Rediscovering Reverence

Rediscovering Reverence: The Meaning of Faith in a Secular World

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Rediscovering Reverence
    Book Description:

    Drawing on familiar experiences as well as aspects of western and eastern spiritual traditions, Heintzman argues that religious practice is rooted in two basic ways human beings act in the world. It is therefore an element in the structure of the human spirit, not a phase in its history. Explaining the meaning of religious practice in contemporary language, Rediscovering Reverence is addressed to anyone who wants to explore the meaning and promise of a religious life. A unique and thoughtful meditation on the role of reverence in everyday life, Rediscovering Reverence presents new perspectives on modern faith, religion, and both personal and societal well-being.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8609-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
    Ralph Heintzman
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-7)

    This book aims to give a rational explanation of what the modern Western¹ world calls “religion.” In doing so, I will call into question our evolving use of that word over the last five or six centuries. But I will also try to explain the ideas and experience that lie behind religious practice in words that might be meaningful to today’s readers.

    This is not meant to imply that the ideas are the inner reality, and the religious practice merely the outer form or shell of that reality. Quite the contrary, as this book will argue. But there comes a...

  5. 1 The Human Paradox
    (pp. 8-15)

    Let’s begin at the beginning. That is to say: where our own lives begin.

    Every human being has the experience of growing up in a community, usually in some kind of family. We don’t choose our families, but the experience of growing up in them marks us for life.

    Some of the ways are obvious. Language, for example. We learn our first language from our families, and it becomes the filter through which we learn about the world, shaping all our understandings. We can’t understand or express things except in the ways our language will allow. In this sense, we...

  6. 2 Reverence
    (pp. 16-22)

    In order to begin developing a vocabulary for the other side of the human paradox – so we can name it – let’s think about some of the virtues we normally associate with family life, especially the life of a family we admire.

    One word that comes to mind right away is “respect.” That’s what it means to “honour thy father and thy mother.” But in a successful family, respect goes well beyond parent-child relationships. It’s the way every member of the family treats all other members. For parents and older members of the family, respect will often be tinged with something...

  7. 3 Spirituality
    (pp. 23-32)

    The natural human instinct for reverence is the soil in which religious practice grows, beginning with human spirituality.¹

    Of course reverence can and should be expressed in purely – or almost purely – secular ways. Most of the ones we have mentioned so far – the necessary reverence of daily life in a family, or community, or organization – can be thought of, and practised, without any reference beyond secular realities. Some of the great traditions of reverence from the past, like the teachings of the ancient Chinese sage Confucius (551–479 BCE) or the classical tradition of the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers, can...

  8. 4 “Religions” and Religious Life
    (pp. 33-45)

    And just as there are secular forms of reverence and spirituality, it could also be said, without too much distortion, that there are secular forms of “religion.” The continuum leading from the secular to the religious can also be found within religion itself. When we are unsatisfied in our need for reverence and spirituality, we find other ways to express them, some of which are caricatures – sometimes grotesque caricatures – of the originals.

    The Nazis, as I already noted, offered their adherents many quasireligious elements, including ceremonies, ritual, utopian vision, commitment, and belonging. Indeed, writing in 1939, C.G. Jung said that...

  9. 5 Faith and Belief
    (pp. 46-56)

    Faith and belief arenotthe same thing.

    This may come as a surprise to you. Many people assume that the essence of religion is belief. Isn’t that what you do, in a “religion”: believe something? Isn’t thissomethingthe thing that makes a religion a religion, and makes it the religion that it is?¹

    Those who take this view assume that one decides to lead a religious life somewhat as if one were joining a political party or taking sides in an academic or philosophical debate: you check out the statement of beliefs, or the creed, and if you...

  10. 6 Encountering the Spirit
    (pp. 57-73)

    People normally initiate a life of religious practice because of some kind of experience or experiences.

    I’m going to call this kind of experience an “encounter.” That’s what I think it normally feels like, or the shape it takes. As Martin Jay (b. 1944), an American historian of ideas, has said, what we call experience – any kind of significant experience – “is inevitably acquired through an encounter with otherness, whether human or not.”¹ In the kind of experience that initiates a life of religious practice, people encounter someone or something – they come up against someone or something, or into their presence...

