I’m a big fan of the website Killing the Buddha, which describes itself in this way:
Killing the Buddha is a religion magazine for people made anxious by churches, people embarrassed to be caught in the “spirituality” section of a bookstore, people both hostile and drawn to talk of God. It is for people who somehow want to be religious, who want to know what it means to know the divine, but for good reasons are not and do not. If the religious have come to own religious discourse it is because they alone have had places where religious language could be spoken and understood. Now there is a forum for the supposedly non-religious to think and talk about what religion is, is not and might be. Killing the Buddha is it.
In its articles I have found much to provoke me to think more deeply about my own faith, its flaws and its strengths, and to listen to widely different perspectives on how religion is lived out, perceived, and sometimes rejected.
I have just gotten a copy of Believer Beware: First Person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith, which is the second collection of articles from Killing the Buddha. It contains first person stories of faith and non-faith, religion lost and found and lost again, and reflects the diversity of voices that co-author Jeff Sharlett calls “cacophony.”
Cacophony, after all, is the true sound of belief and unbelief in America, faith found and lost again, religion, ritual, and the rejection of all that, interwoven into our daily lives. Cacophony, not harmony; the sound of many people singing many songs, speaking in many tongues, telling as many different stories as there are souls.
For those of us who spend our time seeking harmony between people of different religious traditions, this is an important reminder. The fact is that religion, ultimately, is not about denominations, or theology, or congregations. It is about how each of us understand ourselves and live our lives in relation to whatever we most value. Given that we are often challenged to find harmony in our own lives, and even within our own religious traditions, how much then are we forced to acknowledge that we cannot find an over-arching global and spiritual harmony!
But if cacophony is the “true sound of belief and unbelief in America,” it is also the true sound of life. Walking through a city, or through a forest, we are confronted with a myriad of voices and sounds, all seeking to be heard, to be honored, to be appreciated.
“Keep the Diversity; Seek the Harmony” was the theme of the third community interfaith event at the Circle of Palms in San Jose in October of 2007, sponsored by South Bay Interfaith. During that evening, we heard music and chanting from Jewish, Unitarian, Roman Catholic, Mormon, and Hindu traditions. If all had been singing at the same time, it would have been cacophony. But all took time to stop and listen to the other, and at one point the whole group joined in a song that was not part of any of their own traditions.
Sometimes those who seek the harmony do so by neglecting the diversity, by imposing an artificial sense of unity. But the interfaith challenge is to balance that harmony with a healthy respect for the real diversity among our traditions.
On the Killing the Buddha website, you can find a brief audio piece about “The Cacophony Choir,” including the voices of several individuals telling their stories. Take a listen!