Guide Interpreting the Sacred: Ways of Viewing Religion

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About William E. William E. Books by William E. In this he posits the idea of a "monomyth"--the one great story which underlies much mythology" from different cultures around the world. While the outer forms can vary from one culture to another, the deeper aspects of the journey are universal and transcend different cultures. His ideas gained a great following and popularity in the United States through the six part television series, "The Power of Myth," in which Bill Moyers interviewed Joseph Campbell for public television.

In this series, as in other writing, Campbell encouraged people to "follow your bliss," meaning to listen to your own inner voices and follow your own dream, which will take you on your own hero's journey of self discovery and transformation.


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Jean Houston, who works with mythology in the tradition of Joseph Campbell, talks about "sacred psychology" where our "deepest fulfillment comes from experiencing union with the divine and bringing a sense of the sacred into our everyday lives"--especially in Western society which has become increasingly disconnected from the deeper "waters of life.

These three realms include:. This realm also serves as a cultural template, providing the primal patterns that take form as works of art, architecture, literature and drama. This is the realm that was revealed to Moses in the wilderness, for example.

Interpreting the Sacred: Ways of Viewing Religion

They need the intermediate WE ARE realm of mythology and archetypal stories as a bridging place to prepare for the life of the spirit and to learn how to navigate through the various stages of the hero's journey. Houston, The hero's journey is basically a road map that shows any human being a pathway from the outer world of our everyday lives inward towards deeper spiritual dimensions. There are various versions of these stages. Campbell himself said: "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Another more detailed version of the hero's journey has five stages, borrowing on ideas of both Joseph Campbell first, and then Jean Houston, in each stage as follows:. Another version of this stage is that you hear an inner call to adventure, which you can either accept or reject. Another version of this stage is that once the call is accepted, you will find allies to help you on the journey.

Another version of this stage is that you must get past the guardians at the threshold, who represent the limitations of conventional thinking, which one must outwit if one is to be allowed to enter the realms of the creative and mysterious depths, where one will be tested.

If you survive it, you will grow and be changed in the process, and you will be able to return to your society a changed or transformed person--whether your hero's journey was an adventure as Odysseus , a spiritual initiation as Christ, Buddha, Moses, and others , or the development of authentic mastery in some artistic tradition. You will have received great boons, i. While there are, according to Campbell and Houston, universal aspects of the hero's journey in the myths of all cultures as noted above , Campbell and others also noted that there are important distinctions in the nature of the hero's journey--at different stages of history, as well as in Eastern and Western cultures.

While we cannot go into these differences in any depth here, it should be noted that Campbell believed that there were four major mythological periods:. Campbell and others have also noted important differences in the hero's journey as it is lived in Eastern and Western cultures. In the East, where a group identity and culture are more dominant, one must follow the path set before by one's guru, spiritual teacher or master, in an unbroken lineage passed down from master to apprentice, while in the West, where individual identity and culture are more dominant, the hero must embark on the hero's journey at a place and time of his own choosing.

In short, the hero cannot follow a path set by others, but must find his own path. Campbell believed that the best illustration of the hero's journey in Western culture was King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, where each of the knights, in their search for the Holy Grail which search is basically that of the hero's journey had to enter the forest the unknown at a point of their own choosing.

Campbell also believed that the hero's journey--if it is to impact people's lives-- must be adapted to the times and the culture in which this mythological story appears. Ancient myths or stories must thus be reset in new contexts and environments if they are to relate to people's lives today. In this context, it is interesting that the Star Wars Trilogy was George Lucas' attempt to take the idea of the hero's journey and adapt it to a space age environment, which may be one of the reasons for the film's great popularity.

If one looks at the five stages of the hero's journey outlined under Section 4 above , one can see how closely the Star Wars story followed Campbell's five stages:. Only after he has passed this test, does the adventure come to an end. While Star Wars was a great success, it still glorified fighting and violence against evil , and as such is still not the best archetypal model we can find for creating a peaceful, nonviolent world in the future.

