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Different Paths - And Misunderstandings
by Diana Robinson, Ph.D.

My belief is that every religion starts with the goal of spirituality, when an enlightened, spiritual leader attempts to tell us how to grow closer in our ongoing contact and communication with the Universal Source, (regardless of whether It is spoken of as God, Allah, Y*w*h, or another of many appropriate Names).

Religion follows when those who have heard that leader, or those who come after, attempt, with the best of intentions, to make that guidance clearer, to fill in the gaps, to decide what was meant by particular phrases or subtle suggestions, and to establish guidelines that, over time, become rules and dogma.

It is a bit like the difference between the spirit of a law and the letter of the law. If we read the works on which most religions are based, we can see strong words spoken against following the letter of the law without regard to the spirit of the law, the love, the charity, the compassion that are accompaniments to true spirituality. Most such leaders attempt to add a new perspective, a new insight, onto what has gone before and to lessen the rigidity of the rules. Yet, over time, such laws are written once again, this time in their names, and once again it becomes too easy to focus on the letter of those laws rather than their spirit.

This is not to speak against religion, for most of us need some level of clarity. For most of us, the search for God is too huge an undertaking to embark on without guidance. My point is that the further back toward the origin of each religion we go, the closer together do they all grow to each other. Then, if we follow them forward in our own lives, and if they lead us closer to the One, they must by definition grow closer again. It is, I believe, largely during the course of the clarifying and translating of the original words into sets of rules and dogma that religions, founded in the One and seeking the One, grow apart.

Because most humans find it easier to think and visualize in concrete terms, these early leaders tended to give concrete examples. They may have pointed to a behavior to be avoided, and described it as being typical of the behavior of a specific people. They may have pointed to certain behaviors that are helpful to us in our spiritual search as being typical of certain people. Sometimes this can be interpreted as saying that people who do a certain thing, or live a certain way, are bad, or are good. These beliefs can get carried down through the centuries as truth.

When we are raising children, one of the most basic wisdoms of those who guide struggling parents is to remind them that it is not children who are not loved, it is behaviors. It is not that we dislike, or do not love a child, it is that we dislike the behavior that a child may be exhibiting at a particular time. The ability to separate the behavior from the person is crucial in healthy child-rearing, and in many other interpersonal activities as well. Yet, somehow, some of us cannot perceive of the laws of spirituality carrying the same wisdom. In their determination to follow the rules of their religion, there are those of us who forget that if we, as humans, are capable of separating the person from the behavior, then any Creator, Judge, God, or however we wish to perceive the Universal Force is presumably even more capable of doing the same.

Somewhere in most holy books we are enjoined not to judge, for we are not all-knowing, and we cannot know what it is to have walked in the shoes of those who we might tend to judge. How, then, can we judge that those who do not share our beliefs, who follow our rituals or liturgies, are not worthy?


Turn to the Book or the Writings of a religion with which you are not particularly familiar. Seek, until you find, a suggestion, a saying, a belief, that matches with those of your own beliefs.

Consider making such a search a habit.

This is not to undermine your own faith, but to strengthen it, as you learn that those faiths that you have thought of as "other" may yet have so much in common with yours.

Following some reader concerns, I want to emphasize that at different times, references may be made to a variety of religions, and I occasionally find that readers are offended by this. I do not wish to give offense, but it is my belief that there have been great spiritual leaders in all religions. I may not agree with the contemporary religious dogma of all faiths, but I believe that the spiritual teachings that initiated them has wisdom from which we may all learn. Therefore, I hope you will not be offended if you find references to religious leaders from faiths other than your own.

Copyright Diana Robinson, Ph.D. 2001.
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