Many Paths, Same Destination: On Overcoming the Divisiveness of Religion

path through the woods“Every formula of every religion has in this age of reason, to submit to the acid test of reason and universal assent.”
~ Mohandas Gandhi

File this post in the “Pink Elephant In the Room” drawer. Or even the “Topics Never to Talk About” one. This post will either strike a chord — or a nerve. Here goes…

Stop for a moment and consider how much divisiveness organized religion has created in the world throughout history. The tension, the wars and the death. The in-fighting, the group-think and the intolerance. The hatred, the hurt and the hypocrisy.

For as much as any particular religion is based on the virtues of love and peace, humankind has (taken a largely human construct and) wielded it as a weapon of dominance and destruction — all because one group thought their way was the better, more perfect way over another. “My Way or the Highway” has been the unofficial rally cry for centuries.

Now imagine a world where we all acknowledge and respect an individuals choice to choose a spiritual path that resonates best for them. A world where we accept the idea that the same destination (union with some higher power or life force — or a finite end through death) can be found through many different paths. A world where tolerance and appreciation for different expressions of faith and spirituality (including none at all) leads us all to a more lasting peace and prosperity.

Really, it’s no different than other expressions of individuality: clothes, hair style, mode of transportation, house color, foods, beverages, pets…

So why is it people (some, not all) feel the need to ram their particular faith down others’ throats? As if political party affiliation wasn’t polarizing enough, why has religion seemingly overtaken the political machine? Here in the U.S., one does not have to look very far to see how futile the separation of church and state is. 

Many faiths call their followers to evangelize — to spread the faith through direct engagement and interaction with others. To use a business analogy, it’s akin to marketing your product through a form of direct sales. And if no one is buying your product, your business dries up and folds. But in most cases (Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses aside), evangelization no longer takes the form of the door-to-door salesman. Instead, evangelization has taken a play straight out of the Big Business playbook — harnessing mass media to blanket their message AND pushing blatant product placements within everyday things that we are a part of, namely politics, education, war and quite sadly, even funerals.

This is nothing more than another play in the “My Way or The Highway” playbook.

And therein lies what I see as absolute hypocrisy: What “God”, whose very nature is touted as Love, would condone such intolerance, prejudice, hate and death? How can followers of any religion twist and manipulate so-called sacred scripture to validate actions that in reality do nothing more than divide and destroy?

Our home is an amalgamation of spiritual traditions — some we’ve practiced directly at points (Christian, Buddhist, Eco-spirituality) and some we’ve learned about and experienced indirectly (Islam, Mormonism, etc.). Our children are learning the best of those traditions we are exposed to — taking those common threads (love, peace, compassion) and learning to weave them into their daily existence. We’ll say a prayer here, practice a kind of meditation there and wrap it all up with lessons in tolerance, generosity, humility, science and becoming caretakers of this world. I’m not espousing this is the right way — it just works for us.

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The world is not in the midst of a War for Souls. It is on a quest for a common consciousness and universal moral compass. One that rises above what we perceive in our adolescent consciousness as “different” and “better” and “the only”.

Unity is the path. Love is the sustenance. Peace is the destination.

What has been your experience with the divisiveness of religion? How have you risen above it?

Be well,
Bill

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Comments
2 Responses to “Many Paths, Same Destination: On Overcoming the Divisiveness of Religion”
  1. Love that you’re tackling this topic. Brave.

    I agree with everything you’ve ever said on this blog (as far as I can remember), and even much of this post. But when you bring up religion and talk about the destination… you’re not going to be able to pinpoint “the destination” and it represent all faiths/traditions. For example, peace is not the destination of my faith as I understand it. However, I do deeply desire to live in unity and love with all persons of all faith traditions.

    [Is my bringing up a small critique (that is really just intended to be a point for conversation, and not a critique) fueling the intent for the post? I'm saying I don't mean to bring up a point of divisiveness in a post about unity, love and peace among all persons of any background.]

  2. Bill Gerlach says:

    Hi Kristy // Yes, your critique is critical to the conversation — so thank you! When I spoke of “accept[ing] the idea that the same destination (union with some higher power or life force — or a finite end through death) can be found through many different paths” I tried to cast a net wide enough to reflect as many traditions as possible — from the monotheistic to the atheist (which I also include as a practice for this discussion) — for which I have been exposed to. The concept of “peace” as a destination might be a stretch, but I think it’s about how you interpret it — at least for me. For instance, “Heaven” is traditionally perceived as a “place” where spiritual union with God and other spirits worthy of this place occurs. If God is Love (cap intended), could God not also be conceived as Peace as well — the ultimate resting place for our spirit/soul?

    It’s either a philosophical/dogma debate or a matter of semantics. :)

    But what’s more important to me is that you state: “… I do deeply desire to live in unity and love with all persons of all faith traditions.” This is the on-the-ground game changer. People like you and I and others who are willing to accept and appreciate other traditions while not practicing them directly. This, and the courage to discuss this approach, is what is most important in my book.

    Be well!
    Bill