Most people who have grown up within a particular religious tradition identify with that tradition, and wear it proudly as a kind of label. This is a label that gives them a sense of belonging, of values, of community, and — perhaps most importantly — of identity, both cultural and spiritual. This is a good thing — a guiding hand, a group spirit, and a source of much music, theater, architecture, and visual art. But is it the ultimate pathway for humanity which, without any doubt, has been led astray for millennia by forces of prejudice and division? Does identifying primarily with one faith tradition, regardless of how universal certain values may be within that tradition, the best way to achieve lasting peace? Is it the best way to achieve the spiritual unity sorely needed for our world to be at peace?
There are many conflicts internal to every religion — or, at least, in the way religion is practiced. For example, in Buddhism one is supposed to follow a path of compassion, kindness and peace — and yet in Myanmar, many Buddhist monks have taken to violence in words and deeds as a reaction to the troubles in their country. One of the key values in Islam is unity — the unity of God for all mankind, and yet Muslims of different sects have committed violent deeds and spoken violent words against each other and against those of other faiths — claiming their understanding of God is superior to all others. Love and charity are supposed to be integral to Christianity, and yet many Christians have persecuted each other in word and deed, as well as those of other faiths — and have decimated entire cultures in the name of Christ. Many of the Jewish faith, while having been themselves persecuted for centuries, have often acted with violence toward those of other faiths as well as amongst each other, particularly in Israel and Palestine. Hindus and Muslims have fought each other in India. The list goes on, but what every faith seems to have in common — besides many fine values and principles — is a tendency to inflict violence on fellow human beings in the name of God. But what is God’s main principle if it is not love? And what are we all doing here on Earth if it is not to learn to be brothers and sisters in one universal spiritual family, united in God? The arrogance and club-like mentality of so many adherents of the great religions have been eroding the landscape of human evolution for centuries.
How did this all come about? First of all, it came about by the distortions of the original teachings of our great masters. Human beings, in their ignorance, fear and selfishness, have changed many of the original teachings — and therefore many ideals — of the great Jewish prophets, Hindu masters, the Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus and Mohammed, to the point at which vast hierarchies of fear and superstition emerged throughout the world. The grains of gold in every faith tradition, while always present, were lost to those fears and superstitions that came to dominate spiritual life on Earth. This is the power of Darkness — not the Light which God intended for us, the light that inspires rather than compels; that teaches love rather than fear; that encourages compassion rather than resentment; and that promotes tolerance rather than prejudice. This is not to say that religious founders were themselves perfect or devoid of anger; their teachings, however, were often taken to extremes of divisiveness never intended by them or their first followers.
Secondly, this erosion of spiritual life has been going on for centuries because of a lack of attention to one’s conscience, which, I believe, is our link to God. For example, if religious leaders had listened to their conscience throughout the millennia, many tragic wars and persecutions would have never occurred. The double standard for the value of human life, endemic to all religious violence, would not have been allowed to arise and justify the killing of whole groups of people whose ethnicity or religion are different from one’s own. The Golden Rule — treat others as you would be treated yourselves — has too often been forgotten or ignored, to justify the division of God’s children into the worthy and the unworthy, the faithful and the unfaithful, the saved and the damned. Too often has one of God’s fundamental principles been disregarded: We are all of equal value in God’s eyes; no one has any greater or lesser right to live than another, and we all have the right as well as the ability to advance in our spiritual growth, no matter how educated or uneducated we may be. However, the denial of reincarnation and karma on a widespread basis has contributed to the problem of human beings’ disregard for each other’s dignity and right to live, which brings us to the third reason for the erosion of spiritual life:
Each of us carries responsibility for everything we say and do. But that responsibility does not end with one lifetime on Earth: It carries on into many lifetimes. The transgressions we inflict upon others in a present lifetime, if not atoned for in the present, will carry forward consequences into future lives on Earth that can be most difficult. For example, if one ignores the fundamental rights of another person because of his or her ethnicity or religion, one will be faced with related consequences in the next life — perhaps by being in the shoes of the person one abused in the previous life — unless it is possible to obtain forgiveness during the same lifetime. Regardless of one’s deeds or words, however, retribution or rewards always ensue, as everything we send out comes back to us, whether positive or negative. And God’s fundamental laws of justice require that everyone learn from his or her deeds and words — whether in the current lifetime or the next.
Given our awareness of faith-based behavior throughout history, and after considering the social and cultural divisions that have occurred because of institutionalized prejudice, and because so many religious leaders have chosen to shun the Golden Rule, do we still want to call ourselves Jewish or Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist, etc.? There is a strong argument for doing so: Those who know and practice the pure and noble aspects of one’s faith are aware that that faith teaches us to love and respect each other regardless of one’s background, and to cultivate faith in a supreme deity or — at least — in supreme principles. And many rituals and traditional gatherings unique to any major faith are quite beautiful and serve to bring communities together in fellowship, worship and meditation. However, there is also an argument for moving beyond identifying oneself with an inherited faith: With a consciousness of unity, it is possible to identify oneself with all of humanity together as one spiritual family, secure in the guidance of God, our Heavenly Father/Mother who strives to lead us toward ever-greater light. With such a global and universal faith, one has no more need for intermediaries of any kind, and the ideal temple of worship is no longer a church, a synagogue or a mosque, but a universal temple for all God’s children. In this sense, perhaps the only temple we will need in the distant future is a temple of the soul, rather than a physical building. But in the transition to the point at which everyone on Earth will have embraced universal harmony, it is possible to carry such consciousness in our spirits, radiating our inner light on every path we walk.
Rev. Roger Davidson