Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Conversation with Brother Luke, 6/25/08

Note: the transcript's finally ready, though I might still tweak it once it's up. I need to add quite a few links, do a bit of fact checking, and make a few minor changes. Please be advised that, even though this transcript has already been "streamlined" a bit with the removal of many "uh"s and other quirks, you'll see that the language remains unpolished. In a sense, the trancript is still close to its "raw" state. When I eventually write the book of my adventures, I have a feeling that the prose in this exchange is going to get heavily worked over.

Background: Toward the end of June, I found myself in Lacey, Washington, not far from Olympia (walking distance, in fact). I stayed four nights at Saint Martin's University Abbey Guest House, with the kind help of Father Paul, the Guestmaster, and Brother Luke, who, as it turned out, was half-Korean like me. Father Paul had recommended that I sit down with Brother Luke, and the conversation we had was, in my opinion, quite fruitful. The transcript doesn't really clue you in as to how much we were actually laughing, but if you were to listen to the recording, you'd learn right away that our dialogue was marked by a certain levity.

Your comments on this and other exchanges (see the sidebar for the others; more to come!) are always welcome. One thing I hope you note right away is that monks are human, too, and can look with wry amusement upon some of the doctrines they are called to proclaim. Luke and I have, I think, many basic disagreements (mostly articulated from my end; Luke was too polite to be adversarial), but it turns out we get along famously, perhaps because we see scriptures and strictures as (if I may steal the Zen image) fingers pointing toward the moon.

Transcript begins below the line.

June 25, 2008

Pic of me and Br. Luke: here

[The recording begins in medias res.]

LUKE: ...evangelicals, you know, that comes from the Greek evangelion, “to go forth,” and so the evangelicals were really… I guess it’s ironic that they would see themselves as so missionary, but at the same time, they themselves emphasize that personal experience, that direct experience with God, so that they would have less emphasis on the Church hierarchy and the whole idea of organized religion, that people can—

KEVIN: A more direct line.

LUKE: Exactly, yeah, you can have that direct encounter with God, but at the same time, they’re going out to promote that direct encounter, too. So that’s interesting, what you said about Martin, too, is that no one really brought Christianity to him; it was just that mystical experience.

KEVIN: That’s interesting. Now that we’re recording, I guess we need to recap the [Saint] Martin story, just for my own benefit if nothing else, there. So, Martin was a Roman soldier in the fourth century?

LUKE: Yup. That’s it. Late fourth century.

KEVIN: …and in the image we just saw over at Old Main, he’s dressed in his Roman soldier garb, and it’s the depiction of his encounter with a beggar, for whom he cut off part of his cloak…

LUKE: Yes.

KEVIN: And later, this beggar returns to him in a dream, I guess, or a vision—which would it be? Was he asleep, or was—?

LUKE: I think it’s typically presented as a dream. Yeah.

KEVIN: OK, so this was a dream, and now the beggar is revealed as Jesus in the dream, and he thanks Martin for having clothed him.

LUKE: Yeah.

KEVIN: And I imagine this is reflective of what Jesus had said in the scriptures, there, about “When I was hungry, you fed me; when I was naked, you clothed me,” and so on. “If you’ve done this for the least of my brothers, you’ve done it for me.”

LUKE: That’s it.

KEVIN: But in this particular case, I guess the beggar is Jesus.

LUKE: Yeah, I think—exactly. You could say, at least metaphorically, that Martin was able to see Christ in the beggar.


LUKE: And so I would say, kinda like Paul… well, I guess with Paul, you get into the question of whether he encountered—

KEVIN: It wasn’t visual, though, right? It was more a voice in Paul’s case, wasn’t it? “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

LUKE: And there’s a couple different accounts in Paul [1 Cor 9:1, 15:8] as well, of that, and one of them seems more literal, like actually he met Jesus. But anyway, I think ultimately, whether it was literal or not, the vision itself, being a vision, implies a variety of interpretations to begin with. And then the key thing is, basically, the result of his conversion.

KEVIN: But still, this is a relatively unmediated encounter, then, right? This is not, you know, somebody brought Christianity to him—“Read these scriptures!” It was more—

LUKE: Right, right!

KEVIN: —a thank-you, a direct thank-you from the divine.

LUKE: Exactly. Yeah.

KEVIN: I’m also—I don’t know why—I’m thinking a little of Saint Francis. He had an encounter with a leper, didn’t he?

LUKE: Um, let’s see…

KEVIN: And then, you know, everyone was shunning the leper, and this was somewhat of a parallel to the Samaritan experience, you know—the leper, in this case, is a bit like the person who’s been beaten up on the road. And Francis is the one who goes out and embraces the leper, and then the leper disappears, and that’s an encounter with the divine—maybe Jesus or God. I may be getting my stories mixed up; I’m not sure.

LUKE: No, I think I remember something similar to that with Francis as well.

KEVIN: So I didn’t realize that St. Martin was from that long ago, the fourth century.

LUKE: Yeah.

KEVIN: So the Church is really still kind of in development—

LUKE: Right.

KEVIN: They’ve already gone through some major doctrinal discussion—

LUKE: Sure.

KEVIN: But they’re still at the very beginning. It’s still kind of a proto-Church, I guess.

LUKE: Yeah. At that point, it has achieved a toleration in the Roman Empire by then; in 381, it becomes the official religion as well, so I think at that time, it’s right close to that time that Martin comes about. And he, in that sense, predates Benedict. A lot of Benedictine monasteries are named after Benedictines. Martin’s not a Benedictine because he came before. But you could also have monasteries named after precursors to Benedict. I think people would say, to some extent—and I guess…I don’t know how many monasteries are really named after Martin. It’s not really one of the more common names for monasteries. But to some extent, he’s a precursor to Benedict: he wanted to live as a hermit; ultimately, he was named bishop, but he was kind of a reluctant bishop. He wanted to live a life of seclusion and prayer. That story is basically that he wanted to live a life of seclusion and prayer, and this local—I think it was Tours, which is now in France—the people there thought that he would make a great bishop for ‘em, and he knew that they were gonna want him to do that, so he went into hiding.

KEVIN: Oh, really!

LUKE: Yeah.

KEVIN: He wanted to stay as a hermit.

LUKE: Yeah, exactly. But then—here’s another story with a bird, and I think this one was the goose that led the people to where Martin was hiding.

[NB: Brother Luke’s “another story with a bird,” implies a previous bird story. This is the story of the raven that swooped down and saved Benedict from eating poisoned bread.]

KEVIN: Really!

