Universalism: Walk As One?

Universalism: Walk As One?
Vancouver's 2013 Walk for Reconciliation with a diverse group of people under umbrellas, illustrating a post on universalism

Universalism. It’s a philosophy of religious pluralism. “All religious traditions honour the same divine Spirit. We just approach God differently.”

Normally, I’m not a fan of universalism. It can gloss over differences. And sometimes, universalists insist their God is the one everyone worships.

But, last week, I saw universalism’s good side.

At work, I led a course on Religious Pluralism for VST‘s Indigenous Studies program.  Then, in synagogue, I read from the Book of Lamentations.

The Book of Lamentations tells a Jewish story. Devastation and then renewal. Grief and also resilience.

But this year, Lamentations spoke to me of other nations’ histories, too.

The narrator says: Jerusalem’s infants went into captivity because of the enemy (1.5).

Then Jerusalem herself sobs: My teens went into captivity (1:18).

Of course, I thought of the Indigenous children buried at residential school. Children taken from their homes. Forced to learn the ways of the colonial power. And then tossed aside.

Just like the children in Lamentations. Their story continues in the Book of Daniel. Daniel and his friends are separated from their parents. They grow up in an imperial boarding school. The boys take new, foreign names. But sometimes they continue in their old traditions. Then the imperial officers toss them into a furnace.

Miraculously, Daniel and his friends live. That’s not a realistic plot point. Instead, it’s symbolic. Daniel and his friends are resilient.

Maybe I’m wrong to see these parallels. Because it’s not my place to tell another nation’s story. But, last week, Indigenous friends encouraged me to look for what is similar. As a starting point, anyway.

Indigenous leader Gloria Snow (Stoney Nakoda) explained it. “Universalism is the most respectful philosophy. It puts us all on an equal footing. So we can share what’s common, and then find our relationship.” Then, we can correct, critique, and move forward together.

Thank you, Gloria. It’s a good way to start.

  1. Years ago Or Shalom conducted a Tu b’shvat seder at the FN House of Learning at UBC. It began with drumming….but the drumming was us! It took the natives (and me) by surprise. Later, in conversation with a former student, Stanley Snow, he shared his astonishment that another culture also worked with the four compass directions.

    1. Thanks, Peter! This is a great example of shared traditions bringing people together.

  2. And would it be so strange? Imperial China sailed to the Americas. Could not Jews have been with them. Could not indigenous learned from the same Torah of Truth? Abraham is the father if many nations, and what is his seed? The precious seed Is the Word of Hashem that sets the prisoner free. We suffer for The Truth. We die for the Truth. We are ressurected from the ashes in Truth.

  3. Thanks, Jacquelyn! There’s a lovely legend in midrash about this. Genesis 25:1-6 says that, late in life, Abraham married Keturah and they had 6 sons. When they grew up, it says, Abraham gave his sons gifts and sent them to the east. Midrash says these were spiritual gifts, and the sons spread Abraham’s ideas around the world, where they became part of many cultural traditions.

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