Thursday, July 8, 2010

Quakers and Univeralism

I have been saying this for years but Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed said it succinctly and well in reviewing a new book by Stephen Prothero.

A pastor once said to me that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam believe in the same God but just worship him differently. I said two things back: (1) Not true, for no Jew or Muslim believes in or worships God as Trinity, and (2) just try getting an ordinary Christian, Jew or Muslim to say they think that we all have the same God.

I have believed for a long time that touchstones are to be used but the only honest way to dialogue about our faiths is to tell the truth about our faith and tell the truth of what we think of the other faith, and then to listen to the other person say the same to us and of our faith. With love from first to last, but with the truth of love and love for the truth. The worst thing we can do is to pretend we are all really saying the same thing.

But the pastor's comment is common and widespread. For instance, Swami Sivananda said, "The fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same. There is difference only in the non-essentials." To which Stephen Prothero, author of God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter , says both bitingly and truthfully: "This is a lovely sentiment but it is dangerous, disrespectul, and untrue."

I see this sentiment to which Prothero addresses himself in his new book to be a religious colonialism. It is a way of incorporating the beliefs of another into what one person believes and clarifying, for the truly enlightened, that after all these religions are all variations on a theme. Once you get the theme, and one must be exceedingly broad-minded to grasp it, you can see that we differ only on particularities. Prothero's book is designed to rebut the whole approach of religious colonialism. Here are a few of his opening statements:
He calls this religious colonialism "naive theological groupthink -- call it Godthink" (3).

"God is not one. Faith in the unity of religions is just that -- faith." It's "an act of the hyperactive imagination."

Karl Rahner once spoke of others in other religions as being anonymous Christians. Hans Kung answered back: "It would be impossible to find anywhere in the world a sincere Jew, Muslim or atheist who not regard the assertion that he is an 'anonymous Christian' as presumptuous."

Yes, Prothero says, the world's religions share one thing: they all believe there is a problem or something's wrong. But from that point on they differ, and often dramatically. The solutions show how much they differ. They are not all climbing the same mountain but they are on different mountains.

Read more:

I'd don't know how many times I've heard Universalist Friends say "All religions are the same." To my mind, this is modernist thought that arises from the same Enlightenment impulse that led botanists to classify plants into categories. There's nothing wrong with the Enlightenment, but we have seen its limitations and are in a period of paradigm shift. Also, as more than one postmodern thinker has pointed out, our understanding of "comparative religions" is heavily influenced by the worldview of those mid-twentieth century scholars who wrote the textbooks: primarily white Protestant males from elite East Coast college and OxCam backgrounds: not precisely a broad spectrum. What they give us, some have argued, is a distorted understanding of world religions to begin with.

I'm glad more and more people are challenging the truism that "all religions are the same." As both a Quaker and a religion reporter I chose to bite my tongue more than once when an older white male leaned over to me and said, as if revealing the secret of the ages: "Buddha and Jesus believed the same things" or "all religions are the same." After hearing the "revelation" about 50 times, I found myself having to suppress sarcasm: "Wow! Is that so? I never thought of THAT!" I've often wondered how otherwise intelligent people have gotten stuck on that groove or morphed the idea that some religions share some common tenets into a history-denying and specificity-erasing truth claim all faiths are the same.

It troubles me that so many liberal Quakers hold unreflectively to the "all the religions are the same" falsehood. The same people who deride the Christians who say with conviction "Jesus Christ is my personal savior" will in the next breath say with the same conviction that all religions are different paths up the same mountain--and if you disagree, will judge you with all the scorn of the fundalmentalist Christian towards the unsaved.

Is it "colonialism" to say that all religions are the same? Are Jews--fewer than .02% of the world's religious population--wrong to be worried about being subsumed or erased under thinking that throws us all into a common melting pot? Is a universalist worldview "dangerous?" Why or why not? Why are some Quakers so bent on this universalist worldview? Is there a way forward?


Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, I agree Diane with the point you make here. While it is good to find common ground with everyone and anyone, it is not good to deny our real differences. Paul found common ground at Mars Hill in Acts 17 in speaking of what their poets had said about the supreme Being, but then went on to preach in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. And was scorned. Was he wrong? Is the gospel unique, or not? Or is there any number of ways to express the same gospel. Galatians seems to me to have a clear answer or application on that, even while dealing with a different issue.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I am very pleased to see you tackling this issue (though I doubt it will make you popular).

And I suppose it might not hurt to recall the position of the early Friends.

They never, ever said that everyone is going to the same place (Unitarian-style Universalism), and in fact, quite the contrary, they frequently warned that most people were in grave danger of winding up in the wrong place in the afterlife.

They also never said that everyone worships the same god.

And they found specific points on which to be critical of non-Christian religions. The most obvious, of course, was the fact that Judaism and Islam denied Christ. But there was also the fact that Islam countenanced polygamy.

Nonetheless, I know of no place where the early Friends said that Judaism and Islam do not worship the same God as Christians. It would probably be more accurate to say that the early Friends were saying Judaism and Islam did not have an accurate understanding of God or of the true religion God has revealed.

The early Friends clearly, and repeatedly, affirmed that the same God as the one they themselves worshiped keeps trying to get through to everyone in the place of heart and conscience — even to Turks and Jews and native Americans — and that some people who are Turks and Jews and native Americans do listen to Him there and obey Him.

George Fox even demonstrated, to the governor of the Carolinas, that this was true, by grabbing a native American more or less at random from the audience and getting him to confess that there was a voice within him that showed him what was right and what was wrong. This is recorded in Fox’s Journal.

Thus, some Turks and Jews and native Americans (and also some professing Christians, of course) intuitively follow the Christ in their heart, while other Turks and Jews and native Americans, and other professing Christians, do not.

It would be logical to conclude that, since some Jews and Muslims do follow that voice within them, some of what God has said to them by way of that voice has found its way into their scriptures.

And I think it is easy to show that this is actually the case with Judaism, for the scriptures of the Jews contain the teachings of Jews whom George Fox himself confessed to be faithful — Abraham, for example.

Hystery said...

What you say here is of great importance. During my work in an interfaith group, I found the attitude that "we're all really the same" was a great excuse for ignoring the real and important differences among people of faith. In that case, everyone was welcome *just as long as they did not say or do anything that might be offensive to the dominant Christian perspective*. It was, as you say, disrespectful and colonizing. I don't think this happens intentionally or maliciously. What happens is that the most powerful group in the room (whatever that may be) dominates the conversation and therefore determines the text and context of the conversation. They frame the questions. Those who do not fit nicely into their pattern are forced to distort their beliefs to fit them into that pattern. When they fail to do so, they are often dismissed as irrelevant, "sensitive", or otherwise uncooperative in what the dominant group sees as peaceful discourse but which actually is just a controlled conversation. You're welcome to long as you follow my rules!

Diane said...

Yes, Hystery, and for someone in your faith position, you are likely to be a minority and hence not heard.

Ron Krumpos said...

The true kinship of faiths may be best found in their mystical traditions. Here is a brief quote from my e-book at

Mysticism seeks to join, or unite, our inner self with the divine by spiritual disciplines of devotion, knowledge, selfless service, and/or meditation. What you do matters greatly to what you will become: that is divine justice. How you do it, through Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, or outside these faiths is important when it is the right way for you: that is divine law. One is Truth: true Reality transcends the boundaries of our beliefs. Thou art That: you are in the divine essence; you must be dedicated to fully realizing it.

Our religion may be right for us, nevertheless that does not mean billions of others are wrong. What of the 100 billion people who lived outside of our faith since the origin of our species? Religions do differ in approach, beliefs and practices, although the divine Reality they seek is the same. Their mystics used the words and concepts understood by followers of their faith, but these are just alternate ways of trying to express the One underlying Truth.

[Note: For mysticism in the Mahayana replace the divine with the Dharmakaya, or Buddha-essence.]

Anonymous said...

