Debate over ethics and religion: does your tradition require a certain set of beliefs?


Reverend Rachel J. Bahr, Pastor of Plymouth UCC, responds:

When people join Plymouth Church, everyone makes a commitment to follow Jesus as the center of our lives. What follows is a life lived by the ethics of LOVE. We are committed to regular worship and education. We promise a regular donation of our time, talent and treasure. As a member of The United Church of Christ, Plymouth Church celebrates that we are a beliefless tradition, which means that our church does not need to believe in certain doctrines “to be on the safe side.” “. Too many people believe that a list of doctrines and no ulterior motives denigrate God’s beloved creation.

Father Kevin Niehoff, OP, a Dominican priest who serves as judicial vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

The parameters of faith in the Catholic Church are known as the “deposit of faith”. The “deposit of faith is Sacred Scripture and Tradition” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 27). The Catholic Church teaches that “the interpretation of the Word of God, either in written form or in the form of Tradition, is entrusted to the sole teaching charge of the Church” (ibid.). All members of the Catholic Church participate in the Church’s teaching mission. The bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome, the successors of the Apostles, are responsible for interpreting Tradition (ibid.).

Yes, the religious authorities of the Catholic Church set the parameters of belief. “Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world” (ibid., P. 177), is the judge.

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Minister of Outreach) at the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

In Hinduism, there is no creed in the sense that Christians would define it. Simply put, someone is a Hindu when they say they are a Hindu. Now, it goes without saying that there are certain beliefs shared by most of those who identify as Hindus. These would include the existence of God, reincarnation, final enlightenment, liberation, and basic moral codes. But we can decide otherwise on any of these points while remaining a member of the community. Among the various schools of Hinduism, one is called Nyaya, which operates purely by logical inference as opposed to what most might call “supernatural”.

Having said that, someone could take the cultural traps of Hinduism and use them in a nefarious way. There are missionaries in India who dress in traditional Hindu style, create worship services that resemble Hindu ceremonies, and co-opt Hindu prayers in a way that Christianizes them. These people are not Hindus. There are, however, Hindus who have been exposed to the teachings of Jesus and revere him as an enlightened soul as they would with Buddha or Krishna. But in these cases, they still maintain their traditional theological views as described in the Vedas, the fundamental scriptures of Hinduism.

Imam Kip Curnutt, director of religious education and associate imam of Masjid At-Tawheed in Grand Rapids, replies:

In the Islamic tradition, a distinction is made between certain and probable knowledge. Certain knowledge is what is contained is a source text of which there is no doubt in its authenticity and with a formulation which has no room for different interpretations. Probable knowledge is that which is contained in a text which is considered authentic but not at the level of absolute certainty or whose wording is open to different reasonable interpretations. To reject a certain knowledge is to reject faith when probably knowledge can be deferred.

Linda Knieriemen, senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Holland, replies:

Presbyterian theology says that there is nothing we can do to “be on the right side” of God. It is only because of God’s choice to love us unconditionally that we live in God’s favor. When we believe in a God like this, our response is gratitude and a desire to please God… not to gain God’s favor but because we want to! We believe that God is happy when we do justice, love mercy, walk humbly; when we love our neighbors as ourselves; and when we believe that everyone is our neighbor.

Local churches can articulate the behaviors expected of their parishioners such as: regular attendance at worship, financial donations, mission service. But these actions are encouraged not to gain God’s favor but for the spiritual growth of the individual and the community of faith.

Reverend Colleen Squires, minister of All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, responds:

In Unitarian universalism, our religious authority rests in the mind and heart of every member of our faith. We decide what we believe; this is often very difficult for non-UUs to understand. What each person believes is not what unites us, but how we treat each other in our community and congregation. We have 7 principles which are meant to guide our practices, each congregation has its own set of regulations but there is no creed or statement of faith that must be recited to be a UU in good standing.

This column answers questions of ethics and religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We would love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that arise during your day as well as any religious questions that you have. Tell us how you solved an ethical dilemma and see how the members of the Ethics and Religion panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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