Monday, May 27

Finger pointing at the moon

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“GOD is not a Christian…!”

I was taken aback when I came across this statement and was even more shocked when I found out that it was uttered by a Christian bishop. John Shelby Spong, a retired bishop of Newark (New Jersey, USA), is a theologian, religion commentator and author.

However, I was comforted when the good bishop continued: “God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honour my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don’t think my tradition defines God – I think it only points me to God.”

As I was pondering on his words, I came across this writing on a blog.

“Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger.”

Indeed, we should not get too obsessed over methods; or we could completely lose track of what our goal was in the first place. It does not matter if you praise the name of your God in Latin, Arabic or Greek. In the end, all languages are fine as long as they get you where you want to go.

What matters is that one reaches one’s goal.

Some years ago while in America, I chanced upon an old university friend. He is a remarkable person in that he is forever searching. He started as a history student in Malaysia in the late 60s, went on to do law at the Inns of Court in London and then, to Economics in Sussex University. He continued his study in Psychology in San Francisco, then I lost track of him.

When I finally caught up with him in Los Angeles in 1987, he was a minister in one of the progressive churches. Knowing his penchant of looking for what he considered the ultimate true path (I believe that his perambulating through the academic fields was a reflection of his search for philosophical certainty – sort of his personal quest for the Holy Grail) I asked him had he indeed found his personal Holy Grail. He came from a Buddhist family, but his religious quest saw him dabbling with most of the major religions of the world.

“Now that you have become a Christian minister, does that mean that you have found the ultimate true path?”

“No, and yes” said he – cryptically.

“What do you mean?” said I, nonplussed.

“I don’t believe I can ever find the ONE true path because there is no single one path”.

“Huh?”

“Let me illustrate with an analogy. When a single white

light hits a prism, it would be broken up into its constituent spectral colours – the full range of the rainbow. If we look at it from the other direction, it means that all the colours of the rainbow coalesce through the prism to form the one white light. Perhaps this white light is the one true path to God, Yahweh, Allah, Brahman – or whatever name people of different culture called the ‘Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omnibenevolent Supreme Being’. The different colours are just the cultural expression of that path.

“I have spent my whole life searching for what I believe to be the truth. I had the opportunity and some would say, the luxury, to search. The fact is that for most people, the belief they adopt is determined by the accident of their birth – the race and culture they are born into – and their personal history.

“In other words, which colour of the rainbow they are born into. I come to realise that it does not matter which band of the rainbow I am in because every colour ultimately leads to the one white light. The important thing is for me to practise to the fullest the doctrine and best teachings of my faith and not be concerned about the correctness of other people’s beliefs.

“It is this realisation that has enlightened me to the truth. In that sense, I have found my Holy Grail.”

I have been reflecting on my friend’s words all these years. A few weeks ago, they were brought to the forth when in one of the eulogies for Muhammad Ali, someone shared some of Ali’s thoughts: “All religions are good – rivers, lakes, and streams; they all have different names, but they all contain water. Religions have different names and they all contain God and the truth.”

So, the late Muhammad Ali proved to be not just someone with fast hands, fast mouth and quick wit. He also was a deep thinker with a good heart.

All believers maintain that their God is ‘Almighty, ‘Omnipotent’ and ‘Limitless’. Ironically, in Malaysia there are so-called believers who deny this by declaring that His words are confined only to their race or sect, and that only they can use His name.

How arrogant some men are – merely one of His creations, living on a tiny speck of dust in the infinite universe – and yet have the temerity to define Him?

In the Bible, the Prophet Job in acknowledging God’s Omnipotence, said this: “I know that you can do all things and that no plan of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)

If like Job, one believes that God is ‘Omnipotent’, then surely one believes that He cannot be limited by mere human construct, of which language and culture are. The world is diverse: diverse in race and culture. It may be diverse but it needs not be divisive.

Perhaps it is this diversity that gives glory to His name (whatever name one may choose to call Him).