Comparative Religion

Comparative Religion Course through ULC

What I gained from this course:

The last in Comparative Religion  was a validation of my beliefs. I’ve always thought that the different religions that have grown throughout the world were rooted in the same basic belief in a higher energy, Creator, Source, Divine Bring or any other term developed by humanity’s limited language skills that one would care to use to describe the underlying power of the Universe.

It has been my life long belief that all the religions of the world lead to one place, it is just a matter of how one gets there. A brief visual description may assist in understanding my point. Imagine a large mountain and the goal is the summit. Each person is located at the base. There are paths that spiral around the mountain climbing ever higher. There are some paths whose course takes them directly up the side of the mountain on a vertical ascent. These paths all start at different points at the base of the mountain, but all end at the summit. Some of these paths even travel the same course at times, some never meet. While all start at a different point, all take a varied route; all arrive at the same point in the end – the summit or to phrase it another way – reunification with Divinity.

I believe that the vast differences are there to accommodate the various level of spiritual development evident in each culture at any given point in their evolution. That is to say, an early pagan would have had a hard time comprehending the higher teachings of the Buddhist religion. Another example of this is the evolution from Hinduism into Buddhism. This difficulty in comprehension is just as true for the modern day Christian. By that I mean that a Christian has trouble accepting that each individual is responsible for their own evolution on the wheel of life, death and rebirth. Most of the Christians that I have spoken with believe that unless one believes in Jesus salvation can never be obtained.

What I liked best and least about this course, and how to improve:

While I was pleasantly surprised to see the more obscure religions given the same basically fair treatment as the more commonly practiced ones, I would also have liked to have seen a more in depth comparison of each of the religions covered. Many times I was waiting in vain for the next religion to be explained to the extent that the last one had been discussed. This was true not only of the obscure ones, but even the common ones. The discussions (lessons 16 and 17) on Divine Messengers for example as well as the discussion on Religious Titles (lesson 18) serve to illustrate this point.

I would have enjoyed seeing a systematic breakdown clarifying how each religion compared and contrasted with each other one during the course of each lesson. Using the above examples, if each religion’s terms for angels had been laid out in table format and each religion’s titles had been detailed side by side I believe it would have more fully explained how they relate to one another.

Over all, this was an excellent course. I would definitely be willing to take another course from Reverend Kythera Ann; and am looking forward to Part 2 of this course. I am of course assuming there is a Part 2.

Theresa A. Bedwell


The Universal Life Church is a comprehensive online seminary where we have classes in Christianity, Wicca, Paganism, two courses in Metaphysics and much more. 

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A Course in Miracles by Rev. Standard

Essay on Metaphysics.


In the directions it was stated to pick something that caused me to think and tell you about it.  I would find that difficult to pinpoint to one subject given that it was twenty discourses and it covered a broad area concerning the metaphysical aspect of life.  I found the entire course eye opening and helpful in many aspects.  If one will just open their mind and soul then enlightenment truly comes without question.  Yes there will be the normal doubts and trials and tribulations that mankind as a whole must endure, this is a given.  I took away many new ideas and beliefs from this course, I can only hope that I will be able to apply it in some portion of my life or make an impression on someone.


The three minds, The higher mind, an unconscious mind , a lower unconscious mind . The ego the lower mind [A false sense of self].  It seems to be a thought that stuck out in my mind was from a psychological point of view as well as a spiritual view is that man is a tripartite being , Body, Soul, Spirit.  I fell back to studying the significance of numbers or numerology and their meanings and the symbolism, the number three.  Discourse one seems to emphasize working on the higher mind and it’s abilities that we haven’t tapped into, and the unity of the three working together. Also listening to the still small voice, scripture reference.


Discourse two .Thinking from the ego the ego false sense of self, our ego can be our own worst enemy or it can keep us in check, most of the time I believe that it doesn’t. In a course in miracles terminology mentioned by you, its motto is seek and ye shall not find.” Because no matter how much the inflated ego gets, it always wants more. In another scripture, there are three mentioned in scripture that are never satisfied the pride of life , the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, we can never be fulfilled by physical objects or by materialism, it simply leads to much more unfulfillment. Under-inflated ego can be referred to in the psychology field as Nature Versus Nurture, in the discourse it is called heredity, environment culture and our past, all of which are significant but aren’t good excuses for inappropriate behavior nor seeing from a spiritual side. It refers a lot to fear, we are told in scripture not to fear, or be ye not afraid, or fear not three hundred and sixty five times, I believe that this is for each day of the year. To think from the higher mind is a purposeful life, you only get one on this planet, make it count.


The over inflated ego projects power and satisfaction the things that are outside of itself, thus destroying it’s relationship with it’s true source of power and all that brings true satisfaction in life, i.e. G-D and Spirit. This in my experience I so aptly refer to as philosophy, it never answers questions and merely produces more questions and unfulfilling. We must trust in things unseen with equal faith as things seen.”Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” I love the phrase, would you rather be a hostage to your ego or host to G-d?


I am slowly learning but learning nevertheless to observe, process the information and choose to let it go or let it eat at me and let it hurt me.


Discourse four. Projection makes perception.

We are not our thoughts.

We are the ones choosing our thoughts.

We are not our minds.

We are the ones using our minds.

We are not even our bodies.

We are the ones using our bodies.

The way to change the world is to change what we think about the world. To me a miracle doesn’t have to be elaborate it can be as  subtle as the wind, the beauty of  something we see, a kind word spoken, a gesture , etc , etc.

The truth is that only love is real only love has power.

Love is the only thing that can never be destroyed.

It can never be taken from us.


It applies to everything that was created by G-d and only what he created is real. If you give yourself to him he will never force himself upon you. He will never interfere with your free will. Remember, love never forces itself. Love must be welcomed in. A house divided against it cannot stand. Split allegiance is faithlessness. It sets you off balance. I realized this while studying Buddhism, the whole concept of balance. Love, Hate, War, Peace.


Meditation, I have practiced this in many forms and have had great results, it can bring peace most of the time, when I am actually able to be relaxed enough to focus and control.  “All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” Blaise Pascal.   This goes back to the ego and not being comfortable with one self, not having the higher consciousness, or awareness.  The more one practices meditation the better you will become. The unconscious mind computes in pictures not words. Instead of analyzing information, it crystallizes information and draws things together in an effortless way. Prayer is asking G-d and meditation is listening to him.  I love this course, it packed full of wisdom. When one cannot meditate and their mind keeps wandering is that when the mind is wandering, it is meditating. Bruce Lee had this concept perfected…..Mind No Mind, Thought No Thought.


Genius of desire. Desire has genius in it. It is explosive with creative force. People who measure such things that the mind tunes into upwards of 60,000 thoughts a day. A burning desire is not a desperate desire. Desperation implies lack and repels the object of your desire. Love never attacks. The greatest of these is love, more scripture.


The Alchemy of Intention. Forgiveness is the home of miracles. Miracles are necessary because it causes division and devastates. G-d is not the author of confusion. Today, quantum physicists describe the universe as a hologram in which the whole is in every part. We are all extensions of the same fundamental formless something and as such are infinitely connected. Remember , no man is an island, we are all caught up together in the human experience The day we take ownership of the awesome power of our intention is the day we become masters of our destiny . Attacking judging and punishing yourself turn you into the enemy, in other words to thine own self be true.


