WORLD SCRIPTURE AND EDUCATION FOR PEACE
Andrew Wilson, Ph.D.
October 8, 1991
- A Textbook to Promote World Peace
- The Basis of Religious Unity in World Scripture
- One God and Religious Pluralism
- World Scripture and "Godism"
- Ten Principles Common to All Religions
- The Reformulation of Human Knowledge
- WORLD SCRIPTURE
This paper was delivered at a conference sponsored by the New Ecumenical Research Association at Chateau de Bellinglise, Elincourt Ste-Marguerite, France, May 7-12, 1992. Copyright International Religious Foundation.
IntroductionThis essay gives me an opportunity for reflection on the work which I have recently completed as editor of World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts. This volume was commissioned by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon in 1985, and it required the cooperation and assistance of more than forty scholars and religious leaders representing every tradition before it was completed last summer. World Scripture is a substantial book: its 928 pages contain over 4,000 passages gathered from 268 sacred texts and 55 oral traditions. All the major religions, the primal religions, and even the new religions are represented by their scriptures or sacred words. The passages are arranged comparatively by gathering them around various topics (165 in all) which cover all the significant issues of the religious life: God, the purpose of life, sin, salvation, faith, prayer, self-denial, providence, prophecy, messianic hopes, etc. Poring over any of these topics, the reader is immediately acquainted with the wisdom of all religions as they each deal with these universal human concerns.
World Scripture was unveiled at the inaugural assembly of the Inter- Religious Federation for World Peace [IRFWP] in Seoul, Korea on August 27, 1991. In his Founder's Address, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon thanked the scholars and religious leaders who worked for the publication of the book, and described it as a textbook for world peace.
Completed after five years of cooperative effort among scholars of religion and after review and endorsement by heads of the world's religions, World Scripture will become a shining light, a volume of holy scripture that puts together the universally valuable contents of the world's religions. In particular, it will become a precious textbook for educating the younger generation who are to live together as one global family. It will teach them to overcome barriers between religions, between races, and between cultures. I believe that, through this text, all people will not only free themselves from religious ignorance and self-righteousness, but also realize the fact that, among religions, there are shared values and a universal foundation which are of greater significance than the differences which have historically divided religions.
This essay will discuss how World Scripture may serve as a textbook to promote world peace through interfaith understanding. The concept here is that all scripture has an educational function, and that modern religious education must include an understanding of other religions and an acceptance that they are legitimate ways. Furthermore, we can reflect upon some of the larger implications of World Scripture and the program which it seeks to advance. First is the claim that the religions of the world indeed show convergence to an organic unity. Is the methodology of the book sound, so as not to prejudice this claim? If so, then is the convergence of religions evidence for the existence of Absolute Reality? Then again, what is to become of the particular genius of each religion? Is it ultimately submerged in a new uniformity? What is the value of particularity in religion that it ought to be preserved? Next I wish to reflect on the role of World Scripture in promoting what the Reverend Moon calls "Godism." This is the effort to establish universal religious values which can become the basis for public discourse in a democracy that is pluralistic and religious at the same time. Instead of dealing with the problem of tolerance for religious minorities by banishing religion from the public square, the religions should reform themselves to support inclusive religious values as the public values of democracy. Finally, we make some remarks on the open-ended nature of this project, which will ultimately involve unifying knowledge in all fields through the making of many books with a similar holistic approach to that found in World Scripture.
A Textbook to Promote World Peace
Sacred scripture lies at the very heart of religion. As the standard of truth and bearer of the founder's revelation, sacred scripture gives religion its stability and identity. As the starting point of education, sacred scripture conserves cultural identity and is a basis for ethics. But sacred scripture also promotes exclusivism and separateness. Based on a narrow-minded reading of scripture, each religion can assert that it is the sole possessor of truth. For example, the scriptures assert: "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me" (John 14.6); "I, Krishna, am the goal of the wise man, and I am the way" (Srimad Bhagavatam 11.12); "Mohammed is the Messenger of God and the Seal of the Prophets" (Qur'an 33.40); "Outside the Buddha's teaching there is no saint" (Dhammapada 254). Yet as long as the world remained divided into discrete spheres of culture with little interchange among the different regions and cultures, it was fitting that within each cultural sphere, its scriptures be affirmed as absolute and their teachings as unique.
