So, if religion is not about believing things, what is it about? What I’ve found is that, across the board, religion is about behaving differently. Instead of deciding whether or not you believe in God, first you do something, you behave in a committed way, and then you begin to understand the truths of religion. And religious doctrines are meant to be summons to action: you only understand them when you put them into practice. Karen Armstrong on SOF
Theology is poetry
I suggest we discuss the above conversation. Karen Armstrong is a prolific author and articulate speaker on comparative religion. She describes herself as "a freelance monotheist," and believes that "all the great traditions are saying the same thing in much the same way, despite their surface differences." She centers religion on compassion and ethics: "I say that religion isn’t about believing things. It's about what you do. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.” [see wiki article]
What did I like, you ask?
I like Armstrong's comments about the fact that the Bible can't answer your questions. I think Armstrong rightly puts her finger on the fact that many fundamentalists and atheists have both erred in expecting the Bible to be a book of answers. Hence, either the Bible has life's answers (fundamentalist) or it doesn't (atheists). Of course, that's painting with rather broad strokes. (Not all atheists are reacting against fundamentalism, for example.)
Armstrong suggests that the Bible is "like weights in a gym" that we "struggle with." I like that. It reminds me when the book of Hebrews speaks of the "mature" approach to "the Word." The mature "by constant use have learned to distinguish good and evil." The idea in Hebrews (chapter four, is it?) seems to be of training, not by learning rules of behavior or true propositions that one applies to life; rather, I think the idea is that interaction with "the Word" (which probably should not be restricted to the written text) should result in a certain transformative effect that carries over into the lived life.
Armstrong talked about how the Bible can be (for many) an answer book that "with the click of a mouse the answers come up."
Also......what did I like....let me see here....
Okay, I really really appreciated her thoughts that the religious should develop a "counter narrative" to that of the "extremists." I like the positive movement. Armstrong talks about "an exegetical effort." In other words, engage the text.....deeply.....rigorously. I like it. Armstrong doesn't want to shy away from the text. For example, she suggests that there is "far more violence in the Bible than in the Koran," but that this is not something that a Christian should hide from.
On the negative side.....
I am always a bit cautious of those who suggest that all religions are generally the same, with only surface differences. I do appreciate and sympathize with the perspective. Extremists throughout history have exaggerated differences and exploited many. However, there are differences in religions, and the degree to which a religion differs depends largely on what one calls the "core," "essence," or "fundamentals" of the religion. And what one calls the essence of a religion is largely a matter of interpretation. In other words, religions like Isalm or Christianity have harsh words for non-believers or infidels, and as such it is easy to see how one could locate the essence of the religion in an us-versus-them frame of mind. I personally think that this is a mistake, but it is a matter of emphasis, isn't it? A matter of interpretation that has to do not just with the text or the tradition, but also with the interpreter's own vision for the world.