Attention Attention Attention. One day a young man approached his master Ikuru and asked: Master will you please write down for me some maxims of the highest wisdom? The master wrote one word ….Attention. In the military I was trained pay attention to detail, it stayed with me. The Buddhist Thich Nat Hahn, and I have read his book, peace in every breath, very insightful book. Any back to my original writing The monks say that mindfulness is keeping ones consciousness alive to the present reality.


The gift of Visualization. Form is born out of content. The material comes from the immaterial, once again faith and the laws of physics. You are one hundred percent responsible for the life you lead.

At birth all people are soft and yielding

At death they are hard and stiff

All green plants are tender and yielding

At death they are brittle and dry

When hard and rigid

We consort with death

When soft and flexible

We affirm greater life.

Lao Chu


Much can be said about prayer and meditation this would be an entire paper in and of it. G-d has been waiting on us, not us waiting on him. It isn’t that G-d enjoys seeing us suffer>it’s just that love never forces itself; love must always be invited in. Prayer does not change what G-d does Prayer changes us; it gives us a renewed sense of purpose.

Acceptance and higher purpose. There are ten keys for creating a miraculous state of mind 1. Meditation 2. desire 3.purpose 4. intention 5.attention 6.visualization 7.letting go of self 8. letting go of illusions 9.asking for help 10. Surrendering attachment to results.


Miracles and your health. Judging a brother is the same thing as judging G-d. The decision for the ego over G-d is the cause of all of the pain and suffering in the world today.  We are in no position to make decisions for G-d .


The power of beliefs.  In this entire course, I have run across many different religions and many different ideas that actually mesh together without preconceived notions and prejudices. I have seen Zen Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, etc etc. .Our belief system carries us farther than we ever considered or give it credit for.  It heals, it loves, it forgives, it shields, it provides, it protects, it is us in our entirety.  Augustine said, love and does what you will. The touchstone to of the value of anything in life is its purpose.  It isn’t our habits so much that harm us: It’s the underlying guilt and fear from which they come.  What we do out of guilt and fear is destructive, what we do out of love is healing.  The end.  I have taken all of the concepts from your course and repeated them back to you or at least the parts that stuck out the most in my mind.

Thank you for the course I have truly enjoyed it.


Andy W Standard

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Druidism Course through the Universal Life Church

Final Essay – Druidism
Universal Life Church

I came to Druidism for the reasons of exploring my Celtic past and finding a spirituality that truly speaks to me.  I am new to Paganism and was not sure what I would find. I am thankful for the opportunity to expand my spiritual horizons and share them with others.

The course begins with an historical overview of ancient Druidism and its social context. Druidism was a Celtic religion and interpreted the cosmos in ways that Celtic peoples could understand. The myths interpreted the cosmos and the sacred rights influenced the cosmos. We may find some of the rites, such as human sacrifice, to be repulsive, but the Celts believed that they were necessary. The course gives a balanced account of the ancient druids without modern judgment.
Included in the explanation of ancient Druidism is an exhaustive list of the Celtic deities with explanations. The list includes Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Gallic deities with cross-references and comparisons to the other deities. This was the most intriguing part of the course, because it gave real insight into the culture of the ancient Celts.
The meat of the course is the lessons on the calendar, sabbats and the Ogham alphabet. Druidism is a heart a nature religion. As such, Druidism seeks balance and harmony with nature. The identifying thread of Druidism is that nature is particularly identified with trees. The Druids named both the calendar months and the alphabet after the same set of trees. Furthermore, the sabbats, or festivals, celebrate the yearly cycle of plant growth and death, which was connected by the druids to the larger cosmological cycle of life, death and rebirth. The key to understanding Druidism both ancient and modern is in understanding the wealth of relationships that each tree represents. As a modern druid, I put most of my effort into learning this part of the course.
The remaining portions of the Druidism course are concerned with the practices of modern druids. These practices include liturgies, druid magic and geomancy. The liturgy lesson provides the basic rites of a druid. The more interesting druid magic lesson contains some very helpful links to other sources of information on druid magic. The geomancy lesson requires hands-on practice to fully understand, and I still find it a little confusing. (I suspect that divination is not my best subject.) Thus, the beginning druid has the tools needed to begin a druidic ministry and links to continue the study of druidism.

My Celtic ancestors and love of nature drew me to the path of druidism. The Masters of Druidism course has given me the foundation to be a druid minister.


The Universal Life Church is a comprehensive online seminary where we have classes in Christianity, Wicca, Paganism, two courses in Metaphysics and much more. I have been a proud member of the ULC for many years as well as starting the Seminary.
As an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church for many years and it’s Seminary since its inception, I’ve had the privilege of watching the Seminary grow.

Astral Projection

Astral Projections
As I started these classes at the same time as my Dr. in Metaphysics, it was interesting taking the 2 classes at the same time.  They, at times were very in sync and one helped the other.    
One of the areas throughout the course I enjoyed is the theoretical lessons or just hearing about your views of the different areas and topics.  This gave me a different view and also allowed me to have my own view of the subjects.  You presented other works from a lot of greats in the area of AP.  I’m sure it was meant to give us more to think about and ponder.
When you think of all the places you can travel to and explore in this vast cube.  Yes, cube like a large rubrics cube.  You may think that the yellow square is the one is above you, but just as you move so does it.  Your drawing was interesting and during my RV and travels before taking this class I never thought of this as you described.  When I did my 1st travels many years ago I always walked down the steps into the realms.  Your class opened my eyes ever wider than they have been before. 
As you spoke about being gods or god like and that is when I compared it to the person on Star Trak by the name of “Q”.  He can go any place at any time in the universe.  The universe and the heavens were his play grounds.  When he went back in time to show where we as humans came from it was a very strong statement.  It made me see how small the human race really started out as.
A while back while studying RV, OOBE, Quantum Jumping, and others it came to me that if a person can train themselves they could move their bodies using mind and spirit as a whole to another place.  I call this TDT or Trans Dimensional Transportation.  Maybe someday people will not need modes of transportation. 
As I spoke with my friend in this astral plane she is an alien from another world.  When I told her I was taking these classes it was strange that we as humans did not have this knowledge already.  On their world it is 2nd nature.  I explained that over time I think our ability to use the mind and spirit together has been stifled.  I’m not sure if this was stifled on purpose or was there a larger picture.  Or as today some believe we as humans cannot handle the real truth about our own minds and spirits.
You pointed out about protecting yourself while moving between planes.  Of all the times I have traveled I have never ran into others who wanted to harm or were negative toward me.  I do make it a #1 item to never approach others on the planes until they approach me.  We are all travelers on these worlds/planes and we make our own way just as we do in real life.  You talked about the shields and wards and these I have not needed.  But you did open my eyes that someday I may need them.   
I know now with this increased knowledge that the mind is endless and with the spirit anything is possible.   
Rev Carl Bjerke

Many people get ordained through the ULC as a means to become wedding officiants, but also to study through our online seminary. If you need minister supplies or online ceremonies, we have a wide selection to choose from, as well as a place for spiritual articles and spiritual bookmarks. Visit our FB Page at ULC Seminary.
As an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church for many years and it’s Seminary since its inception, I’ve had the privilege of watching the Seminary grow.

Spirit Quest Course

I have really enjoyed this course but it took longer than I expected.  Being a single mother and trying to work and study it was not always easy to meditate and read the course work 3 times.  But I got there in the end. 

Since starting this course it has taken me on a journey.  I found a new partner who is spiritually minded and a Reiki healer and we have become engaged.  I have also given up alcohol and feel more comfortable in my sobriety. 