I can easily imagine that some Quakers who are Universalists might say, "all religions are the same," and I appreciate you pointing out how offensive that might be to many, but the Quaker Universalist Fellowship has quite a different description of itself. They begin by quoting Fox, Woolman, and Penn to explain their purpose, and conclude by saying, "The work of the Quaker Universalist Fellowship expresses Friends' belief that there is a spirit of universal love in every person, and that a compassion-centered life is therefore available to people of all faiths and backgrounds.... We seek, or create, opportunities for all Friends to engage in constructive dialogue among Quakers and with representatives of other spiritual traditions, in the hope that religious faith, although diverse, will become a force which unites rather than divides the human family."

Their website is


Diane said...


I do tend to believe with the early Quaker that it is the same God, Light, Jesus that people experience, but hope in the process not to trample religious particularity or the value of sticking to one path. This is a bugaboo of mine ... I've blogged about it before, and I do get tired of it :)-- but it seems important.


I like the sentiments of the Quaker Universalist Fellowship as you describe them but hope religious difference is honored as much as sameness. :) I do worry that in embracing "universal love," certainly a worthy idea, Quakers can water down their own faith and also can become naive about evil.

Diane said...


I would say that embracing one's own faith fiercely and not trying to be too universal is that start on that mystical path that is all important. I love the idea of honoring other faiths and believe it most happens when I am deeply influenced by my own faith.

Anonymous said...

Friends, might this be a helpful way of looking at things? There
are many Inward Light faiths in the
world. Quakers are only one of them, and one of the smallest. There are Inward Light Buddhists---
probably almost all Buddhists. There are Inward Light Hindus---a lot of them. There are Inward Light Muslims---we call them Sufis.
There are Inward Light Jews--we
call them Hasidim. And there are
Inward Light Christians---we call
ourselves Friends. I can't think
of any other significant body of
Inward Light Christians, except maybe for certain Catholic and Orthodox orders.
Remember set theory from middle-school math? We are not the union of all Inward Light faiths. Those
Friends who think so are truly
imperialists. Of course we are not
the union of all Christians either.
We are the intersection of Inward
Light faith and Christianity. We
believe in the Light Within, the
Christ Within, as one and the same.
Jeremy Mott

Diane said...


Very interesting comment (as usual)!

Marshall Massey said...

Yes, Jeremy’s comment is interesting, but I don’t know that it is accurate.

Buddhists do not believe in an Inward Light; their meditation practice is one of simple observation, not of experiencing a light or presence or guidance describable as divine. Gautama Buddha explicitly denied that there is anything like an eternal deity; his deities (he joined with the Hindus in saying that there are many such) are more long-lived and powerful than humans, but still mortal. A lot of Buddhist meditation is in one way or another focused on seeing how everything can be broken down into components and is therefore not eternal at all. Also, an awful lot of Buddhists don’t meditate; they do outward observances (temple-going, charity to monks, holidays) and that’s it.

Hasidism is a religion of fervent and joyful observancy of the rules of orthodox Judaism and the love of God. A minority turn it into something like meditation, but it doesn’t have to be that, and as far as I know, the majority do not make it that.

The Hindus do not mean the same thing by Light within that the early Friends (and true Conservative Friends) do. For early Friends, as for the Bible, it is moral illumination, that-from-God which reveals the dimension of the world along which some things are good (or acceptable to God) and others bad (or not acceptable). For the Hindus it is an actual inwardly visible Light, a simple divine presence without any necessary moral qualities.

Confusing these things, and calling them all Inward Light faiths as if they were all essentially the same, strikes me as being precisely the sort of imperialism that Diane was objecting to.

Jeremy Mott said...

Marshall, I stand corrected. Or maybe just misunderstood. I cetainly don't think all the Inner
Light faiths are the same, or even
similar. Only in Inward Light Christianity (i.e.Quakerism and
a few other groups) and in prophetic Judaism is the Light
mainly ethical, not mystical.
I do note that there are many
kinds of Buddhists. Some even
believe, contrary to what Gautama taught, that he is a god. And I
believe that some do believe in a
mystical enlightenment; but that
is not an ethical enlightenment.
I don't know. I'm not a scholar of religion, or even a
reporter on the subject. I do
think that "all religions are the
same" is a very dangerous idea, because it's a lie. The only
sort of universalism that I can
accept is the Quaker sort----the
Light Within, the Christ Within,
the Holy Spirit, is offered to all.
Jeremy Mott

earthfreak (Pam) said...