LUKE: And, so, I don’t know how the connection is with that, but—

KEVIN: So this is the divine gently persuading Martin out of his seclusion—

LUKE: Yeah. And so, it’s common on the feast day of St. Martin for monasteries to—or for the feast of St. Martin, whether it’s a monastery or otherwise—to eat goose.

KEVIN: Oh, really! [laughs]

LUKE: [laughs] So…

KEVIN: Give thanks to that goose!

LUKE: Thanks to you! We’ll eat ya’, now! So yeah, that’s a little bit about Martin. But you can also see later the times that we was living in, because he also became very zealous, and kinda’ started to represent the, uh [chuckles] less ecumenical side of Christianity, because at that time, after Christianity became the official religion, it was a lot more…sort of a sanction, and [there were] no real repercussions if Christians wanted to persecute synagogues, or—

KEVIN: Because they were in power, now.

LUKE: Yeah, they were in power, and there was some theological speculation that it [i.e., persecution] was for the good of the Jews or the pagans at the time. If we burn their temples down because they’re in error and heresy…you know, it’s better for us to slam ‘em with the truth of Christianity.

[At this point, we’re both laughing, perhaps somewhat embarrassed at our religion’s history. ]

KEVIN: Slam ‘em with the truth!

LUKE: So Martin does embody some of that. That kinda gives you a balance: that in the one sense, you can say that he kinda’ had the direct experience of God, and so he is a symbol of that kind of conversion, but at the same time, he didn’t really reciprocate that kind of gentle openness to [chuckles] direct experience of God for others in his own missionary approach.

KEVIN: Well, you know, I think one of the fun things about scripture and spirituality and so on is the contradictions that you find. I think contradictions have to be embraced, and you know, you have students who will probably ask you, “Why is it there’s so much sweetness and gentleness in the themes that you find in Jesus’ preaching, but then you flip back to the Old Testament and it’s all ‘Slaughter them!’ and so on? Why is it like that?” And there’re some people who, I think, in their Christianity, tend to just kind of paper over that aspect of it and say, “Let’s just not deal with it.” Or they give a pat answer, like, “Well, Jesus showed us a new way, and that’s it.” But even Jesus said some things that sound—

LUKE: Oh, yes.

KEVIN: —you know, “I’ve come not to bring peace, but the sword”—Jesus said that, and he also says, you know, “If your right eye offends you, pluck it out.” This is violent, bloody imagery.

LUKE: Yeah, yeah, that’s harsh stuff.

KEVIN: So, so what do you do with these passages? Do you just kind of ignore them? I don’t think that’s the answer. I think we have to wrestle with them, and I guess each person’s gonna have to do their own internal search or whatever, and come up with their own answer. I don’t think you can impose an answer from above. It’s kinda gotta grow out from within you. Those are tough questions. But since we’re on that topic now, of the interreligious—we had that thing that was on the blog where I put up the photo of the tree-chopping [event], and Alan [wrote] that comment: “Well, that’s not a very auspicious image for interreligious dialogue.”

LUKE: Yeah, that’s right…

KEVIN: He was—he was pokin’ fun. I mean, that’s his sense of humor. But now that we’re on that topic, how is that gonna work? The Church’s orientation—I remember doing some reading on Vatican II and Nostra Aetate… I think—correct me if I’m wrong—the idea is that, at least with the major traditions, the Church, Mother Church, recognizes a special affinity with Judaism; and then with other forms of Christianity, and Islam, and Hinduism, and so on down the line, with the major traditions, these are to be considered something like “ways of salvation,” which is to say, to the extent that they manifest christic virtues, those people can continue practicing as they practice. Am I reading this correctly from the Nostra Aetate?

LUKE: I don’t know—‘cause Nostra Aetate, for one thing, is one of, if not the shortest of the Vatican II documents—

KEVIN: Right, right.

LUKE: So in that sense, I think it’s just kind of a beginning point, that it’s not really gonna go—and I think that, intentionally, they did make it pretty vague, and I think what they did say was probably a radical shift from anything that had been said in anything official by the Church before.

KEVIN: Yeah, and you had extra ecclesiam, nulla salus before: “No salvation outside the Church.”

LUKE: Right.

KEVIN: Whereas now, it sounds almost like there’s a very basic reorientation toward a more inclusivistic stance.

LUKE: Right.

KEVIN: Which I approve of. I think that’s actually really good. ‘Cause you don’t find many big institutions that can make that kind of fundamental shift.

LUKE: And that’s the thing: I don’t know whether Nostra Aetate would really go into those kinds of details—about whether they [i.e., non-Christians] could practice, achieve salvation through those religions. That kinda reminds me, actually, of Charlie Jones’s book, The View from Mars Hill. That’s maybe one of the best summaries of those different positions, like exclusive, inclusive, and pluralistic, and then the one other one, the newer one, that’s—

KEVIN: Parallelism, I think?

LUKE: Yeah, that might be it. But then, within inclusivism, there is the distinction between “they can achieve salvation in spite of their own religion” or “achieve [salvation] through their own religion.” So, basically, “in spite of” is like, “Well, your religion’s kind of working against you, but your own natural human goodness could potentially [save you],” so that kinda makes it sound like, “Well, ultimately, it’d be better if you converted.” And then the one that’s basically “you can achieve salvation through your religion” is like, “Yeah, basically, your religion is just as good as Catholicism or anything else.”

KEVIN: But it’s still moving toward a Christian salvation, I assume. Otherwise, it’s pluralism: if we say “Nirvana is nirvana and not heaven,” then that would be pluralism at that point.

LUKE: Yeah. That’s it. So both of those, I guess, would probably be looking towards Christian heaven as opposed to the other [types of salvation]. But yeah, Nostra Aetate doesn’t get into those kinds of details.

KEVIN: That’s right, yeah. It struck me, though, that it was a very conciliatory document, especially if you contrast it with—what was that—in 2000—the Dominus Iesus, that caused some problems with the non-Catholic sectors. I think there was a Jewish contingent that was about to engage in dialogue with JP2, and walked away, and there were other people who looked at that document and said, “No, no—this is a step backward.” And I think the CDF response was, “Well, this document was not really intended as part of the dialogue; it was more focused on Catholics and Catholic belief.” And there, I’ll be frank with you: at that point, I was, uh, actually a little bit unhappy because that response struck me as slightly disingenuous: because it’s a public document. It’s going on the Vatican website, anybody can read it…in a media world like we have today, a media-saturated world, it’s very difficult to say, “This document is focused only [on] this particular group.” It’s gonna get out, other people are gonna hear it, and it becomes part of the larger dialogue, like it or not.