I have used some of the tools now in my new business. I have become a Self Discovery Coach and built a website  to help people go within to find all the answers.  I have coached 2 people who were suffering and I guided then to do meditation and look for the answers from within. 

I have started some great workshops where I do guided meditations and have used some of the techniques such as the roses and golden sun to aid me in this. I really needed the grounding cord information for this work.  I believe that meditating is where we will get all our answers.  I also use the Angel cards which always give people great answers.  I have a larger scale workshop planned in a few weeks in the local Hairdressers and have had to ask for some help from my friend a Reiki healer and another who is into Angel cards to assist me.  I will be doing a lot of goal setting and getting people to create there future and I will be opening and closing the evening with guided meditations.

Everything in this course I could relate to.  I have steered away from Reiki and working with healing energies as I feel it is my path to work with the mind.  I do more work with the subconscious mind.   I use the meditations, affirmations, positive thinking and creative visualisation.  Forgiveness is also something I apply to my work now.  I believe we create everything and if we don’t forgive this will fester and becomes an illness. 

I must say there was really nothing in this course that I didn’t believe in.  I had some knowledge of some of course but it was fabulous to read it through in a different perspective. 

I would like to thank ULC for everything they have given me.  And I wish you all the love and joy you could wish for. 


The Universal Life Church is a comprehensive online seminary where we have classes in Christianity, Wicca, Paganism, two courses in Metaphysics and much more. I have been a proud member of the ULC for many years and the Seminary since its inception.

As a long time member of ULC, Rev. Long created the seminary site to help train our ministers. We also have a huge selection of Universal Life Church  minister supplies. Since being ordained with the Universal Life Church for so many years and it’s Seminary since the beginning, I’ve watch the huge change and growth that has continued to happen.
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As an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church for many years and it’s Seminary since its inception, I’ve had the privilege of watching the Seminary grow.

Christian Ethics

Myrna L. Durr
Dr. of Christian Ethics
Lessons XI & XII

1. Define Caritas & Cupitas
     A. As used in Lesson XI and defined by Augustine, the definition of Caritas is man’s love of God.  The Latin translation would be a reference to charity, virtue, or love for all.

     B. Lesson IX refers to Cupitas as the love of the world.  The Latin reference is to desired.

2. Knudson’s view on the disjunction of agape and eros is a false abstraction.
     A. Knudson states that to exclude self-love and duties to self are non-Christian and to limit Christian love unmotivated towards others would be to create an abstract Christian ethic and fall into sentimental immoralist.

3. Text for “to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”  is found in: Eph. 4-16.

4. To the Christian, the ultimate source of strength is God, who’s will is the final standard of what is good.

5. The statement: “within the immediacy of interpersonal relations lies mans greatest capacity for self giving love and his worst temptations to love” is True.

6. “Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” is found in I Cor: 10-12 in the Bible.

7. Four things that moral dullness may be the result of are:
     A. Ignorance
     B. Willful moral blindness
     C. Unconscious self -deception
     D. A mixture of the three above

8. “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”, is found in Romans 12:2 in the Bible.

9. Three types of Christian actions open to us in challenging and changing the gigantic structure of social evil and social sin that infests our world are as follows:
     A. Social Service=Projection of Christian love through sympathy and compassion and responding to human need.

     B. Social Education=Understanding social issues that may negatively effect society.  Through education and speaking truth in love can have a positive outcome on social action.

     C. Political and economic= Combining coercion with love may result in justice but must be spearheaded by love, it must not be just the seeking of justice.

10. The force that is relevant to every situation is LOVE.

Many people get ordained through the ULC as a means to become wedding officiants, but also to study through our online seminary. If you need minister supplies or online ceremonies, we have a wide selection to choose from, as well as a place for spiritual articles and spiritual bookmarks. Visit our FB Page at ULC Seminary.
As an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church for many years and it’s Seminary since its inception, I’ve had the privilege of watching the Seminary grow.

St. Paul

“Master of St. Paul“. The subject and title seems a bit ironic because of St. Paul’s service and dedication to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Non the less I found this course to be informative and I enjoyed the weekly assignments. The teaching techniques used are effective in that they make the student research the course material. I do find however that Lesson 16 “Admitting that you are a Sinner”, to be more of a sermon and less of a lesson. It seems to be a bit more personal to the instructor than to the student. The lesson would be better served in my opinion if the focus on sin was from various perspectives using more study on actual transgression as in the Old Testament on the transgression of law.
However when studying the life of arguably the greatest missionary, theologian and writer of the early church this course does a good job of covering Paul as one of the most important figures in the New Testament. Paul’s gospel indicted all of humanity for the crime of rejecting God and His rightful authority. Under the influence of Adam’s sin, mankind plunged into the depths of depravity so that they were utterly unable to the righteous demands of God and deserved only the wrath of God. Consequently, the sinners only hope was the gospel which embodied God’s power to save those who had faith in Christ which was the focus of Paul’s gospel. Paul affirmed Jesus’ humanity and His deity and the fact the Jesus was a physical descendant from the from the line of David.
In his years as a Pharisee, Paul’s initial and adamant rejection of Jesus as the Messiah may largely have been motivated by Jesus’ ignorable death. Death by crucifixion was indicative of divine curse. Certainly the Messiah could not have died under the curse of God. But when Paul wrote his first epistle, this death curse was recognized as the grounds for substitutionary atonement. (Gal.3:10-14) Paul explained that the idea of a crucified Messiah was a stumbling block to the Jews. This gospel would later lead to plotting his death and several attempts on his life. Yet through all of his life’s challenges after his conversion he never spoke in anger or arrogance but always in love and patience. But he knew that he would suffer after his vision from God, “This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before Gentiles, kings and the sons of Israel. I will certainly show him how much he must suffer for MY name !”.
Paul’s missions were initially met with suspicion from Church leaders but Barnabas intervened in is behalf and when meeting with Peter and James, the Lord’s brother, and he is on his way to teach for several years. The pillars of the Church Peter, John, and James approved the no-Law gospel preached by Paul and his focus on Gentile evangelism. “No-law” of course referring to Paul and Branabas’ journey to Jerusalem to settle the circumcision matter. Still as a result of this matter, the Law-free gospel does not encourage unrighteous behavior in believers.
History tells us that Paul was probably a man of above intelligence considering his years of Rabbinic training and by his own words in Gal.1:14, “I advanced in Judaism beyond many contemporaries among my people, because I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors”. Though zealous, his knowledge would have taken a great deal of reading, work and study. Yet after Christ appeared to him as the resurrected and glorified Christ in blinding radiance on his way to Damascus, Saul immediately surrendered to His authority and went into the city to await further orders. There his blindness was healed and he received the Holy Spirit and accepted believers baptism.
I take great solace and comfort in the example set by Paul. His amazing display of courage and faith to endure the prison’s, the death threats, ship wrecks and other situations that may have never been recorded in the annals of history are truly are a testament of his never ending faith and belief in God’s work. His gospel of salvation that is so freely given to humankind through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and our union with Jesus through faith is our liberation from sin, death, and allows us to help one another mature, to serve Christ, and glorify Him, which is the highest purpose.
I thank you once again for offering this course.
Gods blessings upon you all.
Rev. Dennis Zerull
The Universal Life Church is a comprehensive online seminary where we have classes in Christianity, Wicca, Paganism, two courses in Metaphysics and much more. I have been a proud member of the ULC for many years and the Seminary since its inception.
As an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church for many years and it’s Seminary since its inception, I’ve had the privilege of watching the Seminary grow.

