“We need a new understanding of God that allows us to leave behind the zero-sum and xenophobic narratives of country, kin, culture, and parental bias.”
The Bible tells us that God doesn’t change (Psalm 102:27; Malachi 3:6). Maybe so, but our ideas of God do change, and while no one theology is emerging as THE understanding for our time, the direction of change is toward a God who is unaligned with tribe, nation, politics, party, and patriarchy, and who instead speaks for an old-new principle of universal justice and compassion.
When the first-century rabbi Hillel taught that the message of the entire Torah is “What is hateful to you do not to others” (Talmud, Shabbat 31a); when Jesus said the two most important commandments are love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:36–40); when His Holiness the Dalai Lama tells us his religion is kindness; and when Archbishop Desmond Tutu promotes Ubuntu, the humanistic African philosophy based on the teaching umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (“I am I only in relation to you,” or “we are all in this together”) they are espousing the same universal ethic.
We have heard this ethic preached for centuries and yet we still treat one another in ways totally incompatible with how we would like to be treated. Why? While there are many reasons (I have written an entire book on the subject, The Golden Rule and the Games People Play) the one that concerns me here is this: Our gods demand it. While every religion has its version of the Golden Rule, the gods of each find ways for the people to violate that rule. That’s why religious people—in the name of their god—so often do unto others what they would rather others not do unto them.
[Read: “A New Way to Worship.”]
We need a new understanding of God that allows us to leave behind the zero-sum and xenophobic narratives of country, kin, culture, and parental bias (Genesis 12:1) and embrace the diversity of humanity within the greater unity of God that we might be a blessing to all the families of the earth—all of them, human and otherwise (Genesis 12:3) by doing justly, acting kindly, and walking humbly with our gods (Micah 6:8).
Where will we find this understanding of God? In the insights and teachings of our great mystics who lift the language of the parochial into the realm of the perennial and universal.
Eknath Easwaran taught that reading the mystics of the world’s religions should be part of everyone’s daily spiritual practice. I agree. Here are five resources with which to start: Easwaran’s Words to Live By, Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy, Matthew Fox’s One River, Many Wells, and my own anthologies Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent and The World Wisdom Bible.
It is time to move beyond the competing gods and their warring tribes. Reading the teachings of our greatest mystics is a powerful way to begin making that move.
Want more from Rabbi Rami? Read: “Spirituality and Aloneness.”