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One new paradigm emerging on the religious front is that people are moving beyond literal religious interpretations. Back in the old days when people would be born, live and die in the same village, everyone they knew was most likely of the same religion. It was common and acceptable to perceive one’s own culture and religion as central—and to see all others as not “counting” quite as much. People were aware that other cultures and religions existed, but it was almost as if those “other” people were not really real.
These days with global communications, we need only turn on a computer or TV to be immediately thrown up against people and cultures from all over the world. Suddenly we are forced to compare our own customs and beliefs against those of different cultures. How to respond? 1) we can retreat into our insular worldviews, resisting and resenting the influx of these strangers into our awareness. Or – 2) we can seek new understandings, a broader worldview that includes these “others,” and accepts them into our common humanity.
In the first option above, we dig in our heels and insist our own ways are more real, more right, and more valid than all the others. Choosing to see only the differences, and retreating in fear from these others, reinforce our own provincialism and limit our growth. We exclude a part of Truth from our awareness.
The second option above represents a more transformative response. We learn that there is good and bad, truth and falseness in all cultures—and all religions. We find commonalities with the strangers; we broaden our worldview. This loosens the stronghold of religious exclusivity, and weakens the fences between people with different beliefs. It expands our horizons, and includes more truth about our existence.
But how to move forward when some of our religious leaders still insist their belief system has the only right answers? Well, there is another way to view this.
Every religion has a literal level where all the beliefs and practices are specific to that faith. From within the literal level, one’s own creed appears very different from—and superior to—all the others. Thanks in part to global communications, people are beginning to see beyond the literal level. They are seeing through the specific symbols of their religion, to emerge with a more general, metaphorical understanding. They come to realize the allegorical nature of the stories in their religious texts. Then, when faced with comparing those stories from other faiths, they can see that the religions are not so very different in intent.
All religions contain a common core of values. Opening our minds and hearts to this truth allows us to realize that all religions arose from a common human search for connection with something greater than ourselves.
All the elaborate rites, rituals, and beliefs that make up each individual religion were created by humans according to their own local culture, but arose from a common universal quest shared by everyone. We must admit that all religions are but different localized ways to express a basic human need. Insisting our religion is the only correct one begins to sound downright limited, parochial and immature; imposing specific rules from our particular holy book on others who have not chosen to follow it begins to sound ridiculous. When we can expand our worldview to include people of all religions, and those of no religion, into our human family, we become more mature in a spiritual sense. This is one little step on the road to unity—or the Oneness expressed as a goal of some religions like Buddhism.
Some proponents claim that a general spiritual transformation is afoot where people are moving more and more quickly toward this realization. This will lead us beyond our current insular, literal religious views. It will point us toward respect for the cultural value of each religious tradition, while recognizing that any given religion is just the way one culture chose to help people connect with something greater than themselves. If this transformation succeeds, the New Civilization it engenders will tell its members a “bigger story,” one where everyone is included, and where all is One.
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