LUKE: No, I think that’s true. It seems like, really, interreligious dialogue is, you know, you [produce] something like Dominus Iesus and it’s, “OK, this is for Catholics to read.” And so, then, you get the majority of Catholics, 99% of the Catholic world basically being, like, taking a source that is not really open to any kind of wiggle room or dialogue, or openness to speculation, and then you might have some people on the fringes that would say, “OK, because we’re academics, or because we’re somehow engaged in dialogue already, we’re at a point where we can take these documents with a grain of salt, so now, we’re just like the few on the fringes that can say, ‘It’s nice that they said that, but we’re still gonna engage in dialogue on our own.’”—and then get a little bit more marginalized by the rest of the Church, because now, the rest of the Church has another document like Dominus Iesus, which is basically: “OK, now that we have to be in tension with this document that the rest of the Church is following, that kind of puts us in more of a position [where] we’re kinda more stuck between trying to engage in dialogue and at the same time—”

KEVIN: Adhering to this new pronouncement.

LUKE: Yeah. Then you meet Average Joe Catholic, [who] holds you up to the standard of, “OK, how do you react to Dominus Iesus?” So you’re kind of caught in the middle—

KEVIN: I’m sorry to stop you there, but Average Joe Catholic—how aware is the Average Joe Catholic of documents like this? Because, I mean obviously, in academe, I was studying at Catholic University, so obviously, this is at the forefront when things like that [i.e., documents like Dominus Iesus] come out, but your typical small-town Catholic—what do they know about these things?

LUKE: I think Dominus Iesus is basically a reassertion of positions that the Church has held. So I think it kinda ground that in a little bit further, a little bit deeper.

[both chuckle]

KEVIN: Interesting choice of words, there: ground it in!

LUKE: Whereas, you know, kind of the opening of a dialogue—shoot, when you consider the two thousand-year history of the Church, and then, say, Nostra Aetate, and then you shift probably only about thirty years by the time Dominus Iesus came out, and then it’s like, “OK, we’ve done this for thirty years, and it looks like it’s getting too crazy now, so reassert the centrality of Christ,” and not to argue against that, obviously, but it’s kind of like that reminder that pulled dialogue back…I guess, to some extent, maybe that’s what needs to happen, to just dialogue—after Nostra Aetate, there might have been a lot of optimism, like, “Oh, now we’re all gonna get along really quickly,” but then it’s kind of like, “Well, actually—”

KEVIN: “Actually, we do believe certain things!” I think that’s also—now, the flip side: I can be more conciliatory. I’ve expressed my discomfort with how the Vatican handled the Dominus Iesus flap, but I think the flip side of that is: if you have a specific position, what can you do but be honest about it? You have to express—I mean, if you’re an exclusivistic Christian who says, “I’m sorry, but if you don’t take Jesus Christ as your lord and savior, you’re going to hell,” you can’t lie about that.

LUKE: Right.

KEVIN: I personally might not believe [that], but I think dialogue has to proceed honestly, and that’s gonna be part of it. So if the Catholic Church has certain positions that it cannot budge on, then they have no choice but to proclaim that.

LUKE: I guess part of it would be…let’s see…I’m trying to think of one…yeah, I guess this was at, like, Folklife Festival up in Seattle. I went up there one year, and it was interesting because they had some kind of Orthodox priest and a Muslim, maybe an imam or something, and this Muslim was really, really ecumenical. He kind of had an exuberant, joyful, welcoming personality as well. He basically said, “I welcome all of you as sons and daughters of Abraham” –or actually Adam: all of us descend from Adam, and so all of us are brothers and sisters; we all are part of one family. And then the Orthodox guy came in and said…his personality was just more like, “Cut the crap. The essential thing to remember is that we still disagree on this and this and this. We still believe that Christ is the Savior, and you don’t believe that,” so that’s it. My reaction, ultimately, was…I started to think basically of emphasis: when you’re in conversation with some people, you don’t have to always bring up certain things.

KEVIN: That’s part of diplomacy, too, right?

LUKE: Yeah, that’s it! You could say, “I know that you and I disagree about whether Jesus is the exclusive savior for all humanity, but every time I come back to you, I don’t necessarily have to say ‘Let’s talk about that.’”

KEVIN: Yeah, right. Once is enough!

LUKE: Yeah, that’s basically—

KEVIN: Establish the boundaries…

LUKE: Exactly. Yeah. It’s like, “All right—we come to talk, and why don’t we talk about Jesus being the sole savior, and then next time, let’s talk about this again and again and again.” Whereas you can say, “OK, we disagree on that; why don’t we talk about something else?” So in that sense, you can potentially have dialogue and not compromise.

KEVIN: Right. So it’s just a matter of figuring out what you can talk about after having established what you can’t really make any progress on.

LUKE: That’s it. And I think that interreligious dialogue, most of the people that are involved in it—I think even the Dalai Lama said that, basically, it’s about establishing relationships and friendships more than resolving things. So in that sense, I think you can say the goal-orientated dialogue is like, “All right—how soon are we gonna resolve these differences? Are we gonna do it in five years or ten years or fifty years or a hundred years or a thousand years?” And the relationship form of dialogue is like, “Hey, we don’t believe the same thing, but we can meditate together, or—”

KEVIN: “—or on some practical level, we can do something, or let’s do a [service?] for the homeless, or some ethical-practical kind of stuff.” That’s always gonna be in tension, I think, because on the one hand, that’s absolutely right: there are areas where you can’t agree, probably won’t make any progress on, and that’s basically it. At the same time, when people have a particular religious vision, they’re talking about the truth—and, you know, I’ve been reading [some] philosophy blogs, and a lot of those people talk about “There’s no such thing as ‘true for me and not true for you.’” I mean, if two plus two [equals four] is true, it’s true for everybody, everywhere. If such-and-such event happened, then you can’t wish it away and say it didn’t happen. You can interpret the event, but the event itself, as a brute fact, actually happened. So when people make a truth claim of some kind, like whether or not the nature of God is triune, that claim is not going to apply just to my community. If I’m a Christian who’s a strong Trinitarian, I’m gonna say, “Well, that’s true for you, too! Even though you’re not a Christian, it doesn’t matter, because that’s the brute fact.” So there is always gonna be that tension in dialogue, I think—on the one hand, you kinda have to let it go, but on the other hand, if it’s the truth, and if your religion says you have an obligation to tell that truth, then what’re ya’ gonna do? I don’t know how that sits in modern American society, because you’ll get people who say, you know, “You do your thing, I’ll do my thing, and let’s just not bother each other.” But when you have, like, a missionary aspect to your religion, some kind of evangelical aspect to it—

LUKE: Right.

