My favorite professor during my tenure as a religious studies student at the University of Pittsburgh said something on the last day of our Varieties of Religious Tradition class that I have never forgotten. It was her final statement on the last day of class, and what she said was this:
"If there is one thing you take away from this
class, I hope it is that there are many paths to God, and none is any
more valid than any other."
If we would all learn that
lesson, think of the wars, bigotry, and violence that could've been
avoided in our history, and could be avoided in the future. Many
Christians like to quote 1 Peter as the philosophy by which they live.
This letter admonishes Christians to go out and proselytize their faith
to others. But let us not also forget in Matthew, where Christ himself
(and not Peter) admonishes people to keep their religion private and not
force it upon others--God, he says, values private prayer far more than
public display. Christ also tells us not to judge, lest we ourselves be judged, for judgment is to be reserved for God alone, and telling someone else that their religious beliefs are wrong is certainly a form of judgment.
With all of that in mind, I'm going to go ahead and talk about my own spirituality for a moment. An old friend of mine, with whom I lost contact years ago, had an excellent metaphor for religion that I adopted in my own personal spirituality. He called it the Great Cosmic Patchwork Quilt. I hadn't thought about this in a long time, until tonight someone asked me about my spirituality.
I thought I would share with you all, with one caveat: Please, I beg you, do not comment here seeking to tell me that Christ is the One True Way, or suggest that I read the writings of Irenaeus, or otherwise try to convert me or tell me you'll pray for my salvation. I respect if that's your belief and the way you feel--I ask that you respect my desire not to have you proselytize it to me. What is here is the basis of my own personal belief structure, in parable, and is not meant as an advertisement for how you should believe.
The parable goes like this:
A few tens of thousands of years ago, on North America, a native American was walking through the forest, when he walked face-first into the Great Cosmic Patchwork Quilt. Stepping back, he observed the Quilt, but it was so large, he could only see a few dozen patches.
"These," he said, "Must be the gods. The largest of one is the Great Spirit, the others, with imprints of animals, the various totem spirits."
At the same time, in India, a young warrior walked down the road, and he, too, bumped into the Patchwork Quilt. Stepping back, he noted a few hundred patches in his line of view. "These," he thought, "are the gods, the ancestors, and all of the spirits."
Just to the west, in Greece, a young philosopher saw dozens of patches, in varying sizes and designs. These he recognized as Cronos, Gaia, Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Hermes, and all of their kin.
Meanwhile, in the Middle East, a young Hebrew also bumped into the Quilt. But where he bumped in, the patch he saw was so huge there was only one. "This, then," he thought, "Is the One True God."
But the truth is, they all saw the same quilt, and were all kept safe and warm wrapped within it.