~ Postcard #3 THERE ARE MANY PATHS UP THE SAME MOUNTAIN ~
THERE ARE 7.3 BILLION NON-MORMONS currently on the planet. I’ve met some of them. In India, we worked together in the leprosy colonies. Some of my fellow laborers found inspiration in the teachings of Guru Nanak or Muhammad or Jesus or Swami Vivekananda. Others were motivated by a love for Vishnu or Shiva or the Mother Goddess Devi. A few held no religious convictions at all, yet seemed as devoted to serving humanity as their god-fearing counterparts. In serving together, I never noticed a hint of difference in the love conveyed by Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Roman Catholics, Baha’is, Seventh-Day Adventists, Hindus, or non-theists. Any notion I’d carried into India that we Mormons were going to radiate a unique quality of goodness quickly evaporated in the sweltering heat, along with any lingering cultural arrogance.
My Mormon beliefs have provided a well-spring of goodness in my life, and I continue to be grateful for the ethical grounding and strong sense of moral purpose that my faith system has endowed me with. But when I look around, I witness the same measure of goodness, the same infusion of moral purpose, in my non-Mormon brothers and sisters. I can’t honestly claim that my religious beliefs have been more fruitful in my life than theirs have been to them. This is not easy to admit, having donated tens of thousands of dollars and two years of my life as a full-time missionary inviting people to change their beliefs. Had I been more wise, I might have helped them connect to that well-spring of goodness found at the heart of their own tradition instead.
There is goodness everywhere. But within any belief system, there are lower laws and there are higher, more elevating laws. If we, like eagles, could find in the landscape of our own traditions those rising currents of warm air, those spiritual thermals, we might use them to soar to higher and higher states of consciousness. It was, after all, a rabbi named Jesus who pointed to the higher laws in his own Jewish tradition—leading no one out, but only up.
Huston Smith made the study of world religions his life’s work. The introduction to his popular and illuminating book, The World’s Religions, begins with this observation:
“..the various major religions are alternate paths to the same goal…. It is possible to climb life’s mountains from any side, but when the top is reached the trails converge.”
This idea of elevation and convergence echoes the experience of Ramakrishna. The Indian mystic earnestly practiced Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity and discovered that, by shedding any religious biases, he could find God in each tradition. He insisted that
“As one can ascend to the top of a house by means of a ladder or a bamboo or a staircase or a rope, so diverse are the ways and means to approach God, and every religion in the world shows one of these ways.”
While my Mormon beliefs provide me with a sturdy ladder, well-suited to its task, I now must acknowledge that others are climbing just as high by means of bamboo, stairs, or rope.
Happily, as we ascend, the fog of provincialism fades, and we find our narrow views giving way to more expansive vistas.