Monday, August 22, 2011

Zeal, Compassion and Everything In Between

It was more than two weeks ago when I sat in with a group of "Faith Bloggers" at the BlogHer Conference in San Diego. The conversation was a provocative one, hinging on whether and why the blog-reading public would be biased against a writer who declared herself a "faith blogger" - particularly if she were Christian.

Having only recently had my own encounter with some otherwise lovely-seeming Christian ladies - who politely inferred that I was going to hell unless I took Christ into my heart, etc. etc. - I felt equipped to say why some people may get the wrong idea about some Christians.

Then, on the ride home, I happened upon an interview with anthropologist Hank Wesselman. In "The Bowl of Light:" his new book about Hawaiian shamanism, he explores Polynesian beliefs about the positive and negative polarities of every life path. For the path of the Priest or Priestess, the Hawaiian Kahunas say, those polarities are "compassion" and "zeal".

I believe, when we find ourselves on the receiving end of someone else's religious/spiritual judgment, what we've just experienced is some good, old-fashioned ZEAL: the kind that fueled the inquisition, burned witches and currently inflames impressionable suicide bombers.

But what, exactly, is zeal?

It's the feeling we get when we're so certain we're right, when something feels so true for us, that we seek to prove others wrong or even destroy them because of it. It's a feeling we can get about a movie, a transformational technique, a diet or anything else that inspires us. And because of that, it is a dark side to which everyone is vulnerable -whatever the  belief system or passion.

It is a dark side which has, unfortunately, sullied the reputation of religions around the world and turned many, otherwise compassionate people, against anything that rings of  "faith" or "religion." It is a dark side that has  been propagated not only by unscrupulous leaders but by ordinary people who have too fervently believed that theirs was the only right way.

But where zeal divides, compassion unifies. And as long as someone speaks and writes with compassion - whether they are a Christian faith blogger, a Jew, a Wiccan or a Muslim - I will listen, learn and, hopefully, grow.


  1. Great distinction, Jes. Don't you have a MA in religion? Maybe all roads lead to here.

  2. Thanks for the reminder, Linz. I just added it to my profile!