One God, One Mission, One Globe by Gene Ciarlo

Twenty-first-century communication and transportation have delivered us a very small planet, and this is happening only in the first two decades of our century. Wait until the world of quantum mechanics begins to play havoc with our understanding of time and space. The shrinking world suggests to me that the key word for the present age—politically overused, often abused, perhaps the most frustrating and fought-over term in our time—is globalization.

What does globalization mean? The definition that I derive sounds almost biblical: that all may be one. But wait—that is precisely the cause célèbre of the controversy. That “all may be one” in the geopolitical sense are fighting words, since the great fear of all nationalists is that individual nation states, each with its own specific culture, might become some sort of amorphous mass of boring sameness with no real national identity, pride, celebrated traditions, or distinct ethnicity. However, globalization in the best sense of the term implies a unity in the midst of, and while retaining, diversity. That is much more acceptable to most thinking people.

What is the Paris Agreement but a worldwide effort at global ecology and a heads-up about what is happening to our planet due to climate change? And all of our recent talk about tariffs and trade are nothing but protectionist efforts coupled with claims about who has been cheating whom. What is that but the growing pains of a budding global economy? Globalization continues in the fields of technology, science, healthcare, and food and agriculture. In major cities anywhere in the world, you can feast on a New York strip steak or Ethiopian wot.

This process of globalization is not happening easily or without tension. We humans are instinctively reluctant to put aside “me” for the sake of “we.” It may not simply be attributed to selfishness; it might have to do with security, belonging, personal identity, and what makes me who I am and not who you are. In other words, it might be more than just a cultural phenomenon; it might stem from an instinctive human way of feeling rooted, possessing a sense of belonging.

Religion historically has been a major factor for moving and shaking things terrestrial—not always for the good, mind you. Never downplay the influence of religion on our world, regardless of the whispers of its demise in our post-Enlightenment culture. With this in mind, I’m beating the drum for a globalization of religion. I’m proposing that we not let globalization and bonding for the sake of peace and harmony stop at the doors of our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.

If the truth be known, the religions of the world are not “moving and shaking” to their potential because they cannot even begin to think of stepping beyond the limits of their own beliefs and practices. We are hung up on dogmas and rituals instead of being crazy about our message. What is the message for Christians? It is the theme in Saint John’s gospel, chapter 17: “That all may be one.” If you read this in context, you see that the oneness Jesus is talking about at the Last Supper is a oneness with love as its unifying force and factor.

All the major religions of the world have the same problem of putting method over message. Splintered and piecemeal movements go nowhere. We do too much navel-gazing and petitioning for divine favors, and that does not make for a better world. We may be more caught up in worship “for the glory of God” than in creating an environment for the betterment of humankind in which all things can live and thrive.

In the religions that I know, I see two basic themes: one is the glory-to-God theme and the other is salvation. Salvation in the world of religion today has to be about saving the world from itself, and not about saving our souls. To Roman Catholics, I say that it is within our capacity to be a powerful force for transformation toward good on this earth. However, as huge and powerful as we are potentially, we are not nearly as effective as we might be in saving the world from itself. Because of our doctrines, our sets of beliefs that we hold sacred as given to us by God through Jesus, we might be the last to put aside dogma for a greater good. We cast it all at the feet of divine revelation.

We say there are two sources of revelation, scripture and tradition. The fly in the ointment is tradition. That’s everything that has evolved and that we created to identify us as Catholic over the centuries. If we cannot free ourselves from some of the more obtuse and outmoded absolutes in dogmatic and moral theology, it is because we are ingrained with the conviction that it is all part of divine revelation. We are stuck in place whether or not our moral principles and dogmatic pronouncements make sense anymore in an age of bioengineering, cyberwarfare, and quantum mechanics, not to mention astrophysics and its recent discoveries.

The Tradition of the church with a capital “T” is a problem for me. Scripture wasn’t clear or detailed enough, so the massive book of canon law combining theology, philosophy, and law was instituted. The law is complex and twofold; there is divine or natural law and ecclesiastical law, which grew out of the need to expand the structure of the church for the sake of order. I say this to give an idea of how the human hand has entered into the creation of our church. Ultimately, regardless of how obtuse, outmoded, and farfetched a law or doctrine may be, it has been intellectualized and manipulated to go back to a divine principle that is at its root, and the powers that be are loath to reject it.

I am proposing something that will never happen: namely, that all religions of the world hold on to their particular and often peculiar beliefs and practices if they really want to for the sake of unity and order; and, at the same time, that they transcend their myths and rituals in favor of the spirituality that is common to all of us.

What is this spirituality shared by all religions worth their salt that pepper this earth? It is a spirituality that is found in our universe, in our nature, in what makes us to be labeled “good.” It has been pronounced and exemplified by every prophet, leader, teacher, and messiah of all the major religions of the world. They all start with love and put it in an active form through deeds of compassion, caring, bonding, and unity.

Do all roads lead to Rome? Perhaps at one time, geographically. Today I would say that all roads in all religions lead to love and compassion. Religions are about the common good, a moral sense that speaks strongly to truth and justice. All religions are about unselfishness and reaching out to people in need, people who are drowning in the Rio Grande and the Mediterranean, people who are suffering in detention camps.

As it stands now, religions are too numerous and splintered to be effective as a collective force for overcoming the blatant evils and innumerable divisions of this world. Just as individual nations often feel reluctant to relinquish even parts of their identity and individuality for the sake of the common good, so religions necessarily feel reluctant to sacrifice their righteousness and conviction about the exclusiveness of their religion, that “we have the truth,” so to speak, while the remnants in the religious world are wandering aimlessly.

Alone we can do very little; united we can change the world. Our various philosophies and theologies are essentially the same regarding love and compassion, self-giving, mitigating hunger and poverty, rectifying injustice, and a host of other qualities that we instinctively understand to be the good that is within us and that needs to be shared. Why not have a Council of World Religions in which all that we have in common, all that would be an asset to world peace and security, be discussed and clarified? It would not mean losing individual religious identity or one’s own peculiar beliefs and practices. Instead, it would transcend those individualized and individuated myths and rituals and take the high road for the sake of globalized unity and common principles of life. That would be the revised meaning of salvation.

For Christians, let Jesus, the holy man of God, be the example. The rituals that he engaged in were healing the sick, consoling the desperate and sorrowing, feeding with word and deed those who were starving for more than the earth was offering them. His teachings were an amalgam of word and action. His compassion and self-gift were nothing less than the surrender of “me” to the victory of “we.”

This may all sound like pie in the sky, out of touch with reality. But it is the religions themselves that are out of touch with reality if their doctrines and beliefs are more important than the salvation of the world. This salvation is embedded in all of the stories and rituals that are supposed to demonstrate what these religions stand for. They stand for nothing if not for the love and compassion that is at the root of what every human being craves and fails to find as the world sails on a seemingly endless voyage across a multitude of religions, a voyage that takes us nowhere except into our own heads, books, and practices without deeply influencing life on this earth.

Gene Ciarlo is a priest resigned from active ministry in the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut. He received an MA in Theological Studies from the University of Louvain, Belgium, and an MA in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame. After 10 years in the active ministry he returned to the American College in Louvain as Director of Liturgy and Homiletics. He now lives in peaceful and graceful Vermont.

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