At times I feel like much religious terminology and symbolism has failed to bring unity to our modern culture and global society, and that we need new terms and symbols to point to these highest realities for which we yearn. New religious movements often emerge under such conditions (and there are tens of thousands of these movements in the world today). But I’m not sure that helps, but just further divides us, each believing they have “the truth.”
On the one hand, it seems that many religious words, names, stories, and systems have become so ladden with baggage and errors that they are no longer useful, effective, or meaningful for many people, and they should be replaced by new ones.
On the other hand, many people are still deeply devoted to particular religious worldviews, and the idea of giving them up for some other words seems impossible, and a reinterpretation or greater elucidation of the existing symbols seems more feasible.
The word “God,” for example, has been so misused and abused through history including today that for many modern people it is considered meaningless, false, or even harmful. Other words which may be similar and find greater reception might be Truth, Reality, or Love. But for many the word “God” is still very much front and center and cannot be abandoned.
So how may we come to greater unity? Perhaps we need to create a map of sorts between the world’s religious/secular systems, drawing connections between what appears to be analogous concepts, to help translate between them and suggest that we may be actually talking about similar realities, an underlying unity of truth, and only become divided over our specific terminologies. (I did something like this here on the topic of ego sacrifice and transcendence.)
For example, I’ve come across many wise people who have suggested that the words “Christ,” “Buddha-nature,” and “Atman” may point to the same deepest reality of humanity, but they arose independently in Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. In Islam a similar concept might be found in the words “al-Insān al-Kāmil.” In Judaism it may be the “Messiah.” And so on in all the religions. In more secular society it might simply be called “energy,” “consciousness,” or “life.” But it seems most of these parties are quite attached to their own particular symbols, and they often think they conflict with the others and are fundamentally different ideas.
What if we could see the similarity between these ideas? What if they are not so unlike each other after all? No one would need to abandon their particular frameworks, terminologies, or systems, if they could also see that we may, in fact, be striving towards similar realities in our own unique ways and in our own diverse languages. In this way it would be a kind of syncretism but does not entail the creation of yet another syncretic religion or system.
Is this kind of translation or mapping the next step in inter-religious dialogue? Or will we continue to believe that the many religions and secular societies are actually each seeking entirely different and incompatible ends, and continue to attempt to convert each other to our own particular system that we think is the best, truest, and most correct? It seems to me in our modern global society that this is generally not working well and only continues to divide and separate us into many different camps. Rather, the greatest understanding and love seems to emerge when we can see ourself in others.
What are your thoughts?