My recent Chaplaincy course caused me to consider the differences between the various religions, which has led me to ponder the differences between all of the cultures of the world, and the billions of individual humans which constitute those cultures.
With so many different influences on our lives, it is no surprise that the differences between individuals of one culture or religion, and those of another, appear to be vast.
And yet, when we look closely, from a different perspective, we find that there are a lot more similarities that unite us, than there are differences that divide us.
For instance, Islam, with its daily ritual prayers and its integration into Muslims’ complete way of life, seems a far cry from Protestant Christianity, with its separation between that which is Caesar’s and that which is God’s. And yet within both these religions, it is possible to experience communion with the same one true God.
At first glance, there seems to be a great abyss between the beliefs of the monotheistic religions, particularly Islam, and the polytheistic beliefs of some pagan religions. However, if we look more closely at any of the gods which are worshipped in a religion under the pagan umbrella, we would probably find one aspect of the same one true God.
If one believes that everything is happening in divine order, as I do, then I must believe that every religion which has been present on the Earth has been developed as a way to bring the individual closer to the divine.
Every person faces different circumstances, so every person has requirement for a different representation of the divine.
As Deepak Chopra explains in his book, How to Know God, if we are in circumstances where our only thoughts are related to our survival, the God we require is one which provides us with protection and sustenance. There is no time for or need of any deeper connection, but as the individual develops, or our culture develops into one in which all of these things are taken for granted, although we can appreciate them, we have more time and inclination to look for more in our lives and in our God.
We are provided with the God which we need at the time and in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Of course, in our modern secular world, many people believe they have no need of God at all. Their society provides them with all of their needs, and science provides them with a way of making sense of the world without any need of theology or religious doctrines.
Yet the Creator has provided even these people with guidance, not in the form of a doctrine or a sacred text, but in the form of an internal compass, which lets each person know the correct way to turn in any situation.
In order to experience the world of contrast, of good and bad, of up and down, of left and right, it was necessary for the world to be created with such choices available and to allow every person the free will to choose which end of the scale they focused on. Whereas God is seen as the most loving end of the spectrum of all behaviours, God encompasses every person and every situation.
When we are first learning about the world, we may choose to take a left turn towards what is considered bad (stealing for instance). Although eventually we will all end up at the right end of the scale where God is obvious, without our visit to the left end of the scale, we may not have appreciated how wonderful the right end of the scale is. Without first experiencing the bad, we may never fully understand the experience of the good.
I believe that we have many lives in which to experience all of the contrasts of this wonderful world. Whereas, in my current life, I may understand that a left turn will lead to tragedy, my fellow human may need to take that left turn in order to experience all that God is, and therefore all that he or she can be. I might be able to point out to that person what I perceive to be the error of their ways, and even demonstrate the beauty of the world to the right, but that person’s journey in this life may be via a visit to the left. They may need to detour to the left before turning back to the right, perhaps in order to attract someone else’s attention before guiding that other person back to the right.
We can never judge the path of another human being from our external perspective.
What we can do, however, is to understand that, no matter where their journey is leading them, they have all of the same basic needs as we do. They need water, food, shelter, security, and love. No matter what culture or religion they are living in or where they are heading, whether to the left or to the right, we are all made from the same stuff, the same God-stuff.
If we can accept that everything is happening in divine order, we can even see our atheistic secular world as a step towards bringing the kingdom of God to the Earth. Without the vacuum of spirituality which the modern secular world has created, there would not have been the search for meaning outside of one’s religion of birth. This has lead many people to explore other religions and other spiritual paths, and to discover that the source of their divine guidance does not come from an external source whatsoever, but from within.
As we discover our source of divine within, we begin to understand that every other being on the planet has that same source. Even the atheist who is following his or her inner compass is acting in accordance with the same divine guidance which we all have access to.
It matters not which religion we belong to or what spiritual path we are on, even if we are having trouble following our inner compass; if we can focus on love, we can know that we will always be heading in the right direction.
Although we are all made of the same God-stuff, our outer appearances may be vastly different. We come in all different shapes, sizes, colours, races, and beliefs. Just because someone is different to us, it does not mean that they are in any way inferior. Each of us is a necessary part of the whole. If the universe was missing just one of us, it would be as though a hole opened up in the fabric of the universe. It would be as though this giant jigsaw puzzle was missing one of its vital pieces.
Just as we are beginning to understand the delicate balance of species and individual creatures within each ecosystem and within the biosphere in general, so too, each one of us is a vital contributor to the balance of the universe.
As our diversity is necessary and desirable for the universe, why not aim to look upon others as the universe does, and embrace our differences as well as our similarities?
Just as our inner guidance connects us with the divine, it also connects us with each other – with every other part of God’s creation. We need each other, not only for the sake of the universe, but for the sake of each and every one of us. We are all connected.
This is the reason that we feel empathy when faced with the tragedy of another being. We are all part of the greater whole which makes up God in its entirety.
This is the reason that every religion has some form of The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Because what you do to another, you do to yourself.
We are one.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.