What good is a faith that does not take its adherents beyond the borders of that faith? Not much is my thought, though I wouldn't begrudge others their deep and abiding faith.
Last night, I watched the 1991 movie, "Black Robe," the tale of a 17th century Jesuit priest sent into the wilds of Quebec to convince and convert the Indians. The movie is gritty and contains some of the on-the-ground questions that seldom get addressed in similar religion-oriented tales. I loved the scenery and the make-up and the marvel of a man so full of conviction that he would put his life on the line. But putting his life on the line in order to convince others? What a small-town and juvenile effort that struck me as being.
The good thing about the movie was that it challenged some of faith's bright convictions. But it did not challenge or address the bedrock assumptions that men and women might set out on such quests in the first place ... I cannot be content unless everyone agrees with me; there are credible reasons why such an imperative exists; 'God' says so and I have a book to prove it. How is it not a betrayal of the very 'God' anyone might credit if the religion that espouses him/her/it cannot make peace with the variety and wonder of a world that is obviously capable of leading a life without that 'God?'
I marveled at the notion that a religious man might think he was right. I marveled at the notion that other men might agree. But most of all I marveled that the chosen path led nowhere but back to the chosen path, like some dog in pursuit of its tail.
How fortunate I feel to have gotten involved with a spiritual endeavor, if it can be called that, that asks nothing but that I open my eyes. Sure, I have tried to convince others as a means of convincing myself and finding some company. Sure, I have thought I was right. Sure I have been an asshole ... that's what spiritual endeavor is -- investigating the asshole, not naming or improving him.
When I asked my Zen teacher what efforts he made to get more people to come to the zendo or practice hall, he was adamant: "No!" he said. "They come here if they want to. I encourage them to do zazen [meditation practice]." Put another way, he did not encourage anyone to see things his way or the "Buddhist" way. He encouraged them to see things their way in their own lives ... really. This approach strikes me as the only way that makes much sense when it comes to leading a peaceful life. This is the way that encourages faith to move with assured feet into a realm beyond a faith that is based on agreement or holiness. It doesn't happen overnight, perhaps, and it's not always easy, but it's the only thing that makes much sense in terms of reality and any possible kindness.
On the peace picket line last Saturday, a woman came down the line carrying a small camera. She asked each participant to give their names and say a bit about why they were there. And when it came my turn, I found myself saying, "I'm here not in order to convince anyone of anything. I would like to think that people would think what they think ... and then think about it."
Honestly, I just cannot think of another option that stands a chance of success.