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.

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.

Confession and Absolution of Sins from ULC Seminary

Confession and Absolution of Sins


Wiccan Studies

This essay will be a three part essay. The first part will be about things that I have learned from the course. The second part will be about things I already knew. The third part will be about things I had hoped to learn but didn’t.
In the very first lesson, in the history of Wicca, I learned all about the significance of planting the crops to the point that men would take small portions of their blood to put in with each seed. If that is something I already knew, it has been buried deep within the archives of my brain, but I think it was a new insight for me.
I also learned a little more about Gardnerian Wicca versus Seax Wicca; particularly that Raymond Buckland had been in Gardner’s original coven and had branched out on his own, forming the Seax Wicca Trad.
Also, after learning about some of the practices of Gardnerian Wicca, such as the secrecy, Seax Wicca suddenly started making more sense to me. I’d already known a little about other Trads; Dianic Wicca, for example. Now, the more I know, the more closely I relate to Seax Wicca, rather than any other Trad.
I also learned about dowsing. I was unable to make any distinguishable differences in the definition of dowsing versus the definition of scrying. What the course instructor referred to as dowsing, some of those methods used, I had thought were scrying. I’m still confused as to whether there is a difference, or if it is one of those things in which it depends upon where you are coming from that determines how you name it. For example, one person in one part of the country may pronounce tomato completely different than a person in another part of the country. Could, in fact, some of Lord Starwalker’s dowsing techniques also be considered scrying?
As for things I already knew, I’ve cast many circles and many spells. I’ve actually gotten quite adept at the art of spell writing. I already understood the concept of not leaving your circle until you are done, or if you have to, you must cut a doorway.
I had also already become quite familiar with how to set up an altar and how to position things the way I liked them. I had to agree to disagree with the instructor’s ideas of how an altar should be set up. I follow the very traditional set-up of East = Air, South = Fire, West = Water, and North = Earth, with Akasha, the Spirit, and fifth element, somewhere in the middle, towards the north. My circles have followed this East to South to West to North to the altar many a time. In this, I am set in my ways.
Another thing about me is that I do not use, or even own, a wand. I use my athame for all circle and spell-casting purposes. I feel more as one with steel. I know that is somewhat of a controversy amongst witches and Wiccans. Many swear by their wooden wands. But I’d like to remind that steel also comes from within the Earth too. I don’t think it’s so much the tool that you use as the intent behind the spell and the Spirit that one is in when casting the spell.
One major thing that I did not learn that I had hoped to is how to perform handfastings and Wiccanings. I was directed, by a fellow minister, to a good website containing information on handfastings. I also found several websites with suggestions on Wiccaning ceremonies.
Perhaps not having all the answers was good in this course. It made a person think; to search out one’s own answers. If I didn’t know something, because the lesson wasn’t specific enough, it would lead me to do research on my own to get the answers.
Overall, I would rate this course positively but would caution that, if you’re taking it just to learn how to perform a handfasting, you should visit The course was very well worth it and I will miss receiving the weekly emails. It is time to choose another course and move forward.
Special thanks to all who helped me along the way.
Brightest Blessings!
Rev. Jayne Morrison
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.

Universal Life Church – Creating a Sacred Space

Creating my Sacred Place was easy for me to do. There is a beach that I go to that is very peaceful and has a lot of wildlife there. Once you get to this beach you can smell the salt water. I like the smell of it and if I forget that smell I go be to the beach. I do find that my Sacred Place is very relaxing and safe. I always invite the Holy Spirit to be with my. When I am with the Holy Spirit I fill so much love, peace, and safety. I have a log that I sit on and the Holy Spirit sits beside me. I find this so comforting.
    The first day after being in my Sacred Place I took the family out to dinner and we had the greatest customer service I ever had. It was so enjoyable and the kids a such a good time. The next I took the boys out for haircuts and we had a great time at barber shop. Most of the time we just go in and come right out. But this time every one in the barber shop was have a great time. After the hair cuts we went on a drive and saw all kinds of wildlife. It was great we saw so many Eagles that we stop counting. I am seeing more and people are talking to me more. They start the conversion. I did do the reading 3 times and I wanting to go back to it for a 4th & 5th time. Thank you very much this class is a real blessing for me!!!


