A NEW 21ST CENTURY EARTH
My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people. (Isaiah 56:7)
I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am a Christian, I am a Jew. (Mahatma Gandhi)
New American Faces
Imagine a country whose paper money mirrors the changing population of its people, so, for example, Jorge Washington stares up at you from a dollar bill, Ibrahim Lincoln’s somber visage looks out from a five dollar note, and Aleksi Hamilton’s proud bearing resides on a ten dollar denomination. This particular nation had already begun to recognize a long-neglected half of its population with Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea dollar coins. Of course, that country is the United States, and if it truly made these changes they might more accurately reflect the changing face of America in the 21st Century rather than a hoary group of old white men from the 18th and 19th Centuries. Of course, we no longer need imagine these changes. We have a president by the name of Barack Hussein Obama—an African-American Christian of mixed racial parentage, carrying an African name, a Kenyan father, a Missouri mother, an African Muslim grandfather and American grandparents who remind you of Auntie Em and Uncle Henry from The Wizard of Oz. Quintessentially American. We have Washington, Jefferson and Franklin bills, depending upon the legacy of his presidency, could we someday have an Obama bill? The times they are a’changin’.
As recently as 2003, it was widely reported that Hispanics were now the largest minority in the country. Not only is the traditionally centrist population of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) the new minority, but by 2050 the Census Bureau tells us that non-Hispanic Whites will only make up half of the population. Moreover, 2000 Census Bureau statistics report that 11.5% of people living in the United States (32.5 million) are foreign born, not including some estimated eleven million illegal immigrants . However, the greatest surprise in our increasingly pluralistic, multicultural American stew is on the religious front. The Pew Research Center finds that Americans do not fit into neat categories anymore.
A new poll by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life finds that large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions. Many say they attend worship services of more than one faith or denomination—even when they are not traveling or going to special events like weddings and funerals. Many also blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation, astrology and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects. And sizeable minorities of all major U.S. religious groups say they have experienced supernatural phenomena, such as being in touch with the dead or with ghosts.
Diana Eck carries the point even further, noting that despite the rhetoric of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition over the past three decades, there is little awareness that the idea of “Christian America” does not mirror the new religious America, “the one Christians now share with Muslims, Buddhists and Zoroastrians.” To completely unmask the Christian illusion, she accentuates the point.
"We are surprised to find that there are more Muslim Americans than Episcopalians, more Muslims than members of the Presbyterian Church USA, and as many Muslims as there are Jews—that is about six million. We are astonished to learn that Los Angeles is the most complex Buddhist City in the world, with a Buddhist population spanning the whole range of the Asian Buddhist world from Sri Lanka to Korea, along with a multitude of native-born American Buddhists. Nationwide this whole spectrum of Buddhists may number about four million."
Adding savory spice to that simmering religious stew is a whole postmodern way of individualistic thinking that challenges all religions and institutions today. Two of my undergraduate religion students unconsciously summarized this sea change in perspective from the Modern to Postmodern Era far better than I could have in a recent paper on “Defining the Role of Religion.” The first, a twenty year old Caucasian woman raised Roman Catholic and still devoted to her faith, wrote:
"It seems like almost every religion has its own special understanding of the world and our place in it, but not one fully agrees with the other. I would like to make my own decisions from now on as to what I believe to be true, what my values are, and according to what ideals I live my life….I don’t think that people have to go to “church” every Sunday, but I do believe that people should live their religion. So, in other words, you don’t have to attend your religious functions; you can do whatever you want, just live according to your word, and be sincere about that with yourself."
The second student, a nineteen year old Hispanic woman, also a devout Roman Catholic, wrote:
"…I am a truly religious person, and, moreover, my religion is a substantial part of my life. In my personal point of view, religion is every part of who I am today. Furthermore, religion is a private matter in that it deals with individual beliefs, ideas, morality, and, basically, faith. Religion is my personal outlook on a combination of various aspects, as something that is inside of me, and therefore only I fully understand, as each individual can only understand his/her own “religion.”
Similar sentiments have echoed throughout my students’ papers for several years now. No one is going to tell them what to do or what to believe anymore, and, yet, they very much wish to remain within spiritual community. Being true to Buddhist form with an expected twist of “no doctrine,” the Dalai Lama once said,
"The most important thing is practice in daily life; then you can know gradually the true value of religion. Doctrine is not meant for mere knowledge, but for the improvement of our minds. In order to do that, it must be part of our life. If you put religious doctrine in a building and when you leave the building depart from the practices, you cannot gain its value."