KEVIN: —and even Buddhists! Dr. Jones notes in his book, there, that the three great missionary religions are Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. Even Buddhism has a mission. It goes out there; they’ll establish themselves, they’ll attract people, and so on. They’ll preach a particular dharma.

LUKE: Yeah, that’s it. That’s a tough question. I think, even within Christianity—right now, I’ve been doing more reading just in Christian ecumenism than interreligious—it’s the question of fear of compromise, that different parts of the Christian world fear the ecumenical movement out of the risk of potentially compromising what they see as basically preserving the purity of the truth. So yeah, that’s it. I guess my take—I kind of basically think of Saint Paul and “we see through the glass darkly.” I would speculate it’s hard to say that any of the churches has really captured the fullness of the truth. [chuckles]

KEVIN: You sure you want this on record?

LUKE: Yeah, that’s kinda—[laughs] That’s kinda tough.

KEVIN: If there’s anything you want to be off the record, just tell me.

LUKE: I would just say…I’d qualify that statement with “speculate.” That I speculate that none of the churches embodies—

KEVIN: This sounds vaguely pluralistic. I mean, you sound like you’re where I am, except I can say it fairly openly, ‘cause I’m not wearing a robe.

LUKE: Right. Now, the thing is, you know, pluralism can get to the point where, oh, being a Christian, being a Satanist, you know, hey.

[both laugh]

KEVIN: Makes no difference! Eh, it’s just a life choice! Doesn’t matter!

LUKE: Exactly. Also, I would also make the qualification that it does seem like there is a truth out there, and that while I would hesitate to say that any church can embody the full completeness of it, that I would also say that definitely churches have [a] more complete grasp—some churches more than others, and some religions more than others. So I would definitely say that there’s a hierarchy of greater parts of truth, but I would just say that it wouldn’t really end with any church on earth having—and I would say the actual truth just goes beyond. And in that sense, yeah, some of these churches are better embodiments of the truth than others, and there are some theologies that get so different [that] they really can’t be reconciled. You really can’t reconcile, like, Catholic or mainstream Protestant theology with Mormonism in any way that I can see.

KEVIN: Right, right. Yeah, the cosmology is wildly different

LUKE: Yeah, it’s so different that you’d have to say...and in that sense, I would just say, for one, being a Catholic, in my perspective, the Catholic Church has a greater “this is truth,” more completely than in that religion, because the two truths are very irreconcilable. I wonder if, to some extent, some evangelicals that I was reading about have, potentially, a greater grasp of some truths than the Catholic Church, in the sense that part of Catholicism seems like there is a lot of additional—kind of like, the miraculous, and—

KEVIN: Well, there’s a lot of that in evangelicalism, too!

LUKE: Yeah, there is.

KEVIN: Oh, there’s plenty of miracles there! I’m a scientific skeptic myself, so I kinda stay away from all that, but it’s interesting to talk about.

LUKE: At least in their theology, some of the evangelicals have gone more “stripped down,” like “These are the fundamentals that you need to believe in.” And in that sense, the Catholic Church could add some additional things: Marian doctrines, that you might say, “Well, I dunno, did we really get it right on that?” Not saying that we didn’t, but questioning, again, how much… And I guess that opens us up to the possibility of learning from others, and I think the Catholic Church has actually learned from Protestantism over history, like Luther’s critiques of the Catholic Church, and at some point I should get more into the details of that. But it seems like the Catholic Church has probably gotten a lot more of a Protestant influence here in the US than it did in Europe, because the Catholic Church developed as a minority in relation to the mainstream of Protestants. So we had more of a humble place in the whole culture. Instead of being dominant, we were the minority, and so in that sense, we probably adopted more of the culture and some of the practices as well.

KEVIN: I think there’s been some Catholic-Protestant cross-pollination for sure. We talk about this sometimes in the Protestant churches in terms of the move toward “high church,” where you have more pastors who come to the pulpit wearing a robe, now, like a full, resplendent robe. And you have a return to choirs that sing songs that would have been—that come from the early stages of the church’s existence. A lot of that seems to be happening, especially in mainstream Christianity. I’m Presbyterian, and PCUSA—I think we see evidence of that [i.e., the move toward “high church”] there. A lot more robing happening, a lot more of the older songs and so on. Along with—I mean, if you look at our hymnal, we have a lot of new stuff, too, including songs from other cultures than Western, and occasionally we’ll sing those as well. Father Komonchak over at Catholic U. was talking about some of this cross-pollination, and one of the more interesting aspects was the charismatic movement inside the Catholic Church. He said he went to a session where there were nuns speaking in tongues and so on, and that was something to behold! [laughs]

LUKE: Yeah! Interesting!

KEVIN: Sociologically speaking, that’s gonna happen.

LUKE: Yeah.

KEVIN: When you get big enough organizations in constant contact with each other, and people who, within those organizations, can float across boundaries, there’s bound to be a lot of this exchange of memes back and forth. And you see that in other religions, too: Buddhism moved into China and took on a lot of the local deities, so you have a deity like Kuan-yin, who starts off as a goddess, and then becomes this bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara, [who] in Japan becomes Kannon and in Korea becomes Kwan-eum or Kwan-sae-eum. No longer quite so feminine anymore—could be masculine, we’re not really sure. Might be genderless…the bodhisattva who “hears the cries of the world.” And, you know, shamanism is a local thing to Japan and Korea, and a lot of Buddhism took on a lot of the shamanistic aspects there, and so even today, people with magical thinking, they go to the temple when it’s time for their children to take the college entrance exam, and they’re there, fervently praying for success for their children!

LUKE: I hope to actually…that’s something that, if I get a chance to go on for further studies, I hope to focus in on the study of religion in Asia, the interaction of the indigenous religions and Christianity, and hopefully focus in on Korea. It is [probably] the most interesting—because of the sheer numbers and influence of Christianity in Korea—

KEVIN: Yeah, much more than in Japan or China, for sure. I think, among believers, it’s roughly 50-50 between the Christians and the Buddhists. It’s like 49% [to] 47%, neck and neck, kind of, and I think Christianity is largely on the upswing over there, for good and bad reasons. I think some good reasons might be just the spreading of the gospel, perhaps, but you’ve also got the people who convert just because they want the business contacts—they’re looking for a social circle that gives them connections…that’s kinda too bad. Meanwhile, Buddhism…it had its heyday in Korea for centuries, going back to the Shilla Dynasty and a little bit before, all the way through the Koryo Dynasty. And then, finally, neo-Confucianism comes in and kicks it upstairs, basically, to the mountains. So now, Buddhism is still widespread; there are thousands of temples in Korea alone, but sometimes you kinda have to make a trek to reach some of those temples. Whereas everybody remarks about Seoul—have you been to Seoul?

