On seeing ourselves as others see us
...and a curious compliment for Quakers
...and a curious compliment for Quakers
So said commentator Rosa Maria Pegueros last Tuesday in her piece entitled "A Priest, A Rabbi And A Minister Walk Into A Bar…" featured on the Common Dreams website. The author, a professor of Latin American History and Women's Studies, makes an incorrect statement with regard to one of the world's major religions. Still, I find her misconceptions very revealing, since misconceptions expressed by someone looking at a religion from the outside often reflect the gap between adherents' faith and practice, between what the religion teaches and what its members actually do.
The problem with faith and practice is that Islam and most of the major Christian religions except a few like the Quakers, declare theirs to be the one true faith and mandate that their members proselytize.
Pegueros starts her piece with a joke:
Did you hear the one about the man who dies and arrives at the Pearly Gates? St. Peter checks him in and tells him to follow him. As they walk, they pass a room where people in saffron robes chant in unison; the man asks who they are. St. Peter replies, “Oh, those are the Buddhists.” Then they pass a Black congregation singing, swaying and clapping their hands. Baptists? Yup, replies St. Peter. In the next chamber, there are Tibetan throat singers; then Jews dancing a hora; then Muslims prostrate on their prayer rugs and so on until they pass a room with the Pope and Cardinals and bishops and throngs of people. “Catholics?” he asks. St. Peter replies, “Shhhhhhhh; they think they’re the only ones in heaven!”I can recognize Pegueros' mistaken belief about Catholicism because I'm "a product of Catholic schools," as they used to say and, in my not-so-distant past, a practicing Catholic. The Catholic Church no longer holds (if it ever officially did) that only its own members are saved. I certainly was never taught that by any of my teachers, many of whom were nuns. (Well, OK, maybe they did impart the idea that we Catholics were just a bit more...closer to the Truth than the others, but hey, as my grandmother used to say, "Everybody praises their own.") In the document Nostra Aetate, issued by Vatican Council II in 1965, we read,
The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in [other] religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.So the punchline of Pegueros' joke turns on a misunderstanding...unless, of course, by their actions and attitudes in everyday life, Catholics actually do give the impression that they think they're the only ones going heaven. But my purpose here isn't to point an accusing finger at Catholics. Rather, it is to suggest that we who follow a spiritual path --whichever it may be-- treat Pegueros' words like a mirror that lets us see ourselves as others see us (sort of like a Quaker "Query").
... The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.
And as for misconceptions, I naturally assumed, because of her beautiful Spanish name, that Pegueros was Catholic herself. Surprise! In the "funny you don't look it" category, she reveals that she's actually "a devout Jewish agnostic" (perhaps originally of the Sephardic tradition?).
I wonder if any other Quakers picked up on Pegueros' curious compliment:
The problem with faith and practice is that Islam and most of the major Christian religions except a few like the Quakers, declare theirs to be the one true faith and mandate that their members proselytize.Since Pegueros teaches at the University of Rhode Island, perhaps the only Quakers she has encountered are members of the FGC. True, we don't do much in the way of "proselytizing," which Pegueros finds praiseworthy...even if some of our fellow members do not. She is obviously unaware, as was I before I began to delve more deeply into Friends' literature, of other branches of the vaster Quaker community, such as the Evangelical Friends International who, as their name implies, spread the Light in a more active way.
But that's OK. I'll take a compliment any way I can get it.