ISIS-type Muslims and KKK-type Christians hate one another. They also hate Jews and any other group that seems to reject or despise their particular religious fanaticism. And a whole lot of Jews, Christians, and Muslims are laking in the awareness that these three religious, when true to their origins, have more in common than they differ.
The differences between these three religions are important, and their historical battles in previous centuries were seriousness conflicts that smoked out deep truths and social benefits for the future of our species. But today, the overriding imperative is to honor our common humanity. This honoring includes making allies among the true followers of the Exodus revelation of realism, the Jesus as Messiah revelation of realism, and the Mohammedan revelation of realism. We can picture this companionship as three different spirit explorers staring into same deep pit of Mystery—each one telling us in a different language what they see. Like blind persons touching different parts of the same elephant, these and other vital religious heritages present different pathways to the same overwhelming, inexhaustible Mystery.
This companionship, however, does not mean watering down the depth of these prominent religious traditions into a common denominator of superficial agreements. Rather, it means seeing into the depths revealed by each of these viewpoints on the same Reality. All three of these Arabic originated faiths, have used the metaphor of “monotheism” to point to something profoundly human. This “Oneness” metaphor is not being deeply understood when we view “monotheism” as a rational doctrine opposed by other rational doctrines.
If “monotheism” only means to us a rational belief in “a supreme being” in some supernatural realm, we are stuck in an endless battle of minds. For a deeper grasp of “monotheism,” let us view it as a oneness of trust in the trustworthiness of all aspects of Reality. According to this trust, we do not face two Final Realities—one that is for us and one that is against us—one that is good to us and one that is bad to us—one spiritual and one material—or one holy and one satanic. Rather Reality is One. ”Life and death are two wings on the same bird,” said the Sufi Muslim poet Rumi. And here is the core Muslim cry (with my slight rewording): “There are no ultimate devotions worthy of the human (long pause for the “radicality” of this to sink in), save THE ONE.” And in Jewish writings, we find a similar cry: “Hear Oh Israel, your appropriate devotion is ONE.” And both Jews and Christians, rehearse this first commandment: “You shall love THE ONE, your ultimate devotion, with all your mind, with all your heart, with all your consciousness, and with all your strength.”
Since we are all temped to raise some temporal object or idea or aspect of our lives to the role of our ultimate meaning, a monotheistic path turns out to be a bumpy ride of continual humiliations and fresh becomings. But among persons who understand their monotheism deeply, we can see a common spirit among monotheistic friends operating across these ancient Jewish, Christian, and Muslim divides—a connection that theses deepest monotheists do not have with members of their own religion who are still clinging to narrow, obsolete, and perhaps bigoted forms of their respective religions.
In the rests of this brief essay, I am speaking to Christians about three flash points of an emerging interreligious dialogue and social cooperation that can and is happening among the awakening members of these three Abrahamic religions.
1. The Oneness of Devotion
At their best, all three of these religious traditions look into the same Abyss of Final Reality and see One Reality expressing itself in the manyness of temporal living. Zoroastrianism looking into the Abyss of Final Reality saw two overarching powers—one that supported progressive human values and aliveness and one that supported reactionary motifs, chaos, social corruption, disintegration, and death. Zoroastrianism is actually a form of humanism, for it is human values that actually define this so-called divine good and this divine evil seen as the twin-operation of the cosmos. So contexted, human life was seen by Zarathustra and by generations of people since as a battle between good and evil in our selves, in our society, and in our cosmos. Zarathustra launched a significant religious revolution and his insights gave power to revolutionary change to his home Persia and to societies every since. But Zarathustra in his primal devotion was not a monotheist.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, at their best, rejected this dualistic view of Reality. The Book of Job makes clear that “satan” is a servant of the One God, that the overall truth is that we confront One Reality in all that we like and in all that we don’t like. This mono-devotion is not a description of the final Abyss of Mystery. Rather it is a description of a devotion to that final Abyss of Mystery as we face what we don’t like as well as what we like. In both liking and not-liking, the people of this mono-devotion-viewpoint trust that this Absolute Mystery is doing what is good beyond any “good-and-evil” made up by humans.
