In a crowded lecture hall of Oxford University in 1944, C.S. Lewis conducted the first of many debates on the inherent truth of Christianity. It was to be a monumental affair, shoring up the foundations of the Christian faith for Lewis’s native England, and for believers worldwide.
Lewis is one of the few we remember in the history of Christianity who has endeared us to the religion for its own character, and not by overbearing authority. His expression of doubt alongside faith made the trial of the soul not only acceptable, but necessary. And, for many, his candid articulation of the problems and virtues of the Christian faith made open questioning and discussion of religion no longer taboo. It was to be, instead, the methodology for building upon the foundations of belief.
On a grand scale, this is how a history professor with no aspirations of conversion turned Christian thought on its head. But Lewis’s tactic was specific, as much as it was natural. He did not appeal to abstractions and speak in philosophical terms. His dissection of Christianity, if I can so roughly call it that, was drawn from everyday experiences. This shone through in his seminal writings on the subject—The Problem of Pain, God in the Dock, and of course, Mere Christianity. It may that his “for instances” and anecdotes were fabricated to prove a point, but they were realistic, they were feasible. And because they were ordinary experiences, everyone could relate to them. This is how an earnest and encompassing discussion of religion must be conducted.
I know that I am prone to ambiguity in my writing, if only because I get carried away with ideas and language. On some level, perhaps, I write about theology, about the spirit, and about faith, but the essence of it is lost precisely because I have chosen to write in a way that seeks to capture the pure essence of spirituality and faith. This is decidedly impossible, and I know it. I cannot chain faith to a page, nor do I want to, though I feel somehow that it would be easiest to disseminate and understand if I did. Ironically, my efforts defeat themselves, and my writings often leave readers confused, frustrated, and unsure of what was said.
My goal therefore is to employ the tactic of C.S. Lewis. Though I have a problem with “borrowing” ideas and techniques from others, obsessed with the fact that they are not completely original and are therefore useless, I must understand what I myself preach: that the natural interconnectedness of humanity requires that we build off each other’s ideas and perspectives. I cannot assume that I will successfully bring religions into discussions and relationship without this, nor do I want to. I must therefore accept what others have offered before me, using their discoveries to share my own thoughts and to give my voice the power that it needs.
Lewis’s primary tactic was to bring the everyday into the discussion of the unknown and theoretical. It is pointless to discuss ideas without application, and Lewis knew this from the beginning. Let me start here, then, and offer my writings with a decidedly understood vision of life. Here we must start, and from here, together, we must go.
But there is another component to my calling, my desire to bridge the gaps and eradicate the schisms that separate the world’s religions. I must recognize my inherent ability and worth. Otherwise, I will never reach my calling.
Let me offer an example. Fairly early on in Dr. Howard Thurman’s career, he took a trip to India to visit Ghandi. More or less a contemporary of Lewis, Thurman was an exception to most rules in the academic and spiritual worlds. He was a doctored black man who founded the first black university in the United States, Howard University in Washington, D.C. He also founded The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco—a community that has become known for its urgent acceptance of all faiths and backgrounds. Begun in the mid-20th century, it was brazenly progressive—from acceptance of alternative sexualities to the theological underpinnings of universal faith. It defied the divisions of religion that this country was founded on. And with a loyal following, it continues to bring in those who have been ostracized from other communities of faith.
When Thurman left the U.S. to visit Ghandi in the 1940s, he did not go in anticipation of an education on what it means to be a leader, or how to be a man of inner peace. He did not expect instruction on the way to enlightenment, nor did he assume himself to be a lesser man that Ghandi. He came precisely for the opposite reason: because he was already a man of peace, a great leader, and man who had found enlightenment. As he spoke with Ghandi, revelations were exchanged between them that painted a picture of two humble men, sharing their experiences and knowledge. Each man was different; neither one was lesser than the other.
So I think I must approach religion and spirituality. Catholicism is riddled with hierarchy, and whether purposeful or not, infects its followers with an innate sense of greater and lesser. I still shudder to think of meeting the Pope. Am I a good enough man to stand next to him, to speak with him? Are my ideas worthy? Is my soul pure enough?
What Dr. Thurman has elucidated, and what has grown to be an amazing empowerment, is the understanding that each human being possess the potential for maturation, for peace, and for greatness as manifested through their unique gifts. It is not different with the Pope, nor is his age an indication that life has made him better through the years. With him, deeds have been accomplished and words have been written and spoken. I can claim some of this, but much of me is still potential. And that potential weighs as heavily as act and word.
Therefore, I cannot hesitate to approach religious leaders, organizations, institutions, men, women, prophets, priests, or doctors because of their titles or establishment. To do so would deter the necessary relationships that I long so greatly to build. To do so would feed the divisions that exist and exclude. To do so would debase me to a lesser human being, without the place or possibility of bringing about change. If I accept I am lesser, I have already weakened the success of my calling.
And so I go forth with two imperatives always in my mind and in my heart: That truly, all men and women are equal, myself being one of them. And, however I may love ideas, I will most certainly alienate by writing outside of the realm of everyday life. It must be experiential; it must be visceral; it must be applied.
And so, I carry on.