Today, however, progress in transportation and communication has brought all the peoples of the world into close contact as members of one global village. There is the divine call, issuing from many quarters, for the religions of the world to take responsibility for building world peace. This will require mutual cooperation among the world's religions, races and nations to build a harmonious family of humankind centered upon our Heavenly Parent, whether he is called Allah or God or Krishna or Ultimate Reality. Therefore, each religion can no longer remain exclusively focused on itself; it must take into account the legitimacy and validity of the other religions--and of the truths embodied in the other religions' sacred scriptures.
In secular education, it is an accepted educational goal to teach about other nations and cultures in order to dispel the ignorance and prejudice that could fuel nationalistic passions. Even from elementary school, students study world history and world civilizations in addition to the history and culture of their own nation. In this regard, religious education is far behind. With the exception of courses in comparative religion, which are usually taught at secular universities and not by the religious establishment, religious education is largely an insular enterprise. In the modern global village, religions, no less than secular institutions, have the obligation to educate people to understand and respect people belonging to different communities and holding different beliefs.
Sacred scriptures are the chief textbooks for religious education. Yet these deal almost exclusively with the truth of one's own faith, and encourage the impression that it is the sole possessor of truth. New textbooks must be forthcoming for religious education that can change this deficiency. But conventional world religions textbooks suffer in comparison to the primary textbook, sacred scripture. They lack comparable authority and are relatively superficial. The best way to learn about another religion is through an encounter with its living practitioners and teachers, in dialogue and shared worship--and such interfaith encounters are becoming more frequent all over the world. But another good way is by studying their sacred scriptures, with a good commentary as a guide. In the scriptures of other faiths one finds texts comparable to one's own scripture which treat the problems of human existence in a profound and authoritative manner. One finds in another religion's scripture the original revelations and insights of the founders that have made it compelling to millions of people.1
World Scripture can serve this educational purpose as a guide to the scriptures of other faiths. It places passages from other scriptures side by side with passages from one's own sacred scripture. Therefore, immediately, the student recognizes how the truth in his own scripture is reflected in others, and sometimes is even illuminated by additional insights from the other faiths. The thematic arrangement, besides providing an endless source of comparative material, also clues in the student to the interpretation of difficult passages by providing a ready context. Of course, occasionally additional explanations must be provided in order to prevent misunderstanding of certain passages. As the student discovers gems of wisdom, some which may seem surprisingly familiar, he is led to rethink such prejudiced opinions as: the scripture of his own faith is the sole repository of truth (Christianity), or other scriptures have been mutilated and distorted (Islam). He will also recognize the weakness of many of the common caricatures of other religions, for instance the Christian view of Judaism as legalistic and lacking grace, or the western view of Theravada Buddhism as a kind of atheistic humanism. As the student recognizes how many teachings of his own faith are also reflected in the scriptures of other faiths, he will come to respect and admire them as divinely inspired in their own right.
Inevitably, the goal of education for peace must inform World Scripture's editorial treatment of certain passages of scripture which are often used to justify exclusivism and hostility to other faiths. Such passages, for example: Jesus' curses on the Pharisees, the Quran's criticism of hypocritical Jews, Sikhism's criticism of empty Hindu and Muslim rituals, or the Lotus Sutra's criticism of Hinayana Buddhists as lacking in faith, are necessarily deemphasized. When seen in the light of ecumenical reflection, such passages should be understood as typical prophetic pronouncements by an inspired leader critical of the ossified institutions in his own community. (None of them regarded himself as leading a separate religion; e.g., Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees as a fellow Jew; Muhammad was addressing Jewish tribes who had been his allies; Guru Nanak spoke as a Hindu to Hindus and a Muslim to Muslims; and the Lotus Sutra was remarking on the faith of fellow Buddhists.) World Scripture notes that in every tradition, these passages have been justly interpreted as warning against those same evils within the community for which that scripture is authoritative. To turn them into a weapon with which to brand outsiders does violence to their original intent. Thus, these passages are to be taken as criticism of the corruption and hypocrisy which afflicts every religion, and they certainly cannot stand as criticism of any religion at its best and most authentic.
Thus World Scripture is designed to serve as a textbook in the religious education curriculum of every religion for promoting world peace. Every religion should give it the status of a "scripture" in its own right, first because it contains excerpts from that religion's own scriptures, and second because the comparable passages from the scriptures of other faiths are often of equal profundity and worth. By directly comparing the scriptures of one's own religion with scriptures of other faiths, World Scripture demarcates a common ground which people from each religion can recognize for themselves and on their own terms. By downplaying prejudicial passages in scripture, the book lifts up the things that make for peace. This approach can universally reduce prejudice and open the doors to interreligious understanding and cooperation.
