The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
February 2011 – Vol. 13 Issue 12
Several members spent a wonderful afternoon at the Baha’i’s World Religions Day celebration on January 16th at the Sammamish (WA) City Hall. Inspiring Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Baha’i speakers brought home the idea of the oneness of humanity and suggested ways that religious people could come together and constructively share their perspectives. Musical performances from various religious groups enhanced the event, and afterwards people talked together while enjoying refreshments.
Among the highlights, Pastor Dave Schull of the local United Church of Christ advocated an attitude of “humble uncertainty” where people open themselves to fresh understanding and interpretations, in line with the UCC initiative: “Never place a period where God has placed a comma. God is still speaking.” He gave as an example a difficult verse from John that Christians have used to assert that all other paths are invalid: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He likened it to a love song, where each person asserts that his beloved is the only one, the most beautiful, that life is nothing without them. This is how people feel when they fall in love, but it doesn’t mean that everyone else’s beloved is false or inferior. Harry Terhanian of the Vedic Cultural Center began boldly by characterizing faith or beliefs as a perpetual cause of bloodshed and persecution between and within the world’s religions. Instead, he said, people need to see beyond the illusion of separateness and identification with the body as the self to the oneness of humanity as children of the same God. As the event leaflet said: “together we have spent a few hours experiencing the love for humanity and the oneness of all religions … as we recognize the importance of unity as the source of peace and wellbeing at a time when the world is in great need. We look to partnership to help establish World Unity and the peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein.”
The following evening several members celebrated Martin Luther King Day at the Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue with a talk by Palestinian peace activist Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. His inspiring message of determination, hope, and rejection of violence was a strong parallel to Dr. King’s legacy. He told how from poverty in a refugee camp he became a physician and the first Palestinian doctor to work in an Israeli hospital (where till then Palestinians had only been menial workers), and went on to attend Harvard. Then two years ago in an Israeli attack in Gaza he lost three daughters and a niece, while his fourth daughter lost sight in one eye. Hate and revenge won’t bring back your loved ones, he noted, but you can seek justice. The enemy is ignorance, along with arrogance and greed. We were put on earth to know one another and be connected, and we must smash the physical and mental bonds in us that keep us apart and ignorant. Change starts in each person, so we must look within and change ourselves before asking others to change. For more about Dr. Abuelaish, see his I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Sacrifice on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity.
He left us with these thoughts: Don’t say tomorrow for anything you can do today. Wishes and resolve are good, but nothing will happen till we act, on however small a scale. He told the story of a little girl on a beach where thousands of starfish were washed ashore. Seeing her throwing them back in the ocean, a bystander said, “What you do can’t make a difference to all these creatures.” As she tossed another into the sea, she replied, “It made a difference to that one.” The size of our action is not important, but rather continuing our efforts with determination and confidence, never giving up.
Interfaith Discussion: Tending Adam’s Garden Study/Dialogue Circle continues Sunday, February 6, with “What are the Requirements on the Road to Spiritual Maturity?” Join us from 3:30 to 6 p.m. at St Peter's United Methodist Church, 17222 NE 8th St, Bellevue. For more information or to RSPV, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. (flier)
Join us one Tuesday a month for informal conversations exploring major ideas that have influenced human thought and actions through the ages. The Bill of Rights: The First Amendment will be our topic this month. It states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” We’ll be discussing such questions as: Should (and does) the federal government privilege certain religions over others, or religion over disbelief? What does an acceptable separation of church and state look like? What should constitute protected “speech”? Should free speech apply to corporations and other artificial entities? What factors promote or discourage a free press? Is the Constitution best interpreted by seeking the intentions of its authors or by responding to contemporary understandings and conditions? Should it be narrowly or broadly interpreted? What is the basis of these rights and how can they be preserved? We hope to see you there!
March 1: The Subconscious and Unconscious
April: The Atomic Theory
The First Amendment seeks to minimize the power of any group or government to impose restrictions on thought and its expression. It mandates toleration of a wide diversity of views, religious and secular, verbal and written, in private and public gatherings. Philosophically it grows out of the idea that “all men are created equal,” an equality that can rest on a number of grounds, such as a single divine or natural source or shared human needs and potentials.
Broadening equality from “all (property-owning European) men” to “all human beings” has been a slow process, not yet completed. Yet how many features of modern life can be traced directly to the idea that every person, simply by virtue of being human, has an innate and inalienable worth that demands respect and consideration from others, and that the fruits of this respect should show themselves now in earthly life rather than being deferred to some hypothetical future or after-death state. Its results include ending slavery throughout much of the world, more equal treatment of women, wider recognition that all children deserve certain basic opportunities, suffrage for adults regardless of class, race or gender, and discrediting the claims of dominant groups to be innately superior people whose elevated political and economic status is divinely or naturally sanctioned. These changes have in common viewing every man, woman and child – rich or poor, weak or powerful, of high or low status, of whatever color or ethnicity – as equally and fully human.
But even these present results have not been completely realized. The degree of brotherhood attained today remains controversial, and many forces work against its expression in human life. Prominent political, religious and media figures encourage intolerance and conflict by appealing to fear and egoism. Successful economic players rationalize pursuit of unlimited self-interest at whatever cost to others as natural and good. The process of extending equality of rights and opportunity involves continuing departures from tradition, a course where people find themselves forced again and again to confront new ideas and new situations that make them uncomfortable, even angry. Some who face losing privileges or having their own longstanding customs and norms displaced mount aggressive campaigns to prevent or overturn particular changes. But do we really wish to return to conditions of earlier decades, let alone centuries, once we remove the rosy patina from the past? Throughout history, life has been desperately hard for the great mass of people so a few can reap the benefits, and on a global scale continues to be so.
Of one thing we can be sure: if too few people active-ly support the equal humanity of every person regardless of race, gender, class, ethnicity or religion, the byproducts of brotherhood will erode and disappear. The ideal of respect and toleration for all could once again be considered misguided or even pernicious. The Enlightenment philosophy on which the American and French Revolutions were based continues to be attacked and distorted by those who would retain or return to traditional mindsets and preferential treatment. Even some theosophists and New Age advocates are apt to disparage it because they wish spiritual factors to have more dominance in current thought, not considering that their very right to exist openly and publicly express their views depends on the ascendancy of such an Enlightenment philosophy.
Great spiritual sages have assured us repeatedly that the solution to mankind’s problems lies in "loving one another." The compassionate directives of teachers such as Jesus on universal love, returning good for evil, and looking equally on the just and unjust appeal to the heart but are dismissed as too idealistic (if not wrongheaded) to put into practice. It takes strength and self-discipline to act from a conviction of the common humanity of all, and there is still a very long way to go before brotherhood is a practical reality. But it is something each of us can undertake step by step, if we wish to. We have opportunities every day to encourage mutual respect, to react with kindness and openness, and to resist impulses of fear, hostility and exclusivity. It is such simple, achievable steps by people in their daily activities that will eventually bring oneness into the hearts and lives of human beings throughout the world.