Many people get ordained through the ULC as a means to become wedding officiants, but also to study through our online seminary.
Visit our FB Page at ULC Seminary.

Gospel of Thomas — ULC

Gospel of Thomas
Submitted by Joy Maestas

I do have a somewhat different perspective on these teachings then my Teacher, so hopefully he will have an open mind on my perspective.  I will be reading more to learn about this Divine web but my take is from a Christian back ground not a Catholic one so I see differences in our perception.  The Kingdom Jesus refers to is the real kingdom in Heaven where our Father and Jesus are now residing.  I see beyond the physical and know the real Kingdom is not yet come to this plane. Coming to self knowledge it the knowledge in Christ that all things are created through him and without him nothing exists.  Without him in us we do not exist but are spiritually dead and there for misfortune.

I can understand how you would call this world a Divine Web as everything in this world is connected, every creature, plant, human has the same make up and I think I just had a epiphany in understanding the Divine web.
4. Jesus said, “An old man will not be reluctant to ask a little child of seven days about the dwelling of life, and he will become one and the same.”
I love this quote, as in  Matthew 18:2 he stated “And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
To be innocent as a child, not hating, blindly trusting, loving all.  I don’t know how Baptism is in the Catholic church but for Christians it is the outward sign that we have giving ourselves to Christ and we are putting the old life behind (going under the water) and living now as a disciple of Jesus (coming out of the water). It has nothing to do with forgiveness of sin.  When he (Jesus) shed his blood on the cross is when our sin was washed out and we were make clean in the sight of our Father.
Again our back grounds clash, as I whole heartedly believe Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, he taught over and over his kingdom of which he ruled was not of this earth and he was a Rabbi/Teacher and as High Priest Offered himself as the Lamb sacrifice which was the offering for sin. He is still Jewish and still their Messiah, more Jews today are turning and accepting Jesus as their Risen Messiah then ever before and I and they await his return.  I have studied a lot in the Jewish history and Talmud.

Number 5, We do agree this Thomas was around and part of the original group that followed Jesus, so this quote is found in Matthew and Luke.
Matthew 10:26

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.

Luke used it twice to make a point, Luke 8:17
For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.
Luke 12:2 There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.
When we reach our Spiritual Father who is in Heaven with my Savior Jesus that is when we will have that which is concealed made known and that which is hidden will come to light.  In this end times and yes I believe we are in the end times before his return.  We are increasing in knowledge some man made some revealed by the Holy Spirit to us. As we progress in our spiritual journey the mysteries that are hidden from in the scriptures are made known to us.  One person is not awake can read the same passages and get nothing, another who is awake will read it and it can be life changing.  Awake meaning spiritually not physically.

#6 Refers to their Jewish upbringing where they were instructed to fast at certain times and the prayers were ritual and not from the heart. Giving to charity was a new thing as they only gave to the temple and they were instructed not to eat certain foods.  Jesus was trying to let them know to not to imitate the teachers of his time but instructed them to fast but not let any one know as this is something to do and it is for revelation from the Father and when praying to do so until the Father and recognize him 1st.  Later when he gave revelation to Paul that no food was unclean as it was all created by the Father, this was a real eye opener for them as up to that time they were still only eating what Jewish law considered to be clean.

I find the Book of Thomas totally fascinating as it reinforces what Matthew, Mark and Luke and Paul,wrote also.  I even ordered the Nag Hammadi Library so I can read the other papers found.

