Why I can't participate in the Community Thanksgiving Service

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

I’m not going to attend the Community Thanksgiving Service on Nov. 20, the organizers of which have the best of intentions.  I can’t participate in good conscience, because it’s a worship service and in it I’d feel like I was being asked to pray with people from different traditions. 

I can’t do that, partly because I don’t buy the commonplace assertion that we all worship the same God whom we name with different names.  I don’t buy that, because, first of all, all of the serious Buddhists I’ve interviewed for the Wednesday Journal or dialoged with on my own say that Buddhism is a non-theistic religion.  God(s), if there is/are such a being(s) are irrelevant.  Individuals must achieve enlightenment on their own.  So, Buddhists and I don’t have any common ground on that issue.

Second, although Muslims, Jews and Christians all have their roots in the Abrahamic and Mosaic traditions, Jews and Muslims can’t accept the Christian assertion that “Jesus is Lord,” i.e. Jesus is God incarnate.  I, however, must pray “in Jesus’ name.”  To do otherwise would be unfaithful to the One I love.  Even when I participate in synagogue services—and I’ve been to many—I find myself instinctively ending each psalm with a silent “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.” 

Religion, in my opinion, is one of those undertakings that requires complete commitment.  We would never say, for example, that “I’m partly married.”  You either are or you aren’t.  Now a lot of us behave as if we were partly married, which just reveals, again in my opinion, that we just don’t get it.

In a book entitled Salvations, Truth and Difference in Religion, Mark Heim insists that those who practice religion in its “thickest,” most committed way will inevitably be exclusivist, i.e. they will consider their path to be the most profound when it comes to ultimate truth.  “Religious traditions are simply, descriptively exclusivist,” he wrote.  “To know one is not to know the others.  Each is a ‘one and only. . .’” (p. 5)  

At this point I have to say that I love learning about and experiencing other religions.  I make part of my living writing about religions other than my own, and I’ve learned a lot from them.  When I was a pastor we’d take our confirmation students to mosques, synagogues and Mormon temples.  We can learn a lot by bumping up against beliefs which are different than our own.  But I couldn’t pray with the Muslims.

I’m all for tolerance of other religions and working with faith communities which are different than mine, but I think there is a better way to go about the attaining of mutual respect and that is the way of Eboo Patel, the founder of Interfaith Youth Core.  The way IFYC fosters mutual understanding and respect is not by trying to pray together but by having young people from different faiths work together for the common good.

This works partly because, although they are often far apart when it comes to questions of ultimate truth, the religions of the world are amazingly alike when it comes to ethics, i.e. how people should treat their neighbors.  In IFYC events, young people can work wholeheartedly together to end hunger or reduce crime without having to get into whether or not they are going to heaven.  Ethics, again in my opinion, is the place to begin our attempt to reduce inter-religious misunderstanding, because it is a place of genuine overlap. 

I’d prefer encouraging ecumenical cooperation through an event like the CROP Hunger Walk than in one like the Community Thanksgiving Service.

Reader Comments

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Thank you  

Posted: November 11th, 2011 10:41 AM

We know biblically that we will constantly strive and fail to reach perfection UNTIL Christ returns for his church. Salvation is an expungement of our records with the knowledge that we are guilty of sin and deserve the wrath of God but He willingly excuses us from all sin as if we never committed them...because Jesus took responsibility for ALL sin when he gave himself over to be crucified despite being without sin.

Thank you  

Posted: November 11th, 2011 10:38 AM

The goal of the Christian faith is to be reconciled with the Father. He perfects sinners that place their faith in Jesus, his death in our place, and his resurrection. You don't have to believe that it is true because you're not of our faith but that is actually Christian doctrine, not being good. Ephesians says for by grace (an undeserved gift of God) are you saved through faith, not of works (any GOOD thing I can do) so no man can boast. God imposed the penalty for sin, no man can remove it.

Thank you  

Posted: November 11th, 2011 10:33 AM

Violet, That is one of the most common misconceptions of Christian faith. The goal is not to become good at all. Ecclesiastes says there is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins. James says for whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty is guilty of breaking all of it.

Violet Aura  

Posted: November 10th, 2011 5:44 PM

(cont.) are more BHAKTI or devotional in their approach. You agree about the ethical similarities but what else is there? Ultimately, religion is about how to be "good," whatever that may entail. This is why I am not associated with organized religion and take the "greatest hits" from some faiths!

Violet Aura  

Posted: November 10th, 2011 5:41 PM

(cont.) which dictates an "our team or the highway" mentality towards the Divine. And I don't believe that Buddhists are atheists or otherwise non-believers in anything supernatural. I think that they simply feel that we cannot be passive and wait for Enlightenment but are RESPONSIBLE for it ourselves. That is what is appealing to me about it versus Christianity, which seems more passive in its ideas of salvation. I think Buddhism is just abstract about God whereas Hinduism and Christianity...

Violet Aura  

Posted: November 10th, 2011 5:37 PM

Why not let Buddhists worry about praying to a god? What does that have to do with YOU? This is all intellectual legalism. As a book I used to own says in its title: "Your God is Too Small." You are afraid that Jesus would have the petty emotions of an unevolved person, such as jealousy for you to pray to any other name for God. I think you have proved that it is not enough to enjoy learning about other religions but to expand your consciousness and toss out any dogma from organized religion...

Robert Althouse from Oak Park  

Posted: November 10th, 2011 1:15 PM

While I sympathize with your thoughts here, as one of the Buddhist you are referring to in this article, I have no problem worshiping together with other religious traditions. Why can't we celebrate our differences? I am planning to participate as a Zen Buddhist Priest in the service on Nov. 20th. I look forward to celebrating thanksgiving and having the opportunity express gratitude and hear the many rich and diverse ways others will express themselves.

Thank you  

Posted: November 10th, 2011 12:13 PM

He said that the world would also hate us as it hated him. Still we have allowed others to suggest that we should all get along with each other and be united and love each other. Funny thing is that the Bible promises the exact opposite for the church. Our great heroes of faith were hated, rejected, and mostly killed for their faith. How is it now that we have changed the doctrine handed down to us to say that we should be liked. Christian heritage: being hated by the world and embraced by God.

Thank you  

Posted: November 10th, 2011 12:09 PM

Unfortunately we, even as the new testament church often did, allow non believers to tell us how our faith is supposed to work. Christians have been commanded to love and pray for the most vile of atheists and blasphemers but we are also instructed to not try to be chums with them for the sake of getting along. We are to love them because we have been loved not seek their approval. People forget that Jesus was sentenced to capital punishment because he was a hated man.

Thank you  

Posted: November 10th, 2011 12:06 PM

I have always avoid your section because I just didn't want to read critical comments but I decided to try it this once...and I am shocked that I agree with the vast majority of your writing. I really don't care for the COEXIST bumper stickers and "tolerance" movement because they do often ask that we all unite as if our beliefs are the same. I have not had a problem with non-Christians or atheists at all. I have had a problem with people who say we should unite because it's all the same thing.

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