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A man whom I respect very much once told me of his first visit to Jerusalem. As he approached the city, he looked up at the ancient hill that had been fought over with so much blood and futility for more than 6000 years and he thought to himself "that's why I am not religious."
I can sympathize with him. Religion has been the cause of so much warfare and hatred and bloodshed; it is tempting to go on without religion at all.
I can also sympathize with those who would keep the spiritual practices of the East, without the baggage of Western religion. It is true that the followers of Abrahamic religions have been the cause of an inordinate share of hatred and warfare, of intolerance and misery. Is Jerusalem the symbol of the human spirit striving to reach for God, or of human folly, ignorance, and fundamentalism?
Would we not be better off to pursue a practical science of spirituality, in the spirit of Gautama Buddha and in the best lights of the Perennial Philosophy and without the baggage of revealed religion? I agree with those, like Wilber, who say that we must transcend our current awareness and move towards a transpersonal future and a transrational consciousness, free from the pre-rational baggage of so much of Western religious history.
Nonetheless, thinking deeply about these issues, I have come to hold the opinion that the Abrahamic religious tradition has three things going for it, three contributions, an emphasis on three ideas of continuing significance.
1. The God Concept. The Abrahamic traditions unswervingly attest to the existence and importance of some universal concept that we call God. This belief in ultimate Purpose still resonates and will ultimately pull us forward into transcendence. The lack of a God Concept still leads ultimately to nihilism and meaninglessness. However much the God Concept has been abused and misused to create human misery, its central core is still necessary for ultimate good.
2. The idea of historical forward progress and evolutionary growth. The belief that history and nature have purpose has been the driving force behind cultural progress and the source of the scientific mentality. When Abraham left Ur to go forth into the wilderness, he set humanity on the path of building a better future.
3. Life after death. The Abrahamic tradition upholds the belief in the survival of the human soul beyond the grave. The stubborn refusal to abandon this noble hope has interesting consequences. The recent book "The Physics of Immortality" by physicist Frank J. Tipler is an example of the continuing fruitfulness of this idea. Now that mankind has dared to dream up a possible mechanism for the the actual resurrection and survival of the essence of individual humans after death, it is no longer quite so easy to dismiss this ancient human longing as physically impossible, as a hopeless fairy tale. Not that we should think for a moment that Tipler has actually discovered the real mechanism that might allow this miracle to happen (Tipler uses quantum physics to propose such a mechanism). No, it would indeed be surprising if mankind's first such attempt were to hit upon an actual method that really works. But now that mankind has dared to begin to discover such scientifically possible mechanisms, who can say with absolute certainly that such a mechanism can not exist?
I humbly submit that these three themes of the Abrahamic religious traditions will yet be a well from from which spiritual water will be drawn in the service of humanity. But the Abrahamic religions will need to be shorn of intolerance, fundamentalism, superstition, ignorance, and violence.
I ask, what would a truly transpersonal religion look like? Will it not combine the spiritual truth and exploration of the East with the symbolic thrust towards the future that began with God's call to Abraham so many years ago?
And I ask, what was it that called to Abraham, and urged him to leave the civilization of Ur behind him and go forth into the wilderness in search of the future? Was it merely Abraham's own ego? I do not think so. I believe it was a call to transcendence and the beginning of a movement towards a transpersonal future.
Was it merely Moses' own puny ego that spoke to him from within the burning bush? I do not think so.
No, in order to successfully evolve into the transpersonal realms, one must first successfully be a person. For humanity as a whole, in order to grow into the next stages of our future, we must evolve from an actualized reality of our past and our present.
Humanity comes from an actual place, we have an actual history. We have evolved on the planet earth; we are not some soul-less entity floating rootless in outer space. We come from an actual world with an actual city called Jerusalem as its spiritual navel.
I submit that we can not ignore the prophetic tradition of the Middle East. We can not ignore the spiritual journey begun by Abraham, and continued by Moses; we can not ignore the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
And I strongly submit that we can not ignore the prophetic call of a man named Muhammad. I submit that Muhammad called out for justice for all humanity. We can not just ignore the thousands of years of injustice heaped upon the head of down trodden human beings. Muhammad called for justice and equality for all human beings, regardless of race.
We must obtain equality and justice for all humanity, by any means necessary. But in this day and age, the necessary means do not include physical violence, because the new age called for by prophets in human cultures and societies from all around the world and through all the ages is upon us, the age of fulfillment. The meek shall now inherit the earth.
But the meek are not weak.
Violent Jihad has no part in our future; it must be renounced forever. But a spiritual Jihad goes on.
I take a vow of non-violence, but I brandish the powerful sword of Mohammad's words, I recite the prophecies of old; my sword is Muhammad and my weapon is the Quran. My testament is the Sermon on the Mount, and my strength is the promises to Abraham; and I ask for justice in this day and age in the name of the Glory of God, Baha'u'llah.
No, humanity can not just ignore its past and pretend that it has no history. Jerusalem is a part of us. We must ascend to the heavens as we are. Jerusalem has seen the crucifixion of Christ, but it has also seen the ascension of Muhammad. We can not erase the memory of Jerusalem's violent history; but we must transcend it and renounce violence.
Bloody Jerusalem is a type of the bloody history of the human race. But God did not blot out forever the human race for its sins. After the flood, a rainbow appeared. From the clay of the earth we shall fashion a new future. We can not forget our history, but we can create a new future. We must build a new Jerusalem.