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 Buddhism Course by Rev. Jean Pagano

Buddhism Final
Jean Pagano
The Buddhism course is one of the best courses I have taken at ULC. It is a perfect blend of philosophy, history, and wisdom, blended together in an unbiased overview of one of the world’s great religions.
One of the truly beautiful things about the Buddha is that he is, first and foremost, a man. He is not a divinity, he is a man. Since the rest of humanity is also just men/women, then one can aspire to what the Buddha has attained because of this commonality. This is truly revolutionary and, quite frankly, refreshing.
The Four Great Vows, a) to save all people; b) to renounce all worldly desires; c) to learn all the teachings; and d) to attain perfect enlightenment, are all great guides. In this modern technological age, renouncing all worldly desires is very, very difficult, if not impossible. This is especially so in the Western world.
The Four Noble Truths are powerful in both their simplicity and their interconnectedness: a) all life is suffering; b) the cause of suffering is desire; c) the end of desire leads to the end of suffering; and d) the way to end desire, and hence to end suffering, is to follow the Eightfold path.
The Eightfold path is the blueprint to break the cycle of suffering. It is simply stated, but within its simplicity is a very difficult process. It truly takes a remarkable individual to follow these tenets, in my opinion. While I may attempt to do so, I know that I cannot accomplish them all – at this time. The Eightfold path is: a) Right View or Right Understanding; b) Right Thought or Right Intention; c) Right Speech; d) Right Action; e) Right Livelihood; f) Right Effort; g) Right Mindfulness; and h) Right Concentration.
An aspirant looks to the Three Jewels: a) the Buddha; b) the Dharma (or the teachings of Buddha); and c) the Sangha (the Buddhist community). There is great refuge to be found in the Master, in his works, and in the community of like-minded individuals.
From a historical perspective, the differences between Theraveda and Mahayana were very interesting. In great movements, schisms are inevitable, yet the differences between the two give some insights into the religion itself.
The Six Worlds present an interesting dissection of life: Gods, anti-Gods, humans, animals, hungry-ghosts, and hell-beings. Surrounding these worlds are the twelve links of dependent arising. They are ignorance or spiritual blindness, karma, consciousness, name and form, the five senses and the faculty of thinking, contact, feelings/emotions, craving, grasping, becoming, birth, and aging, decay, and death.
The ten fetters are so very important and interesting. They are: self-belief, doubt, superstition, sensual desire, ill will, materialism, a lust for anything without form or shape, awareness of superiority and inferiority, agitation, and ignorance. The Four Stages of Enlightenment describe one’s journey on the path to Enlightenment: the Stream-Enterer, who has freed themselves from the first three fetters; the Once-Returner, who has freed themselves from the fourth and fifth of the fetters; the Non-returner who has completely freed themselves from the first five fetters and will be reborn in the heaven of the Pure Abodes, where they will gain enlightenment; and Arahant, who will not be reborn but will enter parinirvana.
The differences between Theravada and Mahayana give some excellent insight into the differences between the two major schools of Buddhism. I found the Basic Points Unifying the Theravada and the Mahayana to be especially powerful especially the one that proclaims “We do not believe the world is created and ruled by God”. To me, this one statement repudiates much of modern Western religion. I agree, with whole heart, the basic premise of this statement. I particularly like the Mahayana concept of the Bodhisattva, one who returns to the world in order to bring everyone to Enlightenment.
The Buddhist vow to not kill speaks directly to me. As a vegetarian, I am ultimately concerned with the well-being of animal, vegetable, and mineral entities. This is one of the highest moral requirements, as I see it. I am glad to see that Buddhism is thriving across the world. It places the requirements on the individual and does not lean upon messiahs or prophets to attain enlightenment, wisdom, or goodness. All of these things remain in the realm of the individual. Therefore, the individual sets out upon the path of enlightenment and achieves it by following the requirements set down by Buddha.
This course is a complete overview of Buddhism and gives the learner all of the tools they need to investigate, engage, and attain an understanding of Buddhism. I would highly recommend it.



