God Is Not One

Nov 27 2011

We as Unitarian Universalists have been known to struggle with a variety of Religious concepts with which we have serious disagreement.  Fundamentalist Christianity, Fundamentalist Islam, Santeria, Buddhism, Hinduism, poly theism, monotheism, Mormonism are all, but not exclusively, some of these concepts.  How do we make sense of all this?  When we come in contact with Fundamentalists of all stripes we find our conversations stilted and ineffective. We are told by them that Science is not real.  It is a false religion.  The only true religion is the one espoused by the one you are speaking with at the time.  You know “God said it.  I believe it. And that settles it.”


In self defense and to learn to understand we have adopted attitudes of acceptance, learning what various religions say and in some instances rejecting religion completely.  Yet something nags at us.  After all Religion is ubiquitous through out the world and influences millions of people daily.  We just can’t ignore it.  As UUs we have come to a way to bridge these apparent differences.


As a life long Universalist I have searched for the commonality, the universality which we Liberals profess to believe is present in Religion.   Religious writers such as Houston Smith and Karen Armstrong have also suggested that there is Universality in Religion.  There are different roads up the mountain yet we shall all arrive at the same place eventually, at the top of the Mountain where we will find God waiting for us.


Philosophers and Theologians have investigated this concept and search for the wished for commonality. They find it is true that many religions have a version of the Golden Rule.  Most religions have some prohibition against murder while some have included in their religion a right to be carnivorous.  Yes that is right they eat people.  Well Smith and Armstrong and others suggest that when we reach the top of the mountain, regardless of our path, what we find is God . 


The preceding implies to us that we all worship the same God.  Thus therein lies the commonality searched for.  This idea is seductive and seemingly equipped to bridge the sometimes cavernous gaps in our religious search.


It is appealing especially to liberals and other progressive people and for those who are looking for that elusive sense of Universality to adopt a perception that we are all seeking the same goal, therefore all’s well that ends well.


Stephen Prothero, professor of Religious studies at Boston University, has examined world religion in general and individual religions in particular and attempted to apply this idea to our own views.  The idea somehow comes up short in its analysis of the manner in which people both adopt and practice their religion. His analysis of the idea is like this:


Well meaning Religious leaders have come up with the idea that we all worship the same God and all religions are moral and ethical.  The Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and many others have bought into this hopeful ideology.  If we would just adopt this ideology then somehow magically the differences which separate us will suddenly heal and we will all become one.  Stephen cautions that if we are on different paths to the truth or heaven each path is a distinctly different path with vastly different originations and of widely different goals and it therefore becomes dangerous to overlook this reality.


The example of this school of thought is important here.  Jews for example believe that the problem in the world is exile and the solution is to return to God.  The Christian belief system is that people in the world are born as sinners due to some original sin which has been punished by God, thus the problem with the world is sin.  The solution is to gain some sort of Salvation from our sinful nature. 



Muslims believe that the pride is the problem and the solution is to Submit (Islam means submission) to Allah. 


Confucians believe that the world is chaotic and the solution is education and conformance,


Taoists believe that the world is too constrictive thus they advocate pure freedom and to become yourself.


Christians believe in God, Moslems in Allah, Buddhists do not find a God helpful and see the world as suffering and enlightenment as the solution.  Hindus have 100 Gods. Non Theists have none.  Yoruba, an example of which is Santeria, has a plethora of Gods one for each human function.


In the US we have several main Religious ideologies which compete for our soul.  One of course is our traditional Christianity in its various forms.  One is Dominionism which teaches that along with God creating the world he has a definite plan and any attempt to interfere with his plan such as attempts to deal with Global warming, environmental policies, poverty et al are interfering with God’s plan and must be left alone.  Washington’s C Street house is a center of this ideology and the American political system is the target.


The End Times Eschatology is the belief that Jesus will return to earth when the Jews rebuild the Temple in Israel, God will then unleash a 7 year period of fire and brimstone and chaos after which the earth will be destroyed and Jesus will return for a millennium and will raise all Christians from the grave and restore the world to Peace.


This idea drives the unconditional support given to Israel with the idea that when the Jews rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem then Jesus will come and the final solution will be unveiled.  Unrealized by the Jews they will be required to become Christians in order to attain Salvation.


Prothero asks if we all believe in the God(s) thus described.  His concern is that it is dangerous to us if we do not discern the vast differences in Religion in the world.  He suggests that it not merely a relatively harmless sacrament which separates us and we reasonably should know what the differences actually are.  The Christian God is a trinity while Allah is indivisible.  The Episcopal God is willing to let its followers destroy the church over the issue of Homosexuality.  Buddhists don’t even have a God.


There was a family which sent its young son to a religious school.  When the son reported to his father that his teacher told him that God was a tripartite God, God the father, God the son and God the Holy Ghost the father exploded.  Son, in this family there is only one God and we don’t believe in him.


Several years ago the UUA was promoting an interfaith council which could overcome the differences and uncover the commonality to which we can all agree.  In Jacksonville a committee was thence formed consisting of clergy from all willing Faiths.  A catholic Priest, a Moslem Imam, A Baptist Minister, a Unitarian Minister, a Rabbi, a Sikh, A Jain a non theist.  When they started their deliberation it became apparent that the different sacraments and practices of each Faith kept arising and stood in the way of cooperative effort.  After several false starts they finally agreed to focus on a particular community problem which could be approached aside from purely Religious issues. 



They decided on fighting violence against women. The program became successful even though they were far apart on religious issues.


Ah there is hope indeed.  As Unitarian Universalist, one who has longed for Universal understanding and still resting my weary head upon this staff of hope I must look forward to the future, not with shaded eyes but with eyes wide open. 


 A man was searching for the meaning of life.  He was instructed to visit the Oracle at the top of the mountain.  After weeks of travel and climbing he finally arrived before the oracle.  He looked up and said if it pleases you-what is the meaning of life?  The oracle thought deeply and said “The meaning of Life? - Then slowly- Life is like a River.  The man looked up incredulously and repeated quizzically “Life Is like a RIVER?????)  The Oracle looked back and said (with a hint of question)—Its NOT????????


Well then what is our UU Religious quest?  We are constantly trying to define it.  A first century Theologian, Origen, offered an explanation.  Let us live our lives in such a manner that those who are our loved ones are proud to be one with us and those who are associates are glad they knew us.


One of today’s leading spokespersons, John Shelby Spong speaks of living to be the best that we can be.  A fundamental belief is the belief in life before death; this life is the best we can expect.  Let us live morally and ethically as pure as we are able.  Mother Theresa lived for others and opined that you can even live a just and peaceful life only to have people criticize you.  She said don’t worry about it, how you live is between you and your God.  It is never between you and them anyway.


Peace, love, compassion, respect, appreciation are words to keep in our thoughts and minds.  As you travel this path remember as the Buddha said; be careful with your thoughts because your thoughts manifest your words, and your words manifest your actions and your actions harden into habit and your habits become your character.  Therefore guard your thoughts with care.


Go Now In Peace

With Love Charley