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Unity, Not Uniformity

The Perennial Tradition

Unity, Not Uniformity
Thursday, November 24, 2016

If we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race. —Huston Smith [1]

For those of us living in the 21st century—an age of globalization, mass migrations, and increasingly multi-religious and multi-ethnic societies—mutual understanding and respect, based on religious pluralism rather than religious exclusivism, are extremely critical to our survival. The insights from the perennial tradition have much to contribute in developing and strengthening multi-faith relations. Its insights help to combat religious discrimination and conflicts between and within religious traditions, and to develop more pluralistic paths of religious spirituality. Today . . . we see scholars and spiritual teachers forging new, more inclusive spiritual paths that recognize other religious traditions as sources of insight and wisdom. They are informed by the teachings and spiritual practices (meditation and contemplation) of multiple religious traditions. —John L. Esposito [2]

The divisions, dichotomies, and dualisms of the world can only be overcome by a unitive consciousness at every level: personal, relational, social, political, cultural, inter-religious dialogue, and spirituality in particular. This is the unique and central job of healthy religion (remember that re-ligio means to re-ligament!).

Many teachers have made the central but oft-missed point that unity is not the same as uniformity. Unity, in fact, is the reconciliation of differences, and those differences must be maintained—and yet overcome! You must actually distinguish things and separate them before you can spiritually unite them, but usually at cost to yourself (see Ephesians 2:14-16). And this is probably the rub! If only Christianity and other religions had made that simple clarification, so many problems—and overemphasized, separate identities—could have moved to a much higher level of love and service.

Paul made this universal principle very clear in several of his letters. For example, “There is a variety of gifts, but it is always the same Spirit. There are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord, working in all sorts of different ways in different people. It is the same God working in all of them” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). The community at Ephesus was taught in Paul’s tradition: “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God who is Father of all, over all, through all, and within all, and each one of us has been given our own share of grace” (Ephesians 4:5-7).

Even our central template of Trinity maintains the clear distinction of “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” while at the same time insisting they are One. Divine Unity absolutely maintains and yet radically overcomes seeming distinctions. How different history could have been if we had only believed that at ever broader levels. I will develop this important theme more tomorrow.

Gateway to Silence:
All truth is one.

References:
[1] Huston Smith, The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith, PBS television series in 5 parts (1996; New York: WNET), DVD. This phrase introduced each episode.
[2] John L. Esposito, PhD, “The Perennial Tradition in an Age of Globalization,” “The Perennial Tradition,” Oneing, Vol. 1, No. 1 (CAC: 2013), 34.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “The Perennial Tradition,” Oneing, Vol. 1, No. 1 (CAC: 2013), 12-13. (This issue of Oneing, a limited edition publication, is no longer available in print; however, the eBook is available from Amazon and iTunes. Explore additional issues of Oneing at store.cac.org.)

Image credit: Tree with visible roots in Kiental, between Herrsching and Andechs, Germany, Wikimedia.org.
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