Having been a practicing pagan, and at one point a devout wiccan, for several years I decided to take this course for three reasons, none of which were to actually learn anything new. I took it to see what kind of courses and what quality of courses ULC Seminary offered, to reaffirm the ideals and beliefs that I had already had and ultimately as a step towards completing the ULC Seminary Program. Having taken the course I can honestly say I learned some new things that I had not originally thought I would.
After practicing for almost ten years and doing a fair amount of research on my own I thought I knew a fair amount. However, I discovered through the course that there are different ideologies within Wiccan than those that I personally was taught and followed. In fact some of those ideologies and practices are quite different from my training and practices. I attribute part of this to my specific group following a Celtic Wiccan path and part of it to the differences between Gardnerian, traditionalists and modern eclectic Wiccans see and do things. A good example of this is the different grounding rituals. This course taught a grounding and banishing ritual based on Jewish tradition and my personal grounding and banishing ritual is based on the tree of life.
The course also brought about some new thinking and contemplation on my part. Lessons 6 and 7 on Dowsing and Lessons 8, 23 and 24 on Magic, for example gave me new ideas on spell craft and implementation. Some of the things mentioned are things I already did while others were things I had never even thought off. The magic lesson covering morality was nice to read as I know a lot of my fellow pagans do not have a strong moral compass with regard to magic use and will now have guidance on proper use and disuse.
In short, while I went into this course feeling that I wouldn’t truly learn anything and that is was just a simple step on the way toward my goal; I discovered a wealth of knowledge and view points I hadn’t seen before, which caused me to open my mind a little further and refreshed my thirst for knowledge.
by Justin M. Oles


Spirituality Course by Brendan Cook

Doctor of Spirituality
Lesson 1
Brendan CookPrayer Exercise
The primary obstacle to recognizing the presence of Love within me is, as it likely is for most people, the ego.
The ego, this “small self” exists through, and thrives on, fear. The ego is what emphasizes and maintains the notion of separation between self and other. I am me, you are not me. The fears that bring the ego into being are fundamental ones, chiefly survival. When an infant is born, it is completely egoless. Once it begins to be able to move on its own, and physically be separated from its mother, then the ego begins to form, as this being needs a way to be able to see to its own needs and survival (however unlikely that might be at such a tender age).

This ego begins the work of establishing the boundaries between self and not self, in order to try to make sense of the world. The ego continues to form as the child grows, which is why childhood traumas (physical and psychoemotional) have such a strong role in determining how we perceive the world as adults. And this is where the obstacle comes in to recognizing that we are a part of and exist wholly within God’s Love.
It is worth noting that one spiritual tradition which is widely recognized as having had some of the most loving, enlightened and egoless masters is Buddhism. This is largely due to the nature of the practices, which seek to eliminate the ego. While the ego, once formed, can never be gotten rid of, its influence of fear can be, and the meditation practices within Buddhism are excellent for that.
Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki (author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind) made the point over and over that we can attain enlightenment when we return to the heart-mind of a child. Suzuki was advocating a return, through meditation, to a state of awareness and being where the ego was no longer required to protect us from the world, so that we could fully connect to it and all the things and people in it. This is not to say that enlightened spiritual masters have come only from Buddhism; far from it. But the Zen practitioners often have a very clear, simple, direct and unvarnished way of putting things which make them easy to understand intellectually, easy to begin to practice, which only later reveal their true depths.
Modern Zen Master Robert Kennedy, S.J., a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), has been quoted as saying that he never feels closer to God than when he is on the meditation cushion. Getting the ego out of the way allows us to truly perceive and connect with the universe in which we live, which is all God’s Love.
With respect to how prayers might change if we are fully connected to and realize the Love of God, we must begin with the notion of fear. If we start from the position that fear stems from the belief that Love is or can be absent, and that simultaneously it is impossible for the all-encompassing, all-pervasive Love of God to be absent, we now have an emotion which is based on unreality. This fear is simply a manifestation and construct of our ego. It does not exist; it does not have its own separate verifiable reality.
If we have accepted the idea that God’s Love can never be absent, that it can never be diminished, that we exist wholly within it, that the entire universe exists within it, that all the universes of the multiverse do as well, then how can it be threatened? As there is nothing which is not contained within God’s Love, how could something threaten it? To connect to it requires only one simple, but perhaps monumentally difficult act: Recognizing and accepting our place within God’s Love by completely releasing our fear.
This, in turn, will affect both how we pray and what we pray for. Many people pray to God – or, perhaps, more toward God. There is a sense that God is “up there” or “out there” while I am “down here.” However, the recognition that we are all WITHIN God’s Love changes things. We are no longer separate from God, which means we no longer have to pray TO God. Once we have accepted that we exist within the Love of God, we can pray WITH God. Rather than pray for a specific result, or specific thing, we can, for example, pray that God’s will reveal itself more fully in our lives.
It is for this reason that Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me, but your will be done.” When he was about to be betrayed, Jesus asked if he might be released from his suffering, but only if it was God’s Will. It is natural to not prefer suffering, and so Jesus asked that he might be spared that, but at the same time, put himself wholly within God’s Love. Like Jesus, putting ourselves wholly within God’s Love allows us to pray with God that his Love and Will manifest through us.Prayer Visualization
During the portion of the prayer visualization where we were supposed to affirm our intent to come to a deeper understanding of Love’s presence, I noticed a similar experience to when I practice a meta (loving kindness) meditation. I noticed after a few minutes a strong sense of compassion filling me.

