GUIDELINES FOR INTER-RELIGIOUS
Comments by Adam Blatner
Nov 6, 2005
Developed over a period of 18 years at the "The Snowmass
Interreligious Conference." nine points were finally agreed on as
common understandings by leaders of all the main world religions. Here
they are with my comments.
1. The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate
Reality to which they give various names: Brahman, Allah, (the)
Absolute, God, Great Spirit.
Adam: I can envision other names that suggest less
single-person association, and more impersonal or
collective-process way of envisioning the Wholeness of Being, the Great
Becoming, The Big Multi-Dimensional Blossoming, the
Ever-Awakening, the Beyond the Beyond, The Ground of Being (Tillich),
etc. If the male-gendered-ness of God is to be challenged, what about
the single-entity human projection also? Gaia as a concept of
Earth-Spirit, for example, may be envisioned more as a
trans-dimensional social being, only instead of the ants in the colony
seeming similar, at this other dimension, each species and regional
variant would be a different "entity" that interacts ecologically with
all the others--which one can do in trans-dimensional spacetime. Of
course, this all relates to:
2. Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept.
Adam: ...and perhaps invites us to stretch it...
3. Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and
Adam: Whatever that means. Is God
infinite in potentiality, or rather unsurpassable. The philosopher
Charles Hartshorne argues plausibly that complete “omnipotence” would
logically deny any freedom to the creatures. Are such indiscriminate
superlatives truly needed or helpful?)
4. Faith is opening, accepting, and responding to Ultimate
Reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system.
Adam: The dynamics of faith remain a bit of a
mystery to me. It's why on one hand I am deeply excited and interested
in the potential of spirituality as a factor in our unfolding
evolution, but am wary about the tendency of faith to become stuck on
the object of its attention, converted into varying degrees of
"belief." There can be different degrees and also types of belief, but
literal belief often becomes a problem. This idea is somewhat resonant
with the key concept in semantics, that the actual thing-in-itself is
not the word attached, or as the Zen saying goes, the finger pointing
at the moon is not the moon.
5. The potential for human wholeness - or in other frames of
reference, enlightenment, salvation, transformation, blessedness,
nirvana - is present in every human person.
Adam: While each of those words calls up
a host of associations, some of which may in the long run be more
useful, others more misleading, the grounding in the human potential
seems a useful reminder.
6. Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious
practices but also through nature, art, human relationships, and
service to others.
Adam: now we're
warming up to my area of disagreement-- in number 8 below. If this is
7. As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from
Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance, illusion, weakness and
Adam: I think this statement is
perhaps overgeneralized and resonates with the subtle totalitarianism
of number 8, next. It doesn't allow for the vigorous contributions and
goodness of many non-believers whose lives are full, whose consciences
are serene... and since the definition of ignorance includes both
factual and mythic elements, impossible to fully validate. Still, the
question must be asked, "But is this so?" "Is there any evidence
whatsoever that this is so?"
Are the people who claim to experience no separation
proven to be free from weakness and suffering, and if so, can you name
any of them?
8. Disciplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet
spiritual attainment is not the result of one's own efforts, but the
result of the experience of oneness (unity) with Ultimate Reality.
This statement is the
most problematical, and is a multipart statement. First, it was created
by a biased group, "religious leaders," folks who have an investment in
the social organizations of which they are a part being validated and
supported. Second, which kinds of spiritual life are defined, or is it
Consider Jane Doe, who thinks about God and nature,
lives lovingly, does no disciplined practice that can be identified, no
prayers as such, no routines, yet behaves respectfully, even reverently
to the world around her-- well, I know a few of these folks, and by
golly by gosh, they're spiritual, and a lot more than a lot of folks
who claim to engage in "disciplined practice."
So is that first part true. Is it
"essential"? And what is the "spiritual life" and how is it
different from a life lived with a healthy component of spirituality.
Indeed, is there any evidence that living a purely spiritual life is
any better, any more contributory to the common good or the Divine
purpose, than a life lived more directly involved with participating in
the common advance of humanity, and with perhaps an edge of reference
Is it heresy to ask these questions?
