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Governance and Religion

January 14, 2009
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Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God suggests that “the existence of God, like the air we breathe, need not be proven. It is a question of developing good lungs to meet it correctly.”  He suggests that “the way back to a lively faith is not a question of finding the right answers, but of living in a certain way.”

Living in a certain way? 

I read a masters thesis this past week dealing with the subject of Democracy, Federalism, and Nationality: Ukraine’s Medieval Heritage in the thought of N. I. Kostomarov. It was a fascinating read dealing with the process of national identity of the Ukraine and their independence from Russia – both nations have a common Rus’ heritage seemingly. My attention was captured with the issue of unity within the Ukraine: “Language furnished us with unity…. Language was not enough, though. It was sufficient to help provide a sense of unity, but not unity itself.”  “What were once actual bonds of state became mere ideas – a consciousness of a definite common political tradition, a common law, a common religion, and a common culture. There was a notion of oneness, but no real unity.”

The question of unity always brings to mind the book by Catherine de Hueck Dogherty titled Sobernost: Eastern Unity of Mind and Heart for Western Man. Sobernost of course is a Russian word.  To quote Catherine de Hueck Dogherty: "Literally it means unity. But to Russians the word 'sobernost' is a much deeper concept than just unity. One can say a team is a symbol of unity in the West – a group who has decided to abide by certain rules of play or work and is very united on that particular part of their life. People can be united on political and economic unity or policy, but the word 'sobernost' goes much deeper than all that. It means a unity that has passed through the gospel as a 'gathering factor' – for in Russian, 'sobernost' means 'gathering'."
According to Garry Wills in his book, What Paul Meant, (Viking Penguin, 2006, 180) Church (ekklesia) simply means “gathering.” Is this the meaning of Rolheiser’s “living in a certain way”, living in community – a gathering? I suspect this may be the basis for being truly missional in our time – the experience of sobernost lived out in community.  There is a move afoot today to bring unity amongst the world religions or ‘faiths’.  According to The Tony Blair Faith Foundation, “Faith is vitally important to hundreds of millions of people. It underpins systems of thought and of behaviour. It underpins many of the world's great movements for change or reform, including many charities. And the values of respect, justice and compassion that our great religions share have never been more relevant or important to bring people together to build a better world.” (http://tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/about-us/mission-statement.html.  You can read about “Tony Blair’s Leap of Faith” at http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1810020,00.html.) 

What started out in this blog for me as a personal interest in Governance - Faith Communities and Social Enterprise/Economy has developed into a major study on Governance and Religion. This appears to be a growing field of activity. As I googled the terms I discovered many references. One in particular caught my attention - Religion in Public Life in the Journal of Globalization for the Common Good (http://lass.calumet.purdue.edu/cca/jgcg/2008/sp08/jgcg-sp08-race.htm).  This article quotes Richard Falk a long-time analyst of international affairs and advocate of social and spiritual values in global thinking. He wrote: “Without religious identity, prospects for global humane governance are without any social or political foundation; and more importantly, they are without the spiritual character that can mobilize and motivate on a basis that is far more powerful than what the market, secular reason, and varieties of nationalism have to offer.” In Falk’s book review I read: “These contributors are seekers, doers, and path-pointers on the human journey toward a global civilization, in which people of diverse cultures and belief systems will need to learn to live in true community.”

Rev. Alan Race, Editor-in-Chief, Interreligious Insight, UK/USA,  http://www.interreligiousinsight.org/index.html   ends his articleReligion in Public Life with the following paragraph: "The public square should not be filled with a theocratic religious voice or be left hostage to a secular liberal absence of religious reasoning, but a dialogical conversation that values the other even as it might disagree with them. This seems to me to be the next step in the support for liberty and democracy in a plural society. There is, however, one major problem in taking such a step. It will likely require us to suspend, if not surrender, our religious senses of absolutism. And the trouble is, as we know, the religions don’t like to do that." 

 Can there be a “lively faith” without it being absolute? 
Garry Wills closes the ‘Afterword’ of his book What Paul Meant with this paragraph: “Religion took over the legacy of Paul as it did that of Jesus – because they both opposed it. They said that the worship of God is a matter of interior love, not based on external observances, on temples or churches, on hierarchies or priesthoods. Both were at odds with those who impose the burdens of “religion” and punish those who try to escape them. They were radical egalitarians, though in ways that delved below and soared above conventional politics. They were on the side of the poor, and saw through the rich. They saw only two basic moral duties, love of God and love of neighbor. Both were liberators, not imprisoners – so they were imprisoned. So they were killed. Paul meant what Jesus meant, that love is the only law. Paul’s message to us is not one of guilt and dark constraint. It is this: 'Finally Brothers, whatever things are true, whatever honorable, whatever making for the right, whatever lovable, whatever admirable – think on these. All you have learned, have taken from tradition, have listened to, have observed in me, act on these, and the God who brings peace will be yours. (Phil 4.8-9)'."