One way or many?

Any religion that leads to God is “right” because, ultimately, this is the aim of religious life—to find a way that leads us away from selfishness and into the presence of the Divine.

People tend to believe that their chosen path is the “one right way” or “the only true religion.” It would probably be more accurate for people to say that the particular religion or spiritual path they have chosen is the right one for them. When people feel strongly about their chosen way, even to the point where they are eager to recruit others, it is usually because their religion works for them in their lives. Like the various forms of music, it may suit their taste; like the many approaches to education, it may match their learning style. This is perhaps why there are many religions—each with its unique external forms, traditions, and Sacred Scriptures, but all leading to the same destination.

Just as there is not “one right song” or “one right flower” or “one right tree,” there is not “one right religion.”

Religion, then, like music, is adapted to different cultural backgrounds and various states of consciousness. Just as there is not “one right song” or “one right flower” or “one right tree,” there is not “one right religion.” Any religion that leads to God is “right” because, ultimately, this is the aim of religious life—to find a way that leads us away from selfishness and into the presence of the Divine.

Whether we speak about the way to the presence of the Divine, or the way to the Promised Land of Judaeo-Christianity, or the way to the Pure Land of Buddhism, we are speaking about the same thing. The roads may vary, but the destination remains the same—because the real destination is not in the world of time and space. It is the “Kingdom of God.” As Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ for indeed, the Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21,22).

Still, even though the Kingdom of God is within us, we sometimes have difficulty discovering it on our own. So we may search for a particular religion, and try to find a reliable guide. This might be compared to going to a travel bureau for assistance and directions as we prepare for a journey. A well detailed, annotated “map” that describes the journey accurately is essential. In addition, a personal guide—minister, rabbi, guru, shaman, imam, etc.—can be most helpful. Because they have “been there,” they can help us make it over perilous terrain, and warn us of hidden dangers along the way. They also know where we can find nourishment and springs of fresh water so that we can continue our journey. And they can recommend places where we can find rest. A personal guide offers encouragement, helps us interpret the map, and offers gentle reminders when we misread it, forget to use it, or wander off the path.

The Sacred Scriptures of the various religions are really one map, and all the great religions, when understood more deeply, are really one religion.

The many religions of the world provide a wide variety of colorful maps for their followers. The Sacred Scriptures of the various religions are really one map, and all the great religions, when understood more deeply, are really one religion. This is because they all teach the same fundamental message: There is One God, infinitely loving and wise, Who is leading each of us, at every moment, into all the love and wisdom we are willing to receive. As the Dalai Lama has said, “Every major religion of the world has similar ideals of love, the same goal of benefiting humanity through spiritual practice, and the same effect of making their followers into better human beings.” In brief, every major religion seeks to aid its adherents in finding their way to the Kingdom of God.

So, the various religions do not have to be in conflict or even in competition with each other. They can be a wonderfully varied assortment of transportation modes and an exciting choice of forest trails, country roads and high-speed highways–all designed to take us to the same place. In the New Church, we have chosen the vehicle of Emanuel Swedenborg’s teachings to take us there–especially the teaching that True Christianity consists in loving the Lord Jesus Christ and living according to His commandments.

Whenever Swedenborg speaks about the Lord Jesus Christ, he is always referring to the Great God of all religions. This is the One True God of all people at all times. This is the One True God whose loving arms are so wide that they embrace all people in every faith. As the French novelist Honore de Balzac has written, “Swedenborg undoubtedly epitomizes all the religions–or rather the one religion of humanity.”


Excerpted from Rise Above It,  printed with permission.

Ray Silverman currently serves as a chaplain and religion teacher at Bryn Athyn College of the New Church (www.brynathyn.edu). Star Silverman is working on continuing to develop programs that support spiritual growth with special emphasis on married couples. (www.riseaboveit.org)

Daily Inspiration

"Those who live a life of love or kindness worship the Lord God, because a life of love or kindness is his life. "

Arcana Coelestia 1798