A recent Newsweek article by Kenneth L. Woodward entitled "The Bible and the Quran" joined the many efforts since September 11 to answer how Christianity and Islam can live together in peace. There is a reason why these efforts continue to fail.
Mr. Woodwards article reveals how difficult it is to find "seeds of reconciliation," as he calls them, in the holy books and traditions of two monotheistic religions. The "roots of conflict" he does find are real enough, but he falls short of dealing with the core issues from which the struggles between Islam and Judeo-Christianity have always sprung, and always will.
I first came face to face with one of these core issues when a good friend became a passionate follower of Christ. We were both 16. One day, he suddenly said to me that he knew in his heart that Christ was about to return and take the righteous with him back to heaven. I innocently asked, "But what of the millions of people on Earth who have never even heard of Christ? Is it fair to send them to hell?" His reply was just as confident: "They had their chance."
I dropped the subject, stunned by the cold unreasonableness from someone I knew to be a fine person, neither cruel nor vindictive.
Little did I know then that the study of religions and the spiritual path would become the major focus of my life. At that moment, all I could think was that whatever he had been taught made no sense to me. Since then, after a lifetime of enquiry into the eternal questions, I see no basic difference between his Christian view and that of any monotheists view, whether Muslim, Jew, or Christian.
Once I have declared that God has spoken or revealed Godself only to my people, I have divided my people from all others who believe differently, placed my dogma above the beliefs and personal spiritual experience of others, and defined humans as small-minded, self-centered creatures who must constantly prove themselves spiritually superior to all "non-believers" at any cost. History has borne this out in our centuries of bloody religious struggles.
Whatever the word of God was taken to be when Christ or Muhammad lived, what has been done in the name of those words cannot be shown to carry out a pure, loving, and divine intent. No God would want Gods children to slaughter each other in Gods name, but the millions who have died at the hands of religious zealots over the centuries far exceed the number who perished in wars between tribes, kings, or nations. Whatever God wished to express to people through Christ and through the Prophet, one can be sure that it was not to justify conversions by the sword or by threats of damnation or by bribery, trickery, or any other means.
And yet, as I write these words, these ideas are still alive in the hearts of men, women, and children and are causing anguish and death at this very moment.
The events of September 11 have brought out Christian leaders who exhort fellow Christians everywhere to redouble their efforts to get the word of God to non-Christians the world over. Those who are convinced they have the divine truth that you need also believe they can use any method or device they want to convert you. After all, its for your own good.
Proselytizing, in their view, is their sole God-given right, and in their zeal to "save" nonbelievers from eternal hell, they spend millions yearly and use methods of conversion that, were mainstream America to learn of them, would certainly result in a serious reaction. It no longer seems acceptable to inspire fear in the hearts of anyone over worshipping "devils" and the certainty of eternal torment in hell if they do not accept Christ or Allah, nor should gifts of food and clothing be used to turn one away from ones beliefs into those of the giver.
People all over the world long to reach the West, so churches establish schools to which hopeful parents send their children, only to find them indoctrinated with Christian beliefs and distrust in the familys traditional spiritual practices. Some children are promised scholarships to Western schools in the States, provided they reject the faith of their family and embrace the Christian one. If they do not, they lose the opportunity of their dreams.
In just the past year, the Catholic Church has publicly apologized for decades of forcibly separating children from their parents in the Far East. Missionaries roam hospitals and villages in the Third World, seeking those near death so they may be "saved" in their final moments of weakness and fear by last-minute urgings to avoid the fires of damnation. Imagine the anguish of a family as they hear their loved one renounce their ancient beliefs and accept another in panic as he or she passes from this world.
Cultures and families have been crippled and destroyed by missionaries who, by converting a few, inflame them with fear of hellfire and turn the passions of the newly converted against the others, children against parents, and spouse against spouse. When one member is convinced that the others are heathens worshipping the devil in disguise at their traditional family altar, he or she then feels justified in using any forceful argument or accusation to convert other family and community members to the "only way to salvation." This divides a family and culture against itself, resulting in loss of respect and love and peace among its members. Some never speak to each other again.
"The only way to God is through Jesus Christ," stated a minister recently when interviewed on the Fox Network. "I didnt say it. Christ said it," he pointed out quickly when asked to defend this separatist philosophy.
Muslims passionately point out that the Prophet instructs them to war against the infidels and make them accept Allah. "Death to the infidels" has littered the East and now the West with the bodies of innocents. The Jews were no less warlike against nonbelievers.
Havent we lived with such ideas long enough to question how any divine purpose can be served by turning one portion of Earths inhabitants upon all others for the sole purpose of denigrating their traditional relationship with the divine and converting them to someones "one way"? Doesnt the very concept, in its narrow, self-serving nature, reveal the mind and emotions of humanity rather than the all-loving heart of God?
Do we really believe that God announced the only way to reach God to a small, select group and then urged them upon Gods other children to destroy their peace and way of life, even make war upon them, so that they could receive this one special message, or face eternal damnation or death? You wouldnt do such a thing. Why do you think God would? And what about those millions who have never had the chance to hear the "good word"? Does it make any sense that they must suffer in hell forever?
And so we have witnessed 2000 years of the terrible results of such obviously human-made ideas without pausing to reflect on what we were doing. The time for reflection has come. There is truth to be found that unifies all people.
It is time to acknowledge that we are all from the same source and to refuse to give energy to the idea that God is the exclusive property of one group only. Who can seriously insist that this is the teaching of an all-knowing and all-loving Creator of the universe? It is the manifestation of human ignorance with all its attendant hypocrisies, crimes of ambition, and atrocities between neighbors, tribes, and nations alike.
I call an end to it. I am as much a part of the Divine as anyone else. I do not need any misguided dogma from the past to reveal my true self to me. The "brotherhood of man" for which Christ and the sages of so many religions have called cannot be discovered by setting myself apart as closer to God and designated by God to take your beliefs away from you and make you accept mine.
Anyone that promotes division among humankind is no teacher. Anyone who teaches that we are all one is reflecting back to us what we already are. That teacher lives within each person this very moment. Common sense and awareness of life itself wont let me forget it. The light that shines out through everyones eyes and the vitality that flows through each persons body, thoughts, and feelings is the same as mine, and all from the same, one source. The Oneness is so close and so familiar, it is easy to overlook.
"With one cut, you make two pieces," the saying goes. It is we, not God, who make the judgments and invent the dogmas that separate people into competing "isms." The light of these emerging new times will no longer allow one to hide behind the claim that "Christ said it, not me," or "Allah commands jihad," or "We are the chosen people."
The One doesnt need special groups to carry a message to any other child of the One. The arrogance of going forth to "save" someone who believes differently is finally exhausted, and in decline. Its glaring weaknesses can no longer be sold on waves of group emotion claiming to want to take "Gods word" to others for their own good.
The monotheistic fallacy has served its purpose. The higher consciousness now emerging on our planet is showing us the worst of the worst and the best of the best in humanity. It is our time to choose to find the oneness within the self that we know. As we do, we will see the eternal validity of true identity in our brothers and sisters wherever we meet them on this earth, in this life and beyond.
Dasa Vinayaga, an American, spent 25 years as a renunciate monk in a Hindu yoga order. He can be reached at <email@example.com>.