Sometimes my Christian friends wonder why I’ve been spending lots of time in recent years reading works by authors from other faiths. Ever since stumbling across the volumes of famed mythologist Joseph Campbell a few years back, I’ve been intrigued by studying thinkers in Campbell’s vein and have learned much from works such as the Upanishads; Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind; The Miracle of Mindfulness; and The Power of Now.
My most recent reading assignment, Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God, neatly pulls it all together for me and is a must-read for any critically thinking person with even the slightest ounce of spiritual yearning. Armstrong, a very competent writer respected by all of the world's major faith groups, offers a very comprehensive chronicle of human beings' awareness of the divine from prehistoric times until today. She details how we developed various myths (with striking similarities across cultures and languages) to try to grapple with life's mysteries, and how these evolved into oral traditions (including stories of creation, great floods and saviors) that eventually were written down and became the scriptures of various faiths.
A key premise in The Case for God is how much of the “our god is the only god” mindset that currently permeates the monotheistic faiths only came about in full force since around the time of the Enlightenment. At the same time, however, Armstrong challenges atheists—especially, the popular writers of our day such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens—who claim there is no divine presence. In the end, the book makes just what its title purports: a “case for God,” one bigger than any particular faith; a God whose mysteries and attributes we cannot fully know and explain, but whose existence cannot be denied based on centuries of humanity’s diversified encounters with the transcendent.
Many years ago I was in the camp of those who didn't feel the need to read anything outside of the Christian religion. What has been the impact of this learning journey on my own faith? It has enriched it and made it more of a jumping-off point than a destination; I am more in awe of God than ever before. I realize now how much more holistic my spirituality has become, and how much easier it is for me to relate and connect to people from different faith traditions or no tradition at all. I am more at peace.
And I think this is a natural progression for any believer who is willing to truly love God with his/her entire heart, soul and mind. We cannot stand still in the life of faith. Sometimes we are so immersed in thinking one certain way that we won't let ourselves even be challenged by different notions. But God is strong enough to handle our curiosity, and the learning journey is more than worth it.