Augustine, who defined the raw core of the Christian revelation for the following 800 years in Europe, insisted that evil is but a hole in the good, that all that happens to us has one divine meaning, evil means only our human estrangement from the good life as it is founded in Final Reality. In other words “all that IS is good.” There is no two-ness in our relation of devotion to Final Reality. Rather it is an Either/Or choice. Either we trust the whole of Reality—OR we despair over the whole of Reality, as Søren Kierkegaard also pointed out.
2. Beyond Ritual and Moral Fabrics
A relationship with the Absolute Otherness of Final Mystery has consequences in moral custom as well as in religious symbols, language, myths, and overall ritual practices. Nevertheless, morality and ritual are only the leaves on each tradition’s religious tree. These leaves may witness to the deep roots of the tree, but it is the roots, rather than the leaves, that define the essence of every religion. Each religious community, at its best, witnesses to the Spirit of a profound humanness that is aware of a Final Mysteriousness.
For example, the ten commandments that grew from the Exodus revelation were a legal summary that was created by humans and elaborated by humans for hundreds of years. This new style of social law-writing was done in the context of a common historical memory of that freely chosen and courageous Exodus from the standards of a hierarchical civilization into the raw wilderness of social creativity conducted on a very different foundation—namely, loyalty to an Absolutely Mysterious Otherness that grants humans the deep freedom to bend the course of history.
Forbidding murder, theft, and false witness were laws that flowed form this overall integrity. And such laws applied equally to rich and poor, leaders and followers, the learned and the learners. Similarly, the law that set aside one day in seven to rehearse the group memory and rest from temporal labor also flowed from this overall integrity. of trust in ONE Trustworthy Finality.
These Exodus Spirit adventurers, looking backward to the ancient stories about Abraham and Sarah, saw this pair as heros who left the Mesopotamian city of Ur, walking toward a promised land, not knowing where they were going. The Exodus people saw that this trust in Final Reality preceded the post-Exodus law writing. The radical freedom of Abraham and Sarah impressed not only generations of post-Exodus Israelites, but also the Christ-way Paul and his followers.
Paul saw afresh that the revelation of Reality’s trustworthiness precedes in time and importance the giving of legal form to the communal life of the resulting people of trust. Judaism and Christianity have a common critique of moralism, legalism, ritual bigotry, and other clinging to humanly created forms of social practice rather than to a devotion to that One Reality that gives overriding context to the creation of human social forms.
Even though Mohammed was a vigorous politician and law-writer, his religious movement, like Judaism and Christianity, was first of all a return to the primacy of trusting the trustworthiness of Final Reality. The legal forms of Islam are secondary to that trust. The poetry of the Koran is secondary to that truth. This basic relation of trust before law was fought for again and again by all three of these religious communions. Students of Luther and Calvin can see that Protestantism in its origins was most of all a restoration of trust in Reality over morality and beliefs.
3. Love of Personal Authenticity
and Love of Justice for All
The ethical basics that derive from radical monotheism includes the love of every neighboring being given to us by this One Reality. We are to love both friend and enemy, both the just and the unjust, both the in-group and the out-group, both the spiritually healed and the spiritually sick. And this includes how we are to love our own selves, both the despairing foolishness that requires repentance and the healed realism that issues in costly active love for others.
This love is directed toward the conscious realization of human authenticity in each person, but not only that. This love is also directed toward social justice for all persons, whatever their state of spirit health. Today social justice includes a responsibility for the well-being of the planet that supports all human life and livingness itself. Justice in our social forms includes seeing the critical gifts of this planet and how those gifts can be equitable distributed among humans and between humans and the other forms of livingness. Justice includes having political power equitably distributed to all members of a society. Similarly, such justice requires that cultural gifts be equitably distributed to all of us. Such monotheistic-derived justice implies a critique of all forms of racism, sexism, nativism, religious bigotry, and any other “my-group-ism” imaginable by the un-loving minds of inhuman-kind. Love of this depth and scope is the heart of radical monotheism.
Much more can be said about each of these topics of profound richness that are arising among the awakening Jews, Christians, and Muslims. And finding common spirit among these three Abrahamic religious communities is not the only opportunity for common spirit. Buddhist and Hindu religions in their deep forms can also be seen to overlap with these monotheists in common spirit. But that topic can server a different essay. In this spin I want only to note that the awakening members of a monotheistic religion are allies, not enemies, in this era of massive challenges to be fully human and fully just on a planetary scope.
For more on radical monotheism see this book:
The Love of History and the Future of Christianity