Indeed, society seems more violent than ever. In looking at the role of the warrior image in mythology, such as Star Wars, a few observations need to be made:. First, it is important to point out that the hero's journey--even for the warrior archetype-- need not be violent. With the destructive power of modern technology, clearly our future survival requires that we find alternative ways to resolve our conflicts short of violence. As Elise Boulding has noted, we can take the adventuresome energy of the warrior hero archetype and channel it consciously into nonviolent action in the world.

Second, it is clear that we also need to find new types of hero figures, besides the warrior archetype today. Various books have been written exploring alternative types of archetypes, and this type of research needs to continue. Women, who identify less as a whole with the warrior archetype than men, are looking for such alternative archetypal images, which could provide models with which they could identify as women.

In addition, alternative, non-warrior archetypes also need to be found for men. Third and lastly, we need to remember that when we go to do battle in the world--the warrior archetype--that the real battle is really within oneself. Indeed, the external battle in the world is really a reflection or mirror of the inner battle within--to master one's own fears, limitations, insecurities and demons. Once we can consciously recognize this, then 'perhaps' we will realize that we can focus our primary energies there, on developing internal mastery and balance, which can then be expressed in nonviolent ways in the world, and then we will not have to act out the warrior need to do battle in the external world in what has too often been a violent way.

Or if we must do battle in the world, we can do it against poverty, injustice, ignorance, prejudice, intolerance, etc. Certainly there are plenty of admirable battles that need to be addressed and they do not require violence as a means to engage in such efforts. In conclusion, this section has explored the possible role of mythology as a bridge between our outer lives in the world--what is comparable to the exoteric aspect of religion, with the development of an inner life of the spirit--what is comparable to the esoteric aspects of religion. If mythology and archetypal figures can help us to embark on the hero's journey to discover and encounter the deeper aspects of our being, then perhaps nonviolent, archetypal models can also be found for our actions in the world that are appropriate to our technologically sophisticated and interdependent world for our actions in the world.

If, for the sake of brevity, we oversimplify peace thinking, then it is possible to identify at least six broad categories of peace thinking which, in large measure, also correspond to the evolution of peace thinking in Western peace research. This is not to say that all scholars once thought one way and now think another, nor is it to say that the majority of peace researchers now adopt holistic paradigms.

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Rather it is to argue that overall there has been a trend in peace research away from the traditional idea that peace is simply the absence of war towards a more holistic view, as seen in Figure Figure 4 summarizes six perspectives on peace in terms of the levels of analysis and theoretical focus that each includes. The first perspective, peace as the absence of war, is applied to violent conflict between and within states--war and civil war.

This view of peace is still widely held among general populations and politicians. In certain situations, it can be argued, this is still a legitimate objective, at least until the killing stops and it is possible to ask for more out of life than avoiding death in war. Furthermore, all six definitions of peace discussed here require absence of war as a necessary precondition for peace.

Quincy Wright modified this absence of war idea to suggest that peace was a dynamic balance involving political, social, cultural and technological factors, and that war occurred when this balance broke down. Wright argued that this balance of forces occurred in the international system--defined in terms of the overall pattern of relationships between states and International Governmental Organizations IGOs --as well as between and within states.

Wright also discussed the role of domestic public opinion within a state--which involves the community level of analysis. His model assumed that any significant change in one of the factors involved in the peace balance would require corresponding changes in other factors to restore the balance. For example, Robert Oppenheimer, the much misunderstood "father of the atomic bomb," adopted Wright's view when he insisted on continuing to develop the bomb so that a global political institution, the United Nations, would have to be created to help control the new global military technology.

Galtung further modified Wright's view, using the categories "negative peace" and "positive peace" that Wright had first put forward some 28 years earlier. Galtung developed a third position and argued that negative peace was the absence of war and that positive peace was the absence of "structural violence", a concept defined in terms of the numbers of avoidable deaths caused simply by the way social, economic and other structures were organized.

Thus if people starve to death when there is food to feed them somewhere in the world, or die from sickness when there is medicine to cure them, then structural violence exists since alternative structures could, in theory, prevent such deaths. Peace under this rubric involves both positive peace and negative peace being present. Galtung's model in addition to the community, within states, between states, and international levels of analysis includes the global level of analysis, such as the global economy which is influenced by non-state actors, such as MNCs.

