Comparative Religion

All religions are equally true.
On the surface, this seems to be just the sort of hippie-happy New Age bullshit that comes from the mouths of babes and people who don’t know what they’re talking about. After all, on the surface, the only way to reconcile fundamentally irreconcilable ways of looking at the world is to embrace pomo relativism, asserting that Islam is as true in Turkey as Buddhism is in Dharamsala, and that we elitist Western imperialist pigs had best shut our traps about “objective reality” and let the poor oppressed masses of the Third World liberate themselves from the sort of logic that Jerry Falwell and his ilk find themselves quite liberated from here in America–never mind that the fundamentalists of the Third World would take just as kindly to the above statement as the aforementioned Rev. Falwell, only without the chains of a couple of centuries of relatively secular governance and a culture that at least pays lip service to the rule of law to keep the dogs at bay.
Nevertheless, I do believe that all religions bear at least the possibility of becoming true (at least from my own subjective perspective). Despite this, they are irreconcilable in very important ways, both doctrinally and mythologically. Every faith except Unitarian Universalism contradicts every other faith, and it’s very, very difficult to embrace more than one at any given time (believe me, I’ve tried) and still remain at all true to either. However, this seeming incompatibility–if any of them is true at face value, then the other must all be false–belies a fundamental unity on the only level that any religion has the right to claim any truth.
This isn’t cosmology, the origin of the universe or life, or anything relating to the physical makeup of reality. The scientific method, because it’s by its very nature grounded in the reality it studies, is the only legitimate means of exploring this. Furthermore, this isn’t the field of ethics or morality either–useful, humane ethics must be applicable in novel situations, and as every text (including religious treatises and scriptures) is bound by the intellectual and sociological circumstances of its composition, appeal to a textual authority can never justly settle a moral question.
What, then, is left to religion, given that we’ve got science and philosophy? The answer is the one thing that science can’t investigate because of its intrinsic nature–the subjective experience, the way in which the inner and outer worlds relate. Cosmology and ethics are necessarily of the outer world, the former the material universe, the latter the social one. However, neither of these can touch the way in which the outer universe comes to the conscious observer, nor what the observer makes of them.
This, then, is the task of religion–it must deal with the human heart, with one’s inner experience and how one relates it to the larger reality, which encompasses both subjective experience and objective truth.
That’s the sense in which they’re all true–all of them provide a poetic, mythological lens in which to interpret the larger world. Not everyone needs it, but most people tend to at least sometimes, and as long as fundamentalism is avoided, resisted, and fought like the abomination it is, and as long as religious people make sure that they realize that their faith is merely a subjective worldview and not an objective map of the universe, and concede that everyone else’s is exactly the same thing and therefore just as valid, religion need not impede a positive, healthy existence, be it personal or societal.


~ by theholyfool on April 28, 2009.

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