Beyond the Clash of Religions: The Emergence of a New Paradigm

Beyond the Clash of Religions: The Emergence of a New Paradigm
Udo Schaefer, Zero Palm Press, Prague, 1995.
Review by Burl Barer

"One of the most puzzling theological questions of our age - how to account for the great number and diversity of world religions and at the same time to acknowledge their similarities - is also one of the most challenging social issues confronting humanity.

Disputes and disagreements over religious beliefs have been and continue to be one of the main sources of conflict, civil war, terrorism and even genocide in the modern world. As the noted theologian Hans Kung has said: "There will be no peace among the peoples of the world without peace among the world religions.”

In Beyond the Clash of Religions: The Emergence of a New Paradigm, Udo Schaefer offers a new theological conceptualization that seeks both to explain how the world's great religions can be so different and yet the same, and also to suggest how a wider acceptance of this understanding could cure religious intolerance and the social ills that stem from it.

"The fact that religion appears in such colorful variety - that there is not one single religion but a plurality - has always been a source of irritation for people," writes Dr. Schaefer, laying out the problem.”Religions are in many ways similar, and yet they are so different; there is much which unites them, but also much which divides them. This is indeed irritating. All the world religions teach that there is only one ultimate reality, which we call God. If that is so, there can logically only be one truth: But if there is only one truth, why are there so many religions?”

The answer, writes Dr. Schaefer, lies in understanding a new"unity paradigm"In religious studies - a paradigm that is as different from the old"Absolutist"paradigm in theology as the Ptolemaic view of the universe is from the Copernican - and one which conveys"A new image of religious phenomena and of religious history.”

Dr. Schaefer, a respected German jurist who has made writing about comparative religion a second career, begins with an analysis of the old paradigm, wherein each religion has traditionally laid claim to"uniqueness, finality and exclusivity.”

"That religion is always associated with a claim to truth is self-evident," he writes.”Something that is untrue is unworthy of faith. All of the world religions... make absolute claims to truth. Each is convinced that it possesses a divine message brought by its founder which to them is 'the way, the truth and the life.'"

The problem with this attitude is that it too often leads to intolerance.”This claim to exclusivity and superiority, in which one's own religion is regarded as a priori better than others...easily slips into fanaticism," Dr. Schaefer writes, adding that"[h]atred is never so profound and irreconcilable; envy never so wretched and wars so merciless and cruel as when their motives spring from the deepest levels of consciousness, from religious belief.”

As if it were necessary to verify this notion, Dr. Schaefer recounts a few of history's many examples of religious persecution and intolerance: pogroms against the Jews, the Crusades, the displacement of Jews and Muslims under the Spanish Inquisition, the European religious wars resulting from the Reformation, the current wars in the Punjab, Sudan, Algeria and Lebanon, and"last but not least the bloody persecutions of the Bahá's in Iran by a clerical, obscurantist regime.”All of these are"consequences of claims to exclusivity and finality," he writes.

The curious thing, says Dr. Schaefer, is that all of the world's religions also preach tolerance and peace. Although the absolutist paradigm was the dominant one in religious history, there have always been religious officials who have pleaded for such understanding and tolerance.

The plea for tolerance, however, has only come into widespread acceptance in the last 100 years, Dr. Schaefer notes. Advances in religious studies and modern communications, he writes, have illuminated the similarities between the religions - while the highly destructive nature of modern warfare has made tolerance all the more necessary.

Writes Dr. Schaefer: "The fact that we are now living in a global society in which technology permits much greater mobility than was previously possible; the fact that huge migrations have come about due to wars, persecution and poverty in many parts of the world, means that the borders established on the basis of religion have gradually become blurred. The earth has become a communicational unity through radio and television, mass tourism and mass publications. People have become vividly aware of the plurality of faiths. Thus, the religions no longer exist separated from one another in distant continents: they exist very close together - and now find themselves confronted by an urgent necessity for an interfaith dialogue.”

