My religion is the only true religion, many insist. All religions are really the same, others argue. Then there are those who leave room for the doubters who question the validity and value of all religions.
Can these arguments be described as the differences in three popular candy products?
That’s how rabbi Rami Shapiro framed the discussion for The Rotary Club of McMinnville at its weekly luncheon. Shapiro, a Jewish practitioner of perennial wisdom, is the award-winning author of more than 30 books on religion and hosts a weekly radio program on issues of spirituality. He earned rabbinical ordination at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and his PhD at Union Graduate School.
Different religions are like M&Ms, with their variously colored coatings. But inside they are all the same small morsel of chocolate, Shapiro said, referring to one of the philosophies of the last century. “The New Age view is they are all the same,” he said.
The commercial candy Dumdum offers an alternative view of all faith systems as a soft, gooey, amorphous mass with no real differentiation.
Tootsie Pops start out with distinct colors and flavors but all end at a sweet, neutral core that is common to all other Tootsie Pops. As we try to find God, we start with the outer shell of our own particular religions but then proceed to a core reality that is universal, unchanging and eternal, the rabbi affirmed.
Drawing on his studies and personal experiences in religious mysticism, Shapiro said all human beings “have an innate capacity to know the divine.” He went on to assert that the “highest goal” of humans is “to know God and live godly.”
The threat of Soviet Communist expansion and subversion during the Cold War era after World War II pushed American Christianity into strange shapes not necessarily recognizable in New Testament patterns, Shapiro recalled.
President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration pushed a media campaign urging Americans to “attend the church of their choice.” It didn’t matter which choice, but just “don’t be Communist.”
“The problem with that theory is they (the various religions) are all the same,” Shapiro said. “It was a dumbing down of religion. That does damage to religion.”
The Rotary speaker, who served as a U.S. Air Force chaplain three years and as a congregational rabbi for another 20 years and university religion professor for 10 years, declared his respect for all religions. Extending the analogy of the competing candies, he said, “I honor the flavor but I want to go deeper.” By working through our individual experiences with religion, we can proceed toward “a much deeper” realization that focuses on “love and compassion.”
For more on Shapiro’s discussion of God and our ways of approaching Him, listen for public radio WCPI’s “Focus” program this week. The discussion will air on FM 91.3 Wednesday, 5:05 a.m., Thursday, 1 p.m., and Friday at 1 a.m.