Gandhi said that if India was to live in peace we must recognize the value of every religion. India is a nation that has been home to all the religions in the world. Four religions were born there — Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. And we have many Christians and Muslims, as well as members of other faiths.
More than 100 years ago, Swami Vivekananda said that we have to accept the idea that all religions are different paths leading to the same God. Gandhi accepted this proposition, and in his ashram people recite prayers from all religions. They start with a Buddhist hymn, follow it with a Hindu hymn and then comes Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Christianity — all religions, one after another. The whole congregation prays all of these prayers.
There are two layers of religion: One is the basic fundamental [ideas], and the other one consists of superficial ritual exercises. If you go to the basis — speaking truth, being honest, being compassionate, loving thy neighbor — these are common to all religions. The differences are superficial; one may have a different hairstyle, and one may have some mark on the head. Unfortunately, it is for these superficial differences that people are fighting.
We are all small people, and we have made our gods small. The Christian thinks Christ belongs to him. The Hindus think Rama and Krishna belong only to them, and the Muslim thinks Allah belongs to Islam. And so on. But this isn’t correct. Once, when Gandhi was asked, “What is your religion?” he said, “Well, I am a Hindu, I am a Muslim, I am a Christian, I am a Sikh — I follow the basic principles of all religions.
There’s a scene in the movie Gandhi that one of my preachers mentioned a couple weeks ago in her sermon. A reporter asked Gandhi him why he had never become a Christian. He answered, “If I had ever met one, I would have become one.”
So, the questions, at the beginning of the Christian period of Advent, are:
1. Why do you identify with your particular religion (or lack thereof), and particular form of that religion? (Christian Baptist, Orthodox Jew, Sunni Muslim, etc.) Was it a function of upbringing, or was it a choice made later?
2. What do you think of other major religions? Are they interesting, but not the real deal, or are they each a different path to enlightenment?
I became a Presbyterian six years ago, but grew up as a member of the A.M.E. Zion church, before my theological walk through the wilderness, where I was exposed to everything from Baha’ism to Unitarianism to various forms of Christianity, before settling in as a Methodist again. I feel as though there’s a lot to be said for the (non-fundamentalist) visions of many religions.
Or am I dealing with blind ecumenism?