LUKE: Yeah.

KEVIN: So you know, then: at nighttime, you look across the cityscape and you see the red crosses, the neon crosses? That’s one thing a lot of tourists remark on. “My God! Christianity’s everywhere here!”

LUKE: Yeah, that’s right.

KEVIN: So, what’s another Asian nation…[the] Philippines, I guess, where Christianity really took—especially Catholicism, took root—

LUKE: Right, because of the Spanish influence there. I think Korea’s probably also most interesting because of the way it [became] kind of self-evangelized—that it was really neo-Confucian scholars that went to China, and brought some books back, and started to get interested in it, and wanted to spread it more. And then, the dynamic throughout the twentieth century of, basically, embracing Christianity as a progressive social force for change and everything.

KEVIN: Pushing against the Japanese occupation, keeping Koreans literate…yeah, a lot of that was all tied together, and helped make Christianity as strong as it is, I think. Historical reasons.

LUKE: And also, really, for me, I went in with the attitude of wanting to engage and learn more. I was able to take a couple classes in Buddhism at the Harvard Divinity School this last year, because the school that I went to, the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, is part of the Boston Theological Institute, so basically, you can cross-register at different schools in Boston, like six or seven different schools, so I was able to take a couple classes on Buddhism at Harvard—with the idea of getting some sort of a background for interreligious dialogue, because the Benedictines have really been part of that interreligious dialogue with Buddhism.

KEVIN: Oh, really? Tell me more about that. I didn’t know that.

LUKE: Yeah, you should check out the website, Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, because the Benedictines are really the monastic order of the Catholic Church—Saint Benedict—‘cause we date back, really, to…I mean, when you go back to the toleration of Christianity in the Roman Empire, at that point, because before that was the period of martyrdom, where, if you became Christian, you were gonna get persecuted. And then [in] 311 [or] 313, [there’s] the toleration, and then you had the more hardcore Christians going out to the desert. Saint Anthony of Egypt is kind of like a real precursor. Athanasius wrote The Life of Saint Anthony, which is held up as a prototype of going out into the desert and the new form of a Christian, seeking that kind of spirituality, and battling with demons in the desert. And so Benedict came in and institutionalized a lot of the Desert Fathers into communal monasticism. So, we basically became—and then Charlemagne declared [the Rule of Saint Benedict] the Rule for monasteries for the Holy Roman Empire. So that really solidified the Rule of Saint Benedict being the core monastic religious order. And then later, religious orders like the Franciscans and Dominicans kind of reacted against the Benedictines and the monastic life because we were detached from the rest of the world, and we had in some ways become really aloof, and so those religious orders came out. So even, like, the [?] Cistercians, they follow the Rule of Saint Benedict because they were reforms of Benedictine monasticism. So the end result is that we’re really the primary monastic order of the Catholic Church, as opposed to apostolic orders, and so, as you know as well, Buddhism has that strong monastic element in it, so we’ve been the ones to engage with it. And it dates back to, like, Bede Griffiths, who was a British Benedictine who went to live in India, and really did a lot of enculturation there, with the Hindu practices there, and that was, like, early twentieth century, so it was pretty early—

KEVIN: Yeah, Bede Griffiths, I don’t think I’ve read anything by him, but that’s a name that I’ve heard a lot—

LUKE: Bede Griffiths, and then later, Abhishiktananda— Henri de la Salle [NB: Henri le Saux] was his French name, I think; and then, of course, Thomas Merton. He was the one that really opened things up in the sheer volume of books that he wrote.

KEVIN: He was the one that was involved with the Gethsemani dialogues in Kentucky?

LUKE: Yeah, well, he was a monk of Gethsemani Abbey, and he died in 1968, pretty early, and not that long after the Second Vatican Council. You heard about the way he died?

KEVIN: Yeah. Electrocution.

LUKE: Accidental death, yeah, when he was at one of the first conferences for interreligious dialogue between monastic orders. So, the Gethsemani Encounters—I think the first one happened in, maybe, ’93 or ’94; it was kind of based on the centennial of the World Parliament of Churches [Parliament of the World's Religions]. Yeah, so they held it at Gethsemani Abbey because that was Thomas Merton’s abbey. So that’s really why that happened, kind to commemorate him and his memory. So actually, this organization really developed from those early encounters, one of the earliest ones of which Thomas Merton went to and died afterwards. The Organization of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue developed at that point, and they published a regular bulletin and continue to do that kind of work with the Benedictines and Buddhists.

KEVIN: That’s great!

LUKE: Yeah.

KEVIN: I know the Buddhists in Korea [i.e., monks], they’ve told me that they actually like talking to the priests and monks who come from outside the Buddhist tradition. They have a lot of trouble with the Protestants who come—they just wanna debate! That can be a problem sometimes. Dr. Jones used to talk a bit about what he called “boundary issues,” and I think that would come up a lot in terms of—in Korea, where you have two religions that are, demographically, almost equal, you get a lot of boundary issues, a lot of self-definition: “Who are we, really?” I think a lot of Americans have a stereotype about Buddhism as a very, very relaxed and easygoing kind of religion, but in Korea, you have soap operas where the Buddhist family has a daughter, and she’s in love with the Christian guy across the street, and the Buddhist parents are saying, “You can’t see him anymore!”—things like that. Boundary issues, they appear in lots of different places.

LUKE: Interesting, because in America, really, Buddhism took hold with the Beat generation, Jack Kerouac—

KEVIN: [mockingly] It’s all good. Do what you want. Yeah, that great misinterpretation of Zen. Zen is about acting according to your original nature, following your situation, [and] people took that to mean “Just be free, do whatever you want.”

LUKE: Right.

KEVIN: They failed to see that Zen was still heavily monastic, heavily disciplined in how it was practiced. So I’m gonna have to get hold of that website, then: Monastic Interreligious Dialogue is the name of it?

LUKE: Right. That’s it.

KEVIN: Do you know, uh, David Steindl-Rast?

LUKE: I know of him, yeah.

