One More Way All Religions Could Be True
How Spiritual Reality Really Works — My Best Guess, Anyway
Please note the words “My Best Guess” in the subtitle of this essay. I make no claims that any of what follows can be proven objectively. Based on my personal experience, however, I think my hypothesis can be fairly easily verified subjectively by anyone willing to try. If you believe that only what can be proven objectively is real, that subjective experience doesn’t count as evidence, or that the term “spiritual reality” is an oxymoron, do us both a favor and stop reading now. Read this instead.
The Problem of Religious Diversity
In my first essay on this topic, The Problem of Religious Diversity and the Price Philosophers Pay for Thinking They’ve Solved It, here’s how I explained the philosophical problem presented by contradictions among religious belief systems, quoting my own arrogant 16 year old self:
“The different religions of the world can’t all be true because they contradict each other all over the place. They fight wars over this stuff. If they were all right about God they’d all agree about everything. But they don’t. So they can’t all be right. The only sane conclusion is that they’re all wrong.”
The whole point of that essay was realizing now that my 16 year old self was naïve and jumping to unfounded conclusions, as are philosophers and scientific materialists today who embrace this apparent paradox as proof all religions are irrational, and that religious belief is delusional.
I followed that up with an essay exploring three ways all religions, while maintaining all of their apparent contradictions, could, in fact, be true.
In this essay, I’m going to make one more case for how all the world’s religions and spiritual systems — from the most generic, like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, to the organized world religions, to historically new spiritualities like Wicca, Discordianism, and the New Age movement, in all their cacophonous contradictions — could very well be simultaneously true.
I honestly think this is how spiritual reality really works, way down deep, beneath the surface appearance of things. But hey, that’s just the opinion of my 53 year old self, who may be no less naïve or mistaken than was my 16 year old self. If I live to be 90 (granting the same span of intervening years and experience), I’ll revisit the question.
Until then, here’s my best guess as to how all religions could be (are) true.
Exhibit A: Quantum Jump — Answer to the UFO Mystery
Back in the summer of 1979, when I was a 15 year old small town science fiction buff, an ad appeared in the classifieds section of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine for a non-fiction book with the tantalizing title Quantum Jump — Answer to the UFO Mystery. In addition to my love for all things Space Opera, I was crazy about flying saucers, ghosts, psychic powers, and anything to do with fringe science, so of course I sent my dollar (or however much it cost, I don’t remember now).
What arrived in the mail was a photocopied, 28 page booklet by a guy named Peter Simon, expounding his theory that, behind not just UFOs, Bigfoot and mental telepathy, but also every religion since the dawn of time, lay an unseen, all-universe-pervading intelligence he named “The Instructor.” The Instructor guides our evolution by manifesting what we believe about reality, so that we can test ourselves against it and evolve beyond our beliefs toward an increasingly accurate knowledge of reality and Humanity’s place and potential within it.
In Peter Simon’s view, the religions (and UFOlogists, and psychic investigators) of the world had not so much discovered great, eternal truths about God/Reality, as that The Instructor/God/Reality had, from the emergence of the human species, conformed to whatever shape we chose to project onto it, in order to teach us. It’s not that we all along simply saw what we imagined, like dreams or pure fantasy. Rather, what we imagined, The Instructor made real.
Want God to be a burning bush or a pillar of smoke and fire? No problem. A trinity? Check. Purely monotheistic (not a trinity)? OK. A sky god? Mountain god? Sea god? Check. Check. Check. Whole pantheons of gods? Here ‘ya go! Need God to manifest as metallic spaceships and little green men for the age of science? Will do!
The notion that reality is a vast spiritual school wasn’t a new thought, even back in 1979. The unique twist to Simon’s take on the theme, however, was that in his understanding (his knowing, he assures readers), The Instructor doesn’t conform to our imaginings to show us what is true about Him/Her/It/Reality, but rather to make us face the absurdity of our concepts.
Here, Simon is speaking in the voice of The Instructor:
“I’ll show you what your brain has created, I’ll show you what the brains of those you honor and follow have created, I’ll show you part of the childish and insane universe that might result if one starts with a fallacy and overlays it with science and technology, I’ll control your mind or your body or your reality if that’s what you believe or desire, and then I’ll ask you… Does it make sense? Is it consistent? Do you like it? No? What are your conclusions? Who or what do you call for help? Can you think of alternatives? Where do we go from here?”
Here’s Peter Simon’s definition of The Instructor:
I consider it to be the ultimate being, never to this date adequately described by any religion; a teacher of infinite intelligence and practically unlimited power, who can manipulate memory and matter and time and space, which it does for this reason; To demonstrate fallacies to individuals or groups of individuals so that the rest of the pupils in the classroom may observe and decide which notion of the universe and its physical and possibly paraphysical attributes is the valid one.
