I love the question from George Eliot’s Middlemarch, when Dorothea Brooke asks Will Ladislaw, “What is your religion?” Then clarifying: “I mean not what you know about religion, but the belief that helps you most” (Eliot, 1872, 381)?
I don’t see much point in arguing over which religious leader was influenced by whom or when someone wrote something. Those arguments tend to obscure the deepest meaning of some important ideas for me. More to the point, we should be asking, what does this text say that helps me the most?
How does it help me in the crisis of climate change, for example? Well, there’s Saying 48 in the Gospel of Thomas:
“If two make peace with one another in this single household, they will say to the mountain, ‘Go away,’ and it will move.”
One interpretation might be telling us nothing is impossible for those working together with singleness of purpose. That’s an important lesson, since one of the biggest problems in our global concern with climate change is the fact that people are angry and divided over the right course of action. The meaning of this text, for me, is that we will accomplish what is urgently needed for the world (or earth) when we find how to work together peacefully.
A second meaning speaks to me as well. Speaking with authority to a mountain and expecting it to move tells me that there is no condition of the earth that is beyond our God-given authority to save it. Too often, we look at problems we have not yet solved, and presume there are no solutions. But this Saying encourages us to strive for the unity that will give us the authority we need in the situation.
What a powerful thought: we dissolve victimization of climate change by making peace with our neighbors!
Then, in the Secret Revelation of John, we read that the Garden of Eden was a deceiving paradise (chapters 21-23, according to King’s cross reference).
The Rulers took him [Adam] and they placed him in paradise. …Indeed their delight is bitter and their beauty is licentious. For their delight is deception and their trees are impiety. And their fruit is an incurable poison and their promise is death (20:1,3-5).
But Epinoia [a Savior sent from God] appeared to them [Adam and Eve] as light, awakening their thought (21:33).
Here is another text where humans are awakening from the seductive – and wrong – belief that the earth [paradise] was created for self-gratification. The truth about earth’s licentious beauty is that it is actually poison. How sadly we now witness our earth poisoned from self-satisfied exploitation. But the Savior comes to awaken humanity from such dreams. When those who have been duped by false attractions become conscious and no longer forget where they came from,
… they will become worthy of the great realms (23:5).
Another powerful thought: turning from seductive self-gratification to worthiness, we discern the ‘great realms’ we dwell in!
Deciding whether these texts were written early or late can defend the rightness or wrongness of someone’s religion. But the thing that helps me the most is what they say about life’s pressing problems today – in this case, climate change.
It’s more constructive to listen to the text itself and to ponder how we can make peace with those we disagree with. Then, we discern the authority we need for the sake of the earth.
Turning the question from “what’s-your-religion?” to finding the “belief-that-helps-you-the-most” is a better way to solve the crises of the world today.