Religious Arrogance and the Coming Humility Revolution in Spirituality
In all of the major world religions there is a common view that the universe originates from a Supreme Mind or Absolute Consciousness that creatively sustains it. All the energy and matter of the universe, along with its thermodynamic laws, constants and order, originate from a nonmaterial Mind (also known as “Ground of Being,” “Ultimate Reality,” “Infinite Mind,” “God,” “Pure Unlimited Love,” etc.) Every scripture states, in one way or another, that “in the beginning” was Mind (e.g., Rig-Veda VIII, 58:2; John 1:1; Quran 36:81). This idea of Mind before matter was assumed true with few exceptions until the onset of modern materialism, and most people regardless of tradition still assert it.
We find that all the major world religions also hold that some small grain of Absolute Consciousness is given to each of us, which means that our minds are not entirely derived from brain matter, but rather have an eternal element that disposes us to seek God, allows us to have ineffable spiritual experiences, and makes us eternal en-souled beings “in the image of God.” There are other intelligent creatures, but only human beings pray, take spiritual journeys, and experience spiritual transformations. Our purpose in this universe is to serve as free extensions of the creativity of the Supreme Mind, as motivated by love. In Hindu terms, “Atman” (individual soul) is a tiny drop of Brahman (the Godhead ). The spiritual quest is becoming deeply aware of our divine essence. As Aldous Huxley summarized in his classic work The Perennial Philosophy (1945, p. 2), “the last end of every human being is to discover the fact for himself, to find out Who he really is.” When we make this discovery of oneness with the Supreme Mind we experience an inner peace and joy.
The religions of the world all offer techniques (meditation, prayer, ritual, chant, affirmation, group worship, litany, music, and so forth) to come to this awareness and to abide in God consciousness (as examined comprehensively by Pitirim Sorokin in his great work The Ways and Power of Love, 1954/2002). All meaningful spiritual transformations involve an experience of continuity with this Supreme Mind, and a consequent transposition into the key of Pure Unlimited Love as evidenced in emotional healing and active love of neighbor as self. In other words, the happiness, well-being and security of others become as real to us as our own, which constitutes love in the flow of divine awareness (as examined by William James in his classic text The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902). But as Huxley points out, experiencing this oneness with the Supreme and abiding in divine creative love is not something to be generally expected among professional philosophers and academics, but rather among those who have lived lives described as “loving, pure in heart, and poor in spirit” (p. viii). In others words, this is the domain of the humble, the pure, and the generous who come into the mystical awareness of Supreme Mind and Pure Unlimited Love. Logic and analysis only go so far.
Our eternal mind-soul seeks to reattach to it source. Religious traditions typically evolve from a spiritual exemplar who is able to inspire and organize people around some form of reattachment. Each pathway has its own symbolic culture, spiritual technique, and scriptural narrative. But they are all pathways to the same destination of reconnection with Supreme Mind. One goal of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love is to lift up the common ground of religions with regard to Supreme Mind, creativity, and a love for all people based on their having within them an inward drop of the ocean of that Supreme Mind. Unlimited Love is directed toward every individual without exception because each person exists in the image of God or, in other words, has a small bit of God within them. We may strongly disapprove of what any individual thinks, speaks, and does, but we can still acknowledge their eternal essence and potential.
As the Muslim Sufi master Seyyed Hossein Nasr comments, “Whether we speak of Allah who commands things to be and they are, or the Tao, or the Word by which all things were made, or Brahman, we are speaking of Consciousness as ever-living and present” (“In The Beginning Was Consciousness” from Mind Before Matter, edited by Trish Pfeiffer and John E. Mack, 2007, pp 151-152). Nasr asserts “…that as human beings we are given the intelligence to know the One Who is the Origin and End of all things, who is Being, Consciousness and Bliss, and to realize that this knowledge itself is the ultimate goal of human life, the crown of human existence, and what ultimately makes us human beings who can discourse with the trees and the birds as well as with the angels and who are on the highest level of interlocutors of that Supreme Reality who has allowed us to say ‘I’ but who is ultimately the I of all I’s” (p. 160).
