From Sunday Herald Sun
The anthropologist Wilhelm Schmidt claimed that religious belief pretty much was the same for everyone.
It all sprang from the original common idea of one God, Schmidt said.
He theorised that the major religions practised in the world today were founded or developed with that one common bond between 600BC and 600AD.
And that all indigenous primitive peoples currently, or had at some point, worshipped an omniscient figure who bore a remarkable resemblance to the Christian concept of God.
Thus, Schmidt explained, basic religious philosophy was the same in Russia, Japan, Melbourne and Pago Pago.
He ignored some pretty crucial difference between, for example, the many gods system of the Hindus and the monotheism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
But he had a point about what we all have in common.
The Christian golden rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has an echo in the Jewish commandment “One should love his neighbour as himself”.
Buddhists are urged in the Dhammapada (Way of Virtue) to “remember that you are like other men . . . as you would not harm yourself, do not harm others”.
The Chinese religion Confucianism in Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) warns: “What one does not like to have done to himself, he should not do to others.”
The Precepts of Jainism encourage that “one should treat all beings as he himself would be treated”.
Plato and Aristotle, among other philosophers, believed in a “first principle of intelligence” suffusing the world.
Unaided human reason, they said, could lead us to acknowledge that God exists.
But that knowledge could still leave us in the dark about who God is.
For some it is, as writer Michael Novak says in his book No One Sees God, a sweaty and laborious struggle.
Others in the search for who God is are “borne on eagles’ wings”.
From primitive times there has been a strong universal belief in a power or powers ruling the universe.
A great number of religions flourished for a while then died out, leaving almost no trace.
The ones that survived refer to the benefits of all men living as brothers.
They also speak of the loving nature of God, rewards of good deeds, the punishment of evil, duty to our fellow men and women, respect for family life, forgiveness of those who wrong us and the need for faith.
Faith is described in Buddhism as “necessary for the virtuous life”, in Hinduism’s Rig Veda (Veda of Verses) as “the pathway to wisdom”, and in Japanese Shintoism as “fundamental to humans”.
And, there is much agreement on the existence of life after death.
Taoism in the Tao Teh King (Canon of Reason and Virtue) describes death as “going home”.
Hinduism says it is “taking off the robe of life to put on the robe of immortality”.
Buddhism says the “good and wise will find happiness in the life to come” while “the evil and thoughtless will die eternally”.
Islam says “the good shall be rewarded with eternal life”.
Material wealth gets the thumbs down in all faiths – except perhaps those promoted by some TV evangelists.
The Bible describes earthly treasures as “corrupting”, the Jewish psalms and the Jainist Agama both call them “fleeting” and the Tao Teh King says they are “poison to the soul”.
On the subject of war, Buddhists are taught “intentional killing of any human being is condemned”. War is “the road to destruction” for Christians, “totally condemned” by Jainist teaching, the work of “fools”, according to Jews, and “unblest and full of sorrow” to Taoists.
The religions all teach you can gain salvation by finding release from obstacles that block human fulfilment.
In Christianity and Islam, the obstacle is sin. In many Asian religions it is attachment to the world.
Writer Ron Rolheiser said it would take all cultures and languages to properly incarnate the overwhelming richness of God’s creativity.
“Many things divide us – language, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, politics, ideology, culture, personal history, temperament, private wounds, moral judgments.
“It is hard, in the face of all this, to see people who are different from us as brothers and sisters, as loved and valued by God in the same way we are.”