The theme of “Can one be a Quaker/Universalist and a Christian/Buddhist?” and discussions on relations within the diverse range of Friends, are popular topics amongst Quaker Universalists. However what about relations within society as a whole? Is this where Universalist approach can make a valuable contribution?

I live in the UK which as a result of post-imperial immigration there is now a wide range of faiths, e.g. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, etc. and in my immediate neighbourhood there are probably all of these and many others.

Without a Universalist approach to religion, defined as many paths to one destination, it would seem difficult to co-exist in the same community (as has been observed in Northern Ireland where Protestants and Catholics live for the most parts in enclaves).

As most communities appear to be pacing greater emphasis on religion as part of their identity, a mixed society would appear to have little choice but to adopt Universalist principles in matters of religion.

In Friendship


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Dear Friend Michael:


That was also my experience when I was studying in Japan.  Most Japanese people are members of at least one Temple.  Most self-identify as Buddhist, but many are both Buddhist and Shinto, and some are exclusively Shinto.  Christianity is a very small minority in Japan. 


Religious commitments in Japan do not engender strife.  People can be passionate about their religious commitments.  Some Nichiren sects are famous for the intensity of their adherence.  They can even condemn other religious views.  But the significant thing is that this does not engender civil strife.   Sometimes disagreements will end up in court, but that is well within the boundaries of civil discourse.


The difficulty I have with the above depiction is that I don't think it maps well onto other experiences.  For example, there are free verse poets and formal poets.  They use different techniques and the end results are different.  If one insists that there is a universal poetry, how would that work in practice?  Apply the same kind of reasoning to sports or musicianship.  People are not universal musicians; they are practitioners of particular instruments such as guitar, piano, flute.  Without this particular focus there would be no music at all.





Thank you for your thoughts  Rupert. I humbly embrace the ideas you have shared. Kathy

Thank you Kathy for your civility and also Forrest for your insightful comments. I agree that there are many cases where a secular dispute is given a religious ‘frosting’ and Northern Ireland may be such a case, though its continuance from generation to generation has been assisted by segregated education on religious lines, with the catholic minority being taught in church schools.

However there are cases where religion per se has been the prime motive in warfare and disharmony. Three cases come to mind: the Christian Crusades, the creation of Pakistan by Muslims who did not wish to live under a secular state and the occupation of East Jerusalem (containing the Old City) by Israel.

In these cases the issue appears to be one of transcendental monotheism, with a ‘God on my side’ approach. Where there is a more pluralist approach religion, as occurs in China, then the potential for discord appears less.

Despite the contrary etymology, both pluralism and universalism both propose a ‘many ways to one goal’, a case of ex pluribus unum (a phrase first coined by Augustine).

 In Friendship


Your essay scares me, let me try to explain.


I'm rather surprised that the Berber empire expanding into area that was once the Roman Empire (where the Pope had become sort of an Emperor substitute), and the Ottoman Turks, and Arabs taking land which belonged to the (Eastern) Roman Empire had something to do with the whole thing... Remember, Jerusalem had been Roman since before there were Christians.  Empires do not give up land easily, especially if people are sentimental about it.  But, maybe you can argue that Islam made the empires that adopted Islam expand and pressure empire that adopted Christianity.


 About my opinion -- I will explain it very briefly.  I read something that scapegoats Christians, Muslims, et c. for the world's violence and other problems.  It suggests that they need to change their faith and world view to something acceptable.  Ok... you have identified a clear and present dangerous enemy... how do you deal with this problem?  Re-education camps?  Mental hospitals? prisons?  Torture? death?  You identified those 'not like you' as the enemy'.  I... find that dangerous, and deeply offensive.