Upon opening my eyes and looking around, I noticed that my perception of things was slightly different. Things seemed both more and less real. Despite this shift, I felt very strongly grounded and present and the sense of compassion did not diminish now that my eyes were open.
In bringing to mind a situation in which I felt scared, I went back to my childhood. I recalled an event that occurred when I was about 4 or 5. At the time, we were living in Madagascar and I was attending a French school. Due to what I found out later was a series of miscommunications, nobody came to pick me up at the end of school. I waited and nobody came. I was the only student left, and still nobody came. The teacher sat with me, and still nobody came. She and the headmistress tried calling out house, but could not reach anyone on the phone (probably more a function of shoddy infrastructure than my parents not being there to answer). By now it was getting dark, and I was still there waiting with the headmistress. At about 7:30 or 8, my parents finally arrived to pick me up. I was very scared and very lonely.
This experience left an indelible impression on me, despite the fact that I was with someone the entire time and that my parents did, in fact, come and get me. I left me with a constellation of feelings and beliefs about being left behind and/or abandoned. Doing this visualization helped me realized several things: 1) this has been with me now for over 30 years, 2) this experience has had a significant influence on the way that personal and romantic relationships have been experienced. More importantly, however, continuing the meditation even after the sense of peace filled me has actually helped me heal the trauma to a certain degree. 



     The lessons on Druidism were  a reawakening or reaffirming belief on this path called life. I took the class first of all for several reasons. As a visual artist much of my paintings revolve around our relationship with a spiritual landscape which includes the symbol of the tree. This symbol is a strong image of personal empowerment for me.  I grew up in a small town in rural Ohio. Here is where I discovered my creativity.  I would sit for  hours under the mighty pine, oak or maple and draw my natural surroundings. It was while under these natural cathedrals I committed in furthering my education as an artist.
     I left my small town for the big city “Chicago”where I pursued my dream of becoming an artist. I earned my B.F.A, M.F.A. in fine arts and art therapy. I have been a practicing artist and art therapist for over 30 years. The image of the tree also has meaning as a symbol of my health. I live with a chronic pain condition called fibromyalgia. I see the tree as a image of resiliency.  Trees can withstand the most severe weather , they can grow around any obstacle , in essence they are a visual lesson for our souls to grow from.
     In several of these lessons the book ” Druid Magic” by Maya Magee Sutton PH.D and Nicholas R. Mann was referenced. I found the book on Amazon for 95 cents. The wealth of information is priceless. I have it amongst my other earthen spirituality books that I re-read quite often. 
It refers to the druid as artist, poet, teacher and counselor just to name a few, however these are all aspects of myself.  I connected with this and used the book as a reference point with the assignments from the course. This only strengthened my basic connection that I have had all along my life, that I was or am a druid.
     Now what is a druid?  My understanding from  the assignments and book  is that a Druid is one who is in search of the universal truth and lives by this truth.  This for me is a reflection of how I try to live my life. The universal truth is an awakening to one self that all of creation is following many Individualized paths to discover this enlightenment.  When I paint the image of the tree it is very significant to my own sense of spiritual symbolism. I remember how the assignments referred to the druid arts. These forms of natural self expression is what I found to strengthen my own earthen aesthetics. This to me is what enables me to rekindle my sense of the essence of my own creation and how I continue to relate to its continued evolution.

Visit our FB Page at ULC Seminary