Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Credo, Part VI

The Doctrine of the Two Ways—the Right Way and the Wrong Way—has been the central religious view in the Near East and the West for thousands of years, and is a popular religious outlook today. Nay! It goes beyond being popular! It is the predominant religious outlook today. We are seeped in the Doctrine of the Two Ways. We believe deeply that the way we believe (and think and do) is the Right Way to believe (and think and do) and that all other ways of believing (and thinking and doing) are the Wrong Way to believe (and think and do).

It gets worse. We believe that if we believe Right Beliefs we will go to heaven when we die, and that if we believe Wrong Beliefs we will go “as straight to hell as a Martin to its gourd” (You have to have lived in the rural south for a while to understand the metaphor and know that the Martin in question is a Purple Martin and its gourd is a dried gourd that has had a hole cut in it and is hanging with a dozen or so other gourds for nesting places for Purple Martins). The idea of heaven as a reward for Right Belief and hell as a punishment for Wrong Belief is the fundamental religious curse that people carry with them for life and with which they infect all who come their way.

Because we cannot risk being wrong and going to hell, we cannot question what we have received as Right Belief, and have to believe what has been believed unquestioned through the ages. In so doing, we create a hell on earth populated by the walking dead, empty-eyed and soulless, talking of Eternal Life as compensation for the life they are not living and never have lived, thanks to the Doctrine of the Two Ways.

Darkness and Light, Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, Truth and Error, the Way of Life and the Way of Death, etc. are set out before us, and the wise among us choose well and the foolish, or evil, among us choose poorly. Believers are urged to pray, therefore, that they will choose well in order to be ushered into the Kingdom of Goodness and Light with the accolade: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

There is, of course, a different way of looking at things—if you dare!

Good, at some point, goes over into evil. Evil, at some point, goes over into good. Not only that, but from some point of view, good IS evil and evil IS good (Floods, for example, that destroy homes and lives and livelihoods also fertilize the land to produce the crops that feed the people. Are floods good or evil? Both!). And, as the old saying goes, “There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us, it doesn’t behoove any of us to talk about the rest of us.” Absolute Good and Absolute Evil are theoretical concepts without precedent in the lived experience of human beings. Given the truth of the relative nature of the options comprising the Two Ways, we can’t long avoid the realization that it is not as simple as we have been led to believe.

Think not of living a morally pure and upright life and deserving heaven when we die. Think instead of living aligned with the Way and living the life that is our destiny, our life to live—of being properly engaged with inner and outer reality and offering what is needed out of what is ours to give to each situation as it unfolds. It is not a matter of matching our behavior up to some ancient standard or code but of responding appropriately to the moment in each moment of our lives, doing what is needed there never mind what our parents or preachers declare ought to be done.

And if we are wrong about what needs to be done? Shake it off! Get up! Get ready! Get back in the game! The next moment is on the way! The beauty of The Doctrine of More Than Two Ways is that getting it wrong is just a step on the way to getting it right. The meandering of the river is no threat to the sea. The roots of tomorrow’s Right are grounded in yesterday’s Wrong. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from your successes. Learn from everything. Living is the lesson and life is the teacher. We have a lifetime in which to learn what being alive is all about. Wake up! Pay attention! Be alert! Take a chance and another one after that! There is life to be lived! We are not dead yet and we must not live as though we are! Do not die before you are dead! Live with all that is within you for as long as life is possible no mater what! Amen! May it be so!

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