Back to China -- before I went to China, I knew there was some terrible persecution against Christians back a half century ago when they were 'modernizing'.  When I was there, I learned that that these persecutions happened to the Muslims, the Buddhists, and  all other scapegoated religions for the problems they caused.  Of course these people are friends with one another -- they have experienced and survived a deadly enemy who's political rule is believed responsible for the death of 40--70 million.  His face is on every bit on money, reminding the religious people of China that the current policy is pragmatic, and not philosophical.  Every few years, the Chinese government cracks down on Buddhists, because they feel that the Dali Lama is getting too political.  Even though religious practice is allowed, it is under a hostile eye.


You identified the problem?  What is your solution... I lived in China -- I learned there that people who call religion the problem are a dangerous common enemy to all people of faith.  


I am deeply concerned about the scapegoating some religious people (Muslims) are facing in my nation.  I am afraid that too many of our religious communities are blind to the fact that if scapegoating Muslims is successful... Christians will eventually follow... by the way, you might not of noticed -- Christian Churches are often very active in making sure that Muslims have the right to assemble and worship unmolested (in the United States).  Its partially because there is a growing number of Christians who realize that if we allow right to be taken from Muslims, we lose them ourselves... it is also, partially because -- Christian scripture teaches us to be hospitable to foreigners.

By the way -- there is -- for me a line between "My view is right"... and "Others need to adopt my view, or we cannot have social harmony".  The first is... pretty universal (few people approach a conversation assuming they are wrong)... the second makes the assumption that the 'other' view is intrinsically evil. 


I am responding to the where this essay stands on that  line.


Is the goal of scapegoating to demonstrate that you are superior to others -- or do you want a solution to the problem?  The first -- is relatively harmless bigotry.  The second is something that historians call genocide.


(the application of the solution is called genocide)


And how about "Before we can hope to have any sort of lasting social harmony, we need to tune into what 'God'/'Allah'/'Big Mind/'The Life of the Universe' (etc) is up to." Where it isn't a matter of "I know how this comes out, so everyone else has to " but "We can all find out if we're willing to ask and help and see what comes?"

@Forest -- Ok... I'm going to say -- I'm very much a Theist, but the idea that people need a connection to the Divine pre-supposes that there is a Divine.  This leaves out people with a non-theistic world view... its rather difficult to suggest that someone must get in touch with something that is irrelevant to the world-view.


I would pre-suppose that my neighbor did not wish me harm, and instead wished me well, if he thought anything of me at all.  If his actions were harmful to me, must likely, these actions would be done ignorantly -- not with malice. I would suppose that systemic social ills are caused by a break down in the system, instead of having the cause of a nameable group of people.

Well, it's way difficult to suggest that someone get in touch with something/someone their world-view has no room for. Most people aren't at all happy with the idea that their world-view could be missing anything significant...


but a 'world-view' isn't just a particular person's mental picture; it's a person's picture of the actual world we all happen to live in. Leaving out a significant element can have consequences.


What if the truly significant cause of all this strife... was not the immediate fact that people are frequently threatened by political/social/economic circumstances, and typically respond by joining forces with the 'like-minded' against the 'other.' Obviously we do that. But picture us as all living within a sort of collective 'Bardo', where people and things around us poke back in response to our internal spiritual states...


If we agree that God is both "internal" and "external"-- then it's possible to ascribe a great many external events to people generally being "out of touch" with the spiritual foundation of their 'self'. This is not a viable condition for a tolerable life... and when too many people are caught in it, God intervenes... with trouble.


That's pretty much what I believe, but I don't imagine that peace depends on other people agreeing with me. No one in a flooded house needs to believe in leaking pipes-- but the plumbing may need to be fixed.


I agree that in a small society, for example a village, college or small company, then social disharmony may flow from the lack of peace of mind of individuals rather than vice-versa. However for larger societies it seems that an averaging effect of individual states takes over, and the behaviour of a ‘society’ depends on competition for resources or perceived threats etc, often transmitted by mass-media.

Incidentally, an example of disharmony caused by competitive ‘transcendental monotheism’ has been horribly provided in the past day, with many UN workers being murdered by mob protesting at the reported burning of a Koran by an sadly-obscure pastor. A case of ‘they’ have insulted ‘our’ God.


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