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Ecumenical Pickle

by Steven DeVries

In the weeks and months following Sept. 11, many cities and towns felt compelled to eulogize the victims who were lost, and also to provide comfort to those left to bear the emotional weight of the crisis. In the areas surrounding Manhattan - the boroughs, and the bedroom towns of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut - most every municipality that lost someone held a memorial service, if not several. And the way many of them went about it was to mirror those being held at and around Ground Zero—with an Ecumenical Service.

Ecumenism?  It's a word I'd always heard growing up in the Dutch Reformed Church, but I never bothered to find out its meaning. As defined in your basic dictionary, it's a push for Christian universality, a coming together under the common banner of Christendom of all the many denominational limbs, the span of which makes the Biblical "branch of Jesse" look like a clover. Okay, I embellished a bit, but you get the point.

But what we've seen from these services is a new working definition of "ecumenism," a sort of all-inclusive version that brings people of faith together under a different banner - in fact, that could probably be the banner, "People of Faith." Any town's roster of speakers that didn't look like the first line of a joke—"a priest and rabbi and a Muslim guy (imam) walk into a bar..."—betrayed an unfashionable apathy of the new relativist ecumenism.

Like Noah taking tally at the gangplank of the ark, municipal and religious memorial planners perused their programs to make sure there was at least one dashiki, one yarmulke and one collar at every service to represent what they perceived to be the complete menagerie of Americans united. The message sent was that Jews, Catholics, Protestants and true Muslims all stood united in the face of this great evil - one nation under whichever god you choose, they're all legit.

The leaders came, spoke of reunions in the afterlife and God's infinite love and justice. They vindicated "true" religion, and prayed for God to Bless America (though I'm not sure if it was a tongue in cheek request for Him to do a better job than he did Sept. 11).

But has anyone questioned the fact that up until now, for these leaders to stand with one another, thus showing approval for each other, it was considered blasphemous? Christians believe Christ is the only path to heaven, Jewish people believe they are God's chosen people, and Muslims believe Allah to be the one and only God. For centuries, priests, rabbis and imams have taught that God would reject anyone who falls outside their own dogmatic standards.

Now we see them together on stage, leading prayers of unity to God? Do we honestly believe that any of the big three gods, despite their track records of lethal jealousy, are going to put their spite for competing faiths on the shelf while America has a politically correct recovery? Are they sitting in paradise right now saying, "it's okay if my representatives stand with false prophets for the moment, because America just needs a god right now - not necessarily me"? It absolutely counters every major god's character to show such tolerance.

Apparently, Yahweh's command, "you shall have no other gods before me," was just a request from his booking agent that He be allowed to speak first. There his representatives stand, united with the others in a holy buffet of encouragement, where each dish is as good as the next, and what's right for you depends on what whets your appetite.

Say this war and terrorist threat end tomorrow. Do these religious leaders go back to their temples, churches and mosques and revert to preaching about the damnation or rejection of the other guy? Or after all the unity, relativist bliss and warm fuzziness of the last few months has god finally become a Trinity - The Yahweh, The Savior and the Holy Allah [with room for more aliases should our Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh friends ever build up a key voting demographic]?

When competing religious leaders are willing to stand with the infidels and come before their god using safe, rather than sincere, language, it says to me that none of them really took their singularity too seriously to begin with.

Does the fact that they're all willing to submit to relativism negate the allegedly unchanging, non-negotiable foundations of their faiths? Is this the first definite crack this century to appear in the stack of monoliths currently standing between the people of this planet and the realization of their one true commonality - their being human?

As a secular humanist, I'm glad to see such willingness by members of the three main faiths to step outside their prejudices and put their roles as healers of mankind before their god's neurotic edicts of celestial monogamy. How much longer until such parochial loyalties are erased completely?

How much longer, then, until the collars and caps are shed in acceptance of the realization that the only true image we're made in is that of each other?

[*] Secular Humanism Online Library

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This page was last updated 12/04/2003

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