KEVIN: Hear of a book called The Ground We Share? This was basically—sort of like [what we’re doing]—it’s a recorded conversation between him and—he’s a Benedictine—

LUKE: Right. Yup. He is.

KEVIN: —and his dialogue partner was Robert Aitken roshi, who was the founder of the Diamond Sangha…I think out on the west coast or on Hawaii, I’m not sure. One of those two. They talked a lot about practice, the issue of practice, and they got into some issues of metaphysics and spirituality, but a lot of it was very practically focused. Uh, is that usually how it works in monastic interreligious dialogue? Is it practice-centered, or do you occasionally debate this whole question of, like, “Is the fundamental nature of reality emptiness, or is it love, or…?”

LUKE: Yeah, I think it probably has focused more on practice, and commonalities of spiritual practice or the spiritual life, so, concepts like that. So, yeah: suffering, emptiness…one of the more recent ones was on celibacy…

KEVIN: Mm-hm.

LUKE: I think, probably, more along those lines than having to do with, like, worldview, cosmology, theology, things like that.

KEVIN: Is this a case of emphasis, where people have decided—considered it “asked and answered”?

LUKE: I think it probably is. And actually, part of it may have been on the part of the people involved in the dialogue themselves wanting to say, “This is a good way to build good relationships by talking about commonalities rather than differences, and that’s kind of a friendly thing to do.” But also, I think [it’s] even partly from the Church’s hierarchy, [which is] saying, “Don’t really mess with the doctrinal issues, ‘cause that’s kinda risky when you start talking about that and start publishing speculative things, but if you can start building relationships first—”

KEVIN: Yeah, Jacques Dupuis got in trouble for some of that. He was the Hinduism expert.

LUKE: Right. There [were] a few of ‘em. Him, Peter Phan—

KEVIN: Peter Phan! At Catholic U?

LUKE: Yeah!

KEVIN: No! He got in trouble?

LUKE: Yeah!

KEVIN: Well, this should be on the record!

LUKE: Well, it’s on the Internet.

KEVIN: Is it really? Got in trouble for what?

LUKE: Now, that’s the details of…

KEVIN: He’s a Vietnamese Catholic.

LUKE: That’s right, yeah.

KEVIN: I never had him for any courses. Too bad: he has a wonderful personality. I saw him present a paper.

LUKE: Yeah, and that came out just last year at some point, and I don’t know if the articles really got into details of his theology as much as, OK, what exactly is the nature of this censorship—it was not a complete prohibition against writing, or… like now, the Vatican is, instead of saying, “We ban his writings,” or prohibit—you know, “He can’t teach at a Catholic institution anymore,” instead of doin’ all that, they’ll just say, “His writings have elements that are dangerous.” So they’ll just kinda do that kind of thing. So that’s really probably what the article had more to do with: what does that mean for him? What kind of status is this kind of statement? But yeah, you can find that news story online as well.

KEVIN: Hm. All right, I’ll look for that one!

LUKE: I’d go even to Wikipedia, [type] “Peter Phan,” and then there’s a couple links at the bottom of the news stories that came—yeah.

KEVIN: OK, so, as a Protestant who doesn’t really know a lot [about] how the Catholic internal affairs works, [I’m posing this question] somewhat in ignorance, but also a little bit in frustration, I guess: why would you silence anybody or restrict them from saying whatever it is they want to say? I mean, I can understand if you decide to eject them from the community. I can actually understand that. But why curtail—I’m not accusing you personally—why curtail their ability to publish whatever speculation they want, or some strongly held opinion…what’s that all about? Is the Church really that threatened by, you know, one person’s opinion?

LUKE: I think it just kinda goes back to the whole tradition of the Church basically being, you know, kinda like battles against heresies as perceived by the Church.

KEVIN: So there’s a strong historical reason…

LUKE: Yeah.


LUKE: Like the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, Chalcedon, all these different councils basically were like, “OK, we’re gonna talk about this, these different issues.” I mean, now, we look at these councils and say, “OK, these guys had the right doctrine, and these guys had the wrong doctrine, and they just battled it out. And then these guys emerge victorious, and these were the losers, and then they became branded as heretics and these were the ones that were called saints and Doctors of the Church and things like that.” I don’t know. I mean, to me, it seems like they’re probably all coming in with the idea that we believe that we teach the truth…and again, it’s kind of like that “glass darkly.” You have that, and you have Church politics coming in to some extent, the influencing of Catholic doctrine and things like that. Ultimately, you have that whole history, and I think there’s still that element of saying, “We have to define what is right and what’s wrong.” So in that sense, partly because the Catholic Church has become such a, at least structurally, unified entity, that it kinda wants to say, “This is what we believe.” So yeah, there is that, and I guess that’s probably it.

KEVIN: So it’s kind of a historical momentum that led to certain types of thought and behavior within the Church as to how to preserve the coherence, the overall integrity. In fact, isn’t that what Dr. Jones [talked about]? He has that spectrum, right, [of] openness and integrity? I guess this would be more like the slide toward integrity, then, since we’re keeping everybody together, not letting the community sort of shatter.

LUKE: Exactly, exactly. And I think that’s probably like the other guy that got censored, more having to do with liberation theology, is John Sobrino down in El Salvador. He’s a Jesuit from El Salvador; he’s from the Basque part of Spain, but he’s lived and taught in El Salvador for most of his career. And one of the Jesuits that I knew said that—because it came out from the Vatican that his writings were deemed potentially having, containing error, and dangerous, and then this Jesuit that I know, who knew John Sobrino, said, “John Sobrino, he’s not losing any sleep over it. Everyone else is like, ‘Oh, my goodness! John Sobrino got censored from the Vatican! What’s he gonna do? This is terrible!’” But from what I could tell, John Sobrino—it’s almost like, OK, this is what you have to do.

Thomas Aquinas—his writings were condemned as well by the Catholic Church, and now, his writings have become basically standard for the Catholic Church. I think, maybe, it’s coming to the point where Catholic theologians who are really involved in speculation, of grasping a little bit more of the truth…and that’s where I would say you have, like, that forefront of the Catholic Church which is, like, you can say that the Church has accumulated so much wisdom over the ages, and that’s great in that we have so much truth that has been worked out, but I would also say that there’s still so much more truth out there—

KEVIN: That sounds very “X Files.” The truth is out there.