  11. 7 The Way: Life as Pilgrimage
    (pp. 74-84)

    The best way to think of a life of religious practice is as a journey. A journey in search of something – something that is never completely found. But the search for it can give direction and shape to a life. In religious language, this kind of journey is often called a pilgrimage or a quest.

    In the ChristianGospel According to St John,the most symbolic and least historical of the four accounts of Jesus’ life, the author attributes to him the famous words: “I am the way, the truth and the life.”¹ “The way,” “the truth,” and “the life”...

  12. 8 The Truth: Reason and Revelation
    (pp. 85-108)

    A religious life is a search. A search for, among other things, truth.

    This may surprise you. Since the eighteenth century, it has become commonplace to assert or assume that religion is a set of comforting fairy tales fit only for the credulous whose only continuing purposes are to keep the lower classes in their place (as both the FrenchphilosopheVoltaire [1694–1778] and Karl Marx [1818–1883], the German founder of communism, suggested, from very different perspectives), or to provide an emotional crutch for those too weak to lead their lives in the cold light of truth.¹ German...

  13. 9 The Life: The Mystery of Being
    (pp. 109-122)

    The greatest mystery is that there is anything at all, rather than nothing.¹

    “Fact explains nothing,” says the American novelist, Marilynne Robinson (b. 1943). “On the contrary, it is fact that requires explanation.”² The prior and fundamental question is: why are there any facts to explain? Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing, as Stephen Hawking asked?

    This is the greatest mystery. But it is also the most important fact about the world, and, at the same time, the one that is hardest to grasp or articulate. The reality of our existence, of ourbeing,is...

  14. 10 An Adult Faith
    (pp. 123-137)

    In the Introduction, I compared the difficult transition from childhood to adult faith to a journey over a treacherous mountain pass, in which the traveller (like a knight on a medieval quest) must meet and undergo trials along the way, especially the trials of reason. In our modern culture, as I remarked, most don’t make it to the other side of the mountain.

    In the modern world, almost every young person does – and probably must – live through a period of life when they reject the religious tradition, if any, of their family or their culture. Wilfred Cantwell Smith has explored...

  15. 11 Learning from Each Other
    (pp. 138-153)

    I hold this truth to be self-evident, that all of the world’s great religious traditions are created equal.

    But it’s important to say immediately what this statement means, and what it doesn’t mean. Itdoesn’tmean that truth is relative. The word “truth” loses all meaning as soon as you admit anything but one standard of truth that all must meet. How to do this is another and much more complex question. But a single standard of truth is an ideal that must be maintained if our human dialogue and our human community are to have any foundation at all....

  16. 12 Rediscovering Reverence: The Environmental Imperative
    (pp. 154-173)

    Humankind as a whole is currently facing one of the greatest challenges we have ever faced, the crisis of global climate change. This environmental crisis is also a spiritual one. It has both spiritual roots and spiritual consequences. For that reason, spiritual values and outlooks may also have a role to play in solving it. But whether they do or not, it seems likely that, as a result of this momentous challenge, and of our response to it, the spiritual outlook of the West will eventually be transformed.

    Before we explore the spiritual sources and consequences of global climate change,...

  17. 13 A Secular World?
    (pp. 174-184)

    The sub-title of this book is “The Meaning of Faith in a Secular World.” I’ve been talking a lot about faith. But what’s a secular world? And just how secular is our world, after all?

    Debate about these questions has spawned a large academic industry. But its conclusions are inevitably influenced by its assumptions. For example, here’s one definition from a leading scholar: “[S]ecularization primarily refers to the beliefs of people. The core of what we mean when we talk of this society being more ‘secular’ than that is that the lives of fewer people in the former than in...

  18. 14 The Question
    (pp. 185-208)

    The question, for all of us, is: how shall I lead my life?

    This is not an academic question. It is not an abstract or intellectual one. It’s personal, immediate, and urgent. It’s the old joke about the meaning of life. But it’s no joke, when your own life is at stake. It’s the question that keeps us awake at night. Or gnaws away at the back of our minds, no matter how comfortable or successful we are. And it’s a question most of us have to answer, somehow.

    You can try to hide from the question, and simply immerse...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 209-270)
  20. Index
    (pp. 271-291)