In these postmodern times religion is becoming an individual experience of daily practical, personal revelation, as much as it is a communal experience.
How many times throughout history have we heard a prophet or an oracle thunder dire warnings foretelling horrendous tragedies to befall humankind, followed by belated promises that it does not have to end that way? How many times has a great spiritual leader, a Jesus, a Buddha, a White Buffalo Calf Woman, a Muhammad, a Temple Doors , a Gandhi come along to guide us to a better way? How many dreamers, utopianists, philosophers and idealists have described a vision of a better world? How many opportunities have we had from the very first inkling of human thought millions of years ago to choose a different path? When we weren’t beheading or belittling them, how many times have we listened to these visionaries and their visions of hope? Forget the big picture of our life journey; have we even attempted to incorporate their hopes and dreams into the simple, ordinary moments of our day? For most of us, the answer is no, or at best, very inconsistently yes. But, isn’t there a time when they might finally be heard? Isn’t there a time when we might finally listen? Isn’t there a time when their vision might finally be imagined and fully realized? Isn’t there a time when we might begin to finally live up to our promise as individuals and as a species? I say yes, and I say the time is now!
There comes a time when the old is renewed and the new is really new. There comes a time when the human wisdom of five million years must finally be harvested. There comes a time when evolution in heart, mind and spirit demands creative new ways of believing, thinking, and being. There comes a time when the choices before us are so compellingly clear that only the most spiritually blind and ignorant could possibly miss the signs. There comes a time for the evolution (or revolution) of heart and soul to finally emerge, to become more than potential. There comes a time when it is time to grow up. That time is now!
What doubt can there be that we desperately need transformation in a world still ravaged by religious hatred and intolerance: Muslims blowing up Jews in Israel and Jews blowing up Muslims in Palestine and Lebanon; Americans launching another perceived Christian Crusade against Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran; Muslims attacking Christian “Great Satan” America; Muslims and Buddhists at war in Thailand; Protestants shooting Irish Catholics and Irish Catholics bombing Protestants in Northern Ireland; Hindus and Muslims murdering each other over remote, mountainous Kashmir; Shia slaughtering Sunni Muslims and Sunni butchering Shia Muslims in Iraq; and indigenous peoples everywhere losing their homelands and their traditions as the contemporary world casually rolls over them with nary a backward glance. Fortunately, these battle zones do not represent the mainstream views of most people in the world, who generally follow a more moderate path, so there is hope. Even as I wrote this section, two extremists and long-time foes, the Rev. Ian Paisley representing the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Gerry Adams of the Roman Catholic Irish Republican Army (IRA), sat down at a table together for the first time and agreed to cooperate in forming a coalition Protestant-Catholic government in Northern Ireland. We can only hope this attempt bears sweet and lasting fruit after so many decades of the barren harvest and bitter taste of failed negotiations and unremitting violence. However, this type of good news is few and far between, for most often it is the loud extremist and fundamentalist voices that capture the media’s attention and trumpet the messages of intolerance. Amazingly, their planetary impact far outweighs their numbers, and their minority message far overshadows the more moderate, tolerant, peaceful stance acknowledged by most people on the planet. Our God is better (or bigger) than your God. Our soul is superior to your soul. Our way is the “right” way. Our way is the only way. We are the Chosen People. We are better than you. We are good and you are evil. Them and Us. Us and Them. Them and Us. Us and Them.
Do we figure it out or do we destine ourselves to the living nightmare of future generations saddled with unending religious intolerance, hatred and bigotry? Do we stay stuck in the soul-sucking quicksand of Us and Them, or do we free ourselves from the muck and discern there is no Us and Them, only Us and We. Moreover, if we remain mired in religious intolerance, egoism and bigotry we soon ascertain that it carries over into nearly every major challenge facing the planet today—poverty, environment, health, globalization and human rights. It colors our views about the poor and oppressed, about men and women, about children and parents, about sexuality and sexual preference, about life and death, about nature, about power and greed, and even about racial and ethnic identity.