During the 's and 80's, a fourth perspective was ushered in by feminist peace researchers, who extended both negative peace and positive peace to include violence and structural violence down to the individual level. Brock-Utne, The new definition of peace then included not only the abolition of macro level organized violence, such as war, but also doing away with micro level unorganized violence, such as rape in war or in the home.

In addition, the concept of structural violence was similarly expanded to include personal, micro- and macro-level structures that harm or discriminate against particular individuals or groups. This feminist peace model came to include all types of violence, broadly defined, against people, from the individual to the global level, arguing that this is a necessary condition for a peaceful planet.

The 's has seen the emergence of two types of holistic peace thinking. Dreher, ; Macy,; Smoker, Here, as with the feminist model, peace between people applies across all levels of analysis--from the family and individual level to the global level. In addition, Gaia-peace theory places a very high value on the relationship of humans to bioenvironmental systems --the environmental level of analysis.

Peace with the environment is seen as central for this type of holistic peace theory, where human beings are seen as one of many species inhabiting the earth, and the fate of the planet is seen as the most important goal. This type of holistic peace thinking does not have a spiritual dimension, peace being defined in terms of all forms of physical violence against people and the environment. This sixth view of peace sees inner, esoteric spiritual aspects of peace as essential. Spiritually based peace theory stresses the interactive relationships, the mutual co-arising, between all things and the centrality of inner peace.

In addition to the relationships of human beings with each other and the world--including the environment-- a spiritual dimension is added to Gaia-peace theory. This dimension is expressed in different ways by peace researchers, depending on their cultural context. As in the Tao of Physics, where new paradigms in physics resonate with worldviews found in Eastern mysticism, this new paradigm in peace research resonates with much thinking in world spiritual and religions traditions.

Peace has truly become indivisible. Two important issues in the evolution of the Western peace concept concern the various interpretations of "positive peace" which, following Galtung, was expressed in terms of absence of structural violence and "nonviolence" the verbal construction of which suggests an "absence of violence" framework, i. In this section of the paper, we would like to consider the evolution from negative to positive views of peace, including the evolution of the "positive peace" concept itself.

Schmidt, in his critical Marxist analysis, "Politics and Peace Research," argued that value positive concepts of peace were doomed to failure within peace research, because it would not be possible for peace researchers to achieve a consensus on what constituted a positive view of peace. He put forward the view that peace researchers could only agree on what they were against--for example war, starvation, and poverty. Schmidt's article was arguably the main stimulus to Galtung's rejoinder, in which he redefined Quincy Wright's concept "positive peace" to mean the absence of "structural violence"--harmful social, political and economic structures that are responsible for avoidable human deaths through preventable starvation or treatable illness.

Galtung's positive peace concept --the absence of structural violence, like his negative peace concept --the absence of war, did not include an inner or spiritual dimension. Peace of both sorts took place in the outer world and positive peace was a function of human social structures. Feminist theory, the fourth perspective defined above, broadened the positive peace concept to include micro structures, such as the family, as well as Galtung's macro structures, but for the most part it still emphasized elimination of the undesirable--such as war and wife beating.

At the same time, however, there was an increasing emphasis on value positive thinking stressing desirable alternatives, such as visualizing alternative futures as a part of the process of moving towards those futures--the work on imaging positive futures by Elise Boulding in the peace research community being an excellent example. An earlier paper Smoker, discussed the extent to which peace research--as reflected in the pages of a defining journal, such as the Journal of Peace Research--had focused almost entirely on negative concerns, such as how to avoid or control war, aggression, physical violence and structural violence.

Since that article--which was part of a special issue of the Journal of Peace Research on peace--the situation has not changed significantly. Within the last six months, the Editors of the Journal of Peace Research have revisited the idea of peace in the positive sense--as opposed to positive peace in the Galtung sense--and are considering including a section on the topic not a whole issue at some future time. However, a decision has not yet been made.

