Unity and universality of religions, religious tolerance and secularism
Unity of religions
All religions have one common ideal, worship of the Lord, and all of them proclaim that there is but one God. This one God accepts your devotion irrespective of the manner of your worship, whether it is according to this or that religion. So there is no need to abandon the religion of your birth and embrace another.
The temple, the church, the mosque, the vihara may be different from one another. The idol or the symbol in them may not also be the same and the rites performed in them may be different. But the Paramatman who wants to grace the worshipper, whatever be his faith, is the same. The different religions have taken shape according to the customs peculiar to the countries in which they originated and according to the differences in the mental outlook of the people inhabiting them. The goal of all religions is to lead people to the same Paramatman according to the different attributes of the devotees concerned. So there is no need for people to change over to another faith. Converts demean not only the religion of their birth but also the one to which they convert. Indeed they do demean God.
universality of religions
There is a near universality of religious beliefs throughout the history of civilization, a highly puzzling cultural observation that is still true in the twenty-second century. However, reasonable explanations for this universality can be derived by considering the origin of such beliefs. Since religions were an essential cultural element for primitive humans, the practice of imprinting them during early childhood was never abandoned, and religions became an integral component of most civilizations. The practices of religions have changed, but their moral teachings are still based on the Golden Rule, which was already known to Confucius, several centuries before the arrival of the Christian and Moslem prophets. The main religious denominations, however, have lost their unity because they have divided into smaller groups. The varieties of religious beliefs contradict each other, and they also contradict the unity of truth.
The Religion of Vivekananda is universal in its scope. It is catholic rather than critical. It seeks to see the universal and all pervading spirit of Truth in all the human beings. It eliminates every type of discrimination between man and man, man and nature, man and God, between one form of manifestation and the other form of manifestation.
It has no geographical barriers. This is evident in his own words: ” If there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one which will have no location in place or time; which will be infinite like the God it will preach, and whose sun will shine upon the followers of Krishna and of Christ, on saints and sinners alike; which will not be Brahminic or Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these, and still have infinite space for development; … It will be a religion which will have no place for persecution or intolerance in its polity, which will recognize divinity in every man and woman, and whose whole scope, whose whole force, will be created in aiding humanity to realize its own true, divine nature.”
Religious tolerance in many philosophical circles is now known as the “New Tolerance.” This is the politically correct position that all beliefs and life styles should be accepted no matter how illogical or misguided. It seems that the only exception to New Tolerance is Christianity, because of its so-called “exclusive” nature. The biblical and traditional position of tolerance in Christianity is to be tolerant of all people and religious beliefs, but intolerant of sin.
Religious tolerance and the New Tolerance philosophy is built on a foundation of relative truth and cultural relativism. However, proponents of the “New Tolerance” seem to be intolerant of Christianity. As Christians, we’re called to a higher standard than “tolerance” — we’re called to love our neighbor. Simply, we must love the sinner, yet remain intolerant to the actual sin. The New Tolerance is just the latest byproduct of religious tolerance and moral relativism, both of which continue to bolster the firming foundation of secular humanism in our culture.
Religious tolerance involves:
- Allowing others to freely hold different religious beliefs: This includes granting everyone freedom of personal belief, and freedom of religious speech.
- Allowing others to freely change their religion, or denomination or beliefs.
- Allowing children to hold religious beliefs that are different from their parents to a degree that depends on their age.
- Allowing others to practice their religious faith, within reasonable limits: This includes granting everyone freedom of assembly and freedom to practice what their religion requires of them.
- Refusing to discriminate in employment, accommodation etc. on religious grounds.
- Accepting that followers of various religions consider their own beliefs to be true.
- Making a reasonable effort to accommodate other people’s religious needs.
The separation of religion and state is the foundation of secularism. It ensures religious groups don’t interfere in affairs of state, and the state doesn’t interfere in religious affairs. In the United Kingdom there are officially two state recognised Christian denominations – the Church of England and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The Queen is both head of state and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. There is no established church in Northern Ireland or Wales. But the 26 unelected bishops of the Church of England who sit in the House of Lords influence laws that affect the whole of the UK. Christianity is one major influence among many that shape our current ways of life. We are a nation of many denominations and religions. Large sectors of the population do not hold, or practise, religious beliefs. If Britain were truly a secular democracy, political structures would reflect the reality of changing times by separating religion from the state.
Secularism protects both believers and non-believers: Secularism seeks to ensure and protect freedom of religious belief and practice for all citizens. Secularists want freedoms of thought and conscience to apply equally to all – believers and non-believers alike. They do not wish to curtail religious freedoms.
Religious Freedom: Secularism seeks to defend the absolute freedom of religious and other belief, and protect the right to manifest religious belief insofar as it does not impinge on the rights and freedoms of others. Secularism ensures that the right of individuals to freedom of religion is always balanced by the right to be free from religion.
Secularism is about democracy and fairness: In a secular democracy all citizens are equal before the law and parliament. No religious or political affiliation gives advantages or disadvantages and religious believers are citizens with the same rights and obligations as anyone else. Secularism champions universial human rights above religious demands. It upholds equality laws that protect women, LGBT people and minorities from religious discrimination. These equality laws ensure that non-believers have the same rights as those who identify with a religious or philosophical belief.
Equal access to public services: We all share hospitals, schools, the police and the services of local authorities. It is essential that these public services are secular at the point of use, so no-one is disadvantaged or denied access on grounds of religious belief (or non-belief). All state-funded schools should be non-religious in character, with children being educated together regardless of their parents’ religion. When a public body grants a contract for the provision of services to an organisation affiliated to a particular religion or belief, such services must be delivered neutrally, with no attempt to promote the ideas of that faith group.
Secularism protects free speech and expression : Religious people have the right to express their beliefs publicly but so do those who oppose or question those beliefs. Religious beliefs, ideas and organisations must not enjoy privileged protection from the right to freedom of expression. In a democracy, all ideas and beliefs must be open to discussion. Individuals have rights; ideas do not.