Sunday, January 08, 2006

Christmas trees

Shortly before Christmas I visited a Festival of Christmas Trees in our local Roman Catholic Church. There were 40 trees, each decorated by a different group in the community, including schools, playgroups, Brownies, charities and so on, and also sponsored by local bodies, shops etc. I have never seen such a thing before and the effect was incredible. A friend commented, a touch drily I thought: “Nice to see the church embracing the pagan so thoroughly”.

I don’t have any difficulty with different belief systems borrowing each other’s symbols. Does anyone find it strange that for so many of them the lighting of candles is a significant part of their ritual? For myself, I feel in my heart that a living flame is a powerful symbol of hope, prayer or celebration, and although I consider myself an agnostic, I will always light a candle in a church when I have an opportunity. By the same token, I can go into an empty church and feel the power of the human love, endeavour and aspiration that is stored within it, even though I do not choose to worship there with its congregation.

It seems to me that most religions offer much the same things: explanations for the apparently unexplainable; some sort of structure and guidance for our lives; comfort, support and courage; a sense of community with one’s fellow human beings; and perhaps a vehicle for a sense of wonderment at what we see about us. If this is so, then the different religious belief systems could all be considered as allegories for the truth – the one universal truth (as it must be) which humankind has not yet understood in its totality, but in which all believers in their own way have faith.

This idea I find very liberating: as an agnostic I too am looking for the same things, so I should be able to go into any church, join any group of worshippers, and share in their observance, while still remaining true to my own beliefs. The fact that I cannot subscribe to their dogma is not significant, as by sharing in their worship I am still celebrating the truth, the reality of our creation and existence, whatever that may be.

The truth is One, but different Sages call it by Different Names.