Year of Faith | One God, Many Religions
Dear Sister Benedicta Marie,
If there is only one God, why are there so many religions in the world?
With apologies to Shakespeare, the fault, Dear Reader, lies not in our God, but in ourselves. God indeed, if I can say it this way, knows how to be truly Three, and absolutely One. We do not. And in the fallen state of our world and our race most of us, I suspect, have many reasons both conscious and unconscious, for making no great effort to learn this skill!
Adam and Eve worshipped the same God, had the same religion so to speak. So did Cain and Abel – until Cain became resentful of the sacrifice that this religion would entail. Abel paid the price for Cain’s resentment and it is a short hop, skip and a jump to the idolatry of Babel and the scattering and multiplication of not only language groups but cults, i.e., “religions.”
Clearly Adam and Eve fall from their unity with God and with one another through their attempt to re-make themselves after a pattern of their own choosing. They would become the judges of right and wrong for themselves. Their attempt leaves them in a state of confusion and fear. Cain attempted an even more pathetic manipulation of reality: he would buy the blessing of God on his endeavors by going through the motions of worship without a real sacrifice. The failure of his plan leaves him blood-stained and feeling totally alienated from all he thought he knew. We would have God under control, manipulable, a non-interfering force that serves us – or at least does not interfere with us – and our many versions of self-determination. But God will have none of it.
He most certainly has not abandoned the human race to its nonsense. All the rest of Scripture is the record of His faithfulness. But just as our first parents rejected one part of God’s revelation to them (“Do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil…you will surely die” Genesis 2:17) so we, their children, have faithfully followed their example by picking and choosing between the aspects of God’s revelation we will obey, and those we will reject and substitute with our own “creativity.” We Catholics do this when we soft-peddle the forms of Revelation we call Scripture and Tradition, when we hush our own consciences, turn a deaf ear to the Magisterium or rationalize our way around the common-sense of the Natural Law.
The members of other religions and no religion engage in this same effort to manipulate God and reality (but with better excuses, generally, it seems to me) whenever they take a “what do I want to believe,” “what do I like the sound of,” “what do I want to be true,” and “what am I comfortable with” approach to belief – and therefore, truth. You don’t have to listen long to realize this is rampant. This comfort level approach to religion (or lack of religion) might be as superficial as searching for “what makes me feel good” or as deeply compulsive as being terrified to look at, or be exposed to, anything beyond “how I was raised.”
It is no accident that one of the primary principles for spiritual growth of St. Teresa of Jesus – and any number of spiritual guides – is self-knowledge. Scripture warns us “more tortuous than all else is the human heart – who can understand it?” ( Jeremiah 17:8-10) and St. Paul, yes, long after his conversion, complains of finding the same confusion, mixed motives and irrational ambitions within his own heart: “Wretched man that I am, who will rescue me…?” (Romans 7:21-25).
One God, and therefore one religion? It certainly sounds sensible enough – God is One after all. But we are not – not between ourselves and not even within ourselves. No, no such thing can happen until every human heart is both wise and convicted with a perfect self-knowledge, and therefore capable of an open hearted knowledge of God. This only is freedom from self-delusion. We will not see that day until the Kingdom comes – because that is what the Kingdom will be.