There’s a lovely excerpt from Desmond Tutu’s book on the ‘Net, titled ‘God is not a Christian.’ It gets to the heart of something I’ve believed since I was a child, but only had a name for in recent years. Belief is universal, and (as a dear friend says) all beliefs are ladders leading us upward. To one place.
When I was little, I knew that it was all the same thing, the many names and faces of divinity. I believed strongly in something that lived in everything. I don’t know what I called it, but everything had ‘spirit.’ Growing up in a Buddhist/ Taoist/ Catholic/ ecumenical Christian/ animist confluence of beliefs, it just made sense that each of these was just a different room in the house of the universe. A different ladder to climb back home.
It’s called ‘universalism,’ this belief that we all go home, irrespective of our beliefs. Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Wiccans or whatever, ‘when God has a party, everyone is invited.’ At least that’s how Quaker Phil Gulley puts it. He writes in an article in Friends Journal, the January 2011 issue, on what Universalism is. I think his points are critical to remember, as I wrestle w/ how to learn to love more inclusively, less judgmentally.
Gully notes that like a more famous minister — Carlton Pearson — he lost his position as a minister when he said he didn’t believe in hell. His first position, did I mention? Pearson — once a high-paid Tulsa minister w/ a large TV following — also lost his flock when he disavowed the idea of hell.
I don’t believe in a literal Hell either, for what it’s worth. I don’t have thousands of followers — or even a congregation of a few Quakers — but I never thought a merciful, divine whatever could sentence folks who follow their own belief systems, in good faith, to everlasting perdition. I don’t even want to believe in something that could find that okay. If I, a flawed human being, think that is overkill, how could something responsible for everything be so vindictive?
Gulley makes another important point that, in today’s era of religious ‘tolerance,’ can sound intolerant. He argues that ‘[t]he great mistake those of who sit at God’s left hand make is our insistence that all religions have equal value, that one is as good as the other, that it doesn’t matter what we believe.‘ This, he insists, is false. When entire segments of religion — Christian as well as Muslim, although many of the Western faith don’t want to hear this — pray to heaven for a worldwide war that will exterminate much of the world, just so some of their own favoured religion can ‘go to heaven,’ Gulley (and I) believe that ‘something is drastically wrong.’
That’s what Desmond Tutu is saying in his article. What the Dalai Lama professes. That we’re all bearers of whatever it is that sparks divine reflection. And universalism proposes — like Rama says (the dear friend I mentioned earlier) — that different faiths are just multiple ladders. All leading home. What the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu are doing is working hard outside the ‘box’ of traditional religion to teach us about going home, in a way. No one left out of the journey, or the party. Everyone included in a vast, worldwide spiritual hug. Even me & Phillip Gulley…:) We all get to go home.