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Too Many Religions?

{written by : Jean-Claude Gerard Koven}

Article word count : 694 -- Article Id : 714
Article active date : 2008-09-30 -- Article views : 7963


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Article is about :
Pipe dreamers and wide-eyed idealists to the contrary, religions differ. Any first-year student of comparative religion can describe the substantive contrasts among the major religions. These are no incidental distinctions but deep-rooted differences in the way each faith defines humankind's relationship to God and the creation.





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Pipe dreamers and wide-eyed idealists to the contrary, religions differ. Any first-year student of comparative religion can describe the substantive contrasts among the major religions. These are no incidental distinctions but deep-rooted differences in the way each faith defines humankind"s relationship to God and the creation. According to David Barrett, who teaches at Regent University and monitors such things, the total number of "distinct religions" currently practiced is in the area of 10,500—considerably more than the 6,809 different languages that humans speak. There isn"t even universal agreement on whether God exists—and if he (or she or it) does, whether he manifests as a single being, an array of gods and goddesses, a part of every thing in the creation, or an unfathomable, unknowable mystery.

I"ve often wondered how, in the face of such obvious diversity, anyone could seriously believe that all religions espouse common ideals. A famous Eastern saying advises: "All instruction is but a finger pointing to the moon. He whose gaze is fixed upon the pointer will never see beyond. Let him even catch sight of the moon, still he cannot see its beauty." The many religions are nothing but different fingers pointing to the same moon. And for the vast majority of the world"s population, whatever finger of doctrine, ritual, and belief they follow is all they will ever know of it. Religions for them are like coloring books, and they must paint within the lines. There is a definitive creed dispensed by an established hierarchy through a set of approved texts. Adherents attend regular public services and take comfort in the familiarity of accumulated rites and rituals that fall on predictable holy days. And a fairly distinct ethical code provides a standard by which to judge the behavior of community members.

However, there are always those rare, inquisitive souls who dare to seek a deeper understanding of the sacred texts. They are ready to color outside the lines. No longer mesmerized by the finger, these maverick thinkers long to fix their gaze upon the moon itself. For them, religion is a tool, a means, a pathway to somewhere else—the ineffable divine mystery that is often called God.

One wonders, then, how so many brilliant mystics throughout history have remained in their respective traditions. Having seen the moon, why don"t they let go of the pointer and become absorbed entirely in the source itself? Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, for example, came to the enlightened realization that "we are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience"—and still remained a Jesuit father. Why didn"t mystics like Teilhard, Al-Ghazali, Rabbi Isaac Luria, and Thomas Aquinas walk away from their original faiths once they experienced the transcendent realm? Wouldn"t they have found organized religion too constricting?

Plato offers an answer in his famous allegory of the cave. A group of men chained inside a cavern are unaware of the fire at the rear of the cave or the people passing before it. All they can see are the people"s shadowy projections on the wall they are facing. This illusion is their entire reality, and like the finger of any teaching, it is elevated into a grand game that confers honors on those who can best predict what the next figure might look like.

Suddenly one of the men breaks free, sees the people and the fire, and understands the illusion. For the very first time, he has looked away from the finger and seen the moon. From there he staggers outside of the cave, where he perceives true enlightenment in the form of the sun, dwarfing by far anything he had previously imagined.

One might think this is the happy end of the story. But here Plato delivers the heart of his message: This illumined being has an obligation to return to the world of humankind and become a wise leader. It would be easy to stay outside the cave and never again visit the illusion. But then, who would there be to hold out a finger for others to follow?

©2007. Jean-Claude Gerard Koven / All Rights Reserved.

Author Bio :
Jean-Claude Gerard Koven is a writer and speaker based in Rancho Mirage, CA. He is a featured weekly columnist for the UPI (United Press International) Religion and Spirituality Forum and the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, recipient of both the Allbooks Reviews editor’s choice award and the USABookNews.com award for the best metaphysical book of the year. For more information, please visit: www.goingdeeper.org.

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Relationship: The Ultimate Frontier
Knowing What You Really Want
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Getting Past Our Fear of God
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Confessions of a Metaphysical Huckster
Taking Flak
Outrage
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