Common Threads

After going quite a while without questions, I had two submitted yesterday.  I’ll answer them in the order in which they came.

The first question came in from Stevie.  She wrote: “Pastor Craig, what do you think is the biggest common thread that runs among the beliefs of the major religions.”

In thinking about the question, there were two thoughts that came immediately to mind.  Finding the right language for the answers was a challenge because some religious traditions are theistic (“belief in the existence of a god or gods, especially belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures” – per the definition of “theism” provided by Google) and others are not.

With that in mind, these are the two things that jumped out at me.

First, most of the religious traditions of which I’m aware believe there is a level of existence that is greater than either one human being or the whole of humanity.  For many traditions, that “something” is Divine.  For others, it might simply be a consciousness or level of awareness.

Second, most of the religious traditions of which I’m aware that their belief system/structure calls them to live in harmon/right relation with other critters.  That right relationship can be with God, with one’s fellow creatures, or with oneself.  Living in right relationship adds meaning and purpose to one’s life.

Those are the two streams that jump out at me in addressing Stevie’s question.  How about you?  What common threads do you see based on your encounters with others from various traditions?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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4 Responses to Common Threads

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    Atheists tend to define a religion as a tradition that includes belief in the existence of one or more supernatural elements, which may include beings (such as gods), spirits (such as ancestor or nature spirits), powers (such as magic or miracles), or concepts (such as reincarnation or universal consciousness). So I’d switch your first definition from “a level of existence greater than one human being or the whole of humanity” to “a level of existence greater than nature [or the natural universe].” That way you don’t define religion in a way that includes atheists who don’t believe in anything supernatural but do believe that the natural universe as a whole exists on a qualitatively different and greater level than just the human (or humanly knowable) part of it.

    The belief that one must relate rightly with others transcends religion, I think. Certainly all religions believe that, but so do most secular philosophies. The common belief that ethics and ethical relations are characteristic of religion is one of the reasons atheists face so much discrimination; religious people often have trouble believing atheists can possibly care about ethics as much as they do. (In one poll, a majority of people ranked atheists and convicted rapists as equally likely to have committed other crimes!) So please be careful about perpetuating that idea…

  2. Stevie says:

    Beverly, when I asked the question, I meant to use the word belief. I respect that all people have beliefs, even if they don’t define with a certain religion. My question was meant to include atheists. All humans have common threads, I believe.

    • Beverly Marshall Saling says:

      Ah, if you’re looking for common beliefs across human traditions regardless of religion, then the list gets a lot longer. I read a book once that listed something like fifty different “cultural universals” anthropologists have discovered to be present in all human cultures studied so far. I can’t remember them all, but I’m pretty sure the list included the following:

      Committed romantic relationships come with certain rights and responsibilities.
      Family relationships come with certain rights and responsibilities.
      Incest is taboo.
      Group memberships (by gender, age, family, etc.) are a key component of identity.
      Friendship is valuable.
      There are right and wrong ways to live and relate to others and the world.
      Generosity is good.
      Honesty is good.
      Keeping promises is good.
      Loyalty to the group is good.
      If you do something bad, you should apologize and try to make amends.
      People who do bad things deserve punishment.
      It is important for leaders to be wise and good people.
      Some property is personal and some is communal.
      Conflict should be resolved according to certain rules.
      Violence is bad except in certain defined cases.
      We want the future to be better than now.

  3. Sharon says:

    I believe the common thread that runs among all major religions is the need to do good works. Christianity doesn’t have this need, because, we have God’s Grace and a risen saviour! Grace comes first😍

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