I'm a little intrigued by this because I don't think I have EVER heard a universalist friend make this statement - maybe I just wasn't on the alert for it.

I was a religious studies major in college and my advisor had "The Five Dumb Things" (modeled after the ten commandments, the pillars of islam, etc) - that you would fail any test you used them in automatically. One was essentially "all religions are the same"

To say no one religion is more empirically or objectively true than another or to say that many religions seem to serve more or less the same purpose in a society are very different things. are you taking issue with that as well?

forrest said...

There is one actually existing God, who is the spiritual reality underlying all Creation.

Jesus described that God as one who provided what was good and necessary to all people, good Jews and bad Jews and heathen; he allegedly offended his home synagogue by pointing out that God had once cured an Assyrian general of leprosy although there'd been "many lepers in Israel" in that time.

This is not consistent with God having left any human beings ignorant of whatever might be essential to them, religious understanding included.

There is indeed tremendous variation in the forms that religious understanding can take. But it's a complex world, with a multitude of different people with different ways of steering their ways through it. Not all seem to work equally well, by our lights... but God doesn't seem in a rush to impose any uniform system on us.

Maybe we shouldn't either?

leftistquaker said...

As a nontheist, I might be tempted to say no religion has any truth, which seems to be the position of Richard Dawkins. However, I know wonderful Christians who are better people than I am. Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims as well. I also know Atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, and Muslims who are just as obnoxious as I can be. One's exoteric beliefs make little difference, it is one's level of compassion that is key.

I don't claim this is early Quakerism, since I have no interest in being an early or a late Quaker, only in being a compassionate human being. Beliefs can help or hinder, as they can be used by the believer to either express compassion or arrogance.

Karen said...

Wow. There are people who claim that all religions are the same? I find that... weird.

I do believe we're all striving to interpret our experiences of the Divine in our own ways, and so end up with wildly different ways of doing things.

Even within any apparently theologically coherent group, though, there's a huge range of attitudes and beliefs - even around the core tenets of faith, where people tend to assume that everyone around them interprets those tenets of faith in the same way they do.

It's often said that if you ask 10 Wiccans for a definition of their core beliefs, you'll get at least 15 answers. It seems to hold true for every group I've ever known.

There are people from different religious groups who find enormous common ground, and others who find next to none. It seems to me that it's less down to the religions themselves than to the personalities of the people involved - some are inclined to mysticism, some are actively interested in seeing how others paths might enrich their own, some cling to the certainties of outward practice alone, and many of us are a complex mixture of more complex, overly simplistic, academic, directly experiential, and other ways of thinking/being. It can all get really fuzzy.

Diane said...

Earthfreak Pam and others,

I have heard many times the statement "all religions are the same." More times than I can count. I do believe that there is one God and that the spirit of that one God that is available to anyone through Jesus Christ, whether or not the person is aware of the historical Jesus. I believe this is what the early Quakers thought. I believe they thought this because they felt they were living in the end times, where, as prophesied, God's word would fall alike upon all people and be written on their hearts. The unmediated accessibility of the Holy Spirit that they experienced, in other words, was to them a sign and manifestation of the imminent return of God's Kingdom.

I do, also, however, think that the Quakers were self contradictory on this topic. They sent letters, eg, to the Turkish (?) sultan and the Pope, extorting them to repent or be damned.

But my goal here is more to advocate for questioning assumptions, as well, yes, to defend Christianity as distinctive, worthwhile and not trivial, and to challenge what I see as a sentimentalizing and leveling of all religious experience. If nothing else, we ought to be polyphony, not harmony.

James Riemermann said...

I'm with Pam, as I often am. Not once have I heard a universalist say "all religions are the same," though I have heard critics of universalism say that they say that many, many times. I think it is mostly a straw man.

