My good friend Drew wrote an article in The Record a few weeks ago addressing his own personal stance on spirituality. His view closely coincides with my own, although I approach it from a slightly different perspective, and his courage to share what for many is a very sensitive topic encouraged me to share what I would consider my own religious identity. I hope to generate the same kind of constructive dialogue that Drew accomplished with his relatively pantheistic conception of the divine.I have grown up Mennonite, like Drew, and closely adhere to the core values of the Mennonite faith: peace, service, emulation of Jesus; these concepts make up the framework of my faith. What’s more, these interpretations are rooted in the broader framework of the Christian faith, and so I inevitably acquiesce to this label as well. But here’s the kicker: while acknowledging my religious identity as specifically Mennonite and more broadly Christian, I realize that these core values have surrounded me, at both explicit and implicit levels. Therefore, I acknowledge my inability to fairly assess the legitimacy of any other religion’s truth and salvation claims because my own religious identity is so entangled with my cultural identity.
Phew. Okay. I think I should slow down. Did you catch that last statement? I’m attempting to acknowledge the inevitable tie between religious identity and cultural identity. I’m also attempting to explain that it is through this connectedness that we as individuals assert hypotheses on what is and is not truth. Our experience is so highly influenced by our dominant cultural background that we often mistake cultural presuppositions for absolute truth. I would assert that because everyone is so heavily and deeply influenced by their dominant cultural background, it is unfair to assert that one religious identity holds claim to all truth.
So how does this apply to my original assertion as a Christian Mennonite? I would see my Mennonite core values—peace, service, emulation of my religious identity’s prophet—as part of a transcendental framework that makes up all religious traditions. While firmly believing in the Christian value system, truth claims, and salvation claims, I also hold all other religious identities as equally valid. They are different cultural interpretations of the same pursuit of defining that “enigmatic presence,” difficult to conceptualize, acknowledged within any religious identity.
Viewing “God” as un-definable and un-conceptual could be labeled a religious pluralist assumption: believing that each religion is firmly rooted in the fallibility of human attempts to describe reality, resulting in the affirmation that humanity can and will never fully understand “things in themselves,” or things outside of the human conception of them. This pluralist concept assists in understanding the pragmatics of my religious beliefs. Acknowledging the fallibility of any religion because its interpretation of truth and salvation are bound to the confines of human conception makes religious identity lose as an exclusivist argument and triumph as a pluralist opportunity for constructive interfaith dialogue. Once all religious interpretations have pedagogical equity and this equity is established within the human psyche, authentic religious expression can be practiced without claims of religious superiority creating conflict among the varying religious identities.
So now I will try one more time to define my own position as a Mennonite religious pluralist: my own perception of Christianity is unavoidably influenced by my acknowledgment of its inherent flaws, but because Christianity is the lens which I most intimately understand the concept of the divine, I adhere to it as my particular form of religious expression. So, while my argument does put me into the same cultural constraints as any claim on truth and salvation, it appreciates each religion as the closest one can come to truly understanding God.
Ben Handrich is a senior English major.