- Gandhi's Hope: Learning from Other Religions as a Path to Peace
This book by prominent Protestant theologian Jay McDaniel suggests that Mahatma Gandhi challenged the modern world by publicly revealing that which he learned from other faith traditions and advocating this path as a way for intercultural understanding. The wisdom of Gandhi holds special poignancy today, when the processes of globalization and migration have placed followers of different faiths in closer proximity than can be remembered in the past five hundred years.
Jay McDaniel writes with crisp clarity and organizes his insights into bite-sized pieces. He lays out five challenges that face all the world's faiths: compassion, self-criticism, simple living, ecological awareness, and welcoming religious diversity. In approaching this decidedly postmodern list of issues, McDaniel draws from two primary resources: the experiences shared by his students at Hendrix College and the writings of Alfred North Whitehead. Along the way, he invokes the Buddhist teacher and leader Thich Nhat Hanh and several progressive Catholics, including Sister Joan Chittester and theologians Hans Küng and Paul Knitter.
Continuing with a style developed in his earlier books, McDaniel latches onto a [End Page 237] metaphor and extends it to illustrate his central point—in this case, the value of diversity. In past books, he has used the image of the hunter and the hunted to underscore the need to respect animals. In Gandhi's Hope, the metaphor he employs is that of a jazz concert, with all different manner of instruments pooling their resources to create a tapestry of diverse yet harmonious music.
Although the title of the book may seem to indicate that Gandhi will serve as thefocus, in fact, Whitehead anchors McDaniel's approach. Through an updated approach to Whitehead, McDaniel seeks to answer the questions regarding diversity and compassion that he has posed. He suggests that an experience of concrescence will result in the sort of heightened awareness needed to increase one's conscience and to make the ethical changes needed to respond to the current state of the world. McDaniel identifies twelve "planks" that will usher Whitehead's vision into the contemporary world. These twelve aspects seem also to be heavily influenced by McDaniel's own encounter with Buddhism: interdependence, impermanence, indeterminism, mind/matter, deep listening, value, God, creativity, persuasive power, divine empathy, many forms of salvation, and life after death. These broad categories embrace key notions found in all religious traditions. Some traditions emphasize certain aspects more than others. Buddhists cleave to impermanence and Jews to establishing a covenant with God, but Jews also recognize that all things will pass, and Buddhists revere their great teacher and many strive to emulate his experience through techniques akin to those who worship God.
In order for religious traditions to maintain their urgency and relevance, McDaniel suggests that they must respond actively to the looming threat of environmental degradation. Consumer culture drives people into a state of indifference about natural resources, and arrogance prevents people from taking an interest in the life patterns and cultures of others. These tendencies lie at the root of the world's troubles. McDaniel suggests that process theology can remedy these ills by calling people into a state of compassion and can help guide people toward adopting thoughtful self-criticism, to living a more simple life, to recognizing the importance of other living beings and ecosystems, and to celebrating diversity of cultures. Echoing a refrain long associated with process thought, McDaniel writes "the universe is a creative and creating process of interdependent events, lured by but not controlled by God, such that the future is not yet decided, not even by God" (p. 71). To the extent that religions sustain themselves by reinforcing separateness and promoting a narrow cultural identity and/or an unthinking fundamentalism, they can be an impediment to peace, which, for McDaniel, is an important goal of the world's religions.
When attempting to theologize about ultimate matters, McDaniel posits "four faces of the sacred," which he lists as the Abyss...