Cherry Picking

Pick one or pick something from each?

I read an interesting blog posts on the White Hindu blog: “Cherry-Picking” and a follow-up post People will find their way,  Aamba quotes Elizabeth Gilbert:

My friend was a Catholic by upbringing, but couldn’t stomach returning to the church as an adult. (“I can’t buy it anymore,” he said, “knwoing what I know.”) Of course he’d be embarassed to become a Hindu or a Buddhist or something wacky like that. So what could he do? As he told me, “You don’t want to go cherry-picking a religion.” Which is a sentiment I completely respect except for the fact that I totally disagree.

I think you have every right to cherry-pick when it comes to moving your spirit and finding peace in God. I think you are free to search for any metaphor whatsoever which will take you across the worldly divide whenever you need to be transported or comforted. It’s nothing to be embarrased about. It’s the hisotry of mankind’s search for holiness…

I have reservations about cherry-picking from many different religions. I agree wholeheartedly  that we should not interfere with anyone else’s spiritual path. If someone wants to cherry-pick from various religions we should not even try to force them to do otherwise. That said, if anyone wants to take part of our faith I think we should advise them that it is better taken as a whole. Cherry picking is unlikely to give most people the best or quickest path.

Map of ten of the many routes up Snowdon

There are many paths up the mountain

I see cherry-picking  religions like going to a cafeteria without any concept of what a meal is or any idea about nutrition. Just picking what you want might result in eating three portions of chocolate ice-cream and a doughnut, or even tasting the cafe’s cleaning supplies. People who have an exceptional awareness of their bodies might eventually find healthy balanced meals on their own. but most people would not.

One danger of cherry-picking is described by Gurudeva in “How to become a (better) Hindu“. His advice to New Age followers visiting him is this:

To New Age groups visiting our ashram on this Garden Island in the mid-Pacific I give a simple analogy. I explain that there are many paths to the top of the mountain, some lead to the top and others half way up. But the New Age approach is to take none of these, but instead to go around and around the base of the mountain, sampling the most basic out-front teaching and disciplines each faith puts forward. This, I point out, is a nonproductive procedure.

It could be argued that there is plenty of time, everyone will find their way to God in the long run. This is absolutely true,  everyone will eventually find God and attain moksha. This is not just a random wandering, like a drunkard’s walk, staggering in all directions eventually coming to a lamppost. It is an unfolding, a slow realisation. It may start out without deliberate direction, but eventually people will come to a path which they are meant to follow. If we give the impression that it does not matter, everything will lead to God, then some people will become confused, and maybe have many bad experiences or bad births.

I think we need to be clear, we have a path to God. It may be right for other people or it might not. You are not forced to follow it, but if you want to become more aware of yourself as a spiritual being, and of God then you will need to make an effort. For the vast majority that effort will be to follow some existing path.

Cherry picking  could also lead to the attitude that I have seen within Unitarianism, where it is seen as too “politically incorrect” to express any firm belief for fear of offending those who believe differently. If everyone within a group is cherry-picking, any suggestions, criticisms or even enthusiasm for one path could be seen as unwanted.

People may seem to cherry-pick at the early stages of their spiritual path, but for most people a commitment to a particular path is needed to go beyond a certain stage. We should respect people’s freedom to follow whaterver belief they like, including cherry-picking, but offer them the wisdom of our faith if they want it. I have heard it said that religion should be offered like sweets on a plate. People should be free to take them or leave them. But if someone comes and licks the sugar off a sweet and drops it on the ground we should at least tell them that they have not tasted the full thing.

5 responses to “Cherry Picking

  1. Brian Donohue

    “cherry picking” reminds me of the term “Al a carte C…” You can fillin Catholic or Christian. It’s an attitude that I will accept and participate as I like because I don’t agree with this or that in the religion, I don’t find it spiritual and I won’t be told how to live my life. thank you very much. It is a pity not because churches don’t satisfy their followers, but because the individual can’t identify their feeling of spiritual searching. So they drop out in some fashion and don’t seek spiritual nourishment. Their pain and frustration has deadened them to God seeking them. And their social upbringing has tought them never to explore God outside the “safety” and “salvation of their cultural religion. Namaste, Brian

    • Perhaps it is the obvious difficulty of “swallowing” the exclusivity of these religions (everyone outside will be punished for ever) that leads their followers to cherry pick. It might start by rejecting the message of hell, which leads to the thought “if I reject that then why not other bits that are hard to follow. Why not take bits from other beliefs I like too!”.

  2. Fair enough! I wouldn’t want to end up like Unitarianism, which I find uselessly bland and empty! 🙂

  3. Tāṇḍava,

    Being an atheist, an Ayn Rand fan, a firm believer of naturalism and mateiralism, I don’t think our view points could be much disparate. 🙂

    But yet, let me try to put forth my points. To you they might seem quite sterile, because they would be bereft of concepts like God, soul, after-life or salvation (moksha).

    I could notice two broad themes in your analysis. First, that cherry picking from among various religions could lead us on a wrong path, because our discretion could be misguiding, and we might unknowingly pick up the wrong (suboptimal) path to salvation/God.

    Next thing you say is that a diet needs to be wholesome, that is why we need to follow a particular set of beliefs, which would have been rightly clubbed together by our Guru. So, my question is: does even doing this not involve our discretion? What if the discretion we use to zero down on the ‘right’ Guru or the ‘right’ religion itself is wrong? For sure, no Guru/proponents of a religion claim that their path is ineffective as far as goals of following a religion are concerned (reaching salvation/God)? These claims could be likened to advertisements from competing manufacturers of say an audio system. You could go for a package that sells the complete set of speakers, the woofers, the wires, the amplifiers, the ‘player’ of the audio device. Or alternatively, you could select each component yourself from different manufacturers. But what I want to point out is doing either will require your discretion. Each time you decide manufacturer A’s product is better than manufacturer B’s, you’re using your discretion and there is margin to go wrong.

    Anyway, what I wrote above was from a theist’s point of view. I think vast majority of people are too caught up in their daily lives to take God and salvation seriously. As an atheist I feel we do not need religion, insofar as theology that is inherent to religion is concerned. Morality, ethics, etiquette, common sense and conscience are sufficient for human beings to live harmoniously with each other. So, at least in that regard religions have little role to play. But then there is something people like to refer to as spiritual aspect of life, for which people say religion is necessary. I have never been completely able to understand what people mean by ‘spirituality’. I think of ‘spirituality’ as taking a detached view of life, people, the Universe and the various observable phenomena; thinking of the self as merely one of the components in this vast interplay of events. Plus, I like to try to make out cause-and-effect relationships.

    BTW, if you don’t mind revealing, I was curious how did you reach by blog post titled – ‘Pitfalls of respect for tradition’? 🙂

    Take care.

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