The Basis of Religious Unity in World Scripture
But do the religions in fact share much in common? Does World Scripture err in homogenizing the different religions in order to arrive at a unity that is artificial? We were, of course, aware of this pitfall, and made every effort to avoid it. The members of the Editorial Board and other academic advisors were continually consulted in order to assure that their religions were represented fairly and accurately. Where scripture passages with several different underlying philosophies were judged to apply to the same topic, we prepared some explanation for the introduction to each topic which would distinguish the various viewpoints in the following passages. Sometimes, particular difficulties in interpretation are explained in a footnote. Thus have we safeguarded against misrepresenting individual passages.
Yet modern opinion is prejudiced against viewing religions from the standpoint of their unity. Most textbooks on world religions treat each religion as a separate, independent entity, thus inevitably emphasizing each religion's uniqueness. Western education is pervaded by nominalism and relativism: by a habitual failure to move beyond the minute examination of isolated facts to reveal larger wholes and a disinclination to trust universal patterns. Of course, at a certain level of detail, when doctrines are examined closely, every religion is different, even every sect and denomination has its own unique version of truth. Yet from a wider, holistic perspective, we can see convergence and common values.
Without denying the unique aspects of each religion, World Scripture underscores the universal themes and insights that make up the common ground which religions share. World Scripture demarks the common ground among religions through the range of passages which are gathered for a given topic, and these topics have sufficient generality to accommodate various doctrines. Thus the topic "Immortal Soul" gathers many doctrines on the survival of the soul after death, including Hindu and Buddhist passages on reincarnation, Christian, Jewish and Islamic passages on the resurrection, and various concepts of an afterlife. The topic "Karma and Inherited Sin" includes various passages on the notion that inequities of endowment are conditioned by past deeds, whether the notion is understood doctrinally as the working out of one's own karma accumulated in previous lifetimes or as the inherited burden of an ancestor's sins. The topic "Unitive State" includes various types of mystical union, including the impersonal unity of the Self with Brahman in Vedanta, the Zen experience of mystical unity with all reality, and the Christian Beatific vision. The generality of each topic depends on the fact that the various doctrines all address a common human concern, be it the riddle of personal existence after death, the problem of unequal endowments in a just cosmos, or the mystical experience of union with Ultimate Reality. The criteria of human concern and experience provide broad fields for comparison and natural meeting points for the particular doctrines which try to explicate them.
Furthermore, in preparing World Scripture we became painfully aware how much conventional treatments of religion have created their own stereotypes by trying to place religions within narrow dogmatic definitions. The variety of religious standpoints within Christianity alone is staggering, from the Protestant fundamentalist to the Roman Catholic mystic, the spirit-filled Pentecostal, and the Latin American liberation theologian. Other religions are just as broad. Despite the specific insights of its theologians, it seems that religion as a human enterprise is broad and diverse, taking forms corresponding to the wide variety of human temperaments and needs. The scriptures of each religion contain a great variety of material, not all of it suited to a single dogmatic interpretation. Lutheran Christianity must put up with the book of James. Monistic Vedanta coexists with dualists who follow Samkhya philosophy and monotheistic Shaivite and Vaishnavite sects--all of whom quote the same Vedas and Upanishads.2 Orthodox Islam coexists with Sufi mystics who draw inspiration from the same Quran. Given this variety within each religion, the overlap among religions is considerably greater that what might be expected were religion a tight system of doctrines, uniformly held. The topical organization of World Scripture allows the varieties of belief within religions to speak in their many voices.
World Scripture makes no attempt to write a systematic treatise on the unity of religions according to some conceptual scheme--if that is even possible. Systematic theology necessarily demands a conceptual unity that is only possible by reductive interpretation. They offer conceptual statements which are said to apply universally, but there are precious few statements that can apply to all religions. Rather, a wide variety of topics are laid out, and scriptures on that topic are presented wherever appropriate. The variety of topics is great enough to accommodate the different perspectives of the world's religions. Instead of a conceptual straitjacket, these topics allow the natural affinities among religions to emerge wherever they will, whether it be in the doctrine of God, or notions of sacrifice, or prophecy, or ethics. Looking at the wide variety of topics in World Scripture, we can see that the various religions concur on about eighty percent of them. Our conviction is this: instead of insisting on a religion's uniqueness on the basis of the 20 percent where it differs from the others, let's celebrate the common ground on the basis of the 80 percent which is shared. The fact is, by using a reasonably objective methodology, World Scripture reveals a remarkable amount of convergence. Why this is so deserves an explanation. If the religions were only relative expressions of a malleable human nature, then their areas of agreement should be few. From a human viewpoint, people have held every sort of opinion about the concerns of life, yet the standpoints of the sacred scriptures are more selective. The scriptures praise as virtuous and condemn as sinful the same sorts of human behaviors. Many respectable philosophical positions are absent from the options offered in the various sacred scriptures, e.g., utilitarianism, hedonism, materialism, legalism. They are nearly unanimous in affirming positions which are at variance with much modern opinion on such contentious questions as the existence of an afterlife and the virtue of self-denial.
