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Spirituality and real life


No man is an island.

So wrote the English poet John Donne in 1624, as he described the interconnectedness between himself and his fellow man. In a similar sense, we could also say that no religious group is an island.

That is, all groups of religiously or spiritually connected people interact with each other in one way or another. None of us, either individually or collectively, exist in isolation.

And that is what makes life so interesting, isn't it. The reality that we think differently, act differently and look at the world differently is part of what makes the human experience so exiting (and at the same time, so irritating).

If this is true of us as individuals, then it is certainly true when we form groups and communities of like-minded people. For example, how do Christians interact with Muslims? How does a humanist engage with a pantheist? How does a fundamentalist woman talk with an inclusively-minded man?

According to the book Strong Religion (by Almond, Appleby and Sivan), there are four general patterns that are used to relate to the world. I would like to suggest that there are five.

Five patterns or perspectives that shape how a religious group (or person) interacts with the world around them. A world that thinks differently than they do. Through five consecutive articles, let's explore each pattern and see if we can discern our own way of relating to the people around us.

The first pattern is that of "World Conqueror."

For many of us, this may be our default understanding of some of the fundamentalist groups that we hear and read about in the news.

Groups or individuals who operate from a World Conqueror perspective look at the world around them, see the radical differences between the world and their group, and conclude that the best method of interaction is the use of force. Physical force. Verbal force. Relational force. Any force that is necessary. The world must be compelled to convert.

Along with this aggressive stance (remember our discussion about postures a few weeks ago), World Conquerors tend to see people and events through dualistic eyes.

Good versus evil. God versus Satan. White versus black. There is very little grey, and there is certainty very little room for negotiation or compromise.

Now, of course, it is tempting to look at a World Conqueror and write them off as being closed-minded and maybe even irrelevant. But that might not necessarily be the case.

World Conquerors typically place a high value on truth (sometimes through careful study), and are also willing to experience discomfort for their beliefs. In areas such as religion, science, and politics, it is often World Conquerors who bring about the most dramatic changes.

What about you?

Given the brief description above, would you consider yourself to be a World Conqueror?

What have been your experiences with others who are World Conquerors?

Make sure you read next week's article, as we explore the second of the five patterns of relating to the world - "World Transformer".

Questions or Comments?

Each week, this column will explore issues and questions about religion and spirituality in Prince George and around the world.

Please email your questions and comments about this article, or ideas and questions for future articles to "".

Mark Wessner, PhD, is lead pastor at Westwood Church and a continuing studies instructor at UNBC.