Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Splinters of Truth

Christianity is true and not true. Islam is true and not true. Jainism is true and not true. Hinduism is true and not true. Zoroastrianism is true and not true.

[The Flammarion woodcut by Anonymous; the original contained the caption "A medieval missionary tells that he has found the point where heaven and Earth meet..."]

All religions are true and not true. (Except for the ones that are completely wacko Jacko like Scientology, just kidding.) I say this because I believe that buried beneath layers of ritual, beliefs, doctrines, and history splinters of Truth can be found. These are truths about the Human Experience and not truths of fact, history, and data. Every religion has something important to say about our short existence on Earth. If we ignore and brush aside our brother's beliefs as mere heresy and devil work we might be throwing away a splinter of truth. As equals we all have something important to say about our time here and ignoring others with a mindset of superiority ("My beliefs are better than yours so I won't waste my time listening to you.") reeks of arrogance, fear, and tribalism. You don't have to accept their "strange" beliefs but at least listen to what they have to say.

The legend, or fact for some fundamentalist, of the Tower of Babel is a tale describing the origins of mankind's diversity. In the tale, humanity unites to build a tower not to worship God but in dedication to the glory of Man. God, being a jealous God, decided to knock over the tower, confuse our languages, and scatter us over the face of the Earth. The historicity of the story is not important, but what does matter is that the story describes the birth of tribalism. Some can even go as far as saying that God wanted to separate us so that we may fight amongst ourselves throughout history and the victors will be granted paradise. That sounds pretty cynical even for a jealous God.

Let's say that God did in fact splinter up humanity into tribes on purpose, what does this tell us about God? For God to be a loving God there must be a lesson that he wants us to learn independently; there must be a reason for dividing us up in the first place other than just as a means of punishment. My favorite expression on this subject is found in the Qu'ran.
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (49:13, Yusef Ali translation)
God made us different so that we may learn, love, and grow with each other in our collected diversity. I don't believe God scattered us during mankind's youth, but we formed tribes and nations while holding onto the thread that binds us: our humanity. Buried deep in our shared ancestry, whether ape or garden, each tribe carried away a piece of universal truth that we have pocketed, idolized, and fought over with groups carrying similar pieces. We have forgotten our collected past that carried the knowledge of our fractured present. If we continue to worship our individual pieces we will never come close to grasping the awe and wonder of the cosmos. One day, I hope we will be able to look past our symbols, religions, and tribes and peer into the depths of the universal waters that binds us to one another.

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