The antithesis of the Perennial Philosophy is religious arrogance and conflict, which is generally related to the problem of worshipping the superficial details of one’s own religion, and of wanting everyone else to believe exactly what you do, instead of focusing more deeply on the Supreme Mind and our each being in the image of God. Those who would threaten and kill in the name of their religion must be confronted at the level or ideas and ultimately, as needed, through the use of counterforce.
I knew a man, John Templeton, who developed what he called “humility theology” most directly in response to the looming conflagration of religiously-inspired violence, which he saw as terribly threatening to human progress and as giving religion in its deeper spiritual essence a bad name. He wrote of “spiritual humility” and of how little we know about God and Ultimate Reality. He wrote a book entitled Agape Love: A Tradition Found in Eight World Religions (1999), in which he asserted that “the rich variety of world religions creates a tapestry of amazing beauty – a testimony to the essential spiritual nature of our existence. And yet, within this amazing and sometimes fascinating diversity can be found an equally amazing unity, the basis of which is ‘love’” (p. 2). He continues:
Perhaps without even being fully aware of it religious leaders and their followers through the ages have defined religion largely in terms of love. All the world’s great religions, to varying degrees, both teach and assume the priority of love in religious practice. To put it another way, whether consciously or subconsciously, the world seems to have determined that any system of beliefs that teaches or tolerates hatred of even apathy toward others does not deserve to be considered a religion in the first place. (p. 2)
Moreover, “It is this kind of love in which the religions of the world may find a basis for unity” (p. 4).
In perhaps this most timely statement on love, religion and conflict, the perennial Sir John concludes:
The purpose of this book is not to conclude that all religions are the same, for certainly they are not. Nor is its goal to try to convert anyone from one religion to another. Rather, the purpose is to point toward the possibilities and responsibilities of love. It is to awaken people to the realization that despite the differences, all religions share some very important, fundamental principles and goals, the highest of which is the realization of agape love – unconditional, unlimited, pure love. (p. 5)
Sir John was realistic about the human future and about human evil, and he saw hope in Pure Unlimited Love:
All the world’s people, whatever their religious beliefs, are part of the same family. We all have the same general needs, problems, desires, and dreams. When we embrace the possibility of agape love, we are expressing, amidst our differences, a unity of purpose, a common hope. At the dawn of the third millennium, what vision could be more important? (p. 6)
Two years after he wrote these words, and another book entitled Pure Unlimited Love because he felt that “agape” is too closely associated with Christianity to create the unity he espoused, we saw the catastrophe of 9/11. He wanted to use his resources to help save the world from a religious conflagration. This hope was at the very core of so much that he wrote about spiritual humility. “How little we know,” he wrote, referring to divine realities, no more than a clam can know about the nature of the sea.
ISIS has its appeal to those who are caught in the “underclass” and who wear those T-shirts I used to see doing my moonlighter teaching in inner city Detroit in 1985 – “Go ahead shoot, I’m already dead.” As many as two hundred Americans may be fighting for ISIS overseas, and many more British youth who have converted to radical Islam. Perhaps inequality in America has grown so intractable, progressive and irreversible due to many reasons that even ISIS, the scourge of the Supreme Mind and of Unlimited Love, looks inviting to those who wear those shirts. They are already caught up in anger, hatred, and rage anyway. We see images of the ISIS flag in a crowd in Ferguson, Missouri; we see an ISIS flag flying from a car in south Chicago; we see it in Juarez, Mexico. The future looks challenging.
There is some trouble ahead, but trouble is opportunity for change. It will come. In the meanwhile, the children of light must have the cunning of the children of the shadows, but none of their malice.
Stephen G. Post 9/1/2014