Scientific materialists, logicians, and other strict rationalists might argue that this sounds a little like a description of what science and logic do — demonstrate fallacies so we can better define what’s real. Except, in Simon’s view, science, logic, reason, are also masks of The Instructor.
Need God to not exist? No problem! Need the universe to be composed of nothing but dead matter you can measure, so you feel more in control? Sure, why not? You guys over there want some quantum weirdness to shake things up? Ta da!
This little pamphlet had such an impact on me at 15 that it is sitting on the desk in front of me as I type these words, 37 years, 2 marriages, 11 apartments, and 3 houses later. It may be the only physical object from my childhood that I still possess. That’s saying something.
Exhibit B: Summoning Forth Wiccan Gods and Goddesses
During my brief first marriage (1993–1997), I followed my wife into the practice of Wicca, and continued on that path alone a couple of years after we divorced. I eventually drifted onto other paths, but I still have a lot of respect for earth based, magickal religions in general, and Goddess religion in particular. I’ve been something of an amateur theologian pretty much my whole life, so I feel I speak from both knowledge and experience when I say that if you’ve never invested deep thought into the idea of God as female/feminine, you’re missing an important piece of the Divine puzzle…
But that’s a topic for another day.
What I want to present in this essay is the Wiccan/occult concept of the egregore. It actually goes back to at least Theosophy and the Golden Dawn, but I learned about it through Wicca, so those are the sources I’ll draw on here.
Imagine that Divinity is an infinite incomprehensible jewel with an infinite number of facets through which the energy of the Divine is refracted in innumerable ways. In the course of human existence, human beings come into contact with aspects of life that manifest Divinity; its creative power, wisdom, caring. Whether or not they are conscious of it, humans are effected by, and effect, this Divine energy. Then they shape the energy according to their needs — hunting, healing, fertility and childbirth, coming of age, growing old, and finally death — all the things that are basic to human life…
… All of these processes can be better understood and dealt with if there is a way to tap into the Divine energy behind them. Accordingly, what I mean by a God[dess]-Form is the humanly made and defined shape through which a particular aspect of Divinity is made comprehensible to the human mind.
Goddess-forms become real because She who is so distant in Her fullness moves willingly to inhabit and speak through the fragmentary forms we create to reflect Her many aspects, just as an actor in an ancient Greek drama might bring to life a specific god or goddess by speaking through a finely-crafted mask. A goddess-form that survives the test of time (Such as Brigid, Persephone, Gaia, Hecate — all the goddesses you read about in “Wicca 101” books) can be seen as a carefully-crafted perfect vehicle, chosen as much by the Great Goddess as by human beings, for expressing a particular fragmentary facet of the Great Goddess’s personality, for bridging the gap between the Goddess’s desire to share Herself with and know us personally, and our equivalent yearning for conscious communion with Her. In one sense, all the goddess and god-forms, taken together, form a kind of living language in which She speaks to us, and through which we can communicate with Her.
… on the level of personal experience, goddess and god-forms are concretely real entities, with distinct personalities, powers, areas of expertise and concern, quirks of character, etc. In the practice of Wiccan magick, these entities are called egregores. An egregore is a human projection onto the Divine that, over time, becomes real. It is a kind of living answered prayer.
I think what’s being said here is remarkably similar in mechanism, to Peter Simon’s description of The Instructor, though the intent differs. Where Simon’s Instructor conforms to our projections for the purpose of instructing us, Free’s Great Goddess divinizes human projections out of love and mutual longing for relationship. I like Free’s version better, because I find the image of Divinity longing for relationship with human beings just as much as we cry out to know Divinity profoundly moving.
Exhibit C: Yaqeen — Faith in the Idea of Faith
a Sufi Celebration of Life, inspired by one of the most beautiful and poetic languages known to the human kind — Urdu. Urdu is a native of Hindustan or undivided India — one of the 22 official languages of India, and the national language of Pakistan.
One essay in the series focused on the Urdu word Yaqeen, which translated literally means “faith.” But Yaqeen plumbs a much greater spiritual depth than you may have been taught to associate with its English equivalent. Here’s Runjhun:
Faith is a spiritual force that surpasses the ideas of religion and God and all other artificial belief systems. Faith is a force of Nature which can be unveiled by the power of our intent. It does not matter who or what do we choose to vest out faith in — our God, this Universe, Life, Ourselves, Passion, Hardwork, Science — because the object of our faith is only incidental. It is the faith that matters; it is the faith that makes for magic and miracles; it is the faith that renders the idea of impossible pointless.
… Faith is the force that activates the Universal consciousness, which then manifests as the form of your choosing. Your God can be as real and tangible as you want Him to be because it is the power of your faith that activates His existence. Ultimately, every manifestation of our faith including the more earthly ones like hardwork or our own spirit or logic or even Science are ultimately a version of the Universal consciousness or that Higher Force that lies at the core of our very being. We all choose to name it differently, and it manifests for us all differently. But it all emerges from our own faith or Yaqeen — the Universal force that threads through us all.
