Charlie Feldman is a member of the Vedanta Society of Providence, part of a movement that promotes the harmony of religions. Charlie considers himself to be a unitarian universalist with small U’s, being unitarian because he believes we are all ultimately One, and being universalist because he believes we all ultimately reach this state sooner or later.
For a while now, I have categorized political tendencies as those that seek predominantly either liberty, equality, or solidarity. I have come to believe that we need a balance between the three for the best kind of society.
As I have gotten older, I have turned more to religion for meaning in life, and being a philosopher by nature, I have tried unsuccessfully to categorize religions in a similar manner . . . until the other day. Now I think I have come up with a way to think about different religious tendencies that has made things easier for me to understand.
While all political tendencies seek some form of justice, I think all religions seek some form of unity, usually with God. There are three ways that religions go about seeking unity: through diversity, through hierarchy, and through mutuality.
Hinduism is the main religion that seeks unity through diversity. For most Hindus, it is okay to worship God (or not worship God) in whatever way brings you closer to God (or to your ideal). So Hindus, who mostly believe in an ultimate unity beyond the material world, seek this through a celebration of diversity.
I am generalizing here, but the trend of the Abrahamic religions is to seek unity with God through hierarchy. There is a hierarchy with a separate God at the top, the prophet(s), messiah, or other religious leader(s) at the next rung, then I believe comes humanity, then angels, then other sentient life forms. In this view, and again, this is a generalization, God is the source of all good, so any diversion from the scripture that represents God, is a rebellion or innovation, and thus bad. There are many in the Abrahamic religions who are not “fundamentalists” and who may not follow this view, but the highest ideal of the Abrahamic religions is the all good scripture, which comes from an all good God.
Finally, there is an attempt to bring about unity through mutuality, which represents many Buddhists (especially Mahayana), and many secular “religions” such as Marxism or humanism. In this tendency, people are all viewed as essentially equal and will in some way all support each other, either through leading each other to spiritual liberation or through having the same vested interests in a just society.
Keep in mind that all of these portrayals are generalizations. Hindus may believe in hierarchy (follow the personal God and the guru) and equality (we will all eventually reach the same goal). Liberals in the Abrahamic religions may accept other religions as paths to God and may seek some form of social justice where we are all equal. And Buddhists may look at people as having different karma (making them unequal at the moment) while communists may support a temporary hierarchy with the goal of eliminating all hierarchy.
As in my political view, I think a balance of the religious ideals is best. Diversity is good to allow people to follow whatever path brings each person closer to God or to their ideal. It is best to have a vision of God and to have spiritual teachers who may be higher up in the hierarchy, from whom we can eventually reach their state or reach union with them. And mutuality is important so we will not count anyone out as being important in the scheme of
I have always wanted an ideal ever since I have begun to philosophize. It is important to remember that all spiritual or religious paths, whatever their tendencies, seek some form of unity. When we see that, we can accept the goal of all paths as valid. May we each find that unity in our own way.