One and Only True Religion
To claim that there is only one true religion on the planet is not just human hubris and ignorance. It creates a theological problem. For there to be only one religion, its all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving "God" would have to be a monster. All good and all powerful but creating evil! All knowing but unable to foresee what would be the result. (Theologically, this is about the recognized problem of Theodicy.)
This belief or claim that there is only one true religion also ignores that religions share basic ways of reverencing life: devotional acceptance of God's love and grace, actional or ritualistic spirituality that habituates us to act and do what is better and higher, cognitional spirituality that uses our rational and mental capacities to do what is right and just, and mystical or intuitional spirituality that silences the "chattering monkey" and "tames the wild elephant" to experience directly a oneness or unity with all being. For whatever reason, most religious traditions make one or more of these spiritual paths negative (such as a devotional religion that distrusts the intellect and makes it the source of doubt and temptation). A complete spirituality would develop all these human possibilities to experience life at its highest and best horizon, being a journey of continual growth, learning and understanding.
Our universalism leads us to accept truths from every tradition—religious or secular. We rightly reject exclusive religions' and ideologies' claims to being the only way. And let me say critically that the gospel of John was not speaking for Jesus when it was written in the 2nd or 3rd centuries—most probably in Alexandria Egypt in Greek (not a language that Jesus spoke or wrote) and stated the infamous verse “I am the way the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except by me.” (John 3:23) No creditable biblical scholar today accepts those as the words that Jesus would have tried to say in Aramaic or Hebrew. Those words were placed in his mouth at a time when Christianity had changed from the persecuted Church of martyrs to the established religion which was already becoming intolerant of others. One can love the Book of John as one of the most beautiful wisdom texts in world literature with its prologue paraphrasing the best of Stoic philosophers. But one must acknowlege its anti-Semitism and lack of spiritual tolerance—two features that contributed to religious bigotry and hatred of "pagan others" down through the centuries, even all the way to the Hawaiian Islands.
So let me begin with four propositions. These propositions actually come from the insights of Friedrich Schleiermacher, the great Christian theologian who taught us that all views of God are but our best projection of what is highest upon the universe. The Enlightenment showed (as had Buddhism many centuries before these intellectual and philosophical developments in Europe) that all claims to know Absolute Truth (God's Revealed Truth) are human constructs at best. Inadequate human languages are used to quote God and present Ontological or Absolute Truth. So also human logic, knowledge, wisdom, etc.! Humans have never been able to demonstrate that they comprehend knowledge higher than that of their own species. Even modern science is only about terrestrial truths, not Ontological Truth (or Absolute Truth). But our individual and cultural wisdom can become meaningful and transformative. It can lead us to higher and better lives. We can reverence this wisdom, and sometimes it results in the most profound spiritual experiences. The correct warning against idolatry teaches us to be humble about our truth claims and to see how our deeds match our words. Our professions of serving the "One True God" and practicing the "One True Religion" are false because no one "owns" or "comprehends" the Absolute. Each and every manifestation of that which is highest and best in humanity and its possibilities is incredibly valuable and should be our guides, leading us to greater compassion, understanding, generosity and love. Truths are everywhere and may need to be pointed out from among the lies and false claims. But we also must remember to be humble and acknowledge our own images of the divine as representations (idols). And some representations (idols, images, metaphors) are clearer, more beautiful and more revealing of the Absolute than others.
1. All gods are idols.
2. All gods that we worship are our truest or highest representation of what is most sacred and meaningful for us.
It is existential truth—our own personal truth.
3. Therefore, no one worships false gods; false gods have been proven false or useless and are always discarded.
4. What we worship is the clearest indicator of who we are, what our highest vision of ourself and our community can be.
Worship implies some belief or faith in a higher being or God. But "mystical worship" is a paradox, a human experience across the world's spiritual traditions of direct reverence without belief or faith. In Kanenuiakea there are examples of all types of worship (devotional, cognitional, actional and mystical). But it is hard to be in Hawai‘i Nei and not experience the divine or sacred manifesting its wonder, beauty and truth in special appearances. Our ‘aina (land, home) is Paradise—or it was, but will be again! Please support us and grant us our Universal Right to freedom of worship according to our long persecuted and ridiculed spiritual tradition.
Uncle Keoki with Kumu Glen Kila
retired Historian of Religions