Kudos to Oprah for her monumental effort to open our eyes to the beauty in the diversity of beliefs, customs and perspectives held by people from various cultures. It has been four weeks since the original airings of her BELIEF series appeared on Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). We know that to have dedicated so much of her own energy and capital to this project, Oprah must be driven by a very ardent purpose. She must hold very deep feelings about the need for more open dialog about the variety of religions, and the need to share word of the diversity of religious beliefs that people hold.
Indeed, the BELIEF series exposed us to the strivings of a fifteen-year-old boy in Morocco intent on memorizing the Koran, and a Rabbi's son in Hungary who informs us that questioning is the heart of Judaism. A man from Rhodesia walked the Camino of Santiago trying to reclaim a faith he had lost when faced with his church's lack of ethics against war. A nineteen-year-old woman in India renounced her career as a soldier and all worldly comforts and belongings, as well as all contact with her family, to become a Jain nun. An astrophysicist explains his findings about how the universe is not standing still, and informs us that we are all made of stardust. A violinist in Israel brings together Jews, Christians and Muslims to enjoy music as a form of shared faith. And my personal favorite, an IT professional from the US leaves her job and travels to India to find understanding of the Hindu faith she had long since left behind.
It is so important that we are having these conversations so people from all different perspectives can come to understand each other. The BELIEF series allowed us to perceive the good and the truth in myriad forms of religious belief and spiritual expression. Surely Oprah is to be deeply commended for this monumental effort. But while such messages are very good at introducing us to the huge variety of trees in the forest, the next thing we need - if we are to move society forward (defined as beyond divisiveness and toward unity) - is a perspective that sheds light on the very forest itself.
What we need now is a bigger story, an overarching perspective that includes ALL these BELIEFs. A few people in our society are arriving at this broader perspective, but so far, most of our mainstream society proceeds unaware of its possibilities. That bigger story becomes evident when we combine three factors: globalization, the perennial philosophy, and spiritual development theory.
It would take a whole book* to describe just how these all fit together, but the short answer is that we are beginning to recognize that each individual religion was formed by a given local culture to meet a very basic human need that people of all cultures share - the drive to connect to something larger than ourselves. Rather than being right or wrong, each of our religions is just a localized, cultural expression of this need.
It is time we finally admit that no one religion delivers exclusive truth. Rather each religion expresses the attempt of one culture to explain life's mysteries and to provide spiritual connection for the people of that culture. It is time we finally admit that all religion, all spirituality is about connection, and that the highest expression of that connection takes us beyond literal, provincial, exclusivist BELIEFS, and toward universal LOVE. #BELIEF