There is little doubt that positive images of peace have been the exception, rather than the rule, in Western peace research. This has not been true in Futures Studies, where a focus on alternative futures has contributed towards the development of both negative and positive conceptualizations. There is a sizable group of people within the Western futures community--but by no means all futurists--whose visioning of positive alternative futures is based, in part at least, on a spiritual, holistic, perspective.

The works of Barbara Marx Hubbard, Marilyn Ferguson, and Jean Houston--an outstanding group of women futurists--are particularly notable examples. In part this is because of our realization that, whatever our nationality, culture or religious tradition, we are all interconnected and interdependent.

Interpreting The Sacred by William Paden | Penguin Random House Canada

Viewed from space, planet Earth is a blue-green sphere, we cannot see national boundaries, but we can see the land and the water, ice caps, deserts and forests. The Earth is clearly a whole complex system, a living being perhaps, but we as individuals and groups are but a part of the planet as the planet itself is a part of the solar system, galaxy and universe. The new thinking, it can be argued, represents a return to wholeness, not in the sense of uniformity, but in the sense of complexity dynamically balanced in interaction, the whole as integrated synergy, syntigration.

This mindset enables an appreciation of the interdependence of species in the global ecosystem, of particular cultural meanings in the context of the total global cultural system, and of particular faiths in the rich diversity of global religions. The whole is more than the sum of the parts, and the greater the variety of the parts, the richer the expression of the global whole. Whereas "peace as absence of war" typifies the conceptual framework for most popular "peace thinking," there are other aspects to peace.

The answer to the question " if you think about peace, how would you define it? But the answer to the question "when you are at peace, what does it feel like? This is because the actual experiences of peace that most, if not all, of us have as human beings--in Western or Eastern culture--are related to inner peace. Inner peace also involves an inner knowing or intuitive dimension--beyond the feeling dimension--where one suddenly understands patterns and relationships between things which were not understood before. This is the classic "aha" type experience which is the basis for creativity, and tapping this source would do much to enrich peace researchers visions of a positive future world at peace.

Positive peace can therefore be seen as an evolving concept, a concept that does not yet exist in the initial "peace as absence of war" definition, but a concept that subsequently takes on different meanings as the peace concept expands. An important theoretical question concerns the possible meanings of the term "culture of peace", particularly since the previous section of this paper illustrated the broad range of interpretations given to the word peace, and the ramifications this has for peace action.

The difficulties of understanding what might be meant by "culture of peace" are further magnified by the fact that "culture," like "peace," can and has been defined in many ways. Therefore this section of the paper is best seen as a contribution to a preliminary discussion of the culture of peace concept, a discussion that is likely to continue for some time. Earlier in this paper, we noted that culture can be defined as learned, shared, patterned behavior, as reflected in technology and tools; social organizations, including economics, politics, religion, media, education, and the family; and ideas.

Under this view, socialization is the process through which culture is learned, including our religious beliefs and practices, and the agents of socialization include language, politics, economics, religion, education, family, and media. Culture under this view provides the medium through which we interpret the world, the context of meanings, small and large, that makes coherence possible. A culture of peace, therefore, would be a culture that made peace possible, and, as we have seen in the previous section, what is meant by a culture of peace will almost certainly vary according to the concept of peace that is used.

If peace is just the absence of war between and within states, then a culture of peace would be a culture that made war between or within states increasingly unlikely, until eventually interstate and intrastate war would cease. Such a culture of peace has long been established in certain parts of the world and between certain states, for example, between Canada and the United States, the U. It has been argued elsewhere that there has been a worldwide trend towards such a culture of peace for some centuries.

Smoker, The steadily decreasing frequency of interstate warfare in Europe, for example, has taken place over a period of some hundreds of years, such that there is now this sort of culture of peace between all members of the European Community. Similarly, worldwide there has been a clear trend away from interstate warfare being the dominant mode, as was the case before ; through intrastate armed conflict with foreign military intervention being the dominant mode, for example the Vietnam or Afghanistan wars, as was the case up to the middle 's; to the present situation, where intrastate armed conflict--usually between nations as distinct from states or culturally distinct ethic groups--without armed foreign military intervention, is the dominant form of violent conflict, for example, in the former Yugoslavia, Myanmar and Rwanda.

