Once during sharing time in a Science of Mind™ class, a student, a woman in her early 70’s, told why she had left the mainstream Christian church in which she had been raised. “After more than 50 years,” she said, “I finally realized that their God was too small.”
Religious conflicts, local and global, exist throughout the world today. These conflicts stem in part from basic disagreements on the nature of God, and on how life is to be lived to achieve union with God. Even within the major religions, there exists a surprising variety of belief on these issues. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism in the west, and Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism in the east, each feature a range of beliefs among their adherents.
Each religion, and often sects within each religion, claim to have the “one” truth about God, and how God wishes to be worshipped. Accompanying these beliefs is the belief that all other beliefs are wrong. Those who possess the wrong beliefs are to be shunned, converted, or in some cases, conquered or eliminated. This system of belief has produced great misery on our planet.
My question: is God bigger than any of these views?
There is a familiar parable about five blind men who happen upon an elephant from different directions. Each then describes the elephant. One says the elephant is like a snake (the tail); another says that the elephant is like a tree (the leg); another says it is like a leaf (the ear), and so on. Each man speaks the truth, but none speaks from the authority of understanding the whole. All of them are correct in describing their experience of the elephant, and all are incorrect in expanding that description to define the entire beast. Could it be that the various religions, and the subset beliefs of those religions, are describing only parts of a greater Truth?
All major religions describe a God that is infinite – that is, without boundaries. An infinite God cannot be fully known by anything less than Itself. Individual humans and their systems of thought are not infinite; we are relative to the Infinite. Therefore, any human concept of God must be incomplete – less than the totality of the Infinite. This idea is often recognized in religious teachings, but seldom taken into account when supporting doctrine.
Each of the blind men is accurate in describing the part of the elephant that he is touching, but none grasps the entirety of the beast. Could each of the religions be accurate in describing aspects of God, while none of them grasps the full extent of the infinite nature of Spirit? This approach allows for each religious teaching to be correct, but does not automatically make others “wrong.” The others are different approaches to a larger truth. Where the approaches overlap, there is agreement; otherwise, there is the potential for conflict.
Joseph Campbell wrote, “The exclusivism of there being only one way in which we can be saved, the idea that there is a single religious group that is in sole possession of the truth—that is the world as we know it that must pass away. What is the Kingdom? It lies in our realization of the ubiquity of the divine presence in our neighbors, in our enemies, in all of us.”
Religious Science takes a panentheistic [Karl C. F. Krause (1781-1832)] view of God. This is not the same as pantheism, which says that God is in all things. Panentheism says that God is in all things AND all things are in God. This view is not accepted in Christianity and some other teachings, which view God as separate from creation. Panentheism views God and creation as one.
As a Religious Scientist, I can explain my belief in the Science of Mind, and why I choose it over other teachings. I can believe that my teaching represents a greater truth than others, and I can state this belief openly. What I cannot do is hold the other beliefs as wrong. I may judge them inferior for my purposes, but no view of God can be wrong, as everything IS God expressing. It is when religions require their members to convert others who do not believe as they do that difficulties can arise. When attempts at conversion are combined with political or socio-economic power, the results can be devastating.
Throughout human history, we have argued and gone to war over these differences. We can now choose to look at the variety of religious beliefs as subsets of a greater truth about the nature of God. Individuals can choose which viewpoint to accept into their lives, without saying that those who hold other viewpoints are wrong (or worse). Such acceptance is a necessary first step toward peaceful co-existence. We can see a growing willingness to tolerate different beliefs in groups from the Parliament of World Religions to local councils of clergy.
Peace will come when we can accept our own beliefs as true, but also as a subset of a greater Truth – and at the same time, allowing others to hold to their truths as well. This requires a larger view, a greater vision, and a firm belief in what all religions say – that God is truly infinite. Such a view also allows for continuous growth in awareness. We can, all of us, continue to expand our realization of the nature of an Infinite God, never fully arriving, always growing and expanding toward a greater truth. Along the way, we can peacefully coexist because of the recognition that while no teaching, no philosophy, no religion has the whole truth; they may each still be true. We are all seeking the same thing.