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Readings for Reflection: March 2014
from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel

Practice and Faith
Passages from Karen Armstrong’s The Spiral Staircase


For many years, I have mused, wondered, and sometimes struggled regarding belief in God/Spirit, never finding a consistently satisfying place to be. While the following passages from The Spiral Staircase are by no means a total answer, they really spoke to me – especially the first paragraph. ~ Jan Wright


“Hyam Maccoby… had told me that in most traditions, faith was not about belief but about practice. Religion is not about accepting twenty impossible propositions before breakfast, but about doing things that change you. It is a moral aesthetic, an ethical alchemy. If you behave in a certain way, you will be transformed. The myths and laws of religion are not true because they conform to some metaphysical, scientific, or historical reality but because they are life enhancing. They tell you how human nature functions, but you will not discover their truth unless you apply these myths and doctrines to your own life and put them into practice.” p. 270

“You must first live in a certain way, and then you would encounter within a sacred presence – that which monotheists call God, but which others have called the Tao, Brahman, or Nirvana….

The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology. Compassion was the litmus test for the prophets of Israel, for the rabbis of the Talmud, for Jesus, for Paul, and for Muhammad, not to mention Confucius, Lao-tzu, the Buddha, or the sages of the Upanishads.” p. 293


All Readings for Reflection
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