In the fall of 2003, a number of participants from the previous summer’s Conversations with God Teachers’ Tutorial banded together to write a book to help promote Humanity’s Team (http://www.humanitysteam.org/)?a network of individuals and groups around the globe “seeking to free humanity from the oppression of its beliefs about God, about Life, and about each other in order to create a different world.” The book?to have been titled Messages from Humanity’s Team?never got off the ground, but I had put a good bit of work into my chapter on religious intolerance.
So as not to let this effort go to waste, I am posting this chapter below. All “TNR” footnotes refer to The New Revelations by Neale Donald Walsch.
Several years ago, I was teaching a course on religious diversity to a class of ninth and tenth grade girls. We were discussing the common origin of the ?Abrahamic faiths? ? Judaism, Christianity, and Islam ? and one of the students asked a simple and powerful question: ?If all of these religions are founded on love, why is there so much violence in the Middle East??
But religious intolerance isn?t limited to the Middle East. These same prejudices are acted out across the globe every day, even here in the United States of America, where freedom of religious expression is guaranteed by the Constitution. Yet in Tennessee, a pagan high school student was assaulted by her peers when she chose not to attend a Christian revival meeting. In Maryland, a cross was set on fire outside of an Islamic school, just a week after two Pakistani students had been shot in the same county. And in Utah, two fundamentalist brothers believe that God told them to murder their sister-in-law ? and her infant daughter ? because her views on marriage in the Church of Latter-Day Saints differed from theirs.
Where is the love and compassion preached by the world?s faiths? Where is the ?tolerance??
It is time for each one of us to make the choice to live up to the highest ideals of our individual faiths, rather than the basest perversions of dogma. If each person took to heart the compassionate standards of his religion or of her personal beliefs ? to love our neighbors, to seek to harm none, to honor love as our foundation ? and build a life on embracing these truths, we would be living in a much different world.
We live today in a world of extreme intolerance, never seeing that ?the problem facing the world today is a spiritual problem.? (TNR, 2) Instead of bridges, we build barriers with our beliefs, shutting out those who follow a different path, and even use this as fuel in our political and military battles, referring to our enemies as ?the evil-doers.?
Religious tolerance is slippery, with the ideal of a spiritually diverse utopia and the reality of a violently divided world seemingly too far apart to bridge the gap. But is ?tolerance? the answer? If my neighbor and I tolerate each other?s different faiths, but I earnestly pray each night for her wayward soul, lest she spend eternity ablaze, how accepting am I of her beliefs? And if she cannot respect my faith, how much must she respect me as a human being? We rely on ?tolerance? as a path to peace, but we still live in a world of division.
As practiced in the U.S., religious tolerance endeavors not to exclude anyone, yet often creates even greater exclusion. So as not to offend those of other faiths, we ban prayer in schools, so no one gets to pray or reflect. Because of the sharp dividing lines in many religions, we decide that if not everyone can express his or her faith, then no one can.
Because organized religion as you currently create it is largely an exclusive experience. It is exclusive to the individual or the group experiencing it. You have not found a way to include everyone in the same experience ? that is, society as a whole ? because you have not found a way for everyone to agree on how the experience should be experienced. (TNR, 41)
?There are some things that work and some things that do not work about religion. ? (TNR, 72) And this exclusivity is not working, as it builds more walls than it breaks down.
Our religious institutions focus more keenly on the differences between ?us? and ?them? than on the similar truths pervading each tradition. And ?it is the teaching of their separatist philosophies and their exclusivist theologies that make some organized religions not merely inaccurate, but dangerous,? (TNR, 279) as we use these differences to label each other as ?wrong,? to judge and to condemn each other, and even to justify violence against one another.