And, indeed, the development of modern religious dialogue and studies have opened the door to new understandings.”Religions that in the past were condemned without anything being known about them are now known," he writes.

Dr. Schaefer then makes a comprehensive but concise list of the"essential similarities"of the world's major religions.

"The first fundamental point that all religions have in common are the convictions that religious phenomena are based on the reality of the Transcendental, the Holy, the Divine, the Eternal One, the Great Being, and that beyond all the fluctuations there exists eternal reason, an eternal order, a non-material ultimate reality, the Reality of Realities, the Eternal Truth, which is neither empirically verifiable nor logically demonstrable.”He notes that this"Reality"Is commonly called God in all but the Buddhist tradition, where the concept of God is absent, but which nevertheless uses other terms such as Nirvana, Shunyata, and Dharmakaya.

Other commonalities include: "The belief that this transcendental reality reveals itself to mankind in the form of great, holy figures, who speak to man and show him the path to the sanctification of his life"; that this ultimate reality is"man's ultimate and highest goal," the embodiment of absolute perfection, truth and justice and of all that is good and beautiful"; that that which we call God is justice, love, compassion and mercy, which are generously poured over humanity; that"man's path to God is one of sacrifice, renunciation, resignation, moral discipline, the via purgativa, prayer and meditation"; that the path to God is also"The path to one's neighbor, service to others, the via activa"; that in"All religions this love also includes love for one's enemies"; that all religions share"The belief that man's life is not confined to this earthly existence; that he possesses an immortal soul";"that man must live on earth according to certain standards in order to attain salvation in both this life and the life to come"; and that the common ethical basis of all religions is the so-called"Golden Rule known to us from the Gospel: 'Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do you even so to them'"; and that, finally, the"most fundamental feature common to all religions is mysticism, the highest aim of which is the unity of the soul with the eternal God.”

The degree of similarity among the religions at the fundamental level, writes Dr. Schaefer," provides impressive evidence for the unity of religions.”This unity, however, he says, is not subject to scientific proof, nor can it be classified as rational, empirical knowledge.

Two things religious studies cannot do, he says, are create"by means of eclecticism"A"uniform world religion as a sort of substrate of all the various religions.”And they cannot"deliver incontrovertible proof of the unity of religions.” "It is like a glass of water which, depending on the observer's point of view, is either half full or half empty: both views are correct," he writes.”Similarly, one can regard the differences and contradictions among religions as the most important aspect; or, if one chooses, one can recognize that beyond the diversity there is an essence which is the same in all.”

Dr. Schaefer, however, suggests that"A conclusive, rationally acceptable, comprehensive explanation"for the unity paradigm can be found in the writings of the Bahá' Faith, which suggest, essentially, that God's Revelation is the"central, dominant theme"of history - and in this way provides an answer to the question of why there is not only one religion.

The book's final pages, then, are devoted to explaining some basics of Bahá' theology, with a view to helping even the most skeptical reader at least acknowledge that a cogent explanation for the outward diversity but inward unity of all religions can be found in the Faith's doctrine of progressive revelation.

The essence of the doctrine, Dr. Schaefer writes, lies in the idea that the"Creator of the universe did not create man and thereafter abandon him to himself; He reveals himself to mankind, speaking through His prophets and messengers.”These messengers have successively revealed God's will in relation to the capacity of the peoples to whom they have appeared.”This capacity differs according to the spiritual, cultural and social level of the development of those people," writes Dr. Schaefer - not in relation to the absolute truth that God represents. This, he explains, accounts for the apparent differences of the various religions - and yet upholds their essential unity.

"God's revelation in the course of history is a continual, cyclically recurring phenomenon," Dr. Schaefer writes.”The purpose of divine revelation is the education of humanity.”

"Seen in this way," he continues," religion is not static but dynamic. In its origin it is the most revolutionary, the most radical of all forces. All the Founders of the world's major religions have inevitably broken with past traditions; with obsolete outworn forms and institutions... in order to protect the remaining substance of the religion of God and adapt to the requirements of a new era.”