So while at one level, that is between states, much progress towards a culture of peace as absence of war has been made, the same is not true within states, particularly where culturally distinct nations or ethnic groups are concerned. A consideration of culture of peace as balance of forces in the international system is necessary to explore this problem. The establishment of a balance of forces culture of peace has been explained by various theorists in terms of increased economic, social and political interdependencies between states in the international system, making violent conflict between states less likely.

Thus the idea of a war between France and Germany is now unthinkable to either side, despite the fact that just 50 years ago these two states provided a battlefield for the bloodiest war in human history. The same is probably not true for India and Pakistan, Argentina and Chile, or North and South Korea, although integration theorists would, and do, argue that the danger of war between any of these states has in most cases lessened and will certainly diminish in future with increased economic, social and political interdependencies.

This functional integration argument, which is closely related to the balance of forces point of view, suggests that if peace is seen as a balance of forces in the international system that enables change to be dealt with nonviolently at the state level, then the globalization process, in line with the integrationist arguments detailed above, should strengthen the culture of peace. During this period, a "balance of forces" culture of peace has grown substantially, as indexed by the dramatic fall in cross-border wars between states. A culture of peace in this sense refers to the structures, norms and customs that have grown up in the international system, and within states, and that are increasingly accepted as appropriate, if not yet required, conditions to be an accepted member of the "community of states.

Theorists such as Kenneth Boulding have argued that the development of zones of peace, in the peace as absence of war sense, has in part resulted from the "movement for peace".

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For Boudling the movement for peace is an indirect consequence of increased economic and social interdependencies between two states in the international system, while the "peace movement" is represented by individuals and groups who actively campaign against war, nuclear weapons and other undesirable features of the international system. Zones of peace are areas in which war between, or within, states has become increasingly unlikely, because of the multiple interdependencies between both states and nations within the zone.

If we turn to a culture of peace in the Galtungian framework, and we focus on the issue of structural violence, then the world picture is less positive, but by no means entirely negative. At the non-governmental level, large numbers of international citizen's groups have emerged who struggle to create the economic, social and political context to overcome the harshest manifestations of structural violence, namely poverty, starvation and preventable disease. In addition, many governments contribute to humanitarian missions worldwide as a matter of duty, accepting some measure of shared responsibility for the human tragedies that daily appear on our television screens.

While it can, with some legitimacy, be argued that the global economic and political structures of the world continue to contribute substantially to global structural violence through the activities of multinational and transnational corporations and the inevitable consequences of the current international economic system, it has to be recognized that a number of multimillion dollar private enterprises, and thousands of similar smaller groups, work to overcome "structural violence" using economic, social and political approaches.

While this interpretation of the culture of peace has not yet succeeded in changing values or economic, political, and social structures sufficiently to create a world in which structural violence becomes progressively less likely, there is strong evidence to suggest the emergence of a culture of peace of this sort. The actions of citizens and governments in humanitarian aid, while often inadequate, are nevertheless an established part of international relations--they are the norm, rather than the exception. If the concept culture of peace is interpreted in the feminist framework, then the cultural conditions necessary for peace do not exist in any country.

Physical and structural violence at the micro level, in the community and family, on the streets and in the schools, are widespread, and the cultural, social, political and economic changes required to create a feminist culture of peace represent a major challenge to every national society on Earth, as well as in most, if not all, institutions, including many religious institutions. While the three previously discussed models of peace have stressed peace at macro levels of analysis, the feminist models are firmly rooted in personal experience, and are based around how peace feels to individuals.

The evolution of the peace concept towards holistic peace, which includes both inner and outer aspects, required this shift, which, it can be argued, represented the biggest single contribution of feminist peace theory. Whereas the three previous models tended to conceptualize peace using abstract, general concepts applied towards the more global level, the feminist models turned these conceptions upside down and clearly defined peace from the personal, experiential level.

Feminist notions of "structure" stress circular complex patterns as opposed to the complex, hierarchical notions associated with Galtungian definitions of structural violence. In this regard, the feminist theories also represent a shift towards value positive perceptions of peace, which stress holistic, non-hierarchical interaction between human beings. This is not to say that global problems cannot be addressed using such a perspective: they can, as the following example illustrates.

