Saturday, July 17, 2010

"All religions are the same"

I find Max Carter to be an excellent writer who, in his "On Faith" essay ( paints an appealing vision in which we all, whatever our religious backgrounds, are equally members of God's family, with God as father and mother, sharing the same DNA. Yes, I agree that we are all children of God, vessels made in the image of God, eikons of God, and I understand Max's emphasis on our commonalities.

However, I think the question Prothero is raising is not "Do we have the same spiritual DNA as humans?" but ,"Do all religions share the same spiritual DNA?" So I believe Carter is answering a different question.

I also see Carter putting himself in the God position rather than human position: He writes:

"Are all religions the same? Of course not. Nor are my three biological children [note the slide from religious institutions to individual children], even though they came from the same parents. While sharing many common characteristics, our two daughters and one son are as different as can be in many respects - religiously, politically, vocationally, temperamentally.
But my wife and I focus on our deep love of each, irrespective of those differences. We love no one of them more than the other; favor no one of them more than the other. We recognize the biological similarities, their common interests in living meaningful lives, their desire to be loving partners, and their devotion and love for us as parents. They have the same hopes and fears that any human beings have: anxiety about job security, health, their children's lives, the future....
I think of the world's religions in much the same way. "

In this analogy, Max puts himself in the parent/God position, looking down from above on his children/the world's religions. But we humans are not in the God position--we are not standing above the table of religion, looking down. As humans, we are at the table, constrained by time and place, looking across. And maybe because of that, our vision isn't so clear.

Thus, while I believe one can be a hyphenated universalist (and I am, in the traditional 17th century Quaker sense, a Christian-universalist), I think it is difficult to be a stand-alone Universalist, because, whether you mean to or not, that can easily slide into the false-for-a-human God position: "Yes, I am the parent and I love all religions equally. I am above the fray." But we are not. We are the fray.

At the end of his essay, Carter slides back into the "child" position. We can all be brothers and sisters, fighting and yes laughing, at the same picnic. It's a lovely picture, but I would argue we can't have it both ways: we can't be both parents and siblings.

I am passionate and perhaps a bit cranky about this subject, but I believe--along with people such as Marcus Borg--that we need to pick a faith and embrace it tightly, dig deeply into it, and acknowledge its humanity, including its deep flaws. We need to try to correct our faith's problems, but we can't do that if we don't have a faith. Further, we can't be "above" all faiths and then call our interfaith partners "brothers and sisters." We can't treat them with full respect as equals if we take the stance that we are the parents and they are the children. Or so I think.


Bill Samuel said...

I think Brian McLaren's response to the same question was much better. It was more directly on point, and balanced the fact that religions really are different with the need for understanding and working together as appropriate.

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

Diane, I thought this was a good analysis, and helpful. Thank you.

David Carl said...

But can't a child come to see and understand something of the parent's point of view without actually "becoming" the parent?

Pat said...

"We are the fray." I love that comment and it's so true. You say we must embrace our faith and I do embrace my faith in Christ, but I must admit, my faith in my current church is shaken and it can be painful at times to choose to embrace it and correct its problems.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Interesting, Diane. Shows how lacking I am in historical theology to not realize the extent of universalism within the fellowship of Quakers.

I myself don't hold to that, though I could wish it is true, and just maybe in the end it is, though I personally rather doubt it, but leave room for the possibility.

I am being challenged on this point right now, somewhat by somebody. But I just can't believe that all religions are somehow ways of getting to God (through Christ, even if Christ is not known, or is known by another name). Maybe hell is remedial, but I do believe it does mercifully end for those confined to it.

I do think we Christians across the board need to emphasize mercy over judgment. God's mercy triumphs over judgment through Christ, of course, and biblically judgment is good news, as God brings the world to rights (N.T. Wright).

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Diane,
Sorry I am a week late on this. I planned to respond about 5 days ago. Too many irons in the fire; (am I a Quaker blacksmith;-)

As someone has said, all humans are created equal, but all ideas are unequal. Many religious ideas are downright deadly.

I am a committed universalist in the sense that I am convinced God loves every person he has created, that God isn’t willing for anyone to perish, that God will never give up on anyone because love is eternal (I Cor 13).

But I have no sympathy for the “universalism” that claims all religions/faiths/worldviews are equal, or just different ways—all valid-- to God.

At least in my life experience and learning this has been shown to be strikingly untrue. When I lived in the Middle East, I knew Muslims, Jews, and Christians whose religions lead them to advocate killing each other.

Such “holy war” ideas/faiths seem horrifically untrue.

And I have a few million other tragic examples of how religions aren’t equal…
So many religions, including my own, are chock full of not only fallacious ideas, but ones that hurt and destroy.

Where is the universalism of truth in all religions that individuals like Carter speak of?

I do think that God “woos” all humans wherever they are at in their spiritual journeys. John Woolman said it best:
True religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart does love and reverence God the Creator, and learns to exercise true justice and goodness...I found no narrowness respecting sects and opinions, but believed that sincere, upright-hearted people, in every society, who truly love God, were accepted of him. (from Acts 10:34-35)

And the engaged Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh said:
...It is safer to approach God through the Holy Spirit than through the door of theology. We can identify the Holy Spirit whenever it makes its presence felt. Whenever we see someone who is loving, compassionate, mindful, caring, and understanding, we know that the Holy Spirit is there.

In the Light,
Daniel Wilcox