It’s been said that one of the greatest statements in the Bible is “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” (Matthew 5:8). The concept of a pure heart existed before Jesus taught “the Beatitudes” as they were later called. In the Old Testament Psalm 51:10, we read, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
Our world seems to have forgotten about maintaining a wisdom of the heart. Today we retreat to separate fortresses built on the sacrosanct texts of our religious institutions. Islamists, Muslims, Jews, Palestinians, Christians, Westerners and others hurl moral judgments and bombs at each other from the battlements.
Jesus didn’t endorse synagogue traditions (there was no mosque or church in his day) so much as he taught us to take care with our attitudes and our thoughts. In Matthew 23:25 he said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence!” Some say the teachings of Jesus have never been tried, or as G. K. Chesterton put it, “The Christian ideal has been found difficult and left untried.” The difficulty is in learning to follow a religion of the pure and knowing heart, rather than a creed defined by one’s church, an institution possibly as corrupt as the Pharisees were.
I had more of a scientific turn of mind than I did a religious one as a teenager, even believing myself to be an atheist for a time. Out of curiousity, I studied works claiming to be religious prophecy or revelation, such as The Essene Gospel, The Aquarian Gospel, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and The Bible itself. I followed a scientific principle I learned from Carl Sagan. To Sagan, the virtue of the scientific approach was that it was, “a self-correcting enterprise. To be accepted, all new ideas must survive rigorous standards of evidence,” including being, “consistent with the facts.” (Cosmos, p. 91) Our biblical book of Genesis, inconsistent with the facts of evolution and with its two versions of Eve’s creation, does not survive this scientific test.
Pioneering physicist Albert Einstein gave us a more liberal, expansive view. He too respected the facts but looked to religion to establish “goals and values.” Einstein felt, “the most important function of … science was to awaken the cosmic religious feeling (fr. Religion and Science, http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/einstein/einsci.htm ).” Concerning this partnership between science and religion (and philosophy), the philosopher John Locke wrote, “Revelation must be judged of by reason,” suggesting both are components of a complete knowledge.
Some Christians hold on to the belief we received a sacrosanct, perfect text in the Bible. Inerrancy, infallibility, of the Bible was the first one of the Five Fundamentals agreed on at the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1910, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/2006/issue92/3.12a.html which are still the foundation of the fundamentalist churches. The Bible became a fetish, a talisman, and its revealed inspired writings were used to reinforce the authority of the church.
The church I attended, The Episcopal Church, arrived at what I call an enlightened view of the Bible; they generally do not conform to the fundamentalist position on inerrancy of their text. However, the viewpoint regarding sacred texts often depends on the leadership of the individual parish http://christianity.about.com/od/denominationscomparison/ss/comparebelie….
Here is how Father Carl Hansen of Carmel, California (rector 1987-2005), spoke to his Episcopalian congregation about this issue, “The Bible is the truth, not because it contains no human errors, but because the one who is truth speaks to us through the imperfections of our humanity. …When the Bible is treated as God’s inerrant word, it becomes an excuse for Christians to say that we have the truth and no one else does…it becomes a weapon to use against others, to deny their dignity as children of God and to suggest that God will torture them eternally unless they become one of us…it becomes our god, an idol, and we substitute it for a relationship with the living Lord.” (from his column, Friends in Faith)
The Indian poet Kabir once said, “Admire the diamond that can bear the hits of a hammer. Many deceptive preachers, when critically examined, turn out to be false.” Do you find errors, contradictions, discrepancies in your sacred text right alongside the eternal truths? Using our rational minds, we apply the hammer to the diamond to see if it bears the hits, and truth comes up shining. For those with faith in the indwelling divine spirit, we look to spiritual helpers to be our radar, to resonate with support when we read a passage that holds meaning for us. Our reasoning mind may confirm that some parts of the holy book are the fossils of a more ancient time.
Even the Apostle Paul urged us to “Test everything; hold on to what is good (Thessalonians, 5:21).” Jesus applied a practical test that went further; he looked for values and ideals in action, embracing the concept of fruitfulness he would return to in later teachings—“by their fruits you shall know them [the false prophets],” (Matthew 7:16).
He used the heart in his teaching as a metaphor of the source of spiritual insight, or lack thereof–the hardened heart. He taught the apostles, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:43-45.
A book’s authority as a revelation or an institution’s creed is not so important as our own conviction of truth, one based on personal experience, the revelation of an inner insight. My hope in a spiritual solution, peace for the planet, revives when I hear personal truths gleaned from thoughtful meditations in our spontaneous conversations. A revelation must live in us, or we cannot make a revelation to others.
The most relevant message to the world today would be one that supports the honest faith of a true believer versus the authority of an institution and/or the infallibility of a text. The individual who builds on his/her personal religious experience, who follows the authority of the heart, allows others the freedom to undertake the same adventure. As philosopher Jacob Needleman pointed out in The Wisdom of Love, http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/excerpts.php?id=14826 Buddhism discovered this truth: the inner life leads to compassion, humane feelings for our fellows. “All honest self-knowledge brings love and compassion with it, a tolerance for others.”