As a little girl, raised in the Church of Christ I was taught that Jesus loved me. I was taught that Jesus loved the little children, all the children of the world. This seemed right to me. I was also taught that there were certain “dos and don’ts” and that although God was a very loving God-my Heavenly Father-if I did not proclaim Jesus Christ as the one and only Son of God, I was doomed to an eternity of Hell-fire and brimstone. As Bill Cosby put it, ” … your hair will be burnin’, your eyes will be burnin’ …” comedy for the most part, but he could make eternal damnation scarier than Revelations. I don’t have any problem believing that Jesus Christ was God incarnate on Earth, what I do have a problem with is the notion that I, or any other human being, have a corner on salvation. And that was what I was getting from the exclusivist theology I was being brought up with.
As I got older, the stigma associated with the Church of Christ became known to me. “We’re the only ones going to heaven …” It actually made sense (the stigma, that is), because I had always been uncomfortable with the thought of anyone proclaiming their unquestioning authority, especially when it came to matters of interpreting the Almighty. I suppose it was then that I “fell away.” I was 13. I stopped going to Sunday school; my mother cried and cried. I began reading psychology books, talking about Wicca with my girlfriend. My mother bought me a copy of “Doctrines of Demons” by a current Christian writer and Dr. James Dobson seemed to somehow always be in the tape deck player. At 24, my husband’s cousin ended up saying something to me about how all things in nature were connected and that we, everything, were just different representations of God. Illumination! I knew she was right. I was so excited! I remember my husband telling me not to start “getting weird” and me pleading with him that “… I need to believe in something …” That was the beginning, or the re-beginning. I have been studying religions ever since. I have learned that I am a Bodhisattva, for I believe:
“Beings are infinite in number, I vow to save them all;
The obstructive passions are endless in number, I vow to end them all;
The teachings for saving others are countless, I vow to learn them all;
Buddhahood is the supreme achievement, I vow to attain it.”
I am a Christian, and a Buddhist, a Hindi, a Jew, a Sikh, a Taoist and a Goddess, and the list just goes on and on. My favorite reference to the Oneness of all things is the Buddhist description of Suchness. All religions, all things come back to the One.
Religions are One
The major religions of the Western world are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Although religious belief of some kind has been present among people since the beginning of communal agricultural societies, the roots of Western religion form in circa 1900 BCE with the original patriarch, Abraham in Israel (Fisher, 2002) (although monotheism existed long before that and has merely been mislabeled). Abraham was not a Jew or a Christian, but simply a monotheist (Fisher, 2002). Abraham was the father of nations; his wife Sarah gave birth to Isaac and through him the nation of Israel and his servant Hagar gave birth to Ishmael and the Arab nation. Christianity formed in Israel as Jesus Christ challenged the interpretations the Jewish hierarchy had placed on the Torah. Christ criticized many of the laws the priesthood had prescribed for the people; the story of Jesus’ anger at the use of the temple for money changing centers where worshipers purchased animals to sacrifice according to the priesthood’s specification is a very famous illustration of his rejection of the direction the Jewish faith was taking. Christ called for the Jews to see themselves as children of God and realize their personal relationships’ with the Creator. In 570 C.E. the Prophet Mohammed was born to again remind humanity of its very intimate relationship with God. The Qur’an is to Islam the last direct word from God, given to Muhammad to bring the people back to the realization that God is the only god. Human beings should put no other above God; not Muhammad, not Christ, not anyone (Fisher, 2002).
Throughout the centuries religions have evolved according to their geographical and historical influences. According to the Qur’an a teacher or prophet emerges in every society for the purpose of leading the people back to God in ways that are understandable to that particular culture (Fisher, 2002). Societies try to understand the changing of the seasons, the miracle of regeneration, and ultimately what happens after death. It may not be so miraculous that at the core of all beliefs, across centuries, across continents, across scientific and technological advances all come back to the Oneness.
The core beliefs of all three major Western religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, center on the almighty God. In Judaism a personal relationship with God necessitates in-depth study of the scriptures as well as ethical behavior in every aspect of life. In Christianity the Creator took on physical form in the person of Jesus Christ in order illustrate to human beings their true nature as children of God. Islam reminds the human being that there is only one God and everything that exists is part of the Oneness of God.