We may be viewing the human/divine equation a bit more from the human side here, but it’s definitely the same equation. There is a Universal Consciousness, and there is a Higher Force at the core of our being. In their interaction, God/desses are born.
Exhibit D: Lord Krishna’s Universal Form
The Bhagavad Gita (“Song of the Lord”) is is a 700-verse Hindu scripture in Sanskrit that is part of the Hindu epic the Mahabharata (“the great tale of the Bhārata dynasty”). The bulk of the Gita is a conversation between a warrior named Arjuna and the the deity Krishna, the embodiment of the godhead in Hindu theology.
In Chapter 11, at Arjuna’s request, Krishna reveals his true, Universal Form:
The Blessed Lord said: My dear Arjuna, O son of Prtha, behold now My opulences, hundreds of thousands of varied divine forms, multicolored like the sea.
O best of the Bharatas, see here the different manifestations of Adityas, Rudras, and all the demigods. Behold the many things which no one has ever seen or heard before.
Whatever you wish to see can be seen all at once in this body. This universal form can show you all that you now desire, as well as whatever you may desire in the future. Everything is here completely.
In the Great Courses lecture series The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World’s Great Intellectual Traditions, Professor Jay L. Garfield explains:
Now comes the theophany itself, the fabulous poetic representation of what the realization of divinity is actually like. We’re told that when Krishna revealed himself, “Everywhere was boundless divinity containing all astonishing things. Arjuna saw all the universe and its many ways and parts standing as one in the body of the god of all gods.”
O son of Pritha! Whoever worships me, in whatever way, I entertain them in that way. Everywhere, men follow along my path.
The god of all gods. In whom “Whatever you wish to see can be seen all at once in this body.” The Universal divine form which can “show you all that you now desire.” Who entertains us in whatever way we choose to worship.
I’m not sure practicing Hindus would agree with my interpretation here (feel free to correct me in the response boxes), but this language, to me, sounds very similar to all the previous exhibits. In the Gita’s Great Theophany, we see the divine side of the equation stressed, but the human side is there as well. “Whatever you wish to see,” Divinity is pleased to manifest, according to our ability, and willingness, to encounter it.
Back to the Problem of Religious Diversity
How could all the religions of the world, which contradict one another in their particulars, nonetheless be simultaneously true?
Consider this. Whatever religion we practice (or don’t, hello atheists), we all hold certain ideas about the nature of Divinity in our minds, and, most of the time, we mistake those ideas for Divinity itself. I describe this process in detail in a previous essay, subtitled The God In Your Head Is Not the Real God.
We’re taught the attributes of Divinity in our families, churches, mosques, in books and college courses, etc. Of what we’re taught, we remember maybe a third, toss in some wish fulfillment, fear, personal experience, etc., and decide at some point that we understand God (or Goddess, Instructor… you get it). If we’re taught or simply choose to believe Divinity doesn’t exist, or to make science or logic our God, we mistake that for the real deal, as well (it’s exactly the same process).
The kicker, in my hypothesis concerning the problem of religious diversity, is that the actual God/Goddess/Instructor/Universal Consciousness/Divinity out there is cool with whatever image of him/her/it/they we come up with. Divinity — in a divine way, I really don’t mean this as casually as it sounds — goes along to get along. God is not vested in how you or I see God. That’s up to us.
WE EACH CHOOSE THE WAY DIVINITY MANIFESTS TO US.
Think about that. If you’re comfortable with a namby-pamby Moralistic Therapeutic Deism version of Divinity, that’s what you’ll get. If you’re an atheist and, while you’re A-OK with medical and technological “miracles,” you’d just as soon the supernatural kind stayed out of your sight, that’s what’ll happen. If you’ve been taught (and continue to believe; you can change this) that God is abusive and angry and wants you in Hell, watch out. Here it comes. If your God is love, welcome to Heaven on Earth. If your God is Goddess, She will be. If you think Divinity is an endlessly fascinating puzzle to be worked, studied and courted for a lifetime (that’s me, by the way), boom! God is mystery.
No one is right about who/what/where/why/how Divinity really is, in its own self. But no one’s wrong, either, when they experience as tangibly real the God/Goddess/Instructor/Universal Consciousness/Divinity they believe in.
All religions are true because Divinity does not have a stake in any of our religions being true, least of all in any ONE of them being truer than the others.
We get what we ask for. We are being obliged. There is power in knowing this.
That’s my hypothesis. Try it on. Test it. See where it leads you. I personally find the idea exquisitely liberating. I imagine others may find it frightening, threatening, or laughable.
But hey, that’s why I started with a disclaimer.
This essay is an excerpt from:
The Philosophical Problem of Religious Diversity, stated simply, is that the religions of the world contradict each…www.amazon.com
Ebook $2.99 — Paperback only $6.99!
Thanks for reading!
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