They seem fairly elementary.
Then we get to the concept called spiritual attainment.
What is that? Who has got it? Does Joe or Bob have it more than Adam?
How would we know? What measures it?
Sometimes I play
with the paradox that goes something like,
"I'm less competitive than you are, nyah nyah nyah."
If one claims it, does that
obviate the claim? If others attribute it: Oh, Joe-Bob is
self-effacing, but everyone knows he's "got" it." But maybe
others don't agree. How much of the dynamic that attributes
spiritual attainment to this or that saint or guru is a product of
group dynamics and group self-hypnosis? Is it taboo to even ask
Okay, finally, (pant, pant), what
again about our example of Jane Doe. What if she has never had the
"experience of oneness (unity) with Ultimate Reality" but she lives a
more loving a productive life than Joe-Bob, who claims to have had that
experience many times, or, worse (better?), claims to be "established
in that consciousness." However, our exemplar counter fellow is in many
of his relationships tactless, maybe even cruel. Or phonily
sanctimonious? Or spends his life as the center of his own cult,
teaching his own versions, gaining adherents, but other than playing
the religion game, not really adding much to the world. Spiritual
So this whole point was pretty
problematic, and exposed many of my deeper discomforts about some of
the new age trends that seem on the surface rather noble but might in
fact be self-serving and misleading
9. Prayer is communion with Ultimate Reality, whether it is
regarded as personal, impersonal (transpersonal), or beyond them both.
what is communion? When I sing a popular song to cheer myself up
and reinforce my deeper feelings of faith, like "Whistle a Happy Tune,"
or "Sing, Sing a Song," or "It's a Small World," or "My Favorite
Things," it occurred to me that these are prayers of a kind also. I get
realigned with God's purpose as I see it. But maybe they're 2nd-class,
too recent, not good enough; maybe a prayer needs to be in
old-fashioned language, maybe even in a foreign tongue. Maybe God
doesn't speak English.
So again, I kind of
like the effort to reach out and make bridges, it's very ecumenical,
and better than competition. Yet it's also somewhat ... sooo 20th
century. What if the edge of our world and the future of interfaith
dialogue involves the interface of tradition and the postmodern,
science-fiction, MAD-magazine, playful, scientific, ecological,
mind-stretching mentality that values stretching, testing boundaries,
lifts the trickster archetype to a new respectability, indeed, a moral
obligation? What if we are on a logarithmically upward-curving slope of
invention, breakthrough, discovery, paradigm-shifts, that make the
worldviews of belief, doctrine, and traditional concepts of belief
systems obsolete? Wooo!
Well, it could be
invigorating, once you begin to cultivate the infrastructure of skills
that involve art, playfulness, psychology, spirituality, and other
dimensions that had previously been compartmentalized away from each
In a process
philosophy-oriented-spirituality--which I confess to--if Divinity
enjoys the Creative Advance, then it must be recognized that Creativity
includes a measure of Destruction (not malignant or malicious, just
that necessity of death, autumn and winter, the winding down of a piece
of music so another piece can be played, the finishing of a poem, the
archetype who in India takes the form of the God Shiva-- what if that
is as necessary to the metabolism of life as the need for a zillion
tiny cell deaths that are absolutely necessary for the ongoing health
of the organism (the form of Vishnu)?
In other words, what if we are entering
an era in which the principle of creativity is recognized as profoundly
relevant, perhaps a core value. Traditionalism, which for centuries,
perhaps even millennia, offered some grounding in social and cognitive
stability, may be less relevant. With Huston Smith, I am not willing to
throw out traditionalism, but rather to use it as a foundation that is
appropriately used as a spring-board, to be subjected to a constant
process of re-evaluation, and at times, or in certain ways, to
discarding or neglecting selected parts. Is this disrespect? Not
Well, I was suggesting some
substantial questions for discussion. What-all do you think of the
above. With great respect and love to y'all, your pal,