When I was growing up in small-town Texas, religious diversity came down to a choice between who’s hell I wanted to burn in. My family (at least on my mothers’ side) was Irish Catholic and I attended mass regularly out of familial obligation. The other choices readily available to me consisted of Baptist, the Church of Christ or the Assemblies of God. Truth, as it could be understood in that time and place, was only manifest in those four varieties. Choose poorly and you were very likely damned forever.
Unfortunately I never felt particularly comfortable with any of those options, leaving me with ‘None of the Above’. Yet even then, what options were open to me? Jews and Mormons and Hare Krishna’s were strange creatures known only through rumor and speculation. Atheists and Agnostics were appealing for their dedication to logic and the scientific method but seemed to be missing an all too obvious spiritual dimension. I had never heard of Paganism.
I think back on those days in the late 70’s and early 80‘s with a kind of wonder. Sometimes I find it difficult to remember a world without the internet, when truth was limited to the mediocre contents of a rural library and the scare tactics of a handful of religious blowhards.
I was reminded of those days when I noticed this graph, published last week by the National Post. It represents a rough snapshot of religious diversity in the world today and it’s worth a good look.
Likely, the first thing that will occur to you to do is to look for the part of the graph that represents you and your understanding of the Truth. We all want company after all. Everyone wants to feel like they belong somewhere.
Now what about the billions that fall into other categories? What to make of them?
I am sure that some of my more missionary minded Christian friends will see most of those circles as fertile ground to spread the “good news”.
Others will pray that those lost souls will be forgiven for their ignorance and allowed to find their way to their saviors’ grace.
Without a doubt, the more militant Atheists will look at all those circles as further proof that religion is the stuff of cultural throw-backs. “If god were real,” they will argue, “there would be some consistency in belief and thus fewer circles.”
I suspect the Muslims will be thinking along the same lines as the Christians and Atheists. When you believe in “One True Way” (regardless of what form it takes) it’s only natural to start drawing lines between yourself and everyone else.
So where then, is the Truth?
As a polytheist, I believe in a multiplicity of gods. First and foremost I honor the gods of my Celtic ancestors, which does not mean that I discount the existence of other gods. I have no reason to disbelieve in any god that people choose to follow, including the god of Abraham (although I obviously don’t buy into the ‘supreme being’ persona he has been burdened with by his followers). I can accept that each of the beliefs represented by circles on the graph has it’s own Truth because I am not burdened with a belief that there is “One True Way”. When you believe in many gods and when those gods do not always act in universal harmony you have to take these things for granted.
If anything close to “Universal Truth” exists on this particular graph, I believe it to be expressed not within any single circle but in the solar system of choice represented therein. Sure, I think that if you start at the bottom of the graph and work your way up you will find more and more Truth as you go. Nevertheless, I tend to think of Truth as less a singular thing visible from any one perspective and more a vast landscape of possibilities which we view from a shared vantage point.
As children we are often taught that a thing is either true or it is not. The society we have been raised in, influenced as it is by a monotheistic mindset, tends to see things in terms of black and white. In practice, however, the universe does not seem to work that way. If light can exist as both a particle and a wave, I think we might do better to seek out Truth in the grey areas between the more popular extremes.
May your journey be a pleasant one.