John Bennison Words and Ways | Reconciling False Divisions, Part III

Reconciling False Divisions, Part III

Third in a Series exploring the shared Abrahamic roots of three faith traditions

 Part III: Christian Roots

We began this 3-part series with a hopeful assumption that three great faith traditions arouse from a common source; namely, the legendary figure of Abraham. and therefore, we shared more in common than whatever differences – be they real or false – may divide us.

In Part I, a jovial retired rabbi shared an evening with us, and taught us a simple song he’d composed, entitled Kulay Hai v’Ulay” (“All this and only perhaps.”) A liberal-minded Jew who still follows much of the ritual observances of his tradition, his open-ended approach to all things “human” was disarming and charming.

In Part II of this series, a Muslim shared with us as much as he could of his faith; particularly noting the many similarities in the stories both the Bible and Quran share in common. Exactly how each tradition reinterprets and applies those stories to their own faith story constitute real differences. Whether, and how, those differences necessarily constitute real or false divisions, is the deeper question we acknowledged the need to explore.

As we turn briefly to the Christian tradition of these three “Abrahamic” faiths, two points can be made upfront. First, Christianity – no matter its varied and diverse forms in which it subsequently evolved – must be understood as originating as a Jewish sect; out of which all that followed emerged.

Second, the common thread that provides continuity with that earlier faith tradition is the shared Abrahmic roots; and the central theme of progression, from a past and into an unknown future. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. … 2Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” (Hebrews 11:8, 12)

Whether or not Abraham was a real historical figure — or a legendary composite figure that emerged as a cultural formation that any notion of “God” was most meaningfully revealed or expressed in a unifying whole — the result was mono-theism. Put completely in the vernacular, the whole ball of wax was seen as the sum of all those various, attributable parts of what we humans choose to call “divine;” divine being something other, something more than we could presumably conjure for ourselves, and our own human imaginations.

For the Jew, being seen as genealogical descendants of Abraham was of penultimate importance. For gentile Christians, being “spiritual” descendants of Abraham was – as we’ll see in the Pauline texts we’ll read — the best we could do. For the Muslim, simply placing Abraham in the long line of prophets, culminating with Mohammad, was sufficient.

But of all the stories told and retold about Abraham – both within our separate, sacred texts and without – the original and most oft repeated story is the “Call.” It is the sense of summoning for Abraham to leave home and hearth; setting off to who-knows-where, with little more than a hope and a yet-to-be-fulfilled promise of something yet to be revealed and fulfilled. While the scriptures are often regarded with settled, even rigid permanence, the summons to venture forth is, in many respects, the biblical story in toto.

Albeit, very real differences of interpretation and application would subsequently arise about that call within each tradition; most often expressed in literal claims of exclusion. There would be a claim of being literal descendants for the Jew. For some Christians, there’d be the subsequent claim of a literal messiahship for a Galilean peasant sage named Jesus as the Son of God who would come to be regarded as being co-eternal and one in the same as God.

And the Muslim, there’d be a claim that those inspired teachings that became what is called the Quran, and were received in Arabic by an illiterate Mohammad in a cave early in the 7th century CE, were the literal word of God. But where might a non-literalist truly stand?

At this juncture, and not unlike that ancient figure of Abraham, we seem to find ourselves standing with our feet of clay and our head in the stars. Perhaps the important question to ask and explore is whether these very real differences are all based upon very limited, very human, very finite and self-imposed limitations. And, as a result, are those resulting divisions made “false” by our own doing? And if so, do they betray the very meaning of the original call of Abraham to move beyond one’s place of self?

With this in mind then, how might a so-called “progressive” Christian who has moved beyond any usefulness to the notion of a theistic god consider the implications and ramifications of a non-theist exploring the underlying (“mono”) oneness of monotheism; without the encumbrance of theism?

This is the new path that beckons.

What do you think? Join the dialogue:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *