In Eyes Of God, We're All Minorities

Barbara Brown Taylor

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Awakin FeatureKrister Stendahl, former dean of Harvard Divinity school, told a reporter shortly before his death in 2008, "In the eyes of God, we are all minorities. That’s a rude awakening for many, who have never come to grips with the pluralism of the world."

From my limited perspective in a small college classroom, I believe that increasing numbers of [youth] are coming to grips with pluralism -- embracing it, even -- though they are getting very little help from their elders as they think through what it means to be a person of faith in community with people of other (and no) faiths. No preacher has suggested to them that today’s Good Samaritan might be a Good Muslim or a Good Humanist. No confirmation class teacher has taught them that the Golden Rule includes honoring the neighbor’s religion as they would have the neighbor honor theirs.

Come to think of it, I do know one preacher who tried something like that - from the pulpit of a cathedral in a major city, no less. I do not remember what the subject of her sermon was, only the response to it. She must have suggested that the Christian way was one among many ways to God (a wave and not the ocean), because afterward a man came up to her and said, "If God isn't partial to Christianity, then what am I doing here?" 

I wish ordinary Christians took exams, so I could put that question on the final. As natural as it may be to want to play on the winning team, the wish to secure divine favoritism strikes me as the worst possible reason to practice any religion. If the man who asked that question could not think of a dozen better reasons to be a Christian than that, then what, indeed, was he doing there? 

An old story is told about Rabia of Basra, an eighth-century Sufi mystic who was seen running through the streets of her city one day carrying a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other. When someone asked her what she was doing, she said she wanted to burn down the rewards of paradise with the torch and put out the fires of hell with the water, because both blocked the way to God. "O, Allah," Rabia prayed, "if I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell, and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise. But if I worship You for Your Own sake, grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty."

In Christian tradition this comes under the heading of unconditional love, though it is usually understood as the kind of love God exercises toward humans instead of the other way around. Now, thanks to a Muslim mystic from Iraq, I have a new way of understanding what it means to love God unconditionally. Whenever I am tempted to act from fear of divine punishment or hope of divine reward, Rabia leans over from her religion into mine and empties a bucket of water on my head.

Barbara Brown Taylor is an American Episcopal priest, professor, author and theologian and is one of the United States' best known preachers. In 2014, the TIME magazine placed her in its annual TIME 100 list of most influential people in the world. This article is excerpted from her book Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion of truly accepting a path different from your own as valid and worthy of respect? Can you share a personal story of a time you were able to go beyond tolerance and toward deep respect for world traditions that were quite different from yours? What helps you develop the ability to respect the world's diverse traditions and eschew a sense of superiority of your own tradition?

Add Your Reflection:

15 Previous Reflections:

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    On Feb 26, 2020 Bharat Chauhan wrote:
    If I may assume that God means same qualities in every religion/belief then for the sake of understanding, let's call God=Principle. Principles are natural laws that are universal, self-evident, self-validating, timeless, objective and at work whether or not we understand or value them. For example the Law of Gravity.
    If another assumption I make is true then every religion/belief is a mental map of that community. Lets call it Paradigm.
    As long as Paradigms are in alignment with the principle there should not be any conflict. Just the Peace everywhere.
    Learning lesson for me is that before I act on any of my thought(Paradigm), I should confirm that its in alignment with the Principle(GOD). If not then don't act on it because acting on a thought that is not aligned to the Principle is for sure going to bring conflict.

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    On Feb 26, 2020 Bill wrote:
    Life, as a hopeful journey, is a series of events. While the path is unknown and ismanifest daily, the vision remains: all souls get to heaven. How wonderful the myriad ways...

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    On Feb 25, 2020 Neetha Rao wrote:
    Dear all,
    As a hindu, religious tolerance is ingrained into my system and as a Heartfulness practitioner I have been following this since 1997 December.
    The change should come from within, when I learn to accept all as my brethren irrespective of their religion and myself raise above religious diversification can I truly be a Human.

    1 reply: Aj | Post Your Reply
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    On Feb 25, 2020 Kay wrote:
    I grew up in a Christian home and throughout my adult life have tried on different faiths within Christianity. It wasn't til I step back from traditional, institutionalChristianity and opened my mind and my awareness to study Hindu, Muslin, Kabbalah ( mystical Judaism) that I saw Christianity in a new light. I incorporate many beautiful prayers and practices from each of these religions which has made for me now a very rich, moving, and spiritual life.

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    On Feb 25, 2020 Manisha wrote:
    When we consider entire universe, we really belongs to minorities. And I think we got special status too. We got brain and we can really make big difference.
    I always heard and I believe God is one. All religions are just a way to reach out to God. You call him by any name but end of the day we all are waiting for miracle. There is no good or perfect way.
    Everyone is trying but some people find him within, some find in nature, some find in the smiles that they bought on other person face and some are still running behind to find him.
    Truth is, journey is endless until we will start believing in humanity and kindness. No one has seen God but his presence is everywhere. I can feel his presence right now in this moment:)

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    On Feb 25, 2020 Anjana wrote:
    In the eyes of God, all are equal -- there are no superiority or minorities.

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    On Feb 25, 2020 Stef Skupin wrote:
    I love the question of the man asking what he is doing there, if God isn't partial - and imagine to being able to hold that space for him to find his own answer, by saying: I don't know. I love that you are asking that question of yourself.
    So often we think we need to find answers to convince others of the truth and the light we've seen. And they can never find it on us, only in themselves, listening into the silence of their own wisdom.

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    On Feb 25, 2020 MARIA DEL REFUGIO SANDOVAL OLIVAS wrote:
    Es una lucha interior constante. La duda es una llama que quema. Quiero y necesito creer, sin embargo, muchas veces vacilo en mi fe.

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    On Feb 25, 2020 Anilkumar Pandit wrote:
    Everyone as a minority has a wider opportunity to evolve, instead of getting stagnated.
    Further being a minority (call it singularity),facilitates getting connected (by peeping inward) to the core of existence and realize its everlasting beauty.

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    On Feb 25, 2020 Tyler wrote:
    Wow! This spoke straight to my heart! For years I have met many beautiful souls whose beliefs are different from my own and intuitively felt like there was "something wrong" with what my religion was teaching me! More recently I have had the privilege of working with others that have no religion and I have found their souls to be quite vulnerable and almost childlike. We are all inherently good and beautiful in the eyes of God. May I see with God eyes always! β˜ΊοΈπŸ™πŸ»

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    On Feb 23, 2020 Shyam Gupta wrote:
    Wow. What a profound , hard hitting statement on religion. Apart from respecting other religions , it also shows us the path of true worship, which is without fear or reward and just in the spirit of service or unconditional love.
    Am reminded of a mystic baba who had founded a big temple and almost a sect , in Delhi, whom i used to meet very regularly , sharing this with me. " Most of the people coming over here ( mostly rich and powerful), come here , either by fear or for reward . They look at the temple visit , either as a means to avoiid hardship or pain or a fulfillment of their wishes or some desire. I still welcome them, with a hope that some day they would see the futility of thier prayers and actually start worshipping just for the sake of worshipping/service or just ib the spirit of service with unconditional love for god and all humanity.

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    On Feb 22, 2020 David Doane wrote:
    Pluralism is reality. Erecting walls to shut out and separate is fighting reality. I accept being open to, learning about, and understanding a path different from my own, and accepting it if it is pro growth and not hurting anyone. I've learned a good deal about paths or traditions other than my own, such as about Buddhism and Hinduism, and am way beyond tolerance and into deep respect for those traditions. They actually make more sense to me than my own tradition. What helps me develop ability to respect the world's diverse traditions and eschew a sense of superiority of my own tradition is for me to not just listen to what I or others think, assume, or judge about other traditions, but for me to be open to learn about the other traditions and be open to the truth in them.

    1 reply: Amen | Post Your Reply
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    On Feb 21, 2020 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    To me a true religion is a way of serving others of any faith with no expectationof getting any kind of reward from the receiver. It is an expression of unconditional and selfless love. Anybody can be a Good Samaritan, a Good Muslim, a Good Hindu, a Good Buddhist, a Good Jain, a Good Jew, a Good Atheistor a Good Humanist. The world we live in is pluralistic with a wide spectrum of beliefs, ideas, opinions and faiths. Our task is how to relate to people different from us with genuine respect; how to implement the Golden Rule in daily life. We all are children of God- outwardly looking different but the same inwardly. If we live from our open heart and loveothers unconditionally, we all can live in harmony. Harmonious living is a spiritual living, a truly religious living. Tolerance is different from respect. In tolerance, we consider ourselveshigher or better than others. In respect we view and relate to others as equal. As I was growing up I have had manyexperiences of relating to peo... [View Full Comment] To me a true religion is a way of serving others of any faith with no expectationof getting any kind of reward from the receiver. It is an expression of unconditional and selfless love. Anybody can be a Good Samaritan, a Good Muslim, a Good Hindu, a Good Buddhist, a Good Jain, a Good Jew, a Good Atheistor a Good Humanist. The world we live in is pluralistic with a wide spectrum of beliefs, ideas, opinions and faiths. Our task is how to relate to people different from us with genuine respect; how to implement the Golden Rule in daily life. We all are children of God- outwardly looking different but the same inwardly. If we live from our open heart and loveothers unconditionally, we all can live in harmony. Harmonious living is a spiritual living, a truly religious living.

    Tolerance is different from respect. In tolerance, we consider ourselveshigher or better than others. In respect we view and relate to others as equal. As I was growing up I have had manyexperiences of relating to people of different faiths in different contexts. My father was a Kirtankar- chanting the Songs of Rama and Krishna. My brother accompaniedhim by playing a harmonium and a Muslim gentleman playing tablas-Indian drums. I will never forget how ecstatic and happy we were transcending man -made dividing boundaries. I had similar experiences when as a child I was in the presence of Mahatma Gandhi in Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad. Such unforgettable experiences have shaped my outlook and behaviors towards people of different faiths.

    I have learned to be mindful and aware of any thought, sense or feeling arising in my mind about superiority of my spiritual or cultural tradition. Such mindful introspection is very helpful to me to work on my own self.

    Namaste!
    JagdishP Dave'

    [Hide Full Comment]

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