I always wondered why God told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Then I read that it was because if humankind had knowledge then they would also have power, and humankind was not wise enough to handle such power. That made a lot of sense to me since I am very knowledgeable about how people abuse power.
The explanation was not in The Holy Bible but in The Holy Quran.
The Holy Bible exhorts us not to drink or gamble. The Holy Quran says “Satan’s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of [the Lord], and from prayer: will you not then abstain?” So now I know why we shouldn’t drink or gamble: it distracts us from our spiritual commitment and makes us nasty to one another. Lord knows, I’ve seen enough drunks to know that’s true.
I was raised in the Methodist Church and as an adult I became a member of the United Church of Christ, so I have been “churched” for about four decades. In the past ten years, I have read The Holy Bible in its entirety three or four times but I have found that it takes many books to achieve understanding. Others I have read include—
- Living Buddha, Living Christ, by Thich Nhat Hanh, whom Martin Luther King nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize; it is a wise crossover book that introduces Christians to Buddhism.
- The Essential Koran, translated by Thomas Cleary, is a selection of readings and is a good place to start to understand Islam.
- The Wicca Bible, by Ann-Marie Gallagher. Wicca is a pre-Christian religion that has many paths and no single essential sacred writing, but this book about Wicca provides a sampling of the paths.
- The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Jack Hawley, is the sacred Hindu text read daily by millions of people; Mahatma Gandhi lived by it.
- The Holy Quran, translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, (my current work in progress).
What I have come to believe is that there is one Divinity who has reached out to different people at different times in different places in different ways. The Hindu Brahman, the Hebrew Yahweh, the Christian God, and the Muslim Allah are a single divine being.
What I have learned is that the Divine One is perfect love, wants to bring us into a loving relationship, and wants to teach us how to love each other.
Worldwide, Christianity has about 2,400 million adherents; Islam has about 1,200 million. The third largest group of people self-identify as non-religious. Fourth is Hinduism with about 900 million people; Buddhism has about 800 million practitioners. Only about 14 million people espouse Judaism.
All the major religions call their people practice kindness and justice; care for the poor and sick; respect the elderly, and act with charity and humility.
There is one Divine Being; there are about 6,868,700,000 people. What would you do if you wanted to reach all those people?
I’d choose some special people, tell them stories and lessons, and have them write them down for other people. That’s what sacred scriptures are: the Divine One’s messages to the human race.
The main reason I am a Christian is because I was born in the United States in the 20th century. Had I been born in another place at another time, I would probably have espoused a different religion. There are many paths that spirituality takes and I got curious about the others, so I started reading the holy books. God gave me a brain and expects me to use it. (Hear also Ravi Zacharias’ “Let My People Think,” appearing now on a radio near you.)
Buddhism taught me silence and listening. It taught me to live in the present moment. That means that you don’t walk down the street talking on your cell phone to someone who is not present; you pay attention to the people you pass. It means that when you go jogging, you look at the flowers and listen to the birds; you do not plug into a headset and tune out the world you’re moving through.
In Wicca I discovered a common bond in nature; Wicca is all about the natural world and where we fit in it, which is something we’ve deeply lost, being wrapped up in video games, shopping malls, and texting. See the trees? Feel the sun? Know the Earth? You are a part of that; you were designed to fit into it.
The Gita taught me the warrior’s way, and that pacifism is not always right. There are some things you can, should and must fight for. The Holy Bible taught me that you should never go to war—unless not fighting would be worse.
The Holy Quran is the most surprising book. I have heard so many horrendous quotes about how Muslims hate Christians and want to kill Americans. Guess what? The Quran is no more nuts than the Bible. If you compare the crazy parts of the Bible to the crazy parts of the Quran, they match—and the zealots and nut jobs and haters of both Christianity and Islam select those parts to justify their nastiness.
Other than that, the Quran, just like the Bible, is the Lord trying to reach and teach the people how to be kind and end up in heaven—or the garden. The Christian heaven has never made much sense to me—streets paved with gold, pearly gates, angels singing—what’s up with that? How about a garden with a river running under it? How good do you feel when you’re on your knees in your garden? How often do you choose to go to a park for your pleasure? Welcome to the afterlife . . .
The holy books are complementary, not exclusive. There are no demon religions out there. There are seekers of the truth. We are all trying to find the right path up the mountain. (One religion identifies those who proselytize as people who have stopped going up the mountain and are going around it.)
Life is the course and the sacred writings are your textbooks. Get your head into the books before you flunk out.