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The Religions Agree!

At least, the mystical traditions of the religions agree. I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately in the more philosophical strains of the various religions, and I was struck by the way the great religious thinkers have used the same concepts and almost the same language to express the presence of God in the world, even though they lived centuries apart and came from traditions which, on the surface, have often been hostile.

Take for example this quote from Emmanuel Swedenborg, a Christian mystic from 18th century Sweden. Trained as a scientist and engineer, he went through a religious crisis around the age of 60 and began talking with angels. The following is from his book Heaven and Hell.

    To the extent that people accept what is good and true from the Lord, they are angels, and are heaven. Absolutely everyone in heaven…perceives that he neither intends nor does anything good nor believes anything true on his own, but that his ability comes from the Divine, which means that it is from the Lord. […] Not only, they say, is everything good and true from the Lord, even all of life is from Him…[for] nothing can emerge from itself; everything needs some antecedent. So all things emerge from a First, which they call the very Being of all life. Things endure in the same manner, since enduring is constant emergence. If anything is not kept in constant connection with the First by means of something in between, it will promptly decay and utterly disintegrate.

Compare this to the Jewish mystic tradition known as Kabbalah, as expressed by two of its greatest proponents. The origins of Kabbalah are ancient, but it developed in southern France and Spain in the late Middle Ages, then spread to the Middle East as the Jews fled there from Christian persecution. First, Moses Cordavero, writing in the 1500s.

    The essence of divinity is found in every single thing. Nothing but it exists. Since it causes everything to be, nothing can live by anything else. It enlivens them; its existence exists in each existent. Do not attribute duality to God. […] If you suppose that Ein Sof [the hidden source of creation] emnates until a certain point, and from that point on is outside of it, you have dualized. Realize, rather, that Ein Sof exists in each existent. Do not say, “This is a stone and not God.” All existence is God, and the stone is a thing pervaded by divinity.

Moses de Leòn said the same thing three centuries earlier.

    God is unified oneness…. Genuine divine existence engenders the existence of all creation…[like] a chain linking everything from the highest to the lowest, extending from the upper pool to the edge of the universe. There is nothing, not even the tiniest thing, that is not fastened to the links of this chain. Everything is caught in its oneness. God is one, God’s secret is one, all the worlds below and above are mysteriously one. […] The entire chain is one. Down to the last link, everything is linked to everything else; so divine essence is below as well as above, in heaven and on earth. There is nothing else.

Both quotes are from The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism, a collection of Kabbalistic texts edited by Daniel C. Matt. And what about the Islamic tradition? Consider what Ibn Arabi, often considered the greatest of Sufi mystics, wrote in his masterwork The Meccan Revelations (al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya).

    It is reported…that the Messenger of God said: “God is beautiful and He loves beauty.” It is God who made the world and endowed it with existence. The entire universe is therefore supremely beautiful. There is nothing ugly in it. On the contrary, in it God has brought together all perfection and all beauty…. The gnostics [mystics] see it as being nothing other than the form of the Divine Beauty…for God is He who is revealed in every face…He upon whom all eyes rest, He who is worshipped in every object of worship and pursued in the unseen and the visible world. The whole universe offers up its prayers to Him, falls down before Him, and sings His praises. All tongues speak of Him alone, and Him alone all hearts desire….

So here we have thinkers from three different religious traditions—not minor thinkers either, but among the most revered of their respective faiths—agreeing that the universe is a direct manifestation of God’s goodness and beauty; that there is nothing but God in the universe.

This radical thought—that everywhere we look we are seeing God, that we are communing with God in every touch—is a favorite of poets and mystics, but is despised by the religious authorities who teach religion to the people. How else can we explain the wars that are fought in God’s name? If God is present in all things, then the moment we raise our hand against another, we are striking God in the face.


Comment from Loula
Time: June 21, 2007, 13:22

You said it Eatbees, yet how many crimes did humans committed in the name of God.
Crazy world and we have not learned at all, each century we say let’s dot it again.

Comment from Ibn Kafka
Time: June 27, 2007, 08:47

True, Loula, but how many crimes, even bloodier, have been committed in the name of non-religious ideologies? Think about colonialism – largely non-religious, at least in France and the UK -, communism, nazism… Not to underrate the bloody crimes of the inquisition or of wahabbism, but I fear that all ideologies have a potential for mayhem…

Comment from eatbees
Time: June 27, 2007, 14:58

I agree with Ibn Kafka (and don’t disagree with Loula) that throughout its history, humanity has always found ideologies to justify its crimes against itself. Despite the recent writings of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, I don’t see religion as the problem, but rather as a symptom of what my friend Daniel (in the video above) calls “the human condition.” We seem perpetually ill-suited to see the divine in ourselves and in each other. If we did, it would be impossible for us to kill. Which brings me back to the point of this post that you are both overlooking. We and everything in the universe are part of God; there is nothing but God in the universe. Mystics of all faiths agree with this principle, which is hateful to the orthodox. What do you think of it? To me the real contradiction is not between religion and irreligion, but between “narrow” and “vast” interpretations of the religious experience.

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