Is monotheism the result of religious evolution? And, what about Christianity and world religions?
When I first read this book, I think I did not believe it. “Eternity in Their Hearts: The Untold Story of Christianity Among Folk Religions of Ancient People”by Don Richardson, Regal Books, 1981. It was a gift from Wycliffe Associates, people who support the translation of the Bible into native languages. Richardson tells numerous stories of missionaries and anthropologists who discover stories among many tribes in many different parts of the world, of a Creator who is greater than all the others gods served by their people. Why was I surprised? Even the Bible starts with “In the beginning, God…”
I had heard the idea that monotheism was a later development enough times that I believed it. According to Richardson’s accounts, polytheism developed in the tribes as a substitute for the Creator God they wanted to relate to but did not know how.
Richardson goes on to tell how missionaries have been able to link the Christian message to the stories and practices reminiscent of the great God of the tribal people’s history.
When I first heard Huston Smith’s views of other religions at Kansas Wesleyan College (now Kansas Wesleyan University), I questioned him, thinking that the Holy Spirit must be the difference between Christianity and other religions. He said, “No.” That puzzled me and I think we probably both had different views of the Holy Spirit at that time. I still wondered what he thought the difference is between Christianity and other religions.
Smith is a child of Methodist missionaries to China and remains a Methodist today after immersing himself for about a decade in each of the major religions.
When I watched the Bill Moyers’ DVD titled “The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith,” I began to have a better understanding of what Smith’s view is of the core of the world’s great religions. Among the religions discussed are Zen, Islam and Sufism (jihad is “exertion” (not war) against evil in ourselves and is misunderstood), Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism.
From my notes made during the video, I recall that Smith believes although each religion has many organizational differences and flaws, some of them at odds with the core of belief, that there is a common core among the religions. And, although my notes are not comprehensive and probably flawed also, among the threads of this religious core are:
There is an intelligence greater than ours.
“Everything proceeds from an absolute perfection.”
Truth is revealed (as inferred from the missionaries experience with tribal religious histories). Smith describes the revelation as “bubbling up from within – an implosion into conscious mind.”
Similarities regarding the kind of people we should become, a wholeness and integrity of person with humility, concern for justice and mercy.
A desire to join with, to experience, the Divine, the infinite Spirit.
There are moments of choice.
Death is not the end, there is more to be done.
Huston Smith has found each religion has something particular to contribute to our understanding and in his view, Christianity is different in that it stresses God’s love more than any other religion.
That doesn’t surprise me.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his special son and whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting, meaningful life.” from John 3:16.