Wednesday, March 06, 2013
Final Essay for the Comparative Religion Course
I found this course to be extremely informative. As a minister and a funeral director I am faced daily with people of various backgrounds and cultures. I have worked with almost every major religion and have long been a student of religions. I find the differences fascinating, but conversely also find their similarities equally fascinating. Most people are unable to look past the proverbial "end of their noses" to see that there are many cultural universals in this world. I like to use the model inspired by an old Indian tale - that of the blind men who tried to describe an elephant. It is said that once upon a time a king gathered a few men who were born blind. They were asked to describe an elephant, but each one was presented with only a certain part of it.
To one was presented the head of the elephant, to another the trunk, to another its ears, to another the leg, the body, the tail, tuft of the tail, etc. The one who was presented with the head said: "The elephant is like a pot!" The one who was presented the trunk answered, "The elephant is like a hose." The one who touched only the ears thought that the elephant was a fan, the others said that it was a pillar, a wall, a rope, a brush, etc. Then they quarreled among themselves, each thinking that he was the only one right and the others were wrong. The obvious truth is that the elephant is a unity of many parts, a unity that they could not grasp in their ignorance.
I personally believe that a better illustration to envision is that many paths lead to the same mountain peak. We are all or we all should be seeking enlightenment, the path and vernacular we choose is of secondary importance. It is important to know that this is not the case. As an example both Christianity and Islam each claims to be the only right path to God. Therefore the other option is that world religions are not pieces of the same puzzle or parts of the same spiritual elephant or different paths to the same goal or mountain peak. We as a race are very ethnocentric. A little understanding through knowledge would do us all good. However, both possibilities exist. So, a proper evaluation of these opposite views should be done before we decide a course of action. If the first is true, that all religions lead us to the same finality, and we choose the second, that only one of them is right, then we have lost nothing.
Despite our ignorance, we will arrive at the same end result as others who have chosen different spiritual paths. A worse outcome would be if the second were true, that only one path was correct and we had chosen the wrong one. A third and much worse possibility is that all spiritual paths are wrong. This possibility is denied by our nature and thirst for a spiritual quest, which demands fulfillment. Otherwise, our hunger for ultimate truth could not be justified and all religions would be nothing but human fantasy.
What I liked best about this course was the depth of the knowledge imparted by the author. I found this course to be well written and a wonderful resource for future independent study. The author alluded to a second part to this course. I certainly hope the ULC Seminary will provide this course in the near future.
Peace be with you,
Rev. Steve Harris
"Dreams are illustrations...from the book your soul is writing about you."