There is certainly a tendency within universalism to emphasize the commonalities among religions more than the differences, and to assert that those commonalities (how to behave and treat one another) as more important than the differences (the proper words, concepts, beliefs, regarding obscure theological questions that have been at the root of religious wars and oppression throughout recorded history). But that is not the same as saying there are no differences.

In my view, one of the great strengths of liberal Quakerism, which is fundamentally universalist, is its longstanding emphasis on what people do far more than what they believe.

Myself, I think one of the failures of some universalists in a relative unwillingness to criticize harmful practices and irrational beliefs fostered by so many religious institutions. ALL of the major religions have engaged in a LOT of this, and could do with some sharp criticism, from within and from without.

ben said...

Straw-man alert.
( red flashing light )
What an interesting take you might have on these problems if in fact they were real.
Look for some fact or other and react to it. You'll love it.
It might even be interesting to read.

ben said...

Caution--- Straw-man alert---
( Red flashing light )
You might want to really talk to some of these people awhile and react to what they said rather than what you think they said 100 years later, might even be readable then.
Sorry dude

Diane said...

I'm delighted to see universalists attack this argument as a strawman because it means they're disavowing this line of thinking. Thank goodness!

However, I also think that, as with racism and sexism, it's easy--and natural-- to dismiss what you yourself don't see and attack the see-er as deluded.

James Riemermann said...

With respect, Diane, I would find it helpful if you could point to some quotes or documents, on the web or in books I can find in a library, that make this statement or its equivalent. I googled the phrase "all religions are the same" and got 16,000,000 results, but all the ones I clicked on were people criticizing that view, none asserting it.

Diane said...


I was thinking in terms of the article I quoted: eg, For instance, Swami Sivananda said, "The fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same. There is difference only in the non-essentials."

The wording is different from an exact "all religions are the same," but the sentiment is the same. Quibbling over exact words dodges and diverts from the larger issue: " Does universalism trivialize religious experience?" I'm willing to hear arguments that it doesn't; i'm not willing to argue about how many times how many people used an exact sequence of words. I will stand behind having heard that sequence of words many times in Quaker circles: I don't know that arguing over exact words is moving us anywhere. What are universalists saying, if not that? Explain it and I will listen.

earthfreak (Pam) said...

"But my goal here is more to advocate for questioning assumptions, as well, yes, to defend Christianity as distinctive, worthwhile and not trivial, and to challenge what I see as a sentimentalizing and leveling of all religious experience. If nothing else, we ought to be polyphony, not harmony. "

Okay, sounds good! so, I'd love to hear a defense of Christianity as distinctive worthwhile and not trivial - I'm all ears!

After further thought on this, it's occurred to me that on many levels I do believe this. An an atheist I can say that in the most basic sense I think all religions are wrong (I think Jesus was no more divine than your or me, the Bible was written by men, as was the Koran, etc, Zeus and Hercules are stories, as are Odin and the bodily resurrection and the 6-day creation)

So, not terribly useful though, eh? Not something I go around saying to believers because it seems unfriendly :)

And, on another level, lots of religions share values. Talking to James tonight I randomly picked the Golden Rule - something that came to me, culturally, as a christian concept (actually, I just sort of picked it up by osmosis, but figured out it was something Jesus said before I figured out it was something others had said before him)

Okay, so that is NOT a universal religious tenet, but it is both somewhat common among religions that I encounter, and, in my opinion, a good idea.

Something that is more distinctively Christian is the idea that Jesus died and rose again on the third day (because all the numerous other religions with stories like that aren't currently practiced widely) -

So, my personally, I'm left with, so what? I find the Golden Rule to be valuable, true, moving, useful, etc. I find the resurrection to be irrelevant. even if it happened (which I personally deem unlikely) - so what? where does that leave us? what does that tell us about the world, how to live, how to treat each other? Is any of that useful or true? Not that I can tell, really. Some of the metaphor might be (hope and redemption are good, as far as they go)

Clearly those are just two randomly chosen examples, but there are not any popping to mind that contradict this line of thinking for me. I'm not deliberately picking examples that prove, or show, my point of view.