As Dr. Schaefer himself concludes: "The unity paradigm constitutes a positive basis for the study of religions. They are taken seriously, revered and portrayed in a sympathetic light. They are regarded in no other light except as different stages in the eternal history and constant evolution of one religion, Divine and indivisible.”

Beyond the Clash of Religions: The Emergence of a New Paradigm
Udo Schaefer, Zero Palm Press, Prague, 1995.

The fulfillment of eschatological instruction promised by Jesus
“The original meaning of the word ‘apocalypse’, derived from the Greek apokalypsis, is in fact not the cataclysmic end of the world, but an ‘unveiling’, or ‘revelation’, a means whereby one gains insight into the present.” (Kovacs, 2013, 2)
An apocalypse (Greek: apokalypsis meaning “an uncovering”) is in religious contexts knowledge or revelation, a disclosure of something hidden, “a vision of heavenly secrets that can make sense of earthly realities.” (Ehrman 2014, 59)
“An apocalypse (Ancient Greek: apokalypsis ... literally meaning "an uncovering") is a disclosure or revelation of great knowledge. In religious and occult concepts, an apocalypse usually discloses something very important that was hidden or provides what Bart Ehrman has termed, "A vision of heavenly secrets that can make sense of earthly realities". Historically, the term has a heavy religious connotation as commonly seen in the prophetic revelations of eschatology obtained through dreams or spiritual visions.” Wikipedia 2021-01-09

Shri Mataji
Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi (1923-2011) was Christian by birth, Hindu by marriage, and Paraclete by duty.
Total number of recorded talks 3058: Public Programs 1178, Pujas 651, and other (private conversations) 1249

“The Paraclete will come (15:26; 16:7, 8, 13) as Jesus has come into the world (5:43; 16:28; 18:37)... The Paraclete will take the things of Christ (the things that are mine, ek tou emou) and declare them (16:14-15). Bishop Fison describes the humility of the Spirit, 'The true Holy Spirit of God does not advertise Herself: She effaces Herself and advertises Jesus.' ...
It is by the outgoing activity of the Spirit that the divine life communicates itself in and to the creation. The Spirit is God-in-relations. The Paraclete is the divine self-expression which will be and abide with you, and be in you (14:16-17). The Spirit's work is described in terms of utterance: teach you, didasko (14:26), remind you, hypomimnesko (14:26), testify, martyro (15:26), prove wrong, elencho (16:8), guide into truth, hodego (16:13), speak, laleo (16:13, twice), declare, anangello (16:13, 14, 15). The johannine terms describe verbal actions which intend a response in others who will receive (lambano), see (theoreo), or know (ginosko) the Spirit. Such speech-terms link the Spirit with the divine Word. The Spirit's initiatives imply God's personal engagement with humanity. The Spirit comes to be with others; the teaching Spirit implies a community of learners; forgetful persons need a prompter to remind them; one testifies expecting heed to be paid; one speaks and declares in order to be heard. The articulate Spirit is the correlative of the listening, Spirit-informed community.
The final Paraclete passage closes with a threefold repetition of the verb she will declare (anangello), 16:13-15. The Spirit will declare the things that are to come (v.13), and she will declare what is Christ's (vv. 14, 15). The things of Christ are a message that must be heralded...
The intention of the Spirit of truth is the restoration of an alienated, deceived humanity... The teaching role of the Paraclete tends to be remembered as a major emphasis of the Farewell Discourses, yet only 14:26 says She will teach you all things. (Teaching is, however, implied when 16:13-15 says that the Spirit will guide you into all truth, and will speak and declare.) Franz Mussner remarks that the word used in 14:26, didaskein, "means literally 'teach, instruct,' but in John it nearly always means to reveal.” (Stevick 2011, 292-7)
The Holy Spirit as feminine: Early Christian testimonies and their interpretation,
Johannes van Oort, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Department of Church History and Church Polity, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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