Rational Religion

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The Unified Theory of Everything: Metaphysical Branch


It has become a habit, in Western Civilization at least, to regard the "rise" of monotheism as evidence of the growing sophistication of a society.


The gradual reducing of a multiplicity of deities, each individually responsible for some observable phenomenon affecting human life, to a single, superordinate god who rules over all is thought of as a "natural" spiritual "progression."


It may indeed be a natural progression to distill a unified concept out of a more confusing complexity, but I don't think it has much to do with the human spirit; just the human intellect.   And even the Rational Religion admits - specifies - that they are two different things; or at least different enough manifestations of the same kinds of electro-chemical impulses that they can be thought of as distinct.


At first, parochial glance it would appear that most of the world's major religions are, indeed, monotheistic.  But that really applies only to the Judeo/Christian complex and its younger offshoot, Islam.  The truly "Oriental" religions are another kettle of conceptual fish, entirely, and they are held dear by multiple billions of souls.    And there are literally dozens of "minor" faiths scattered about the globe, most - but hardly all - of them relegated (by us) to such labels as "animistic" or "naturalistic."  (What we really mean is "primitive.")


"Educated" persons throughout the world -- that is to say, persons of sufficient sophistication that they have determined that human beings no matter what their national origin tend to believe and behave in very similar ways in response to certain universal stimuli -- tend to be "ecumenical."


That means they are able to respect the beliefs of other peoples and to allow the possibility that those beliefs have as much validity and efficacy -- for their believers -- as the observer's own religion has for her or him.


Some of them are even able to believe that it is really all pretty much the same religion, on the intellectual road to a truly unified "world belief."   But this, I think, is most often nothing more than a misinterpretation of the specifics.  One thinks that those other people must believe pretty much what one believes because one seems to recognize so many similarities. 


Peter Mathieson's brilliant and perceptive novel about fundamentalist missionary evangelism, "At Play in the Fields of the Lord," transplants an aggressively devout former middleclass Texas businessman -- recently "saved" and impelled to go and convert the "natives" to his own simplistic brand of Christianity with the same techniques he used to become a successful capitalist -- to the Upper Amazonian cloud-forest.  Here he encounters a relatively pristine Native American jungle culture which seems (to him) to already have a knowledge of Christ. 


At least they believe in a deity whose name, as pronounced in their own language, sounds very much like "Jesus."   And the very name seems to inspire awe and respect, which deference is transferred to the missionary as he claims, himself, to be a representative of Jesus. 


In the course of the novel it slowly becomes apparent that this native deity and the Christian concept of Jesus share very little except an accident of vocally produced sound. 


The Indians' god is actually a pretty malevolent character, and their respect for it is based on fear of what it might do to them.    As they begin to realize that they and the missionary are not talking about the same entity, the missionary's influence over them deteriorates. 


As it becomes obvious that the missionary and his consorts; his wife and his assistants; have no "special powers," and are just as susceptible to disease and other "bad spirits" as the Indians, themselves, the mission collapses entirely: not, however, without first having done irreparable harm to the lives of the Indians and many of the missionaries as well.


There is a great deal more to the novel than this condensation of its central theme.  Read it as an excellent example of art imitating life, in some of its more horrendous aspects. 


To the Rational Religionist, of course, all these diverse faiths are indeed unified in their most basic particulars, and therefore pretty dismissible.


To the individual conventional believer, the appearance of ecumenism between his own and other faiths is probably illusory. 


As I have suggested, before:  our individual universes are so unique that it is impossible that we can truly understand the beliefs of the person sitting next to us in the pew. 


Accept the fact of profound, pervasive spiritual diversity, and glory in it as one of the greater blessings of mankind. 


That is ecumenism.