. Clearly, they cannot be separated, they are not two, but the former, though in Itself unmanifest, has a direct, personal relationship with all creatures. The personal God cannot not be sentient, together with all sentient creatures, but the Absolute or pure Consciousnes, the ultimate reality, is above human emotions, as He/It is above right and wrong and all polarities; He is described as ‘the ear of the ear, the eye of the eye’, etc., as a neutral witness (witness Consciousness).

    I did not imply that there are not moderate Muslims, only that ‘Islamism’, as an ideology (religious and political), though evidently moderate in comparison with other branches or denominations of Islam, is not moderate tout court, or so it seems to me. Greetings to you. Alberto Martin.

    • William Knox says:

      I’m afraid I did not give your entire previous reply the intellectual attention it so richly deserved; although mental distraction is often unavoidable, there can be no excuse for errors of this magnitude, particularly when they are made in such spectacularly ignorant fashion. I sincerely apologize for my obtuse commentary regarding your characterization of militant Islam.

      You provide an excellent summary of non-dualistic philosophy in support of your argument vis-à-vis the attribution of sentience to the concept of absolute consciousness. The seemingly empirical nature of reality is indeed nothing more than intellectual illusion but I believe one can prove that God is sentient using simple reason; please allow me to explain my thinking on this issue.

      Many philosophers debate the nature of human existence and by extension the existence of God by seeking to logically ascertain the underlying mechanics of causation, a practice I find not only futile but also irrelevant. Descartes said succinctly “I think, therefore I am” and I believe he was on the correct path to understanding God but ultimately failed in his effort to prove God’s existence using reason. To engage in ontological argument one must first provide a working definition of God which in itself creates a rather sticky problem when arguing from a Roman Catholic perspective as Descartes attempted to do.

      I believe only a non-Christian concept of God can provide a sufficient foundation from which to prove God’s existence using reason alone. Like most contemporary Pagans I follow a spiritual philosophy which dictates that the Divine is immanent in every aspect of creation and transcends creation, possessing no limit. Using reason, if one equates God with the sum of everything that exists, both material and immaterial, the nature and existence of God can then no longer be called into question. My Latin is almost certainly wrong, but I like to think of this concept as Sum Deus Ergo Deus Sum, or existence is God therefore God exists.

      And so to conclude, I return to Descartes for a moment and revisit his statement. I think, therefore I am. This proves beyond all doubt that the thinker exists because the thinker is in fact conscious. The thinker is sentient, being capable of having subjective personal experiences. If I then apply Sum Deus Ergo Deus Sum, I can now reason that as humanity is sentient therefore so is God. I look forward to your thoughts on the subject.

      Bright Blessings.

  10. William: There are many important points in your reply, which I would like to comment on, noting firstly that we seem to be in substantial agreement on what we have covered so far. We are clear as to God, or the Absolute, being both transcendent and, at the same time, immanent, and also on he sentiency of the creator God. And the fact that His existence can be proved by using “simple reason”, outside the framework of Christian theology, that is, on philosophical grounds (as did Plato, Plotinus, etc., as well as in the philosophico-theologico-mystical Hindu tradition of the Vedas. I will now proceed to briefly comment on some relevant issues raised by you:

    “The seemingly empirical nature of reality is indeed nothing more than intellectual illusion”

    This is an essential teaching or postulate in Advaita Vedanta.

    Causation

    From the higher of the two levels of understanding in Advaita Vedanta, that is, that of the Absolute, there is no causation. As everything in creation, it is an apparent reality, a phenomenon, applying to both external and internal perceptions of the apparent individual (here, in the notion of an “apparent individual”, we may not come to an agreement, but it stems from the immemorial tradition of the sages, risi, of Vedic times and is expounded in the Upanishads; their experience may be called visionary but, again, it is based on reason/analysis and observation. Is this mysticism?, or intuition? Does the name matter?)

    “Descartes said succinctly “I think, therefore I am” and I believe he was on the correct path to understanding God but ultimately failed in his effort to prove God’s existence using reason.”

    In the tradition of Western philosophy, ‘mind’, ‘self’, ‘consciousness’ and ‘I’ are used synonymously, and here is he key. Descartes did not distinguish between mind and consciousness, whereas the Upanishadic sage experientially distinguished between them (though “the mind is none other than consciousness with objects” – this is a subtle point. – ‘That Thou Art, The Wisdom of the Upanishads’, Ramakrishna Puligandla).

    “What then is it that I am?… a thinking thing… and if I entirely cease to think thereupon I shall altogether cease to exist” (Meditation ll).

    Puligandla observes: “I can easily imagine an Upanishadic risi asking Descartes, ‘your teaching is interesting; however, I wish to ask you as to how you know you cease to exist if you cease to think’… offering then deep sleep as an example of a state in which one certainly exists, although there is no thinking. This is the basis on which the Mandukya Upanishad experientially distinguishes mind and consciousness… [failing that distinction] has led the Western tradition into denying objectless consciousness (pp. 47-48).” I realize that the doctrine o ‘objectless consciousness is rather tricky, but it can be defended… experientially.

    “I follow a spiritual philosophy which dictates that the Divine is immanent in every aspect of creation and transcends creation, possessing no limit. Using reason, if one equates God with the sum of everything that exists, both material and immaterial, the nature and existence of God can then no longer be called into question.”

    We have both commented on this, in full agreement. As per Advaita, God/the Self/Pure Consciousness/Atma-Brahman/the Absolute – Supreme Being is the only reality, “One without a second”.

    “the thinker exists because the thinker is in fact conscious”

    Yes. Although a personal relationship obtains between God and ‘individual’ man, ultimately, essentially ‘Man’ is ‘God’, the self is not other than the Self, Pure Consciousness. (You must have read about the deiformity nature of man, a doctrine of St. Gregory(?) of Lyons. Well, all this is perhaps too much, but somehow I think that you will resonate with it in some measure. Best regards,

    Alberto.

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