One God and Religious Pluralism
The explanation for the rather remarkable convergence of scriptural texts found in this volume may lie in the fact that all religions ground human existence in a transcendent reality, be it called by many names and described as many things. Human beings are not autonomous; their existence is somehow dependent and subject to a Reality greater than themselves. Many believers take it as axiomatic that all religions share a common source in the one God. The doctrine of the unity of God would require an incipient unity of religions.
Yet notions of God are so diverse among religions that it is difficult to make meaningful statements that would universally apply. How can the personal, gracious God of Christianity be related to the Hindu Brahman who is the impersonal ground of all being, or to the Buddhist ultimate goal of Nirvana or Emptiness which has nothing at all to do with the world of being? Here, perhaps, we made the most significant methodological move in setting up the plan of World Scripture. We made it axiomatic that the religions' various depictions of an ultimate--whether personal or impersonal, being or nonbeing, one God or many spirits, divine law or mind-essence, Christ or Krishna--are all in fact denoting one Ultimate Reality or God.
This starting point means that World Scripture has no need classify the various notions of God, as though each religion had a different God. Instead, we have set up topics according to the various attributes of God and the ways in which the ultimate principle impinges on the world. And as expected, it turns out that the scriptures of most religions have passages which apply to most of the topics. For example, the attribute of eternity applies to the Christian God as well as to Buddhist Nirvana; the attribute of goodness applies to Allah, to the cosmic Buddha, and to the collectivity of kami in the Shinto pantheon; and the Oneness of ultimate reality is affirmed by Jews, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs, but also in the Buddhist doctrine of Suchness and the Hindu doctrine that all the gods are manifestations of the One Being.
I do not believe that our starting postulate--to treat all expressions of an ultimate as denoting the same Ultimate Reality--is sufficient to explain the phenomenon of the convergence of scriptural texts found in this book. Their convergence is not the artificial result of method. The convergence goes far beyond statements about God and reaches into all aspects of human life. Our starting postulate, far from prejudicing the case by creating a circular argument, is rather dictated by the facts at hand. It is a reasonable hypothesis which makes sense of a great deal of otherwise disconnected data. As in any scientific method, if a hypothesis has the power to explain and bring order to otherwise inexplicable facts, we may take it as true for the purpose of arriving at a theory. Finding the convergence of religions to be an empirical fact thus makes a theoretical case for the existence of one God.
The remarkable convergence of scriptural texts demonstrated by this volume may also be taken as empirical evidence for a universal spiritual truth which is variously reflected in the doctrines of all religions. Yet World Scripture in no way demands that the reader abandon the unique perspective of his or her own religion in order to assent to a common truth, because the scriptures themselves make no such demand. The scriptures call us to a decision, to embrace God's grace and accept a spiritual discipline through one of the particular forms available to us. One must go through a particular door, or none at all. Religious wisdom is often opaque and contrary to the world. It is only through the practice of one's particular faith that one comes to recognize the truth of the statements in scripture. Having cultivated a religious mentality in one faith, one can, by extension, also see the wisdom of analogous statements in the scriptures of other faiths. Religious dilettantism is never advisable. The experience of interfaith dialogue has taught us that to truly understand another religion, one should first be deeply committed to one's own faith and traditions.
Likewise, in the chapter comparing the lives and works of the founders of the world's religions, World Scripture is reluctant to level them all to figures of equal significance. It is expected that everyone who comes to World Scripture is already devoted to one founder alone, who established the faith in which he believes and is the light of his salvation. Only on the standard of that founder's life and works do statements about other founders derive any meaning.
