The pick for my spirituality book club is Without Buddha I could not be a Christian, but Paul F. Knitter. I am only about ¼ into it but loving it. It is one of my “underline just about every sentence” books. Like, Knitter, I have been around the block as far as trying out different religions and types of spiritual expression. I started out Catholic, as Knitter did. I married and had kids, then chose a career working for the Church. He joined the priesthood at age 13, then left and married and had kids. We both received our degrees in religious studies…he as a priest, me as in preparation for lay ministry in the church. He went on to higher level studies and ended up teaching theology. While I did not continue formal studies in theology beyond college level, I continued to study, somewhat obsessively, as though I were going to have to pass some big-time exam. We have both studied alternative theologies and visited various religious expressions. This book, as you’d surmise by the title, is about his experience with Buddhist thought and how it has helped him as a Christian.
Knitter writes humbly, from the heart, not forcing his beliefs on others. It is his own faith questions that he brings to the page. I have had many of the same questions. “Passing back” is the phrase Knitter uses for a cyclical journey of trying out other religions, gleaning from them what holds value for him, then bringing these jewels back as he returns to his faith of origin. This is what he has done with Buddhism. I have done the same in every religious expression I have tried.
When I was working for the Church, there was a great worry among the parents I served that their children would end up abandoning their faith (referred to as “fallen-away Catholics”). As it turned out, most of their children did leave the Church. Parents often blamed people like myself who managed the religious education programs or the priests for being either too conservative or too liberal. A few respected the individual journeys of their children. None of my children are practicing Catholics today, but what can I say? I am not either. I have followed my heart and I am not one bit sorry.
But who knows? I have been very interested in the new Pope Frances and the statements he has been making. I was one who was excited about Pope John XXIII who revolutionized the Church and was one totally discouraged when the Church lapsed back to the pre-Vatican II teachings. I have a nephew, unchurched in my brother’s liberal family, who sought baptism and confirmation in the Catholic Church when he was in his 20’s. Meanwhile, due to his influence, his mother’s Catholic faith is being reignited. I think that people who are honest searchers are more likely to leave a religion. I don’t think God minds one bit. God doesn’t have favorite religions. He loves searching hearts. (Forgive me for speaking for God) I have a granddaughter that is investigating the Muslim religion right now and another who is studying and reconsidering the teachings of her childhood faith with all the honesty that she can muster. God only knows where these two, or any of my children or grandchildren, will land. Some people question and search but never actually leave their religion of origin. I have many friends like this. They are a blessing to their communities. I prefer to gather around me friends who take their faith seriously over those who could care less, whether they stay put in a religion or shop around.
I apologize for all the gab here. I just want to share my sense that we worry too much about the faith decisions other people make, whether they are our own family members or not. I think when we get all bent out of shape, the problem lies with us, in our own lack of faith in the God who continues to watch over them.