What Religions Have In Common (Max Charlesworth)
We are sometimes more aware of the ways in which religions differ rather than the ways they have things in common. Creeds and religious traditions differ in the outlook on life that they propose to their followers. The demands made on people by the various belief systems differ radically in many cases. These are the variations that we have become used to over time.
However, if we stop and think, we may find that there is more shared in common by religious traditions than we had previously realised. You may have met someone who has become a friend, you may be aware that your friend comes from a different religious background from yours. Yet as you talk and share thoughts and ideas, you may realise that the two of you have a lot more in common, even in terms of beliefs about life and its meaning, about the importance of people, about love and suffering than someone of your own religious tradition. This often causes people to wonder, and sometimes even to question their own position in regard to their belief system. Has this been the experience of someone you know?
Some writers have shown that all religions have certain things in common. These are basic experiences shared by all those who profess belief in any religious tradition.
The first thing all religions have in common is that they call for a periodical surrender to a Provider or Providers. This surrender calls for a childlike trust in the Provider who is seen as the one who dispenses good things for our spiritual life and health. So each religion asks its followers that they give themselves over to such a Powerful Being, in whatever way this being is described by the religious tradition.
Each religion also requires some demonstration of our dependency in terms of posture. Believers bend low, kneel, prostate themselves before this Supreme Being. The gestures that are made, hands joined, or raised in supplication, also reinforce the sense of smallness, of dependency.
In each religion there is an admission in prayer and song of the evil that has been done. The prayers and songs acknowledge human sinfulness, misdeeds, wrong thoughts, bad intentions. These prayers and songs also ask for inner wholeness, for a healing of one's inner being, so that the person who prays is freed from the evil that they have recognised, and for which they have asked forgiveness. There is in these prayers and songs a fervent appeal for Divine guidance so that the followers know what is asked of them, what it means to live the religious tradition wholeheartedly and with fervour.
Finally, each follower of a specific religious belief system understands that the individual trust that is one's own must be part of a common faith. People need to feel that their own sense of trust in the Provider, in the Divine Being, is reinforced and supported by the trust of others. This is the source of their shared faith. The evil that is recognised on a personal level is also recognised and commonly formulated by the community of believers.
The rituals, prayers and gestures of individuals must become part of the common rituals, prayers and gestures of the religious community. This is their shared faith, and the sharing at the community level gives a validity to the individual experience.
A human need
To speak of the things that religions have in common is not to downplay the importance of religion in our lives. In fact, it shows that people have a shared need for religion in the core of their being. This is part of being a person. Erik Erikson, the famous psychologist, points out that there are many people in our western society who are proud to be without religion, yet their children cannot afford their being without it! This is Erikson's experience in working with adults and children from all walks of life. What do you think about this comment?
Although religious traditions vary in the outlook on life, death, what it means to be a person, suffering evil, and love, yet they have common characteristics. What is most common is people's need for some system of meaning-making in their lives. Many writers assert that a religious system is the most satisfying, but not all people agree with this. There is a lot of argument at various levels. This is not the place to explore these arguments, but is the place to explore the common search for meaning, the common characteristics of religions, and to come to terms with the things that divide.
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