The Nature of God
The nature of God is most merciful and most gracious (Fisher, 2002). God is all seeing, all knowing, and an ongoing creative force in everything that exists from the smallest photon to the largest universe; God is All; there is no God but the One God (Fisher, 2002). At the center of all religions is the Creator of all things; an omniscient purposeful entity that is involved with every individual and every process of nature at every moment. The beginning and the end of all things.
Similarities in Sacred Texts
In all religions God is manifest in the written word through the sacred texts of each religious faith. The Torah is the written word of God in Judaism, consisting of the 613 commandments of God spoken directly to Moses (the second patriarch in Jewish and Christian history), and the prophecies and the history of the Israelite people. The Christian Bible is the Old Testament (Torah) and the Gospels, written by the followers of Christ through inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. In many civilizations the Christian Bible is a successful guideline for shaping the character of community by means of promoting a particular lifestyle and ethic (Aitken, 2003).
Similarities in Ethics and Morality
All three of the major Western religions value the sacredness of life and admonish positive, selfless acts of charity, honesty, and piety. All three religions recognize the responsibility of the more fortunate to those less fortunate. Islam specifically designates tithing for benefit of the poor, Judaism protection for the less fortunate; widows and children, and Christianity calls for all to treat others as they would treat themselves (although this philosophy far pre-dates Christianity). A deep and abiding relationship with God is the goal of each of these religions, and this goal is attained by living an ethical life (including study, prayer, and fasting) as outlined by holy scriptures. In his lifetime, the example and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed were seen by civil leaders as positive tools for community structure, and his involvement was welcomed as a means to bring order to society (Fisher, 2002).
The major Western religions, although forming in the same regions, with the same basic “founding father(s),” are amazingly and dramatically different considering their common origins. The core philosophies of each of these religions have been, through centuries and civilizations, further interpreted, and those interpretations challenged to the point that many factions and denominations exist within each faith. Most theologies recognize each other as believing in the same God, Islam, in fact, asks tolerance of other religions, seeing Jews and Christians especially as “believers of the same God” (Huda, 2003, pg. 278) and “people of the Book” (Fisher, 2002, pg. 392).
The different interpretations of God’s word are far more numerous than even the number of elements in the universe and like the universe are ever-expanding. At the same time, the more we learn about the universe, the more we find that, as the core beliefs of most religions point out, everything that exists is connected; working in concert in a meaningful way. Physicist, David Bohm, describes our outer perception of reality as the explicate order, beyond that lies the implicate order in which all subtle dimensions merge into an unbroken wholeness (Fisher, 2002).
One thing is certain. Just as God has survived the centuries, the prophets, the texts, the interpretations, the civilizations, and the ages of human question and rationalization, God will remain at the core of everything that is, for all people, if they look deep enough. Perhaps the next and most amazing realizations of God will be arrived at through the materialistic nature of human science itself; the next prophets called Bohm, Hawking and Sagan (whether he believes it or not), or me.
Bradshaw Aitken, E. (2003). The ordering of community: New Testament perspectives. Anglican Theological Review; Winter 2003; 85, 1; pg. 19 ProQuest Religion
Fairchild, K. 2009. The Feminine Face of God. Grace Cathedral Episcopal Church, San Francisco, California. 2009. Retrieved 9/05/09 from http://www.gracecathedral.org
Fisher, M. P. (2002). Living religions. Fifth edition. Prentice Hall Publications.
Hudar, Q. (2003). Knowledge of Allah and the Islamic view of other religions. Theological Studies; June 2003; 64, 2, pg. 278; ProQuest Religion
Leonard, S. & McClure, M. (2004). Myth &knowing: An introduction to world mythology, Chapter 1. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Ney York. 2004.
Wildrick, A. (2008). The Busy Lives of the Gods. Appleseeds, Oct. 2008, Vol. 11, Issue 2. Retrieved from MasterFile Premier database on September 12, 2009.