While governments may call for tolerance, the religions themselves have not learned how to embrace this practice. Instead, ?[we] teach [our] children to believe in an intolerant God, and thus condone for them their own behaviors of intolerance.? (TNR, 20)
Faith ? even with our differences ? should be what brings us together. But when one group uses dogma to judge and condemn another group, can we not see that we are closing our hearts and shutting ourselves off from our own humanity? ?In some cases it is organized religion itself that preaches against community and integration, claiming that God never intended people of varying races, cultures, and nationalities to commingle, much less intermarry and co-create.? (TNR, 61)
?How can we ask the world to heal itself when organized religion ? the very institution that was meant to provide that healing ? does nothing but inflict more and more damage, open wide and wider the wound, spread further and further its righteous indignation, its non-acceptance, its utter distain, its total intolerance?? (NDW in TNR, 47)
In the words of The New Revelations:
This spiritual arrogance is what has caused [our] greatest sorrows. [We] have suffered more ? and caused other people to suffer more ? over [our] ideas about God than over [our] ideas about anything else in human experience. [We] have turned the source of the greatest joy into the source of [our] greatest pain. (TNR, 5)
So how do we turn this around, trading tolerance for true acceptance and respect?
?It is the basic nature of human beings to be loving.? (TNR, 160-161) Compassion and love are the true nature of the human heart and the gifts of all faiths. Judgment is an invention of fear. But what is there to fear? Only the flood of light and love when we open our hearts and minds.
In the past, we have seen ?different,? and have thought, ?evil.? It is not the differences between faiths that are evil; it is the intolerance of those differences that is evil.
As many souls as there are in the universe, there are that many diverse and wonderful paths to the divine. Why not celebrate and encourage each other?s path to self-knowledge and union with the divine? What amount of security do we need to be able to understand that accepting the validity and beauty of another?s faith does not in any way diminish our own? Quite the contrary. Supporting another person?s connection with God instead strengthens our own.
We can choose to recognize that we are all climbing the same mountain, toward the same goal of communion with God. We can choose to stop seeing members of other religions as competitors for that goal of the mountain peak, and recognize them as fellow climbers. We have a choice!
No one religion has the market cornered on God. No one faith tradition has exclusive access to Spirit. No path is ?better,? ?truer,? or more ?right? than any other. The third new revelation states:
No path to God is more direct than any other path. No religion is the ?one true religion,? no people are ?the chosen people,? and no prophet is the ?greatest prophet.? (TNR, 97-98)
Moses brought down the Ten Commandments, didn?t he? And Jesus brought forth the teachings in the New Testament, yes? And Muhammed?s words are what the Qur?an is all about, no? So who is more ?holy?? (TNR, 97)
Is saying a rosary better than saying the savitu? Is the practice called bhaktimore sacred than the practice called seder? Is a church more sacred that a mosque. Is a mosque more sacred than a synagogue? Am I to be found in one place and not the other? (TNR, 129-130)
Can we not then recognize each other as true seekers on separate paths to the same destination, even though your God and mine may have different names? In the words of SriSivananda Saraswathi Sevashram:
When one God dwells in all living beings, then why do you hate others? Why do you frown at others? Why do you become indignant towards others? Why do you use harsh words? Why do you try to rule and domineer over others? Why do you exploit folly? Is this not sheer ignorance? Get wisdom and rest in peace.
There is more common ground than there are barriers. Gandhi understood this when he stated: ?I am a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, a Zoroastrian, a Jew.? Yet this is not about blending or abolishing religions. This is about choosing loving inclusiveness over dividing exclusiveness. It is about individuals choosing to open their hearts and their minds and taking this understanding with them into their churches, their mosques, and their temples.
Swiss Roman Catholic theologian Hans K?ng chides:
No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions.
Each of us holds the choice of tolerance in our hands. But as we open our hearts and open the doorway for this dialogue with seekers of other faiths, we must also choose to tolerate those who do not themselves choose tolerance. In the face of intolerance, we can back down; we can shut ourselves off again. Or, as suggested by the Five Steps to Peace, we can live our lives as demonstrations of our beliefs, not as denials of them.
What kind of world do we want to live in? One that builds barriers and promotes violence and hatred in the name of God, or one that builds bridges and sows seeds of compassion and benevolence? The choice is ours.