FROM INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE TO SPIRITUAL HUMANISM
By Prof. Syed Hasan Askari (1932-2008)
published 2004 by “InterReligious Insight”
Affirming Religious Diversity
I have always looked at religious diversity with a sense of wonder. The differences between religious beliefs and practices have never bothered me, nor have their conflicting truth-claims unnerved me. I was mystified by the fact of diversity itself. But the call to tolerate and coexist with the other in mutual respect, however desirable, was not enough for me. The intuition underlying the ancient saying, “the lamps are many but the light is one,” gently led me on to look for a theological affirmation and validation of more than one religion. What was lingering in the depths of my soul came to the surface of my consciousness sometime in the mid-1970s when I clearly realised that transcendental reality could not be equated with any one religious form; otherwise a religion will become a god and that would be utter blasphemy. The prospect of a religion reflecting the Absolute absolutely would turn that religion into the most dogmatic and oppressive belief system imaginable. Hence, there should be room between the religions for mutual critique and complementarity. In turn, this should generate a religious need for religious plurality and diversity.
Each religious form should then express the beauty and the splendour, and the transcendence and the mystery, of the Supreme One in terms of its own language and culture, framed in its own historicity and reflected in the vision of its pioneers. To enter into dialogue is to celebrate the splendour of the infinitely Supremely Good, in the unity and diversity of our faiths. By the theological affirmation of religious diversity, our coming together in dialogue becomes akin to an act of worship; our exclusive witness is transformed into co-witness; our one-way mission is replaced by mutual mission.
Co-witness and mutual mission would replace the literalist approach to religious language by a symbolic understanding of diverse and conflicting symbols and statements. A real evangelist would be one who brings the good news of universal truths as these are glimpsed through various religious symbols and philosophies. Then our perception of the other as a spiritual being will achieve a real depth and we shall apprehend underneath the outer differences and conflicts a shining unity of mystical experiences. Our perspectives will expand: we shall not only notice religious diversity as a spatial fact but also value the coming and going through time of teachers and prophets, religions followed by religions – all calling upon us to wake up and humbly bow in self-knowledge before the almighty source of our souls. Then our conversion will be not to this or that religion but to one God (speaking theistically), All Transcendent-All near, All Freedom-Ever New!
In order to attain this perspective I soon learnt that one had to give up the traditional scholastics and adopt a hermeneutic approach by which a pathway to the fountain itself of such unity and diversity could be opened. There was nowhere to look for its source except in one’s own soul, for nature and culture, art and religion, philosophy and science had emerged from the depths of the soul. Soul is thus the treasure house of all the archetypes from where all our symbols and insights emanate. As I once put it:
Without the unifying reality of the soul we shall be wrecked in the multiplicity and conflict of the forms of life and nature. The soul is the one-multiple being, one and divided at the same time, fully one with itself possessing the vision of what is above. Unless we postulate such a principle and revive the classical discourse on Soul, we cannot rise above our divisions of body, belief and consciousness to a bodiless and non-discursive reality.
Before we ask about the other out there, we should ask about the other in us, our nobler and loftier companion, our Soul, which with one hand holds our body and mind here on earth and with the other holds on to the Divine. With this knowledge we can hope to pass from one hand to the other, from the lower to the higher. Hence, to experience the truth about oneself and about the other is to experience the reality of the Soul, which individualizes and universalizes us all at once. First soul, then God!
It is as if the soul possesses the vision of the Supreme One, and yet creates countless forms in order to preserve that singular vision through such endless multiple endeavour.
Soul as One and Many / Spiritual Humanism / Universal Validity of Mystical Experience /Criteria of Mystical Experience / Religious Diversity as Mystical Experience