Gandhi once told an emotionally and mentally broken Hindu nationalist who had committed terrible acts against Muslims, “I know a way out of hell.” This book, too, suggests a way out of hell and reminds us that all of the great spiritual teachers—Jeremiah, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, White Buffalo Calf Woman, Confucius, Isis, Krishna, Gandhi and Mother Teresa—taught of tolerance, compassion and love. This was the God-given message they came to deliver. Have we listened? Have we believed that any one of them would have truly wanted us to go to war against a single brother and sister in their name or God’s name? The answer is unequivocally no. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) Yet, how many have died in the name of Jesus? Both Isaiah and Micah beseech us to do God’s will for peace, “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war.” (Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3) Muhammad’s last sermon included this admonition,
"O men what I say to you, you must remember. All Muslims are brothers to one another. All of you are equal. All men, to whatever nation or tribe they may belong and whatever station in life they may hold, are equal. Even as the fingers of the two hands are equal, so are human beings equal to another. No one has any right to claim superiority over another. You are as brothers. O men your God is One and your ancestor is one. An Arab possesses no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab over an Arab. A white man is in no way superior to a black man, nor for that matter is a black man better than a white man…."
Could these teachers be any clearer?
Universalism is the new religion of tolerance. It brings a message of hope and life. It is the Light of the World, the World of Light that we can be if we so choose, what many have called the Kingdom of God or the “Kindom of God.” It is up to you and it is up to me—to all of us to make better choices and truly follow the teachings of God’s many wonderful messengers of light, including our own hearts. Let us begin.
CHAPTER I ENDNOTES
1. Ninian Smart, Dimensions of the Sacred (Berkely: University of California Press, 1996), 10-11.
2. See A Universalist Spiritual Manifesto that begins on page viii just prior to the Introduction.
3. According to Native American history, Temple Doors was the great General-Priestess who led her people from their lands in Central America some 2000 years ago to Northern Mexico and the American Southwest. Today we call them the Pueblo peoples (Zuni, Hopi, Anasazi, Taos and so on). They had a great influence on Native American culture as a democratic, egalitarian society, and as their colonies spread northward. From Lightningbolt by Hyemeyohsts Storm, (New York: Ballantine, 1994), 312-316.
4. For example, in the comprehensive 2009 Gallup Poll that covered most of the Islamic world, they discovered only 15% of all Muslims are militant, but that they receive the lion’s share of attention from the media. Of Muslims covered by the media, 55% are militants. Hence, most of the Muslim world’s true views and opinions are overshadowed by the militant minority. From Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think (Unity Productions, 2009).
5. Susanna Oommen Younger, "Gandhi: the Person and the Film," Theology Today 40:2 (July 1983): 172.
6. Quoted in Zahid Malik, “War and Peace,” Review of Religions 88:5/6 (May/June 1993), (accessed March 20, 2008).
7. D'Vera Cohn, "Hispanics Declared Largest Minority," Washington Post, June 19 2003, sec. A, p. A:01.
8. U.S. Census Bureau, Interim Projections of Age, Race, and Hispanic Origin (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, 2004), U.S. Government, 1, (accessed February 12, 2006).
9. Dianne Schmidley, The Foreign Born Population in the United States: March 2002 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau), U.S. Government, P20-539, 1, (accessed February 12, 2006).
10. Robert Tanner, "Governors want Bush to tighten borders," Miami Herald, February 27 2006, sec. A, 3A.
11. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Survey, “Many Americans Mix Multiple Beliefs.”
12. Diana L. Eck, A New Religious America (San Francisco: Harper, 2001), 4.13.
13. Ibid, 2-3.
14. The Modern and Postmodern Eras are defined and discussed a little later on pages 8-13.
15. From an unpublished undergraduate student paper by Apryl Wall, “Defining the Role of Religion,” in Religion 2011, Religion: Analysis and Interpretation (Miami: Florida International University, January 24, 2006), 1 and 4.
16. From an unpublished undergraduate student paper by Michelle Escobar, “Defining the Role of Religion,” in Religion 2011, Religion: Analysis and Interpretation (Miami: Florida International University, January 24, 2006), 2.
17. Quoted in Bamboo in the Wind: Dharma Talks and Teachings, “Dalai Lama Quotes,” (accessed MArch 2o0, 2008).
18. Joseph Holland, “The Evolution of Modern Industrial-Capitalist Society and the Birth of the Postmodern Electronic-Ecological Era,” in The Association for the Sociology of Religion Annual Conference Held in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, August 18, 1992, (London: The Centre for the Study of Communications and Culture, 1992), 14-16, 31-33.
19. Daniel Boorstein, The Discoverers (New York: Random House, 1983), 319-326.
20. Ibid, 323.
21. Gavin Hyman, The Predicament of Postmodern Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 11-19.
22. Ibid, 15.
23. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer belonged to the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, which challenged the notion of Western rational thought since the Enlightenment in their book Dialect of Enightenment, which particularly focused on the Nazi horrors.
