Exploring many paths can lead to spirituality


POSTED: Saturday, February 20, 2010

A recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that a significant number of religious believers engage in what they called mixing of faiths. Sometimes it is practices. Prayerful contemplation shifts to yoga or Buddhist meditation, for example. Sometimes it is a change in the communal setting, type of service, leadership, conceptions of life and death, or a transformation of social priorities.

In a so-called secular age, one wonders whether this mobility within a religiously plural global setting is simply a haunting natural urge to find some transcendence or ultimate grounding in a person's life that is not being otherwise satisfied. Religions provide numerous routes, messages and procedures.

If different basic factors motivate individuals in such matters and specific faiths are limited in their capacity to accommodate such differences, religions as a means to satisfy these expansive human aspirations are relativized. Their contributions might remain, but qualified, re-contextualized.

Absoluteness and exclusivity, desirable as they might appear to be, seem contrived, possibly hazardous, as committed practitioners and institutions embrace these traits for the promotion of their own faith preference.

One can formulate the dynamic into the language of consumer demand and product satisfaction: the buyers, perhaps not quite sure about how they might be satisfied, and the providers offering their own products and standards of assessment. The consumers desire to test, the suppliers affirm the efficacy: “;You have needs, we have help.”;

Every faith venture encounters conditions to be met. Somewhat like sports, the method of “;supplying”; requires the seeker to work at gaining functional skill and adeptness. The standards for advancement increase as progress occurs. From dabblers to devoted practitioners, adjustments occur as spiritual matters find a place amongst the other affairs of life.

Each spiritual quest furnishes its own distinctive package deal, its linguistic-conceptual scheme, its range of ritual practices, its moral and aesthetic sensibilities. However extensively one buys into “;the program,”; the optimal consequences will be relative to that particular spiritual pathway and one's own perceived and practical needs.

The security of any faith is at once concrete and restricted. Whether acknowledged or not, the lure of the secure cannot eliminate uncertainties, in this respect, about other prospects.

Perhaps every life option, faith-based or not, involves a kind of faithlike trajectory toward success and satisfaction. Everyone faces opportunities and limits. Like marriage or career, the actualization of other options cannot be many. This inevitably qualifies the outcomes and validity of the assessments. Exclusivity results in unimaginable lost opportunities even as it might offer enormous focal achievement.

Maybe it does not matter which spiritual path one takes or what mixture is used, as long as it is done well and is rewarding. But the spiritual paths themselves are not so accommodating. Differences do matter.

Whether an aberration or superior trait of our species, the differing worlds provided by spiritual options are worthy of exploring in as wide-ranging a way as is feasible. To discourage seeking seems enormously shortsighted and disrespectful of persons. Would that wholeheartedness and critical scrutiny could be effective co-workers in such ventures.

Don Blakeley is a resident of Honolulu, an emeritus professor of philosophy. He can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).