Summary October 5th First Thursday discussion
In the prayers we read Psalm 56, where someone suffering from persecution rejoices that God has “delivered my soul from death” (verse 13), and Matthew 24, a warning to the people to flee from invasion and warfare.
But what is a soul? Is it something distinct from the body? That is a Greek idea (though it strongly influenced Christian thinking for centuries)- for the Hebrew Scriptures “soul” is the human personality (as we might say “She’s a good soul”), the “breath of life” which God puts into the body made from earth (Genesis 2:7). The same is true for animals (Psalm 104:29)- humans do not have an “immortal soul” distinct from animals (again a Greek idea). Only later books of the Old Testament talk about the possibility of resurrection (Daniel 12:2), which was still disputed in the time of Jesus (eg Mark 12:18). We noted that for many prisoners isolation (solitary confinement) can be more destructive of the soul (personality) than torture. (Do those who know that they are “with” God have a means of combating isolation?)
The Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma/Myanmar are regarded as not truly “Burmese” because they are not Buddhists (even Aug San Suu Kyi appears to think in this way). The same applies to other minorities in that country (eg some Karens).
In itself a strong sense of religious identity can lead to a deeper understanding of other faiths. By contrast when religion becomes a badge of national identity, serving a political purpose, inevitably others are rejected as “not belonging”. This happened when Christianity became the State religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century. Those who followed older, mainly rural, “pagan” practices were persecuted. And especially Jews were regarded as “aliens” (in this case there was a good deal of anti-Jewish polemic in the New Testament, coming from the early days when Christians were in conflict with many synagogues- now in a position of power, Christians were able to use this to persecute Jewish communities).
At the time of the Reformation (500 years ago) Luther believed that since the “true” content of the Gospel had been recovered (after centuries of medieval corruption) the Jews would be converted to Christianity. When his hopes were disappointed he turned against them and wrote a viciously anti-Semitic book “Against the Jews and their Lies”, which the Nazi s were able to make use of. Nazi rejection of Jews was based not on religion but on their supposed ethnic origin (as distinct from “true Aryan” Germans)- anti-Semitism had grown more strongly in Germany since their political emancipation during the 19th century (did many Germans resent that Jews were no longer being “kept in their place” by political restrictions- similar to the attitude of many white people in the USA to Afro-Americans?). German churches still, however, believed that because Germany was a “Christian” country, the Jews did not truly “belong”, so many gave their support to the Nazis.
Our “spirituality” is our sense of identity, the way we make sense of the world. We need to be aware that spiritualities can sometimes be destructive- setting us against our neighbours, as well as healthy and creative.