Comparative Religion

Comparative Religion Essay
Rev. Sandra P. Malloy

Comparative Religion Reflection Essay

When I am free to see comparisons in religions over historic time, without regard to the hows and whys, I experience a deep appreciation for my own belief system.  Someone asked me, “Doesn’t seeing these parallels make you think that this (what we believe) is all just a of version of some superstition people made up a long time ago to explain what science couldn’t?”  Surprisingly, instead of doubt I feel stronger in my faith, more deeply connected to humanity, and grounded in my concept of spiritual oneness.  I have a greater appreciation for the diversity that cultural and historic influence have had on our attempts, as a human race, to communicate with and understand the nature of the Divine and as a result, to communicate with one another and understand ourselves.  

I feel especially grounded, as a Christian, when I contemplate the number of religions prior and parallel to Christianity that revere Christ-like figures.  The stories of Osiris, Dionysus, Mithras and others show how many different cultures have grown in their spiritual development through the same archetype.  This leads me to feel a greater underlying truth in the symbolism than I ever could see while studying in isolation.  It breaks down time and geographical boundaries and makes me feel more apart of the global, timeless, beingness.  Seeing other similarities, such as how in every religion we tend to celebrate cycles, important events in our histories, great leaders and teachers, how we communicate with the Divine through prayer, and pass on ideas through sacred texts and symbols also leads me to a deeper appreciation.  At the same time it inspires gratitude for how our differences allow all of us to participate and meet the Divine right where we are.  

I really appreciate the way this course was designed to compare religions in topic format.  Viewing the similarities and differences of how the angel concept manifests and how leadership is named and decided helped me see things in a new way.  I never realized how pervasive angels are throughout world belief systems.  I also never thought about Jewish religious titles and the idea that a Jewish community does not necessarily need a rabbi to lead it.  Instead, any member of the community educated to perform leadership tasks can do so.  I also saw the rabbi as both teacher and “priest.”  I did not connect that the title priest is held for those ordained to do ceremonies in the temple.  This stood out to me, because the entire topic of religious titles are given in one lesson.  This format also helps me remember more of the extensive information presented.  I also like the many resources sited for further reading.  Although it would be impossible for this course to be an exhaustive study of comparative religion, I feel I have plenty of resources to learn more about every topic presented.

One thing I would really like is a second part to the course that puts me into the lives of those practicing these religions today.  Now that I have the appreciation for the background and some fundamental concepts of each, I would like a more focused view of what it is like to live the life of a someone who practices Shintoism or Islam.  I am hoping that other courses offered by the ULC Seminary, such as Master of Buddhism, Shamanism and others will offer this kind of information.  I love the way Reverend Kythera Ann introduces the course and includes a section on the development of interfaith studies.  In the spirit of this message of creating appreciation and understanding among faiths, it seems that a second layer of deeper comparison should be completed by those of us in the Seminary.  This way, when we go into the individual courses, such as Master of Wiccan Studies or Paganism, we have a stronger foundational scaffolding in which to attach new information.  I cannot site anything specifically about this course that I disliked or should be changed.  

I would definitely be interested in taking other classes through Reverend Kythera Ann.  Overall, I am impressed with not only the amount of interesting information and examples from scripture, architecture, and symbolism that are given, but also the ease with which I could read, understand, and assimilate it.  This is just the beginning of my studies of world religions and I am grateful that I am heading into the rest of my journey with the appreciation of the unity we share across the world through our religious diversity.  

Many people get ordained through the ULC as a means to become wedding officiants, but also to study through our online seminary. If you need minister supplies or online ceremonies, we have a wide selection to choose from, as well as a place for spiritual articles and spiritual bookmarks. Visit our FB Page at ULC Seminary.
As an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church for many years and it’s Seminary since its inception, I’ve had the privilege of watching the Seminary grow.

ULC Comparative Religion

Comparative religion course – Concluding Essay. 
Rev. Graham Louden,  MA DipEd (Oxon)  BA ACP  PhD
The Interfaith Dynamic and what it offers.

The word  ‘religion’  is considered by many commentators to be derived from the Latin verb ‘ religare’  meaning to bind  and this seems highly plausible as religious groups throughout history have been bound together by shared values and  beliefs as a means of safeguarding and demonstrating  their particular identity   and affording protection against others who subscribe to different or heterodox views.  Indeed, most religions have begun the process of refining and reinterpreting the original message of their founder relatively early in their history and, generally, where no specific recommendation was offered as to the establishment of an institutional church,  they have provided it themselves and bolstered it up with convoluted doctrine,  elaborate ceremonial,  pomp and ceremony and sanctions to be meted out to those who fail to abide by these rules.  Continuously, over two thousand  years,  generations of  church   empire-builders have  manipulated, embellished  and refashioned the teachings of Jesus in order to serve the interests of church  and state  and to enable them to  achieve status and dominion over their fellow men  ‘in his name’  and we can see the same process within the realms  of Islam, Judaism and many other religious prescriptions  which has led to so much fragmentation and internecine strife and then to confrontation with others.

An ever-increasing knowledge of human nature and the transmission of scholarship have been crucial factors in promoting greater analysis of the aetiology of religions and  an understanding  of   the interrelationship between  essential teachings and the impulses which have led to the close identification of the spiritual and the secular in the interest of institutional and personal aggrandisement.    Studies of power structures and  hierarchies in different societies and cultures, whether secular or theocratic, suggest that there is little variation in outcomes even though the rhetoric  and vocabulary is very different.  Even  in states  that are vehemently  anti-religious,  a form of creed  or worship of state principles,  the leader,  or the writings  of   influential  contributors to  the corporate   ethic often  reinforced  by patriotic songs, intimidating imagery   and ceremonial,   is almost certain to emerge.  An understanding of the ways in which  ‘normal’   human behaviour influences   our  attitudes towards the  organisation and  manipulation of  powerful ideas is  therefore vital    to assessing   the state of religious groups and their overall  impact for good or ill (or a mixture of the two) .   Many great thinkers and theologians have remarked upon our ability   to convert  inspiring ideals into  mundane, even  harmful practice.   Gloria Harkness  has  stated that,   

       ‘The tendency to turn human judgements into divine commandments makes
       religion one of the most dangerous forces in the world’
whilst  Reinhold Niebuhr  has opined that

      ‘The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan values and ends is the
      source of all religious fanaticism.’

Now   that we are enabled to assess religion in an  evolving and ever-changing context, devoid of the aura of impenetrability in which previous generations were able to cloak it, and to trace the  evolution of dogma and liturgy by way of an ever greater repository of manuscripts and texts,  the door  has been  opened to the examination of other faiths and to   closer  examination of our own.    We  live in a more informed and rational age, illuminated by the works of great scientists  and thinkers that have radically altered our approach to the world in which we live and led us to challenge assumptions that once were   beyond criticism or rational enquiry.   In the main,  until after  the invention of  moveable type   and the  flurry of vernacular translations that followed,  the faithful were generally credulous and unquestioning and   dissident sects and  schismatics  such as the Cathars,  Albigensians   and  Lollards   were relatively easy to marginalise and suppress.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that religions are wont to develop in much the same ways,   regardless of their  geographical origins,  founders’ intentions or  content, once their evolution is given over to subsequent generations of ‘custodians’ of the sacred flame who  see    it   as their   duty to flesh out what may have been a   sketchy premise and to institutionalise  and  systematise  what  was perhaps a set of    aspirational  promptings rather  than  a   rigorous code of  conduct.   Sigmund Freud  suggested   that all belief systems emerged to combat  ‘the trauma of self-consciousness’  which  evolved along with   the  realisation by  early homo  sapiens that the world  about him   was cruel, unforgiving and incomprehensible.   This harsh  backdrop to existence could be made more manageable and bearable by attributing a god or spirit to every aspect of nature and developing   rituals  of prostration and  sacrifice in order to placate them and ward off calamitous natural events such as earthquakes and famines.   The resulting  animistic prescription characterised   most pagan belief and  worship systems, although becoming far more sophisticated as great empires were formed, and  it  reached its most developed form within the boundaries of the Roman Empire.  Much of this motivation was imported into early  Christianity to  accommodate the prevailing  mindset and so  the all-powerful  omnicompetent   deity  was retained  and  subsumed  into the new   dispensation.  