For the Christian, it is the saving work of Christ alone that saves, not withstanding the accomplishments of other founders, no matter how great they may be. Similarly, the Muslim's faith is defined uniquely by the message of Muhammad, and the Buddhist's by the enlightenment and teachings of Siddhartha. The committed believer is confronted with one individual as the standard of truth and love who defines the true way.... Then, on that foundation, he may observe the comparisons made in this chapter. He may find that the founders of other faiths have also been given insight into divine truth and have lived out that truth in an exemplary manner. He may regard them worthy of respect, if he finds that their faith is comparable to the standard of faith set by his own tradition.3
World Scripture and "Godism"
Godism is the Reverend Moon's term for a universal religious perspective, embracing the truths of all religions, a perspective which he believes will become the basis for a God- centered, pluralistic society, nation, and world. Yet to many, this vision may seem like a contradiction. Until now, religious-based societies have acted in ways which are incompatible with democracy and pluralism. This is due in large part to the current limitations of religions, which tend to be exclusive and intolerant. Any at tempt to establish a particular religious orthodoxy would inevitably trample on the rights of religious minorities. For this reason, American democracy set up a wall of separation between church and state. Democratic societies have been able to accommodate religious pluralism only by establishing a secular common ground, fostering civility at the sacrifice of religious belief.
But what a cost that is! Society devoid of religious values does not provide the nourishment that can sustain a civilization that will bring out the highest qualities in people and allow them to fulfill their purpose in life. For example, our public schools have lost their mission to provide ethics and values to young people, since the most important ground of those values--religious truth--has been made off limits. Parents who appreciate traditional values find themselves fighting a losing battle to stem the tide of secular culture which impinges on young people's consciousness through television, popular music, pressure from their peers, public schools--ways that are impossible to contain. Confused about values, young people easily become a prey to destructive lifestyles. Hence democratic societies are in crisis, without any solution in sight.
Yet we cannot go backward and restore Christian values if this would deny an equal place for other religions. Even the values of Western civilization as a whole, which are largely Christian, are under attack by the proponents of multiculturalism. "What is especially valuable about Western civilization?" they ask. America is a pluralistic society containing all cultures. Why is European culture more important than the others? Appeals to tradition or democratic values notwithstanding, the fundamental reason is that Western civilization has been the carrier of Christianity and Christian values. But that argument has been ruled out of bounds for secular discourse. Thus education for values continues to decline.
People will reject religious teachings so long as they lead in practice to hostility and exclusivism. But secular values have also failed, and we witness the corruption and debasing of democratic culture. Furthermore, secular society fosters its own brand of exclusivism that is felt by many minorities to be oppressive. Along with its disdain for Christianity and its traditional values, secularism also strips away at the traditions of minority cultures--African, Asian, Hispanic, Native American--which are likewise rooted in religious worldviews.
Furthermore, as long as religions are divided, their truth claims incompatible with each other, they will remain at an intellectual disadvantage in the contest with secularism, which is undergirded by the universal canopy of scientific truth. As I have argued elsewhere, the ascendancy of scientific thought is based in no small part to its claim to universal validity, and the decline of religion is due in no small part to the private or communal nature of its opinions.4
One can surely argue that religious values are healthy for society, and that restoring them is the key to overcoming our current moral and social problems. Yet those who long for a return of religious values will most likely remain frustrated so long as they remain within the narrow perspective of their own religious and cultural fortresses. The conventional Christian churches, despite their popularity, have not as yet overcome their narrow and exclusivistic standpoints; the same can be said for other religions. It is up to the religions themselves to establish common ground and common cause--Liberal and Fundamentalist, Protestant and Catholic, Jew and Muslim. The only way, in my opinion, for religious values to return to the center of public life is for the individual religions to transcend their exclusivism and lift up the values which they share in common. Commonly shared religious values can become public values, since they do not favor any one religion over others. Such religious public values should support pluralism and protect minorities better than secular values have done thus far.
The American experience is again instructive. Until the mid-twentieth century, the American public consensus included the notion of "general truths" of religion which were distinct from the doctrines of particular sects. Benjamin Franklin, like many of the founding fathers, believed that the good public order of American democracy presumed a belief in God, in heavenly rewards and punishments, and in the requirement to lead a moral life. From the beginning, universal religious principles stood on a par with such Enlightenment principles as civil rights. The Declaration of Independence declared both belief in God as Creator and the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be "self-evident" truths.
