I cannot recall the first time I heard the term, double-belongers. I probably did not even know what it meant. It is not a term I see very much; I think it is still fairly rare, at least in the circles I spend time. I have no idea whether it is a technical term in the theological world, but it does not matter. It makes some sense to me, even though I am not sure that I am a double-belonger.
Fortunately I learned some time ago that I could learn a great deal from people who are not like me and from traditions that are not my own. The person who introduced this term to me, Paul Knitter, was until recently a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. I know Union. In fact, when I was heading off to seminary, Union was one of the places I gave very serious consideration. It was globally famous even in those days. Before Union, Knitter taught for a long time at Xavier in Cincinnati.
Knitter is a fascinating man. He is Roman Catholic. He studied in Rome and became an ordained priest. And then after some time, he asked to be released from this clerical role and became a university professor of theology. Later he married, had children and watched his wife become a practicing Buddhist. So Paul Knitter began his own dance with the Buddhist tradition. He read extensively, practiced meditation, etc. Although he never abandoned his native Catholicism, he nevertheless became significantly influenced by Buddhism.
I have always liked Knitter’s irenic (peaceful) spirit. He understands not all Christians would appreciate his perspective. Clearly there are some in his own Catholic tradition who probably think he has watered down or lost his meaningful Catholic faith. I am not here to judge. I appreciate how he wrestles with the issues and how he helps me understand my own world. Let me share a few thoughts from Knitter.
I will highlight a couple sentences from a public lecture that I heard Knitter deliver. Knitter is forthright, as he speaks about people like himself. For example, he says, “The teachings of Buddha help them to understand and more deeply appropriate the teachings of Jesus.” There is no historical connection between the one called Buddha and Jesus. The Buddha lived a few centuries before Jesus. There is no evidence Jesus knew anything about the Buddha. And yet, as Knitter tries to show, there certainly are some spiritual connections between the founders of two major religious traditions.
Notice how Knitter carefully articulates what understanding something about Buddhist teachings does for the Christian. Understanding the Buddhist teachings helps the Christian understand the teachings of Jesus. And more importantly for myself, knowing something about Buddhist teachings helps the Christian deeply appropriate Jesus’ teachings. Notice the adverb, “deeply.”
I would claim to understand something about the teachings of Jesus. However, I am not sure I understand them “deeply.” To go deeply into Jesus’ teachings would be to take more and more seriously the commitment and ministry to which Jesus was dedicated. To be deeply ensconced in those teachings would mean that I am ready to give my life to the cause of Love.
One more sentence from Knitter takes us even further. He says, “Buddhist practices of mindfulness, meditation, active compassion inspire them to combine contemplation and action in our contemporary ecologically threatened and violent world.” There is much to emphasize here, but let me begin with the dual focus on contemplation and action. Often the Christian tradition asks us to be one or the other: be a contemplative and withdraw from the world or choose the active life and stay in the world to make if different and better. Buddhist spirituality and, I would argue, Christian spirituality allows and encourages each of us to be both contemplative and active in the world.
The reason for being active in the world is simple and Knitter nails it. Our contemporary world is ecologically threatened and it is too violent. Only the fool would deny either the ecological threat or the contemporary violence. And yet, I know too many fools! And too often I am the biggest fool! Apart from the spiritually motivated and committed, I am not very hopeful.
Surely one gets this potential motivation and commitment from both the Buddhist and the Christian. (I am sure other major religious traditions play their own role, too.) But if we are only superficially into either Buddhism or Christianity---half-hearted, at best---there will be no transformation. There will continue to be too much transgression of nature’s laws and God’s love.