; charset=UTF-8" /> ECUMENICAL AND INTERFAITH NEWS – June : Connecting Voices
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ECUMENICAL AND INTERFAITH NEWS – June

(Submitted by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee of the Southern California/ Nevada Conference, UCC, and the Pacific Southwest Region, DOC.)

EIRCHEY!    DOC-UCC NIGHT AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL: SUNDAY, AUGUST 25.  COME, BRING YOUR CHURCH FRIENDS, EVEN YOUR PASTOR!  CALL JEFF UTTER AT 626-794-1839 OR BONNIE TARWATER  (858) 248-5123 TO LET US KNOW HOW MANY TICKETS YOU WANT (AROUND $20 PER PERSON.  WE NEED TO KNOW SOON.

Can Atheists Go to Heaven?

Here is an excerpt from a recent statement by the new Pope, Francis I: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics.  Everyone!  ‘Father, the atheists?’  Even the atheists.  Everyone!  And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class.  We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all.  And we all have a duty to do good.  And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace.  If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter.  We need that so much.  We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist.’  But do good; we will meet one another there.”

What do you think, sister and brother Disciples and UCC’ers?   A spokesman for the Vatican, Rev. Thomas Roscia, felt it necessary to add an “explanatory note” to what the Pope said.  According to Roscia, people who know about the Catholic Church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”  Toscia added that at the same time, “people who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.”   Was Father Roscia contradicting the Pope by saying this?  What did he mean by “knowing about the Catholic Church?”  Don’t we in the UCC and DOC know enough about the Catholic Church to be able to judge whether we should enter it or not?   Or, on the other hand, was Father Roscia just giving nuance to the Pope’s statement in a way that Francis would agree with?

Time will tell.  Two things seem clear.  First, a lot of people, including atheists and agnostics, welcomed this statement from Pope Francis.  They experienced him as reaching out to them in an inclusive way.  Second, what the Pope said at this point was really nothing new.  He was expressing the sensus fidelium, the sense of what Christian faith means which is present in the whole people of God.  Anyone who has regular contact with Catholic people knows that their stance is very similar or identical to what the Pope expressed.   Unfortunately there is a tendency among non-Catholics to interpret the teachings and rules of Catholicism in a one-sidedly negative way.  Our unbelieving friends and also we free church believers have sometimes been guilty of this.  Hopefully the new Pope can do more to dispel the rather mindless anti-Catholicism which exists in many quarters.

Prayer vs. Meditation

Most of us were taught little or nothing about meditation in Sunday school or church.  Nowadays, however, one hears more and more about it, mainly because of the increasing presence of Buddhists among us, especially here in California.  Buddhism as a religion is a puzzle to us Westerners, mainly because it is “non-theistic.”  “Theism” is the technical term for belief in God.  Buddhists don’t deny the existence of God, but they don’t profess it, either.  God is simply not important or central to them.  Many of the particular branches of Buddhism, for example the Tibetan variety, do believe in divine figures of a sort, but these are more like the saints to which traditional Catholics prayed.  They are nothing like the omnipotent creating and redeeming God affirmed by the three Abrahamic religions.

Yet Buddhists are as serious about practicing their religion as we are about practicing ours.  They have their rituals, their ethics, their teaching about the nature of ultimate reality.  Above all they have the practice of meditation, which they believe enables them to move toward the ultimate goal of nirvana, or complete freedom from suffering and from the concerns of the ego.  Meditation is a way of stilling the mind and helping it to become “one-pointed,” aware of and focused on what is really important.   In Buddhism, meditation is an ancient and revered science.  It differs from prayer in that what is important is not relationship (with God), but becoming aware or mindful in a general sense.

Some of us who have had an introduction to Buddhist meditation, for instance in its Zen form, can testify that it deepens and broadens one’s sense of being alive in a most healthy way.  Zen meditation is best done in a certain sitting posture known as the lotus position.  But this is not essential—the Buddhists speak of the Zen master who had no legs.  As we move further into the 21st century we are beginning to see Christians (and also a few Buddhists) who have decided on “dual belonging”, on adhering both to Christianity and to Buddhism.   They see no conflict between the two religions, in their deepest essence.   Whatever we may think about this, Buddhist meditation does seem to be an excellent way for Christians to enhance their spiritual life.

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