In the relatively recent past, it has been the practice to judge different religions and their characteristics   in the light of their clashes,   historical antagonisms   and  perceived  irreconcilability.    Much reference is made  to ‘wars of religion’,  crusades,   sectarian strife and unbridgeable divisions  even between sub-sects within the same denomination such as the corrosive tensions  within the world-wide Anglican communion or the  Sunni-Shia   divide in Islam.    To an extent,  this  has become a convenient shorthand for the interpretation of  world crises which involve religious hatred, such as Northern Ireland,  Syria,   Iraq,  Bahrain  and many others where a minority  (usually)   of  one branch  of a major  religious domination  exerts  disproportionate authority over the majority in the interests of  acquiring political power and consolidating their position of pre-eminence. As the ability to compare and contrast their varying structures and  dynamics becomes ever greater,   however,   we   begin to  identify   the similarities between them and to conclude that the similarities vastly outweigh the  differences that have been so much emphasized in   order to   create a ‘unique selling point’ .   This applies not merely to internal sects and ‘heresies’, but  as much if not more to the major faith empires where it is  striking how similar they  can be in terms of structure,  beliefs  and  hierarchies.  

Such replication of outline stories and beliefs occurs so frequently and faithfully that it lends great credence to the notion that there is, within the human psyche, a fundamental need to subscribe to a creed or philosophy that helps to make sense of the confusion that being human inflicts upon us.   Indeed, recently scientists have suggested on the basis of extensive research that  we all have a  need to believe in  some set of guiding principles and that this stems not from our own volition but from a  neurological predisposition that is   dormant within us all,   perhaps similar to the ‘language acquisition device’  which Noam Chomsky  proposed as the explanation for our varying ability to acquire language.

If we take a concept such as the Golden Rule, we can see this similarity factor at work.  In Christianity, it is well expressed in Matthew  7:12   in the words

                ‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this
                sums up the Law and the prophets.’

Judaism states  (perhaps unsurprisingly)

                ‘What is hurtful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man.  That is the whole
                 of the Torah and the remainder is but commentary.’

The same concept, however, is found in numerous other faiths which developed apart from the Judaeo-Christian tradition, such as   Buddhism

                  ‘Hurt not others in ways you fond hurtful.’

                 ‘This is the sum of the Dharma; do not unto others that which would cause
                   pain if done to you.’

And Islam  (albeit rather less  directly)
                  ‘Not one of you is a believer unless  he  desires for his brother  that which he
                  desires for himself.’

Similarly, if we  consider the injunction to seek and value peace, we find the same correspondence of views and expression.  In Christianity,  Matthew 5:9

       ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,  for they will be called sons of God.’

In Judaism  (Psalm 34)
        ‘Turn from evil and do good;  seek peace and pursue it.’

        ‘Happy live the peaceful, giving up victory and defeat.’

And in Islam  (again  in a more conditional  tone)
         ‘And if they lean to peace,  lean you also to it, and put your trust in Allah.’

Here we have just two examples of this concordance  but this finding is reflected in many other belief systems such as Taoism, Baha’i,  Confucianism and  Sikhism.

There is remarkable similarity to be found, too,  in many of the iconic stories that occur in  many religions, one striking example being that of the Flood.  We are all aware of the story of Noah’s Ark  but this metaphor for fall and redemption seems to be evident in so many  cultures that  it   suggests a cast of mind that is common to all mankind when attempting to explain the relationship with the divine.  In Hinduism,  Manu is warned by a grateful fish  that he must build a boat to save himself from the coming annihilation;  this he does, and is enabled to repopulate the world.   In Assyrian myth,  Utnapishtim is warned by a benevolent god to gather his family and  a pair of every animal  to avoid the wrath of the gods and the flood which is imminent.  Similarly, Atrahasis, in Babylonian mythology,  is urged by Ekni to build a boat and sail away with his family and breeding stock  to  avoid the floods. Almost identical legends are to be encountered  in Sumerian,  Chinese,  Druidic  and Zoroastrian  sources as well as many African religions.  

Some of the most significant features of various faiths do seem to recur throughout recorded history often with uncanny familiarity to existing beliefs.  In ancient Egypt,  Osiris, the Saviour-God,  was called Lord of Lords, King of Kings and God of Gods, the Resurrection and the Life, The Good Shepherd.  It is also said that his birth was announced by three wise men.   Similarly,  in ancient Greece, the birth of Dionysius, also a Saviour-God,  was celebrated on December 25th.   and his flesh and blood were symbolically eaten in the form of bread and wine.   By the time of the Emperor Aurelian , there   were so many saviour gods in the pantheon that  their celebration was combined into one festival on December 25th,  named the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.  This date was gradually imported into Christianity, beginning with the western churches in the early fourth century despite the absence of any record of the birth date of Jesus.   This pattern is rather well summed up in a Baha’i   teaching  stating that

       ‘The birth of every manifestation is the rebirth of the world.  In that simple fact lies  
         profundity and the glory of every day that is celebrated as the coming of God’s
            messenger,  be it the birth of Osiris,  Buddha, Jesus,  Mohammed or the Bab.               May we all find blessing within their light.’      

The concept of a miraculous or  virgin birth  (parthenogenesis)   is also one that features  in many cultures, religions and mythologies .  It has been suggested latterly  by liberal theologians that it was a myth added to Christianity  in the late 1st  century AD,  triggered by a Greek   mistranslation of the Book of Isaiah 7:14  to read,   ‘Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign;  behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name……’Though most biblical translations  use the word ‘virgin’,  the Hebrew word  alma  traditionally translates as  ‘young woman’  whereas the  Hebrew ‘Beulah’  usually means ‘virgin’.    It may well be, however,   that the notion of a virgin birth was imported  intentionally  to make  new believers feel more comfortable  as the concept was a staple of contemporary  pagan religions and beliefs.  

It was certainly a notion with which those educated in the Roman tradition would have been very familiar;   in Greek myth, for example,  Juno  conceives the God Mars without assistance from Jupiter simply by touching a sacred lily,   Perseus is  born of the virgin Danae,   and   Dionysius was born of the virgin  Semele who was  impregnated by Zeus with a bolt of lightning.   Phoenician  mythology tells that Adonis was born of the virgin Myrrh whilst,  most significantly because of the contemporaneity with early Christianity, Mithra,   whose cult initially  rivalled  Christianity,  was conceived  when God entered Anahita,   ‘the Immaculate Virgin Mother of the Lord Mithra’   in the form of light.  Examples of miraculous births are also to be found  in religions where  there is no discernible or identifiable  means of transmission such as the Aztec  belief system where the  principal  god,   Huitilopochtli,  was conceived  when  his virtuous  mother  was impregnated by a bundle of feather which she happened upon and placed in her bosom.