We can trace this notion of general religious truths to the Deism of Locke, Herbert, Voltaire and Lessing, who were concerned to overcome the religious wars of Europe by setting up a rational common ground. Although the tendency of Deism in Europe was towards a rational critique of traditional religion and rejection of all its supernatural revelations and particular rituals, the strain of Deism that took hold in America harmonized with the existence of particular sects. American thought was most indebted to Locke, who taught that, in addition to the truths which could be established by reason, there was also a place for mystery and revelation as genuine elements in the Christian faith. The general religious truths established by reason set up the bounds of religious discourse in the public square which lacked an established church, while the particular tenets of faith could be taught by the individual churches. The Deist principles were broad and flexible enough to allow, in the twentieth century, inclusion of Roman Catholicism and Judaism into the public consensus.
But the relativism of the modern age has corroded the notion of self-evident universal truths, and the rise of fundamentalisms has sharpened our sense of the diversity and contention among religions. The enlarged field of world religions makes most eighteenth- century Deist statements seem hopelessly parochial. Some new elucidation of a religious common ground is needed now more than ever, if we are to build religious harmony and give a positive religious response to the dominant secular worldview. Perhaps World Scripture can help us to restore some sense of the common ground among religions by showing that common ground to be an empirical fact.
From the perspective of the common religious values found in World Scripture, the recent liberal fascination with secularism and materialism (in either its eastern or western forms) seems quite radical. It is out of step with the traditional values and viewpoints of all of the religions and cultures which have occupied this planet for millennia. It is likely that the religions of the world share more in common with each other than they do with the secular humanist and materialist alternatives.
Based on the vast area of agreement among the scriptures found in this volume, one might wish to deduce a set of universal principles common to all religions. However, the overlap among the scriptures is rather loose and distributed over a wide variety of topics, and we would not expect all the religions to agree on every point. A list based on the areas of agreement empirically determined by World Scripture turns out to be more extensive and more detailed than the older Deist lists established by rational argument.5 The list requires additional generalization and alternative forms of expression in order to accommodate the perspectives found in the non-Christian religions. I suggest the following ten points:
- There exists an Ultimate Reality, or transcendent God, which defines the purpose and meaning of life, and to which human beings are related.6
- The universe is moral and purposeful, human beings are subject to spiritual laws, and each person reaps the fruit of his or her deeds.
- Each person has an eternal destiny, a life hereafter; the cosmos includes various spiritual realms.
- There is a highest goal (salvation, enlightenment, liberation, wholeness) which is potentially within the reach of every person.
- Human beings are tarnished by an evil condition that prevents people from reaching the highest goal unaided.7
- Each person is free and responsible for his or her personal growth, yet can never fully realize that freedom unless the aforementioned condition of evil is dealt with.
- Each person has ethical obligations in the contexts of family, society, and the natural world.
- To become a moral person, one should train oneself to control the body and practice self-denial.
- The way of goodness includes an ethic of love and self-sacrifice.
- The fullness of spiritual truth goes beyond this common ground and includes the teachings of the historical religions. Knowledge of Ultimate Reality and the path to salvation comes to us through the unique founders of religion, who were given insights and revelations transcending ordinary knowledge attainable through reason alone.
These ten principles can be seen to hold in all religions. The fifth principle, on the existence of innate evil, goes well beyond the typical Deist viewpoint, yet it finds empirical support in numerous scriptural texts. The tenth principle assures that such universal principles remain only a common ground and do not become a regulative or critical principle over against the diversity and uniqueness of religion. Indeed, while such a set of principles may be a reasonable starting point, it can in no way encompass the full extent of universal truth. The sacred scriptures and the revelations to the founders of the various world religions have much more to teach us.
Godism is the name given to the project of establishing the common ground among religions and making it the basis for a God-centered, pluralistic society. Godism is not a particular philosophy or set of doctrines. It is rather a program for reforming and reviving society based on the existing traditional religions and value systems. It will require that the various religions realize harmony in practice and find common cause in articulating solutions to social problems. On that foundation, people will be able to recognize the common spiritual values which are testified to by the various religions. Contemporary relativism will give way to a budding moral consensus. It will then become practical for democratic society to adopt such values as the basis for pluralistic culture.
What is distinctive about Godism is only its standpoint towards religion and its view of the mission of religion (and by extension, of the role of isms and ideologies in other fields). Its standpoint is Copernican, in the sense that this term is used by the theologian John Hick: refusing to absolutize any one religion and recognizing all religions as revolving about a single transcendent and absolute Center, whom some call God. Yet the content of the Absolute cannot be known absolutely, except perhaps by those who live in God's absolute love, but how can their insights be fully communicated? For the rest of us, God can only be known in part: through individual illumination of the conscience and through the various ways in which the religions have separately revealed him. The way to personal illumination and salvation requires a serious commitment to one's own tradition; shallow religious dilettantism is of little value. The religions should be humble to God and accept that God may also have revealed unique aspects of himself in other faiths.
