Case for Interconnectivity

Sometimes I read something simply because of the person who wrote the piece.  It is typical for humans to have their preferences.  Some people like specific musical groups.  Others are drawn to particular artists.  I am a person who likes specific authors.  In fact, I have a number of favorite authors.  There are the obvious favorites like the late monk, Thomas Merton.  He is pretty famous, which means many people know him.  Another favorite of mine is Paul Knitter.  Knitter has just retired from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  He is a long-time professor and scholar who is not as famous as folks like Merton.  But he has had a long, distinguished career shaping the  ways young folks think about life and their world.

Knitter was one of the earlier people involved in the ecumenical and interfaith conversations.  When I say ecumenical, primarily I mean the interaction and dialogue among different Christian traditions.  When I am involved ecumenically, it means I take my own Quaker perspective into conversation with Catholics, Southern Baptists---liberals and evangelicals.  The ecumenical dialogue recognizes that we are all in the Christian camp, but also recognize it is a pretty diverse camp.

When I talk about interfaith, I am referring to the interaction and conversations among adherents of the major faith traditions of the world.  It may be a dialogue of Christians, Jews, and Buddhists.  Or it may involve Hindus and Muslims.  We can think of the Jains or Sikhs and, then, get into even lesser known religious traditions.  Obviously, the interfaith interaction can be even more complicated than ecumenical dialogues. 

Paul Knitter has been a key player in this interfaith world because he is so clear about his own Christian heritage.  But he is also radically open and irenic---that is, he very much wants to hear and understand the other’s perspective and to deal with that (often different) perspective in a gentle and peaceful manner.  He brings respect and dignity to the conversation.

So it was that I was drawn to a piece he wrote that was entitled, “Are Buddhism and Science Incompatible?”  (It would be easy to ask the same question about Christianity, Judaism or any other religious tradition.)  I will say upfront that Knitter does believe they are compatible.  But I am not really interested in that argument.  I am more interested in a portion of his writing where he is talking about interconnectivity.  Interconnectivity is an idea from Buddhism that I really like.

Essentially, interconnectivity is the idea that basically all of life is connected.  On the surface, it looks like you are an individual and so am I.  And of course, on the surface that is true.  But at a much deeper level we are ultimately one---unity is the fundamental essence of the world.  This unity becomes, then, the goal of life---the end of the world.  Buddhism offers a roadmap, as it were, to travel this path to interconnectivity.  I think Christianity has its own version, but that is a story for another day.

Let’s listen as Knitter talks about this.  He says, “Buddha in his wisdom calls us to realize that our deepest happiness consists not in living as individuals but as co-participants in a pervasive, ever-changing interconnectedness.”  That is a pregnant statement that I find powerfully promising.  Who does not want to opt for “our deepest happiness?”  Knitter says it is realized by becoming a “co-participant in a pervasive, ever-changing interconnectedness.”  In street language I think we say, “we’re in this together!”

The spiritual journey is the journey together.  I have my own spiritual work to do---growth and development---and you do, too.  But we’re in it together.  This leads to the next piece from Knitter.  “To really live interconnectedly would mean “the eradication of the selfish gene.”  That is powerful.  Probably most of us are not going around thinking about our selfish gene.  But I know too much of my action betrays the fact that I do have this selfish gene.  Spiritual growth and development in the interconnectivity direction will eradicate this gene.  Good riddance!

I complete my quoting of Knitter with these encouraging spiritual words.  He says, “It would tell us, as many contemporary evolutionary biologists are now arguing, that the “fittest” who survive are not the most selfish but the most cooperative. The compassionate gene can replace the selfish gene.”  I am relieved that the spiritual blueprint of the universe may not ultimately be “the survival of the fittest.”  I am delighted that cooperation may be the bottom line instead of competition.

The thought of my selfish gene being replaced with a compassionate gene is thrilling.  If that happens for me, it happens for you, too.  Clearly, we are not there yet.  The world experiences too much conflict to say compassion has the upper hand.  That is the spiritual development we all need to engage and execute.  But it is exciting to see what is possible.  I find the case for interconnectivity compelling.  Now on to the work!

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