In 1949,   Joseph Campbell published  ‘The  Hero with a Thousand Faces’, in which  he articulated his concept of the ‘monomyth’ , the archetypal hero who surfaces throughout history in all cultures and in many guises.  He summarized it with the words’

          ‘A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural
         wonder ;  fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the
         hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons
         on his fellow man.’

This theory, which has been widely discussed and elaborated ever since, was based upon much research into  mythology, anthropology,  modern psycho-analysis and patters of cultural transmission.   It    perhaps helps to explain the perceived similarity between religions which,   almost without exception,  rely heavily upon a cult of  pre-eminent personality which   generates  a following and, eventually reverence and  deification.
In this category, he gives as examples Osiris,  Prometheus, the Buddha,  Moses and Christ.  More recently, it has been suggested that Harry Potter is based on this
Template,   although J.K.Rowling has declined to confirm or deny this!   

Ritual and ceremonial also tend to evolve in similar ways in many religions of all ages, whether religions  based upon sacred texts or  those handed down by word of mouth and based upon tradition.   These practices,   based no doubt upon the  earliest  agrarian societies where nature and fertility were deemed to be of the utmost importance.   These may be  categorised as cycles of  nature such as the solstices and  the equinoxes, the harvests and rains,  the cycles of life such as birth, marriage and death,  the sanctification of  marriages and sacred buildings or of   those in leadership roles and sacrifices to invoke blessings and to appease or show devotion to the deity.

As well as a correspondence   of   ideological and theological content,   it is also evident that the practical rules and structures which are grafted on to religious movements  are usually very   similar.  Whether men are drawing up the regulations for a golf club or for a world religion,  the same appetite for codes of conduct and control mechanisms always seems to surface.  The process often seems to become self-perpetuating as more and more layers are added to the original construct in the belief, perhaps, that complexity adds more to the sense of awe and innate respect that the institution will command.  Hence we see in Islam,  the proliferation of  the Hadith,  traditions about the Prophet or attributed to him, which  have come to be regarded as complementary to the Qu’ran despite the fact that the Qu’ran    itself states that it is complete in itself.  These many thousands of sayings are represented   by many traditional Muslim clergy as the authentic words of the Prophet  to which   obedience  is essential if they are to be real Muslims.  According to Dr. Taj  Hargey,   ‘most, if not all, of the thorny problems of faith that British Muslims face today -   whether   it is  apostasy,  blasphemy,  jihad,  women’s oppression,  homosexuality, religious  intolerance or the democratic deficit in and outside the community – can be traced either to fabricated  hadith  or the masculine-based  Sharia’.    Although there are many scholars working tirelessly on the Hadith to separate the authentic  or good  (sahih and hasan) sayings from the  dubious  (da‘if)  or down right  fabricated   (mawdu) ,  it is a task of  such proportions and the anti-Koranic perspective is so  entrenched,  that  these distorted  versions of  Islam will persist and even proliferate for decades to come.

 These amendments to the  original faith often become inextricably involved with political and civil life to create a theocratic state such as John Calvin’s  Geneva where his ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ provided a  blue print for such a community where the public persona  was regarded as a reflection of the citizen’s  spiritual  wellbeing despite the fact that     Calvin’s  central   thesis of   predestination  nullified  the possibility of such a  correlation  totally.    If your   life-style did not reflect  the blamelessness of your spiritual life,   people argued,  why take the trouble to live morally and soberly?   Faced with this  perceived paradox,  Calvin was forced to concede that it was highly likely that those who were predestined to the ranks of the elect,  would  reflect this in their daily lives and demeanour.   

As  well as beliefs and moral practices,   major religions have tended to develop  in similar ways as regards the built environment of the faith and this too is likely to reflect the way in which human beings conceive of living in community based upon inherent promptings and  social instincts and these are just as likely to occur in the  religious sphere as in the social structure.    A distinction between  exoteric   and   esoteric   beliefs is often created in order to set apart and  sanctify those who are seen  (or wish to be seen) as the  custodians of the truth whose role it is to interpret it and to pass it on to the generality of the faithful.   The apostolic succession, characterised by the laying on of hands   at ordination,  might be said to represent this as it marks out a priestly caste who are empowered  to act as intercessors  with God on behalf of the penitent.  Here we may perhaps discern traces of the Gnostic approach  (proscribed by Christianity  in the early years),  which reserves true knowledge to an elite who are set apart from others by their receptivity to that truth.  

Architecture too, when viewed across  a whole spectrum of religions, reveals singular similarities over the past fifteen hundred years in the history of sacred spaces.  The urge to look and build upwards whether in the form of Babylonian ziggurats,  Egyptian pyramids,  cathedral spires is ever present.  The choice of site is often meticulous, employing  feng  shui,  dowsing or the identification of  ley lines  to ensure that the alignment was correct.   Astronomy or the calendar were also influential as in the case of the Mesoamerican citadels  aligned to the motions of Venus or the Pleiades,  the sun temples of Cuzco  or the rather  less clear motivation underlying Stonehenge.   Within, there were usually specific areas set aside for worship, for veneration of the saints and martyrs and for the exhibition of relics as with  Buddhist  stupas and Christian shrines.   Cloisters and  courtyards  (sahns in Muslim architecture)  allow for  meditation and tranquillity whilst features such as labyrinths  represent the path through the underworld and were incorporated in  cathedrals such as Chartres many centuries later.

Of great importance was the portal or gateway, and in numerous religions it represents the point of transition  from the mundane to the sacred, often marked by observances such as the mezuzah or the holy water stoup.  It has been said that

    ‘Gateways  make the most elaborate and explicit statements about controlling who may
     or may not enter  a sacred space.  From the Christian cathedral door on which the
     archbishop must knock, to the house of the Indian Sora people where the shaman’s
     assistants break down the door to  bring in an ancestral name for a baby, to the gates of
     the monastery at Mount Athos which are barricaded from dawn to dusk,  gateways
     control the identity and timing of those who would enter.’

Within,   the importance of ceremonial and mystery  is widely discovered;  all the senses are deployed  with spectacle,  taste,  smell and sound all playing a part whether through the  diffusion of incense,   the pomp and splendour of the richly bedecked celebrants,  the  chanting and music,  or the inclusion  of  food and drink  to symbolise renewal and spiritual sustenance.   Whether it be a mosque, a synagogue,  a Buddhist temple or  a Christian cathedral,    the same elements will be discernible.

There is much justification, therefore, for concluding that human behaviour, in the context of religious organisation,  tends to follow a prescribed pattern.  In addition, to  the monomyth  explanation of Joseph Campbell  cited above,   recent  wide-ranging research  suggests   that those  features common to most major religions  may stem from   factors within the  human psyche that have a  bearing  on this  aspect of our being.   Professor Roger Trigg of the University of Oxford, in answer to the question whether humans are predisposed to  believe in  God, has written,  ‘not quite, but He is all in the mind’.   He goes on to say that ‘the mind is open to supernatural agency’ and that  ‘atheism is not a human’s default option’.  Speaking recently  (May 2011),  he  said, ’We have gathered a body of evidence  that suggests that religion is a common fact of nature across different societies.  Attempts to  repress religion  are likely to be short-lived as human thought seems to be rooted to religious concepts, such as the existence of supernatural gods or agencies, and the possibility of an after-life or pre-life. ….It isn’t just a quirky interest of a few , it’s a basic human nature.  This shows that it is much more universal,  prevalent and deep-rooted.  It’s got to be reckoned with.   You can’t just pretend it’s not there.’   Research carried out by Justin Barrett, an Oxford anthropologist,  suggests that children are born believers in God and predisposed to believe in supernatural forces.  They may well  ’grow out of this’ to all intents and purposes, but, as Wordsworth wrote,   ’the child is father to the man’ and   the original  psychological promptings may  merely remain dormant as they become overladen by other social influences.   In support,   Paul Bloom  of Yale,  writes, ‘there’s now a lot of evidence  that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired.’    ‘All humans possess the brain circuitry and it never goes away.’    Even Richard Dawkins has expressed his willingness to believe this although he still considers indoctrination to be the  crucial factor in bringing about present-day belief.

