This piece is part of an on-going blog series called Plurality 2.0 (watch video here). Full schedule of guest authors throughout April and May is available here.
Katie Harris recently relocated to Portland, Oregon after receiving her B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from UC Berkeley. When she is not reading with her son, destroying her fiancé in a game of Connect 4, or drinking copious amounts of coffee, she works for a non-profit called IRCO: the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization.
God is Not a Chair
I’m sort of a dumb ass. I didn’t know religious pluralism existed. Or rather, I knew that it existed, but didn’t know the name for it. Which is stupid because I know what plural means. I studied linguistics for crying out loud. I am a failure.
Truth is, I slowly began toying with the idea of plurality about 5 years ago. Which was terrifying for me, coming from a traditional Christian upbringing. And these thoughts I was having, these ideas that contradicted everything I was taught, didn’t have a name. (Except maybe heresy. Hi mom, sorry). I’m so going to hell, I thought. Stone me now and get it over with.
I love words. I think it’s safe to say that we all love words. Words are how we label things, make sense of the world, give things meaning. I call that thing over there a chair, and you agree with me because we were both taught that that thing over there with its shapes and its wood or metal or plastic is called ‘chair’. I can even say it in different languages: silla or chaise, so that even MORE people know what I’m talking about. That’s awesome.
And we’ve all been here before: You’re having a conversation and you can’t come up with a word. The perfect word. The word that would make it ALL make sense. Without this word your point is null. DAMMIT, what is that word???
For me, that word is plurality. I’m glad I found that word. Or rather, I’m glad Adam asked me to post about it because it allowed me to finally give a name to a large transition in my life.
Somewhere along the way, between the time I was baptized at age 16 and the time I took a World’s Religions class in college, I asked myself this question: What if God revealed himself differently at different times to different cultures using different people?
And then I almost threw up. Did that thought mean that I was DENYING Jesus? I had no idea (I still don’t). But it made sense to me. It was logical. After some wrestling, I still believe the Jesus story. But why does that have to be the only story? It doesn’t seem fair. I hear my mom’s voice in my head right now: “Katie, LIFE is not fair.” Well, I get that, MOM. But honestly, I’ve been told my whole life that God is amazing, all knowing, all seeing. Well my thinking was/is that if God is so smart wouldn’t he have taken into account different cultures, eras, and LANGUAGES? What I experience as God, someone else might have a different name for. And who I am to say that we aren’t talking about the same thing? That’s the “fun” of translation. God is not a chair. He is intangible and complicated. But if you experience a higher power, a supreme being, a force outside yourself that governs you and your world – call it whatever you want.
I think Gandhi said it best:
“I believe in the fundamental truth of all great religions of the world. I believe that they are all God-given, and I believe that they were necessary for the people to whom these religions were revealed. And I believe that, if only we could all of us read the scriptures of the different faiths from the standpoint of the followers of those faiths, we should find that they were at the bottom all one and were all helpful to one another.”