The article, reporting on an August global gathering of AIDS experts in Japan, pointed out that "women are subject to the whims of fathers, brothers, husbands and pimps, with no divorce or inheritance rights of their own. Men often feel no responsibility to the women--whom they view as little better than disposable property--and thus are immune to exhortations to use condoms and adopt other safe sex practices. Jonathan Mann of Harvard University, who was the first head of the World Health Organization's Programme on AIDS, as saying that "even if all the envisaged educational and control programs were implemented in developing countries, they would fail to halt the impending catastrophe because they do not take into account human rights issues, especially the rights of women.

Michael Merson, who is quoted as saying: "Disempowered people are vulnerable, consider the untold numbers of women who fear infection from their partner, but do not have the power to insist on condom use or the economic power to leave the relationship. Mann further argues that "No matter how hard we try, traditional public health programs cannot make up for the negative impact of this difference in societal status and realization of rights.

A group of women lawyers in Uganda has convinced me that the first step in fighting AIDS must be to rewrite the divorce and inheritance statutes. A feminist culture of peace, based on personal, experiential analyses, requires fundamental changes in societal values, in the North as well as the South, if the conditions conducive to the creation of peace, in the feminist sense, are to be achieved.

The AIDS issue highlights the centrality of culture in overcoming micro-level structural violence. Likewise, issues such as domestic violence and child abuse, which have been highlighted by feminist scholars, will require similar fundamental changes in cultural values. While much feminist scholarship has stressed micro violence--such as wife beating--there has also been a focus on macro structural questions--such as the pervasive effects of patriarchal structures.

As a consequence, feminist conceptions of a culture of peace will also require societal wide changes in personal cultural values. A holistic Gaia-peace interpretation of a culture of peace presents an even broader set of concerns that must be brought into play. Whereas the environment was, until fairly recently in Western Civilization, seen as a resource to exploit, that was separate from human beings, it is now seen as connected to us. The extension of outer peace to include peace with the environment represents an important and necessary evolution of the peace concept, whether the environment is seen as just a tightly integrated biochemical system, or as the Goddess Gaia, a living being, a whole system integrated both in functional and meaningful logico meaningful terms.

The shift in values towards a concern for peace with the environment has not yet led to widespread, radical changes in cultural values, but perhaps that process has begun. In a period of less than twenty years, there has been a shift towards environmentalism in most societies on the planet, green peace has become more than the name of an important environmental pressure group, and there is now widespread verbal recognition of the need to live in harmony with the environment--a need that for some may be purely functional, but which for many if not most, is based on a vision of planet earth as sacred.

For Western peace research, this represents a shift from secular towards spiritual peace paradigms, a realization that inner peace and outer peace-- spiritual and material--are interconnected and interdependent.

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It is here that the contributions of the world's religious and spiritual traditions can help us better understand holistic peace. For example, the idea that the collective external world of outer peace is in some way a representation or image of the collective inner world of spiritual peace, may be of particular importance in the creation of a holistic, inner and outer global culture of peace.

The variety and diversity of humanity's religious life, as celebrated in the ecumenical tradition, would then provide a dynamic link between the inner and outer worlds, such that inner-outer peace would be manifest in all aspects of a culture of peace--including macro and micro social and economic institutions, local and global values, art, literature, music, technology, meditation and prayer.

The resulting culture of peace would display a Gaia-like global pattern, where the interacting local cultures are manifestations of the inner unity and outer diversity principle spread throughout the whole system. Definitions of reality would be fundamentally different under such a paradigm. Whereas "reality" in Western Peace Theory has previously been defined in terms of aspects of the material world, leading to a concentration on economic, military and political questions, "reality" under a holistic peace paradigm includes both material and spiritual components.

The previous sections describe various interpretations of the culture of peace concept ranging from a narrow view that stresses the creation of cultural conditions that make war between states impossible, to a broad view that requires the transformation of every culture to a state that makes holistic inner-outer peace achievable. If we use this framework then there are, in practical terms, at least three strategies that can be followed to create global cultures of peace.

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