From Religious Belief to Spiritual Practice

October 7th, 2009 | Filed under Uncategorized.

cover_caseforgod[1]Have you lost touch with the religion you grew up with but feel the need for a spiritual dimension in your life?

Please join the Open Center in welcoming religious scholars Karen Armstrong and Elaine Pagels for a fascinating discussion on the true meaning of religious faith at the Church of the Transfiguration, 1 East 29th Street, on Monday, October 12 at 8 p.m.

In her nineteenth book, the recently published The Case for God, Armstrong writes of a great shift taking place in the religious landscape. Believers are focusing their attention away from religious beliefs and doctrines and toward meaningful actions of faith.

In Armstrong’s view, many of those who speak as “religious voices,” just as those who speak as atheists, misunderstand the nature of God. These voices – many of them fundamentalist and exclusionary – describe God as an external personality and are driven by ego and fear of God’s “otherness” rather than the transcendent experience that is God.

Armstrong’s purpose in this book is to clear our minds of all the noise about religion and bring us back to a path of faith that depends upon active practice rather than passive belief. And for this she goes to the ancient sages. A Case for God traces the entire history of religion, from the ancient cave paintings at Lascaux, France created around 12,000 BCE through the Axial Age (500-200 BCE, all major religions were founded independently but with common values) to modernity.

What she has found are two ways of practice that lead to God. The first is rigorous spiritual practice on a daily basis. And the second is acting with compassion toward other human beings.

“In silence God is present.”
The first tenant of a religious life is silent contemplation.”The stunned appreciation of an ‘otherness’ beyond the reach of language” is the heart of religion,” writes Armstrong. Rituals, sacred texts, and spiritual practice are there to help us on the path of faith — by whatever name we call it. She tells the story of a man who asked the Buddha who was sitting silently in the midst of chaos in complete serenity, “Are you a god, sir? Are you an angel or a spirit?” The Buddha answered, “No, I’m awake.”

The other aspect of the path of faith involves acts of kindness and compassion. Armstrong writes that acts of compassion are in fact encounters with God. She observes that the very otherness of someone who doesn’t belong to our ethnic, ideological or religious group can actually pull us out of our habitual selfishness, the comfort of our egotism, and give us a sense of the sacred otherness that is God.

Elaine Pagels, renowned Christian scholar best known for her writings on the Gnostic Gospels, is Professor of Religion at Princeton University, and winner of a MacArthur Fellowship. Pagels won the National Book Award recipient for her bestseller The Gnostic Gospels, which was selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century. Pagels’ most recent book is Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity (2007).

Both women have suffered great tragedy in their lives and have transformed despair into a quest for a living faith that has helped millions of others find their own paths to faith-filled lives in a world of suffering and evil.

The $35 dollar fee includes a copy of The Case for God.

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One Response to “From Religious Belief to Spiritual Practice”

  1. julietb | 11/10/09

    A lively discussion with Karen Armstrong in today’s Washington Post 10/11/09.

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