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Diversity of the global religious heritage III

from the archive, 2015

The last post on this blog strand focussed on mystical religious experience, and flagged that it bears contrasting with two other religious approaches : the prophetic and the occult. The mystical is a surrendering or passive way that seeks to dissolve the ego in the Infinite in meditative experience. In this sense it is monistic or non-dualistic. The occult approach to Truth is non-dualist in another way. Instead of surrendering, the ego pursues power and control by assimilating the Godhead to itself. Then there is the prophetic tradition which is dualistic, and characterised by a relationship between the Godhead and the ego - the finite human.

Prophetic religions have been cradled in the Middle East over the millenia. The middling geography suggests a synchronicity (meaningful coincidence) with the dualistic middle of the metaphysical spectrum. Judaism and Christianity originated in Palestine; Islam in Arabia; while Zoroastrianism and the Bahai faith originated in Persia - now Iran. The key figures and leading lights are neither enlightened mystics, nor occult magicians but prophets whose role is to communicate the Will of the Deity to their people or mankind. Leaving aside the significant claims of the faiths as to who delivered the definitive revelation, this mediating function is something that Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Baha’u’llah and others have in common.

Besides prophets, mediation is a function that can also be attributed to priests, who perform sacrifice and make atonement for humans to God. Mediation is also a function that can be attributed to kings, emperors, caliphs etc., in that they are supposed to represent the sovereign will of the Most High on earth. Again, these elements of priesthood and kingship are found in other cultures, but have taken on an exalted role in the Middle Eastern heritage.

The Godhead, when variously referred to by human lips, as Yahweh, God the Father, Allah or Ahura Mazda, is not a static observer but dynamically involved in history as the supreme force for Good. Where duality prevails, there will always be Good and Evil. Ethically, choices will either be righteous or sinful. Underpinning the moral choices will be the obedience of faith or the disobedience of faithlessness. Obedience has to do with the conformity of the human will to the Creator’s Will.

The right, faith-inspired choices lead to social justice action in a world in need of redemption. The world of the prophetic universe is not something to be escaped, but rather something to be cared for, redeemed, divinised. In such a universe where sin exists, there must be the possibility of forgiveness and mercy. These, without contradiction, coexist with justice, that operates in our temporal affairs and reaches its apotheosis in the Last Judgment, a final reckoning at the end of history, to which the whole tradition points.

The loving Creator in such a universe does not forsake his creatures. There are signs and miraculous interventions; there is scripture - the divine words of the holy books, originating in the Godhead but channeled through human agency; the revelations that lift the veil on history’s and life’s meaning; and the fiery advocacy of the prophets for conversion, purity and return to the wellsprings of faith. Finally, there is messiahship - differently accented in the great monotheisms - whereby the Creator becomes accessible in the most immediate way to human beings through the coming and the presence of his Chosen and Anointed One. The Messiah reveals plainly the truth about the Creator and plays a pivotal role in salvation history.

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