Godism's view of the mission of religion is historical and providential, recognizing that in the present age religions are called to fulfill a mission that is greater than what they had known in the past. That mission is to realize world peace in the new context of the global village. It requires each religious community to revitalize itself and realize its highest ideals, and then to serve other religious communities as part of a harmonious whole. The principle that love is fulfilled in the service of others should extend to religious communities: each religion should manifest love by serving other religions and working together to build a peaceful world.
Finally, Godism calls for the return of religion to the center of public life. The retreat of religion into the private sphere must be reversed, and religious values must once again become public values. Religious teachings should provide the ethical foundations which are fundamental to the social, political, and economic spheres, where secular values have been found wanting. Once the roadblock of religious dissension is overcome, religious unity can be the foundation for political and economic unity, and world peace.
By illuminating the range of commonly shared religious values, World Scripture can thus help to give definition and shape to what is potentially the new set of public values for a pluralistic, God-centered world. That is, it helps give definition to the program of setting up Godism. It will also be an important educational tool for realizing this program in practice.
The Reformulation of Human Knowledge
Let us, for a moment, venture one step further to define this common ground. Does Enlightenment thought also have a place in the universe of common values that constitutes Godism? The best insights of Western philosophy, from Socrates to Kierkegaard, are certainly compatible with the common truths of religion. Just as World Scripture deemphasizes certain hostile passages which, when understood by the mean-spirited, have fomented religious conflict, the hostility and resentment against religion expressed by many Enlightenment thinkers will likewise have to be digested. Hopefully, sober reflection will show that such sentiments are directed properly against the abuse of religion and its failure to practice what it preaches, not against religion in its essence. Believers and non- believers alike, when in touch with the best of their original minds, can grasp complementary aspects of spiritual truths. The persuasive power of Enlightenment philosophy is due in no small part to its grasp of such truths, sometimes better than that of the corrupt churches of its day.
Yet it is an open question whether the welter of conflicting opinions in the universe of philosophy can be brought into an organic synthesis, such as the synthesis found in World Scripture. As was noted above, the remarkable convergence of religious beliefs may be largely explained by the fact that all religions share the conviction that there exists an Ultimate Reality on which human beings are dependent. But without such a unifying center, secular philosophies are much more unruly. Therefore, we can expect that in the project of establishing common values, the values upheld by philosophy will necessarily find their center in the values established by religion. I expect that philosophies can be integrated into a framework of common religious values, but they will be unable to establish such a common ground apart from religion.
As I said, I take the Reverend Moon's understanding of the project of Godism to extend beyond the realm of religion. For twenty years he has been sponsoring the International Conference of the Unity of the Sciences, which has as its purpose to promote the unity of scientific knowledge around "absolute values," which I take to mean the transcendental truth of God, manifest in both physical and spiritual laws, which we know only in part through existing science and religion. For the Reverend Moon, the highest absolute value is God's love. The unity of the sciences should have a spiritual central point, and the cosmos should be found to be regulated by both spiritual and physical laws which have their common origin in God.
Likewise, at the Inaugural Assembly of the IRFWP in Seoul, Korea, at which World Scripture was presented to the Reverend Moon, he spoke to an assembly which included former heads of state and politicians who had come to attend a meeting of the Federation for World Peace [FWP] the following day. To the mixed audience of religious leaders and politicians, he spoke of the complementary roles of religion and politics in realizing world peace using the metaphor of mind and body.
As mind and body unite within an ideal individual through God's true love, the mental and bodily worlds which are extensions of the individual mind and body, should also come into a harmonious relationship, not contradiction. Religion and philosophy represent the internal world of mind; the bodily world is represented by politics and economics. Just as the mind is in the subject and leading position, while the body is in the object position to harmonize with the mind, religion and politics also should achieve harmony and unity in a subject-object relationship.
This is in accord with the prescription of Godism, which holds that religious unity provides the central point and basis for unity in other fields. The other implication of these words is that the mission of religion is indeed the most vital, since the religions hold the key to providing the public values which can unify public discourse and thence undergird peace in all areas of political and social life.
World Scripture is only one textbook for dealing with the problem of peace among religions. There will undoubtedly be many others. In his Foreword, Ninian Smart encourages others to write their own books of world scripture."World Scripture offers an admirable assemblage of quotations from the holy texts of the world from a broadly theistic angle. Of course, others might prefer a different articulation of the material... they should create their own books of world scripture. Our world is surely hospitable to a variety of approaches."8In a similar vein but more broadly, the Reverend Moon at the IRFWP meeting spoke about the need for more such books to foster the unification of thoughts and values in every field.