24. Alan Finlayson and Jeremy Valentine, “Introduction,” Politics and Post-structuralism : An Introduction, edited by Finlayson and Valentine (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002), 2.
25. Hyman, 13-16.
26. Finlayson and Valentine, 11.
27. Williams, James, Understanding Poststructuralism (Chesham: Acumen Publishing, 2005), 2
28. Ibid, 1-2.
29. Ibid, 3-4.
30. Nancy Murphy and James W. McClendon, Jr., “Distinguishing Modern and Postmodern Theologies,” Modern Theology 5:3 (April 1989), 210; and Charles J. Sabatino, “The Death of God: A Symbol of Religious Humanism,” Horizons 10:2 (Fall 1983), 289.
31. Frederick Ferre, Knowing and Value: Toward a Constructive Postmodern Theology with an introduction by David Ray Griffin (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), xvi and 270.
32. Anselm Kyongsuk Min, The Solidarity of Others in a Divided World (New York: T & T Clark International, 2004), 66.
33. Andre Dawson, “The Origins and Character of the Base Ecclesial Community: A Brazilian Perspective,” in Liberation Theology, ed. Christopher Rowland (Cambridge: University Press, 1999), 113-114, 118.
34. Murphy and McClendon, 208-209.
35. Ferre, 270.
36. Ibid, xvi.
37. Ibid, xvi-xvii.
38. Ibid, xvii.
39. Holland, “The Evolution of Modern Industrial-Capitalist Society…,” 14-16, 31-33.
40. Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique,” Christianity Today 48:11 (November 2004), 38-39.
41. From a Brian McLaren speech, “Issues of Truth and Power: the Gospel in a Post-Christian Culture,” at the Billy Graham Center, summarized in “Emergent Evangelism,” Christianity Today 48:11 (November 2004), 42.
42. Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, “Project Wittenberg: The Nature and Implications of the Concept of Fellowship,” April 1981; available from accessed August 1, 2005; and Robin Greenwood, “Ordering the Church for Working with God’s Life in the World,” Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002; available from
43. Unity Online, “Who We Are,” (accessed March 20, 2008).
44. Unitarian Universalist Association of Congrregations, “History of Unitarian Universalism,” (accessed MArch 20, 2008).
45. The Columbia Encyclopedia, "Universalist Church of America," Sixth Edition (2001-2008), (accessed March 20, 2008).
46. Eck, 181-82; and Helena P. Blavatsky, "What is Theosophy?," in Theosophy Library Online, (accessed January 15, 2006).
47. Steiner Books, Anthroposophic Press, "About Rudolf Steiner.", (accessed January 15, 2006).
48. Lucis Trust, “About the Arcane School, (accessed MArch 20, 2008).
49. Religious Movements Project, “’I AM’ Religious Activity.” (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1997), 1, (accessed January 15, 2006).
50. Religious Movements Project, “Church Universal and Triumphant.” (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1997), 1, (accessed January 15, 2006).
51. Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, The Opening of the Wisdom Eye (Wheaton: Quest Books, 1966), vi.
52. Blavatsky, “What is Theosophy?.”
53. Syncretism is the influence of and blending with other religious traditions. It occurs through: interactions with neighbors and trading partners, intermarriage across cultures and clans, conquest (conqueror and conquered both influence each other); and immigration.
54. Since all forms of life (animals, plants, minerals, elements, and celestial bodies) can be teachers and guides in Native American and shamanic tradition, a totem animal is a personal spiritual guide.
55. Lewis M. Hopfe and Mark R. Woodward, Religions of the World (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001), 102.
56. “Mahatma Gandhi: A Century of Peaceful Protest.” Mahatma Gandhi News Digest Ed. Peter Ruhe. 11 – 17 Sept. 2006 <
57. Deborah McGinnis, interview by Thomas Norris, January 21, 2006, transcript, The Church of the Way of the Messiahs, Miami, Florida.
58. Isaiah knew this as well, when he said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” (Is: 56:7) There are numerous other references to God as the Creator of all nations and all things in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the New Testament, for example: Isaiah 40:28, 42:5; Job 38-41; the story of Jonah and his mission to the people of Nineveh, the Assyrian enemy of the Israelites; Psalm 148; John 1:3; Acts 10:34-35; Romans 1:20; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 11:3; and Revelation 4:11, 10:6.