It may also be arguable that the decline in churchgoing and religious observance, in the developed world   at least, is due to the general acceptance that we have tamed our environment  and  have achieved mastery over  nature.   Consequently, we no longer feel the need  to venerate and appease natural forces that we formerly  neither understood nor could   control   and are content to   entrust that task to science and environmental planning.    It is not difficult, however, to imagine a situation which would shatter this confidence;    even recently,  with the occurrence of the powerful earthquake on the east coast  of the  United States of America, followed by Hurricane Irene,  there have been apocalyptic pronouncements linking these events to divine retribution for certain types of deviant social behaviour.    It may well be that  the brain circuitry alluded to above is always  on standby  to cope with any new ‘trauma of consciousness’  that may befall!

How does this knowledge, if accepted,  alter or influence our attitude towards other faiths and to the notions of ecumenism and interfaith dialogue?    Once we subscribe to the  ideas of commonalty, rooted in the instinctual responses of early man, and  an inherent propensity   to embrace and to devise belief systems to cope with the challenges of existence,   should   this change our longstanding  attitudes towards the barriers that traditional and modern religion persuasions erect to distinguish themselves from their rivals?    Au fond,  does this new focus incorporate the possibility that all religions are essentially the same and equally worthy?   Do we all believe in the same G-d, or , indeed, not believe in the same G-d?   Or is this another example of the distinction between the ‘how’ and the ‘why’  that can be identified in other areas of  the debate as to whether science has  rendered   religion obsolete, or is likely to do so?   Scientific hypotheses, whether informed by neurology or quantum physics,  tell  how  the universe came into being  and evolved;   they cannot supply the answers to the related question ‘why’.  

They cannot explain the precise features and emphases of a particular faith or value system even  if they can help to explain the  mechanisms whereby  revelation was transformed into process.   There is still, therefore, a strong motivation    to embark upon interfaith dialogue and to endeavour to reach an informed understanding of  the reasons why  religions seem to differ so much and to be intent upon erecting barriers rather than building   bridges and   agreeing to differ in a civilised and  mature fashion.

There is a problem, however,  with this process in that the current environment  within which the debate takes place is often populated by those whose interpretation of the term ‘interfaith’   involves extra layers of meaning in addition to the obvious one of dialogue and understanding  between  faiths.     There is a suggestion that those engaged in this process should accept   that, ‘in essence, all religions are the same’   and that  ‘we all worship the same g-d’  leading on to the assumption that all those taking part in interfaith discussions should be ready to    dilute their beliefs and ‘meet in the middle’.    Is this approach either realistic or desirable?   Generally speaking, those who are committed to this process come from communities of professing Christians, Jews,  Muslims, Sikhs and many more and are intent upon building on the values of hope, love, tolerance and shared humanity to reach out to all those of   genuine faiths, or no faith,  in order to initiate dialogue so that we may appreciate ‘that of G-d in every person’ as the Quakers express it,  and emphasise those characteristics  and impulses that unite us rather than the issues that divide us   because of our past failure to reach out  and  embrace diversity and other roads towards   self-knowledge and spiritual development.   Religion  as history, is inseparable from the prevailing culture and mores; the trick is to  identify the elements that serve us best and should endure and cast aside those anachronistic elements that stem from the context and metaphor of a particular historical age  and have come to impair the simple message of harmony and co-existence.   We do not have to   abandon or  dilute our own cherished beliefs  or to suspend judgement in order to  agree to differ amicably where necessary   and to enter into a co-equal partnership where we can.

It is often suggested that we should ‘respect the rights of all people to worship as they will’  and indeed we should.  This does not mean, however, that we should condone practices that we find repugnant or inhuman merely on the grounds that they are part of a worship system and therefore deserve automatic respect.   There are numerous belief systems in the world which involve  cruelty, oppression,  bullying and indoctrination  as we see it ,   many, though not all, based upon untenable literal interpretations of religious texts.    Do we uphold their right to continue practices such as torturing small children  who are   alleged to be possessed by the devil or stoning to death of adulterers and homosexuals, activities frequently featured in the press of late?   Where we can speak out and  in contexts where we can intervene, should we not do so?   If we do not enter upon an interfaith process   with a clear idea of what we ourselves stand for  and the way in which we personally prefer to achieve it,  then we will find it difficult to communicate with others who do present with certainties (some distinctly unappealing)  and often fail to understand our  ambivalent stance in matters spiritual. One  researcher  and writer on the quest for the historical Jesus has opined  that  ‘open-minded can mean empty-minded’  and to find oneself in that latter category  helps no-one and adds nothing to the debate;  sincerely held beliefs must be the  ‘ground of our being’ and the spur that leads us always to revisit and question them anew and to want to commune with others  and learn more of their   mindset and   personal philosophy.   The founder of the Church of Interfaith Christians, the Reverend Ernest Steadman  was  quoted   as ‘always giving…his opinion that   the only difference between the deities of the world’s religions was the difference authored by man’.      It is hard not to agree with this;  one might only add that worship rituals and practices are among those aspects of religion  ‘authored by man’ often in the interest of self-aggrandisement and oppression of the faithful. Had the Aztecs chosen to worship Huitzilopochtli    with quiet contemplation and commensality,  their religious predilections would   have been above reproach;  unfortunately, they chose to make frequent and grisly human sacrifice the keynote of their ritual worship and we cannot but judge them and their construct of the divine in the light of this fact.  There is a profound difference between belief and worship: the former cannot be judged as regards its true essence and  purity, whilst the latter is open to judgement.   Elizabeth I once said that one cannot open a window into men’s souls;    one can only assume the genuineness and spiritual worth of their allegiances, one can only judge them, in a temporal context,  by their deeds and practices.  Inevitably, therefore,  one will come to  assess other religions against one’s own moral and cultural standards.

  In addition, there is a new and paradoxical element in the equation, that is the existence of a  settled,  widespread   non-faith morality which is generally accepted and tends to condemn   such practices as   denial of equality to women,   gender discrimination  and to support   contraception,   stem cell research   and  availability of abortion  which are still opposed    tenaciously by some churches.   Religious  organisations  are now  routinely judged against this public morality  and   found wanting, whereas once it was the morality of the wider community that was judged according to   standards  enunciated by church leaders. There is, however, no realistic  possibility that the wider society can be induced to revert to a narrower seemingly more intolerant  stance;     those  churches, therefore,   need to recognise  that they are   separating themselves  from the generality  of the population and thereby  limiting the scope of their activities and their avowed mission  because of their refusal to abandon  dogma that is rooted  in relatively scanty  scriptural authority  and that relates to a different  social context.   It is important, therefore, to  identify what specific tenets separate different churches and faiths as well as the generic similarities that offer valuable points of contact.