"Why do we need books like this World Scripture? God's original purpose for theories is to make for world peace. God's ultimate goal is one nation, one world under God. However, in the present world there are many varieties of belief. The conventional viewpoint is that there must be such variety in the world of religion, and likewise in the fields of politics and economics. How can they be combined into one direction? This is the problem. God's final goal is absolutely one; therefore all this must converge to absolutely one point. Among us here, how can we realize that aim? Unless every religion, and every theory in the fields of politics, economics, etc., is combined into one, making one direction, the world cannot have peace. Therefore, I want to commend the making of World Scripture, and encourage more books like it."
World Scripture can be a model for other syntheses of human knowledge for establishing the common ground of shared values upon which world peace can be realized. All such unifications of thoughts and viewpoints will require a broadly synthetic approach that is respectful of every viewpoint and lifts up what is valuable in each. They should eschew reductive theory-making and analysis for the purpose of illuminating difference or for the purpose of pursuing one side of a debate, as is the norm in conventional academic study. Furthermore, since this unity is centered upon religious values, it should be axiomatic that there is a transcendent central point around which the various thoughts can converge. While skeptical criticism can usefully expose partial or false understandings of Ultimate Reality, if it tears away at the foundations of unity it is counterproductive. True scholarship begins with humility toward the divine Mystery and seeks to understand the place of theory in relation to it.
Books like World Scripture should collect the varieties of human reflection and considered opinion and range them within an inclusive spectrum around the transcendental center. Each distinct opinion relates to the others as one color, giving its own distinctive illumination to the common human experience and its distinctive reflection of transcendent truth. If the light is clear, the thought profound, then its contribution to the spectrum of ideas will be an indispensable complement to the other lights. Such is the quality of the sacred scriptures of humankind's religions as ranged forth in World Scripture- -they are full of illumination drawn from the most profound sources of the human spirit.
1. The one example of a religion whose scripture also contains the scripture of another religion is Christianity's appropriation of the Jewish Bible as its Old Testament. Given the horrible history of Christian anti-Semitism, it may seem to contradict the thrust of this argument. But there are several mitigating factors. The use to which the Christian Bible puts the Jewish scriptures is quite different from what is being done in World Scripture. Perforce, the New Testament never went through a systematic review to weed out hateful references to the Jews. And unlike the Christian Bible, World Scripture includes the Talmud and other scriptures of rabbinic Judaism. In spite of all the hatred of the past, it is nevertheless the case that most Christians have much greater sympathy and understanding for Jews than they do for people of other religions.
2. For example the Bhagavad Gita, in its typically inconsistent manner, praises in turn meditation (jnana yoga), good deeds (karma yoga) and devotion (bhakti yoga) each as the best way to reach the absolute, superior to the others. The Gita is interpreted both from the standpoint of a personal and an impersonal Godhead. It is full of dualistic Samkhya philosophy, yet a monist can quote passages which speak of God as all in all. It is the supreme text of devotional Vaishnavite sects, and also the favorite scripture of the social activist Mahatma Gandhi.
3. Andrew Wilson ed., World Scripture (New York: Paragon House,1991), 419-20.
4. See Andrew Wilson, "One Culture Centered upon God," Dialogue & Alliance, forthcoming.
5. For example, Herbert's list of the innate principles of natural religion, given in De Veritate: (1) That God exists. (2) That God ought to be worshipped. (3) That the practice of virtue is the chief part of the worship of God. (4) That men have always had an abhorrence of crime and are under the obligation to repent of their sins. (5) That there will be rewards and punishments after death. See James C. Livingston, Modern Christian Thought (New York: Macmillan, 1971), 36.
6. Theravada Buddhism lacks a creator-God, but it does have at least two absolute principles which could fit this proposition: Nibbana, the ultimate state beyond all change, and the Dhamma, the principle of causality that is binding on all beings. Nibbana defines life's highest goal, while the Dhamma establishes the relations and conditions of human life.
7. By "aid" we mean either the salvation offered by a savior (Christ) or the guidance of one who shows the way (Buddha, Muhammad, the sage in various traditions). In Hinduism, "aid" may mean a rigorous program of meditation and renunciation, under the guidance of a teacher.
8. World Scripture, xi.
Transcribed to HTML by Bruce Schuman, January 15, 1996