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My Search for Understanding, by Carl House

April 12, 2013 — I've reached the conclusion that a good topic for conversation with fellow travellers would be the subject of "meaning". This term embraces:

  1. The human quality that enabled some to survive the Holocaust better than others (according to Viktor Frankl who was there as a prisoner and who survived fifty more years).
  2. An approach to dialogue that might be a foundation for daily life in our modern era that would work for Evangelicals, for Episcopalians, for atheists, and for fundamentalists of all stripes
  3. A strategy for handling the inconvenience & discomfort of our older years. Don K. says "old age is not for sissies!". Some of us have the spirit to handle it well; others of us hope for the spirit to handle it well.
"A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how." (p.127 of Frankl's book "Man's Search for Meaning")

"For Abraham Heschel, man experiences his life as meaningful when he lives in God's presence - not simply by encountering God in the world, but primarily by serving God in everyday life, infusing every moment with the spirit of God, and by dedicating himself to ends outside himself.
 For Viktor Frankl, meaning is experiencing by responding to the demands of the situation at hand, discovering and committing oneself to one's own unique task in life, and by allowing oneself to experience or trust in an ultimate meaning - which one may or may not call God."
(source: Tracy Marks: The Meaning of Life and Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (quotes))

Let's find a way to make this part of our thinking and our dialogue. My internal work that led to this conclusion is at Nuggets.

December 14, 2010 — I've been bothered by the science vs. religion struggle, how fundamentalism and terrorism relate to religion, and our dysfunctional national politics. Two books have enabled me to find a lot of comfort: "The Case for God" by Karen Armstrong and "Becoming Enlightened" by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHLS).

Armstrong reminds us that when our sacred texts were written we hadn't yet developed the rigor that we demand from science and journalism. The writers of our sacred texts were working in the tradition of using stories to guide and inspire and to help deal with grief and mystery. These writers did not expect their work to be read as explicitly as is expected by today's scientists and journalists. Over many centuries their stories evolved and became highly ritualized, and those rituals became part of the fabric by which our peoples were made strong.

Meanwhile, we learned to make tools, to engage in agriculture, and to understand lots about the stars and the planets. We didn't see conflict between our rituals, our toolmaking and our study of the universe; all three flourished.

In the 17th century we began to make very rapid advancement in physics, astronomy, biology, human anatomy, chemistry, and other sciences. As the Scientific Revolution began religions were not in a position to respond effectively. Protestants and Catholics were engaged in The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and killed 35% of the population of Central Europe. As the "Age of Reason" evolved many began to give more importance to literal and certain knowledge and less importance to the ineffable. Our habit of thinking explicitly and with certainty began to show up in religion and fundamentalism was born. Fundamentalism often means two things: 1) the interpretation of every word in the sacred texts as literal truth, and 2) the belief that your way is right and that other ways are wrong.

Buddha lived somewhere between 563 BCE and 400 BCE. He articulated principles that are carried forward today by several branches of Buddhism and they show up in many other religions as well. The most prominent Buddhist leader is His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHLS) who leads Tibetan Buddhism. He says no religion is "best"; each of us should find the religion that best suits us. He says that the qualities common to all religions are love, compassion and forgiveness and that when religion is interpreted in ways different from this it is because of "unruly minds". Our way to happiness is by selflessness, by rising above our ego which is the source of lots and lots of our pain. Faith is a personal matter. We should be slow to judge others on their faith.

Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris are the leading deprecators of religion among scientists. But they are deprecating fundamentalism, a straw horse; they are not addressing traditional religion, nor are they addressing religion's possibility.


Detailed notes from which this was written are available at
www.InterfaithEngagement.com. We also have a Facebook page at www.InterfaithEngagement.net (which you can see if you have signed up for Facebook).

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