Really, things I find worthwhile in christianity:

love each other
treat others as you would be treated
be ready to sacrifice to do the right thing
be honest
be willing to break rules to do the right thing

all pretty much pop up all over the place in religion, and philosophy for that matter

things about christianity that are distinctive (ish)

virgin birth
cursing a fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season (he's a brat, is that supposed to be a good thing?)
rising from the dead
turning water into wine

um, yeah, so?

And of course, the wonderful standby - "you are going to suffer for all eternity if you don't do what I say" (which isn't unique to christianity by any means, but of course WHICH hoop you have to jump through to avoid hell depends on the specific dogma of that specific religion.)

certainly some people say hail marys, some people meditate, some people take a vow of poverty (which is sometimes pretty meaningless), some sing, some refrain from singing some people don't eat pork. CERTAINLY there are differences.

I personally would love to hear more about what is special and worthwhile and unique to christianity for you. Especially as an alternative to hearing how I say things that I don't say and how awful that is.

Also, "all religions are the same" and "the worthwhile stuff in a lot of religions is similar" are very different statements. I will cop to the latter, but then I am not attached to a religion of my own.

D-W said...

The original posting seems focused on Swami Sivananda's observation that the fundamentals of all religions are the same and that the differences are not important. Sivananda (as referenced here) clearly notes that religions differ from one another, but these differences are removed from the frame of comparison because Sivananda has determined that they are not of fundamental value. This is a bit solipsistic: religions share qualities, any unshared qualities aren't as important as those that are shared, therefore, in their important aspects all religions are the same.

That said, universality does seem like a useful standard for valuing one belief or practice over another in objective comparison. However it may be that a specific non-universal belief or practice holds greater personal value for an individual or sect.

I would have found the post more useful and interesting if it had analyzed Sivananda's statement more precisely and responded directly. Rather than saying that she doesn't like Sivananda's solipsism, the author might have made an argument for the value of a specific belief or practice that is not shared universally.

Somewhere in the comments I noted a reference to the trinity as a unique belief, but this statement had no supporting evidence. I am curious to see such evidence as I've never understand the importance of this idea, nor the importance of Jesus as son of God. I'm not so presumptuous as to suggest that these beliefs are unimportant. I'm sure they are quite important to those who maintain such beliefs. For me the universally shared beliefs are sufficient.

For those who find sufficient the purity of our faith and practice--consisting of individuals gathered together in order to join in the presence of and in direct communion with God--any additional belief or practice seems unnecessary and possibly insufficient. The differences between the other Abrahamaic sects seem no more than a debate over the sizes of their golden calfs.

Karen said...

I'm more than willing to believe that Diane has heard this sentiment explicitly expressed, because humans have such a broad range of ideas about the world that it would seem odd if no-one ever said "all religions are the same".

Yet I have often found that my understanding of a particular statement is profoundly changed when I ask for more information from the speaker, and that others hold quite different beliefs than I thought they did when I press them on the issue.

Maybe my sin is in so often assuming that what I infer is what was meant. Goodness knows how clumsily I articulate ideas - I must surely have routinely said things that others have interpreted in ways that never occurred to me.

So my reading of these two statements:

* "All religions are the same"
* "The fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same. There is difference only in the non-essentials"

is quite different to Diane's, probably because I already have a strong bias.

To me, the first just dismisses the differences in ways of thinking-seeing-believing-doing; the second emphasises that the experience of the Divine is common to all of us and propels us in the same direction (to love, peace, co-operation, mutual respect and aid, the realisation of our common humanity, etc.), and that the differences in expression of faith are important but not ESSENTIAL. To me, this latter statement does not dismiss the differences but seek to emphasise that we are all seeking to consciously recognise the Divine. It says to me that the experience of recognising the Divine transcends boundaries of faith and culture on the deepest human level.

To Diane, they each express the same idea, which is dismissive of diversity of thought and word and deed.

I'm left wondering whether the people who have said to Diane that "all religions are the same" are all actually intending to say the same thing, to what extent they've given this deep thought, how well they feel they're articulating their beliefs, whether or not any of them intend to dismiss the differences between faiths.