LUKE: Yeah, that’s right. We can’t say, “OK, we’ve got it all now.” We can teach what we’ve learned, but then there’s, uh, theologians on the edge that are saying, “OK, we need to explore these issues further, and come up with more pieces of the truth,” or just sorting through things that haven’t really been defined yet, and finding things that are surprising, and [we] might not really see how these things cohere with the rest of the tradition, and then for the Vatican to basically censor them, and for them to say, “That’s part of what we go through. We get censored; it’s better than losing your position teaching.” Before, it was like “They can no longer teach at a Catholic university”; now, it’s like, “OK, they can teach, but we’ll just kinda give them a warning label.” That’s a little bit more agreeable; we can deal with that. So it seems like that’s gonna be part of the dialogue with the Church and its own theologians, is an occasional reprimand [or] warning. I think, in that sense, where it’s at now is not as bad. I mean, I guess at some point you could say, if someone was teaching heresy, they could potentially be burned at the stake.

KEVIN: [laughs] I’m sure they wouldn’t do that. Burned at the stake—we don’t resort to extreme solutions like that anymore, I don’t think. But they could be excommunicated, right? I mean, in theory? If someone were that heretical?

LUKE: It really takes a lot, now, to do that. And it’s more—I don’t know how much that happens when it comes to theology.

KEVIN: So more likely, censorship and reprimands would be reserved for those people.

LUKE: Yeah, and I guess that’s kind of—like the Church probably—and part of it is PR—that the Church doesn’t want to go around excommunicating people, because that, you know, makes the Church look like we’re still in the Inquisition. So basically, the Church can apply pressure, like this, and I think Matthew Fox is probably the closest example of this: he was Dominican, and his whole thing was basically creation-centered spirituality, which is really pretty vague and very pluralistic.

KEVIN: I don’t know anything about Matthew Fox.

LUKE: OK, yeah, you can check out some of his stuff: The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. And something about, like, “the Big Mystical Bear,” or something like that. I think that’s the title of one of his books. It’s probably not the exact title, but it has something to do with that. The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, that is one of his books. But really, on the spectrum of ecumenism, [he is] very ecumenical! Like with Starhawk, who is a Wiccan priestess—

KEVIN: Sounds familiar. That name sounds familiar.

LUKE: So he [Fox] was really tight with Starhawk, and I think they collaborated on founding this place down in California, the Center for Creation-centered Spirituality, or something like that. So yeah, the Church put pressure on him, “his writings are dangerous, possibly containing error,” you know, probably kept doing that [i.e., the Church kept pressuring him]…

KEVIN: But he’s not excommunicated.

LUKE: The thing is, now, he’s in the Anglican Church. I don’t know if the Church actually came out and said, “You’re out”—

KEVIN: —or he ushered himself out.

LUKE: Exactly. You know, it’s like, “If I gotta deal with all this, why don’t I do this?” [i.e., Fox’s rationale for leaving the Roman Church and moving over to the Anglican Church] And so, I think now that that’s what’s going to happen more commonly: he, because he published so much work, you know, became—like, there was even an article of an interview with him, in Rolling Stone Magazine, and so he became pretty well known like that. Other people might just say, “You know what? I don’t really believe everything that the Catholic Church teaches. I’m not a theologian, but I’m going to the Anglican Church,” or something like that. So you can potentially find that happening.

So the Church won’t necessarily excommunicate people as much as put pressure on them, and then maybe they decide to just quit. But it’s actually more in practices that people can get excommunicated. I think it’s a teaching of the Church that having an abortion is—there’s some kind of Latin word for it—like de facto, at that moment, excommunication. So there’re certain things like that. Another guy was a bishop, Lefebvre; he didn’t agree with all the changes of the Vatican Council, and thought that the Mass should continue to be in Latin, and started his own fringe group within the Catholic Church, and they warned him that he didn’t have authority to consecrate bishops, because he was, like, building up the Church, with bishops he was consecrating, that believed in the whole Latin Mass and everything like that. And when he consecrated bishops, that was like an automatic excommunication.


LUKE: [chuckles] Yeah. So that kind of thing—

KEVIN: Holy Orders is one of the sacraments, right?

LUKE: Yeah.

KEVIN: So he was doing this without, really, the sanction of the Church.

LUKE: Yeah. Beyond Holy Orders, it’s like if you’re an ordained priest, being consecrated a bishop is not a sacrament in itself, but it’s an additional [conferral] of rank on a priest, that he [Lefevre] was doing. So yeah, that kind of thing, more than theology—because theology, you have to publish, and then typically you’re in a position, and the Church will really try to work with you before they just say you’re out. And I don’t think they really say “You’re out” that much anymore. Another guy was Charles Curran over at Catholic U.


LUKE: But that was in the late 1960s, with Humanae Vitae, the encyclical about birth control. He started to question how much authority the Church had to back up these positions [and] basically make their case. He started to say things about how much the laity and the Church itself could start to have freedom of questioning encyclicals. So that’s really what he started to do with that one, and he—again, I forget the exact procedure that happened—but I think it probably was, well, there’s the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.


LUKE: CDF, yeah.

KEVIN: Ratzinger.

LUKE: Yup, Ratzinger’s old group, and they’re the ones that really take care of that kind of business. They probably issued something [to the effect] that “Anyone who doesn’t agree with this can no longer teach at a Catholic university,” and he [Curran] was at Catholic University of America. Now, he teaches at Southern Methodist University in Texas, so…

KEVIN: Big change.

LUKE: Yeah, that’s it.

KEVIN: Wow. Well, I notice we’re starting to… it’s 11:25 at this point, and I don’t want to keep you too long if you’ve gotta prepare for noon, but I did wanna ask you some personal questions, if you don’t mind.

LUKE: Yeah, sure.

KEVIN: And again, you know, if something needs to be off the record, just tell me: “Off the record.” Well, first, I guess… becoming a monk is a big decision.

LUKE: Right.

KEVIN: It doesn’t matter what country you’re in. When you live in a modern world, and you see TV commercials that cater to all different appetites and lifestyles that seem to reflect selfish pursuits or comfortable pursuits, or things like that, it’s really, really tough, when that’s considered normal, to decide that you’re not gonna do any of that. I’ve heard different answers from different monks about why they do what they do. There was a Buddhist monk [who] runs a temple over in Germantown, Maryland. He said, “Buddhist monks can’t marry because we love the world so much [that] we wanna marry everybody! We wanna marry everything!” That’s how he put it. And he said, “So as a result, this is what we do, the only way we can do it.” I thought that was an interesting take, but in your particular case, what turned you to monasticism?