Ed Stetzer, writing recently in Christianity Today,  describes an interfaith meeting intended to lead to cooperative resourcing  to help  the different churches  (Protestant,  Catholic,  Jewish, Muslim,  Baha’I and Orthodox were represented) with their congregational and spiritual development.   At one point, he caused some consternation by saying,   ‘I am not here to form a partnership to help one another. I want to help the churches that I serve, and part of the reason they exist is to convert some of you’.   His neighbour,   an imam,  agreed heartily.  He goes on to say,

      ‘Though the imam and I were in a minority in that group of predominantly liberal
      Protestants,  we represented the movement among us that are actually growing in
      numbers.  Both he and I believed in sharing and enlarging our faiths.  We did not
      think we were  worshiping the same God or gods, and we were not there under the
      pretence  that we held the same beliefs.  In other words,  our goal was not merging
      faiths,   combining beliefs, or even interfaith partnership.’

His considered view is that we must recognise  a world that is increasingly multi-faith as a prelude to developing  ways in which we can co-exist peacefully and productively with those of different faiths,   an  outcome which is increasingly more important given the extent to which almost all societies  are  complex, plural entities with representatives of all cultures and religions living in close proximity.    He therefore proposes multi-faith dialogue based  on   a recognition that that we all have ‘radically different visions of the future, eternity, and the path to getting there’ rather than a pretence that we all believe the same thing.     This is a salutary view that illustrates the danger of becoming overly enthusiastic and simplistic  about   the shared   (mainly  organisational and practical) aspects of different  faiths    whilst overlooking the  inescapable fact that  the crucial differences lie in    irreconcilable doctrines  that the committed  believers cannot reject or dilute in the interests of  fundamental ecumenical contacts or mergers without effectively reneging   on their long-held beliefs.    It is worth noting that the world’s four largest religions  do not agree on the basic definition of G-d or his main characteristics;   Hindus believe that   G-d is  in each of us and we are all  part of G-d  leading to the possibility that there  are 330 million gods,    Buddhists suggest that God may or may not exist,  Muslims  say that G-d is absolute,   independent and father to none whilst Christians believe in one G-d who  exists in three persons and that Jesus Christ was his only son. .   Such diversity with regard to this   fundamental  religious determinant surely indicates that not all religions are following the same road towards understanding of the truth about G-d.   It is also worth remembering that  adherents of a particular religion  are likely to  believe not only that it   represents their  truth but also that it embodies  the  truth.  Such certainty is  understandable  but it  manifests itself  in  intolerance and bigotry.   It is notable that  where religious   belief is on the increase,  in Africa and South America for example  where  Christianity  is  forging ahead,   it often  takes a form that  has clearly defined doctrines coupled with  a degree of certainty  that leads to intolerance towards other churches  and   internecine conflict such as that within the  Anglican  communion which appears to be in the process of tearing itself apart over issues such a homosexuality and women bishops.  

The desire to stand by and to promulgate one’s beliefs is a natural one and part of our culture.  It does seem rather paradoxical   that supporters of football clubs are encouraged to support their teams to the point of fanaticism and to  develop tribal rituals of chants,  costume and  solidarity and that this partisanship  is only considered excessive when it leads to conflict between different clubs and public order issues  whilst, in contrast,  it is regarded as  politically incorrect nowadays  to   publicise or advertise one’s faith despite the fact that the believer may want to share the sense of euphoria and  the expectation of salvation with others.      As Ed Stetzer suggests, it is natural to feel that the faith that one professes is preferable to other prescriptions ,    otherwise why would one choose to espouse it?   This should not lead, as in the past, to attempts by the followers of one faith to impose their   views on followers of another using political or military means but, ideally, to informed co-existence based upon  exploration and dialogue rather than bland assumptions of   similarity of belief and goals.   Even within Unitarian Universalism, there is a suggestion  that being too low-key and  failing to share one’s enthusiasms,  may be a   short-sighted, even selfish,  attitude.   Thus,    one UU  minister  has written                           

     ‘ UU (e) vangelism  isn’t unprecedented.  It has been proven effective.  Are we to be
        mocked in order to share our Principles?  Do we care as much about the world as the
       Watch Tower Society or the Latter Day Saints?  Because I think OUR message has a
       better chance to save it than theirs.’   

If a representative of Unitarian Universalism,   a non-creedal,  non-judgemental  and wholly inclusive  organisation, feels moved to express himself in this way,  it perhaps  suggests that we all feel, and have the right to feel, that  the belief system to which we subscribe is the best (for us at least, and arguably for others, too).   Stetzer  says that  “We must get beyond the nonsense of saying, ‘You can believe what you want, but you can’t tell anyone else about it‘ ” .  All major religions agree that it is wrong to force people into their faith but, throughout there are groups who ignore this and try to impose their beliefs and the   culture   that accompanies them  by means of coercion and  intimidation.  Emphasising the former and  resisting the latter is the key to religious tolerance and cooperation rather than engaging in attempts to forge a  catch-all religion, stripped of any controversy or debate,   that will satisfy  no-one.  

A genuine and on-going exchange of views with  a friendly agreement to differ where necessary, is surely the way forward.   Interfaith dialogue is a fine phrase and a fine practice so long as we do not view it as being based upon the assumption that there are no fundamental  distinctions or differences between religions.    It needs to be undertaken in tandem   with a recognition that we live, increasingly, in a multi-faith world where our neighbours may be of a completely different religious persuasion and where it is of prime importance to  live in peace and harmony  based upon a perception of  our common interests   and our  varying beliefs.   The study of comparative religions in schools and colleges needs to be better resourced and more effective in order to reduce the levels of ignorance and prejudice that are encountered in many  communities about the beliefs and practices of others   and to   encourage openness and friendly curiosity  as opposed to secrecy and  exclusivity.   We also need to replace  hearsay and exaggeration about other faiths and the social practices that may accompany them  (often  relayed by the popular press)    with informed discussion in schools,  places of worship and in the media  to counter the hyperbole and  the  tendency to concentrate upon the  strident minority rather than the peaceable majority who practice their faith without harming others and who only wish the same courtesy to be extended to them.  Global organisations such as the World Council of Churches have also contributed greatly to the development of mutual cooperation and   respect between different denominations.

Religions do have a great deal in common, especially as regards  the structural and developmental   aspects and a good case can be made for  a propensity within all of us which  renders us susceptible to belief and adherence to a creed or cause.  This does not mean, however, that they can be aggregated into one umbrella religion that will satisfy all comers.    We may meet in similar buildings,  create hierarchies,   follow liturgies,   pray,  worship saints,  aspire to the monastic life and  perform charitable works, but this does not mean   that  fundamental beliefs can be  reduced to a bland formulaic recipe for religious observance.  The history of human nature in action tends to suggest that this is not viable  and that discrete groups with  shared  cultural roots and traditions will always  exist within the wider society.   This need   not be a matter of concern so long as those basic tenets of peace,  tolerance and co-existence  that  are contained within the sacred writings of the major faiths are sustained and enacted.  These  shared values represent hope for the future  as opposed to partisan  assumptions of spiritual superiority that  only serve to engender conflict   and  division.

Finally, these words of  Joseph Campbell explain  much recent history and  bear scrutiny.

      ‘Every religion is true one way or another.  It is true when understood metaphorically.
       but when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are
       in trouble.’                      (Discuss!)

The more we know about our own beliefs as well as those of others,  the better  prepared we will be to  forge that essential  relationship based upon tolerance and mutual respect.

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As an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church for many years and it’s Seminary since its inception, I’ve had the privilege of watching the Seminary grow.

Confession and Absolution of Sins from ULC Seminary

Confession and Absolution of Sins