It's a funny thing, but even though I know intellectually that everything I hear is filtered through my own biases and baggage and beliefs, I'm always rather surprised when I'm reminded of it. I am a slow learner!

Hystery said...

I am a non-Christian Quaker and a universalist who has done interfaith work. I also am a student of religions so recognizing religious differences and commonalities is my business. Thankfully, what I hear most frequently from liberal Christians and universalists alike is thoughtful engagement and enthusiasm for difference as well as for commonality. One does have to stay in the conversation and allow folks to more fully articulate their positions. As Karen points out, our own biases and the difficulties of expressing spiritual/religious perspective make this a topic that requires much patience. Our first stumbling statements are often no more at the heart of our belief any more than our front doors are the heart of our homes.

Unfortunately, I have also experienced those who talk a good talk about recognizing religious difference but whose actions tell a different story. In my interfaith organization for instance, I began to notice a trend in which only Christian, Muslim, and Jewish women were invited to speak at events. If non-Christians were represented, there was "concern" that those perspectives might offend the Christians in the community. In a short time, all the non-Abrahamic board members resigned or were pushed out of the organization until the board was entirely Christian. I remember feeling a growing sense of pointlessness in my role there when the director (a woman passionately committed to interfaith dialog) told me that she felt that Christians would never be convinced that Pagans are not associated with evil. She knew she was supposed to be open to Pagans. She invited me on the board. But then she could not get away from what she believed she knew about Paganism. Her internal narrative was too strong for her to hear what I was trying to tell her.

I've also experienced groups of people in educational settings ostensibly dedicated to diversity who made dismissive statements when the Christian in the room spoke. When I stood up for him, I was dismissed as "unenlightened". They were open-minded liberals and he was a narrow-minded bigot. How did they know? They just did, and they shut him down before he could finish speaking.

For me, this issue has not been the difference between Christian and universalist approaches. It has not been only about intellectual strategies. The difference has been in power and its use. It is a difference in humility. If one believes one has all the answers, why listen to one's brothers and sisters?

Marshall Massey said...

No less a figure than William Blake (the poet) proclaimed that All Religions are One. He made this statement as part of a series of ten etchings, all ten of which are reproduced on line. You can click here, if you like, to see a copy of the etching where Blake makes the crucial statement.

The Sivananda essay is on line, too; you can read it here. In it, Sivananda goes beyond just saying that the fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same. He says, “All religions are one. They teach a divine life. I respect saints and prophets of all religions. I respect all religions, all cults, all faiths and all creeds. I serve all, love all, mix with all and see the Lord in all.

Sivananda also adds, “The apparent differences in religions are due to a misconception or misconstruction of the long-forgotten truth of the Vedas on which they are ultimately founded.” That is a statement I’ve heard with my own ears from other Hindu teachers as well.

Diane said...


I agree with you that we need to probe deeper when people say things such as "all religions are the same," and explore the meaning behind the shorthand. I know that I found, when, in a non-threatening and supportive way I asked people who called themselves Bible literalists, what they meant by that--given that the Bible contains contradictions--most said they used it as a shorthand and held a much more nuanced view than those words --Bible literalist--would imply.

Diane said...


This goes along with the above comment. I agree that much of this is about power, and how we react when we feel bludgeoned, dismissed or marginalized by the sayings of a more dominant group. I too have found the interfaith groups I have had some dealings with--though I sympathize with their aims--to be somewhat unable to accommodate true diversity. I know I fear the particularities of my faith experience--which are also the commonalities of many people on a particular path--will be dismissed or steamrolled in the rush to harmonize faiths--or because my beliefs make others uncomfortable or contemptuous.

I think too that Paganism is difficult for people of "one God" or Abrahamic faiths. God seems to keep putting remarkable pagans in my path, and I remember that Jesus invites all people to his table, not simply those approved by the Pharisees. In the end, as others have said, it's about love..but I don't think either you or I would want to be leveled or forced to agree to much beyond that. We don't, and that's OK. As much as I can in cyberspace, I accept you as fully human--but that means accepting you in your paganism and you me in my Christianity.

Leslie Lim said...

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