LUKE: Ultimately, I think the core of it had to do with community, a time in my life where, basically, throughout my twenties, I was raised Catholic, but started to definitely question things in high school, and went through most of my twenties kinda seeking other things, other ways of being religious, including non-religion. So really, in my mid-twenties, part of it—and this is part of my ecumenical experience—is that I met some Eastern Orthodox in Port Townsend, Washington, and was really at a crossroads of continuing down New Age spirituality, and then encountering, like, real, traditional Christianity. So ultimately, I just got back interested in just traditional Christianity, including my own Catholic roots, so I realized I wanted to dig in deeper to that.

So, [I] basically came back to the Catholic Church, and I heard about the Catholic schools that I went to growing up were run by other religious orders that were not Benedictines. I had Carmelites and Dominicans at different points. So I heard about—actually, the other thing was that the Eastern Orthodox people, they would talk a lot about their monasteries, because the Eastern Orthodox tend to have a real strong connection between parish and monastery, more so than the mainstream of the Catholic Church does. So they were talkin’ about their monastery down in California, and I should go visit it sometime. I never made it down there, but it really got me interested in monasticism, because I didn’t know that monasticism was still in existence. I heard about Saint Martin’s being, we’re, like, two hours south of Port Townsend, so I basically came here for college, because I was in the middle of taking some time off from college, so I came back here and finished my last two years, and I really came with the idea of checking out monastic life, and seeing what it was all about while being a student, which is a good chance to take two years of just being around and seeing what it was all about, and, you know, enough of an interest then, at that point, to say “I’ll give it a try.”

And I think that’s the thing that kinda takes a little bit of the mystique away from the whole idea of “When did you decide to become a monk?” and all of a sudden you think, “This is what I’m gonna do for the rest of my life,” but it’s more like, at some point, you know, (I) came to the gradual conclusion that, “Yeah, I’ll give it a try.” So then, you go through these different stages—postulancy, novitiate, junior monk—and at that time, you have basically five years of formation where you could say at any time, “This has been really interesting to try this out, but this isn’t what I wanna do for the rest of my life,” so in that sense, what you really decide to do is to say, “I’m gonna try it.” And so (I) tried it, and [it] just seemed to work out, and so I stuck with it, and then after five years of formation, you petition to take Solemn Vows, and so I took my Solemn Vows in 2006. So I came into the monastery—came to Saint Martin’s in ’99, came to the monastery in 2001, and took my Solemn Vows in 2006.

KEVIN: When you take Solemn Vows, is that the same as ordination of some kind, or—?

LUKE: It’s not ordination because it’s not a sacrament [the way] ordination is. I guess you could say…people compare it to marriage, that it’s basically…

KEVIN: So it’s a crucial boundary that you have to cross to show your commitment—

LUKE: Yeah, it’s vows, so it’s basically a promise on your part to live this life and a promise on the part of the community to facilitate you living this life, and accept you into this life. So that’s basically what it is, it’s basically a lifetime promise. I guess at the same time, like marriages, that doesn’t always reach its completion to the end of life, but that’s basically what you do: promise to do that.

KEVIN: At least make the promise.

LUKE: Yeah. That’s it. And then live it to the best of your ability.

KEVIN: That’s interesting. I don’t have time to talk about it now, but I know a lady in Korea who decided to go into Korean Buddhist monasticism. She’s an American, and she started off with somewhat shaky Korean, she’s been living [the] temple life for a few years now, and her Korean is fantastic. I’ve asked her: “Are you sure? Are you sure this is what you wanna do?” because in the Buddhist temples, they usually eat the same meal breakfast, lunch, and dinner; there’s very little variety. “Are you sure this is really what you wanna do, you’re not gonna be bored or anything like that?” She said, “No, this is it. This is where I am.”

LUKE: That’s it.

KEVIN: So, more power to you! Well, thank you very much. Was there—I’m not sure if we really answered this question—is there anything here that needs to be off the record?

LUKE: I don’t really think so.

KEVIN: Good. OK. That makes it easier for me to trans—God, I’ve got a lot to transcribe, don’t I?

LUKE: Yeah! [laughs]

KEVIN: I’ll need to spend another week in another abbey just to use their computers.

LUKE: [chuckles]

KEVIN: Great! Well, thank you very much, Brother! I really appreciate that.

LUKE: You’re welcome. We’ll be seeing how that turns out.

KEVIN: Continued good luck to you in your own personal pursuits, and to your community, who has been very hospitable to me. I really appreciate that.

LUKE: Yeah! Good!

KEVIN: All right, well, I’ll stop it here, then. Thank you.

LUKE: OK! Thank you!



1 comment:

Britt said...

Kevin, what a wonderful effort! Having transcribed many an interview myself, I know it is time-consuming, grueling work. I admire your dedication. Thank you for sharing it with us.

When the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate was released, I felt great happiness. I am a Bahá'í and a person committed to the cause of unity, thus I saw the document as a tremendous step forward. It proposed that the model of inter-religious dialogue is the unity of the human family -- a very Bahá'í notion. Many other documents of the Catholic magisterium developed this concept, as well.

From the perspective of the Church, inter-religious dialogue is designed not to unify religions, but to bring people to the understand that we all belong to one human family. Like you, I was raised in an inter-cultural, interracial family, and the cause of unity has always been important to me. To hear such words from the Catholic Church was, in a word, awesome.

Even the specific one-page document written about the Bahá'í Faith was surprisingly accurate, as were the other documents produced to discuss other world religions from a Catholic perspective. I was impressed. I have friends of many religions and I read the documents with interest. They appeared to be universally accurate.

And then, as years passed, I saw the Church backpedal on their enlightened position of religious understanding. It is as if the Church is now saying, "Uh, we didn't mean you all are a part of the one true church or that you have made a good choice, just that we will treat you nicely." Forgive my cynicism, please, but it appears the flash of enlightenment brought by the Nostra Aetate has been forgotten. It is too bad.

One of my favorite parts of the document states, "We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man's relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: 'He who does not love does not know God' (1 John 4:8)."


On a side note, I have always found it curious that many Christians do not recognize the body of Christ as including ALL human beings, not only those who accept Christ as "the Way, the Truth, the Light...." They cite the words that follow -- "no man comes unto the Father except through me" -- as proof that the body of Christ includes only Christians, not other religionists. Even when I was a Christian (before my conversion to the Bahá'í Faith when I was 19), I believed the body of Christ is inclusive.

In Galatians, it clearly states "For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" Love is the first tenet of Christ, therefor it is Christ-like to embrace people of other religions and recognize they are on a spiritual path leading to the same ultimate conclusion: GOD. There is but one Prime Mover in the universe and countless paths leading to Him.

Unity and love are paramount.