All religions are not saying the same thing. They are all missing the same thing. That thing is monotheism.
How did we get to the place where salvation has become a transaction sold only by mainline religions? A Muslim is saved by returning in sincerity to the five pillars of Islam. A Jew is saved in solidarity with their own people through the law passed down on mount Sinai. Eastern religions use different frameworks but essentially teach that a person is saved, or enlightened through meditation and austerity. Contemporary Christianity says we are saved by Grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventists, Catholicism and most Christian denominations follow suit but also require belief in the authority and institution of the Church as each defines it. Even Scientology insists it has the only valid recipe.
They can’t all be right, can they?
Can you see the problem this creates? Each system of faith has become its own tribe with its own team jersey. Once we become a fan of our team, very little can cause us to change our minds. We essentially make our framework for God primary and become atheistic toward all other frameworks. Our modern generation looks at this “us versus them” framework and distances themselves from it because we live in an increasingly diverse world. This is why religion as a whole is on the decline, yet fundamentalism is still rising in areas where people are rising out of chaos or great suffering. First world countries are the hot-bed of self-criticism and as a result tend to erode third world beliefs within a generation or two. While some see this as a trend toward secularization, I actually interpret the data differently.
So what are our options?
- Pick a team and double down. If your tradition sees itself as better or “more true” than others it will enlist its followers into its recruitment and assimilation process. This always starts as an invitation, but as the questions get harder almost always turns into a debate, an argument and even war. The “I’m right, you’re wrong” binary is a recipe for division not unity. Most don’t realize that this system is not “Monotheism,” it’s atheism toward all gods/systems but one. This is not intent of the first commandment.
- Ignore them all. Those who think they are clever often dismiss all systems of faith as though they are beyond such archaic beliefs. The scientific mind has created this Atheistic strategy and simply goes one god further than all devotees to a traditional religion. Unfortunately, this just makes a faith system out of unbelief, and while it denies “non-physical” reality, it’s disciples always live in contradiction to this belief. Atheism is the result of not giving the questions an earnest exploration, it’s an easy out for those who can’t be bothered.
- Universalism. It’s understandable how this system came about. We want to find unity above all else. Unfortunately, it does so by making itself the purveyor of Truth by deciding what truth claims are adopted and which ones are tossed. Universalism in the end is the same cake with new frosting.
I’d like to propose an old idea within a new framework. Are you ready? Here it is: Monotheism. Monotheism is the truth claim that there is only one God. Think you’ve heard this before? Well, you have, but almost exclusively from a binary way of thinking. Most monotheism is taught as “My god can beat up your god.” This is typified in the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, but we missed the whole point. Elijah asks the question “How long will you go on limping between two opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21) We got stuck in the binary and just kept trying to prove our God was biggest, while missing the bigness entirely.
Monotheism, when viewed from at ternary (system of three), third way, or trinitarian epistemology unravels into the single biggest frameshift our world has ever known. Monotheism cannot be reduced to semantics as in: “One God by different names.” While this is true, this is not all that is true, it’s too simplistic, but if that helps you, then lets begin there.
Ternary or trinitarian monotheism has been here all along, but we haven’t grasped it because the evolution of our consciousness has been stuck in Platonic dualism. We took the idea of monotheism from sacred texts and used them to create divisions and gain power over others. We misinterpreted the bible. The frameworks depicted in the Old Testament are indicative, not imperative. Scripture reflects the lack of understanding of monotheism, it doesn’t prescribe a model of what monotheism is supposed to look like.
Monotheism is Total Truth, which means everyone has some aspect of it, while none of us possess all of it. Monotheistic Truth is external and objective, not internal and subjective. Ternary monotheism, allow us to reference God or Truth mercifully through the only frameworks we possess. We all get some proximity, but none get total proximity, not because God can’t do it, but because we can only possess such a small piece of understanding.
Here’s the irony, most believers don’t believe God is this big. Most monotheists (in all religions) are “atheistic” toward a God whose love is so vast and so comprehensively inclusive. Many refuse to believe in a God whose justice is based in restoration rather than retribution. This means they are actually not monotheistic at all, but atheistic.
“Every man is stupid and without knowledge; every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols, for his images are false, and there is no breath in them.” Jeremiah 10:14
In the ancient world, an idol might be a carving or emblem or symbol. Israel’s idea of God went beyond this, opening up a dimension of God beyond all gods. Zeus, in Greek culture, held a similar frame. The result for Greeks as well as for most readers of sacred text is that we remain stuck in a binary understanding which means we work feverishly to prove that our God is bigger than yours.
Like pulling back from the earth allows us to see how day and night can both be true at the same time, so a transcendent perspective allows us to see that anytime we fashion a framework, religion, or theology of our own making, we are creating an idol and missing the bigger picture. Most people’s “god” is a malleable theological grid that makes them feel as though they are on the winning team.
Theology is a container too small for monotheism. Monotheism is the backdrop of all truth, all love, all existence, and all experience. It is personally known as that “something more going on here” and corporately experienced as diverse experiences of Truth coming together in unity reflecting those aspects of Truth which each has been able to perceive. Together we gain a greater knowledge of the Truth.
What if rather than leaving us all to figure it out, this monotheistic super God decided to explain it all to us in person?
This makes the story and experience of Jesus infinitely bigger. Rather than starting a new competitive religion, the universal Christ in Jesus revealed the one God and the design to include all others by freeing each from their own captive frameworks of belief. Now reconsider the Bible’s framework that every possible perspective of God was included: Fishermen, the poor, marginalized, diseased, those relegated to the sidelines, those with institutional power, high officials, soldiers for the empire, tax collectors, drunkards, prostitutes, sinners, half-breeds, Samaritans, gentiles, irreligious, and those who rank highest in religious pomp, power, and devotion, even those of other faiths from the East, South, and West. All diversity is included into one loving framework that subverts all religion, government, and institutional rule of family, friends, community, and tribe.
The design is that every dividing line of hostility (Ephesians 2:15-18) is replaced with a new way to live called FAITH. Faith (belief) is unique to each of us (Romans 14:22), yet uniquely shared and cherished as a community with others who are vastly different than ourselves. It’s the end of tribal religion and the beginning of a family of faith.
Monotheism seems to necessarily imply total unity (oneness), not just of Jesus and the Father, but of all image bearers, despite the frameworks we possess. That is the biblical picture. The dwelling place of God is within us all.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Deuteronomy 6:4
Jesus said in Mark 12:29 that this phrase (Shama) is the MOST IMPORTANT TEACHING EVER. One is not one of many. One means perfect unity despite diversity. Monotheism means that we get a glimpse of just how connected we all really are. Monotheism means we need not concern ourselves with endless debates, but with endless discovery of just how unified God and creation actually are. Conversion is not joining a religion, conversion is exchanging the truth as it is for us in favor of the Truth as it actually is.
Since we all have some measure of the Truth, the goal of faith is not conversion, nor competition, but completion (Philippians 1:6). The question is whether we will believe in a God like this, or if we will cling tighter to our atheistic religions.