Saturday, November 10, 2012

Unifying Truths of the World's Religions, by C. David Lundberg: Review and Commentary

Of the 436 page book, once we remove the Introduction, index, Glossary, Source Notes, Bibliography & Source Notes, Part III – Summary, Appendix (really a summary summation), and over 800 quotes, we are left with approximately 71 pages of actually writing.

Truth be known, this left me with a bit of a conundrum. How do I review this book? Do I review the author's actual writings and concepts and ideas he's putting across? If so I only have c. 70 pages to look at.

Or do I review this book as a reference manual, which would seem to be a fair evaluation considering over 83% of the book is organized reference material and quotations.

I will let the author speak for himself in identifying the gist of this book:
”Mankind has been focusing on the differences of the various religions far more than on what they have in common.” pg. 1. “I do not believe that the world can have true peace until the common universal principals have been firmly established.” pg. 5.
Where John Crowder's Mystical Union challenged me to attempt to review a book whose entire position I wholeheartedly disagreed with, so too am I faced with an equally challenging position with G. David Lundberg's ”Unifying Truths of the World's Religions”. Although in this case the challenge is just the opposite. I completely see eye-to-eye with religious pluralism.

I wholeheartedly agree with the author when he states that mankind has focused far too much on our religious differences rather than what we have in common and that this, by implication, is the path to peace.
So, unfortunately, for the sake of fairness, I am going to have to lean towards being more critical and harsh to balance my own preferences and biases.

 ~

Lundberg chooses seven religions primarily for their popularity which include Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.

I find it interesting because over the past several years I have done a great amount of reading and studying but my 'selection' was different. My seven – so to speak – were Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Gnosticism, and Atheism.

Lundberg does acknowledge Gnosticism (”Each of the seven world religions covered in this book have an inner mystical aspect as well... Christianity has its Gnostic works...” pg.3). Hinduism is on my “list” to study, so this should be enlightening for me. As far as Confucianism is concerned, I know very little. So I am hoping this can be a learning curve for me.

Lundberg's seven choices of religions are not a bad selection, but if the hope and intention is for a more unified and peace filled world, he needs to address and include Atheism. Not only do I think Atheism's inclusion is important, ultimately I think it's critical. A large percentage of the population includes various forms of Atheism and Agnosticism (and let's remember, Agnosticism does not need be a transitory state).

In fact, Lundberg would seem to go out of his way to alienate Atheists by speaking of 'doubt' in derogatory terms and in opposition of 'faith'.

I take exception to Lundberg's statement on page 145. ”It's important to not allow doubt into your life. Do not deny or doubt that power [God's], or it will be blocked”. He would seem to be focusing on a definition of “faith” where Faith & Doubt are polar opposites – therefore Faith & Certainty must by synonymous – which they are not.

Hebrews 11:1 (which he also quotes from) gives a good definition of faith. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Rather than misunderstanding “faith” as believing unquestionably (blind-faith), this definition focuses more towards Hope, Trust, and the Spiritual.

I think this has been the underlying issue that I just quite couldn't put my finger on. The whole premise of this book – including his choice of seven world faiths – is based exclusively upon a completely Theistic point of view. (Which would explain the absence of the world Belief-System of Atheism).

I think it is a stretch to use Taoism as a support of a theistic worldview. And for that matter I'm not convinced Buddhism can be used to support a theistic point of view either. Yes, there are theistic Buddhists and atheistic Buddhists, but ultimately Buddhism itself is non-theistic. It simply doesn't address the issue. In fact, it would seem to sidestep the question.

The Question of Theism, from a Buddhist perspective, is unprovable and therefore counterproductive. The most tolerant and pluralistic view I have encountered from Buddhist sources is to allow for belief (or disbelief) in God(s) but with the acknowledgment that it is only a belief, not necessarily fact. The moment that belief is forced into fact is the beginning of Suffering.

Some of Lundberg's points are simple to demonstrate and easy to accept, like The Golden Rule (pg. 237), while others – like the Maintenance of Good Health (pg. 225) – are an extreme stretch. (Let's not confuse the issues of the importance of Good Health vs. Lundberg's attempt to support the issue through quotes from numerous religious sources, which I believe he fails to do).

Moderation and Balance (pg. 211) – the middle path – would seem to be near exclusively within the realms and teachings of Buddhism. To attempt to extrapolate this from the other religions holy texts strikes me as either an exercise in misinterpreting these writings or reading what he wants to find into them.

Harmlessness is another principal that requires a very censored selectivity to establish. Although within all of these religions can be found passages which promote Harmlessness, so too can material be found that endorses violence. It would be just as easy to list quotes that promote violence within the holy texts of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

~
”...any individual can attain mystical union with God, just as Jesus did. The church's stand was not only that Jesus was the only son of God, but that others could not communicate directly with God. It's likely that this interpretation of scripture was to make individuals dependent on the church as a necessary go-between from man to God.” pg. 56
”Why make the effort to discipline ourselves, to become perfect, when we are taught that we are worthless sinners, incapable of perfecting ourselves?” pg. 58
”In truth, we are already one [union with the divine], but do not fully realize or believe this... particularly when viewed as sin accompanied by a sense of guilt... When we think we are only human – when we close our personal belief system to the possibility... [h]ow can we receive something that we do not believe in, that we don't see as real?” pg. 113
These points all establish the Religious Institution's (in this case, the church's) grab for power, its inherent corruption, and having led us astray. Again, something I personally have seen, experienced, and believe in. But Lundberg doesn't expand on this. Ironically, here are no scriptural support for this.

He would seem to hold the position that Jesus was not literally God the Son, but more of a perfected wisdom teacher and exemplar (a conclusion I too have come to). I realize this position must be come to in order to hold a pluralistic view that includes Christianity, but no reason or explanation why is offered. This is expected to be accepted at face value. John Hick (”The Metaphor of God Incarnate”) establishes this point quite well along with biblical and scriptural references. Lundberg and this book of 'over 800 quotes' simply glazed over the point – and it is a stumbling block that I felt needed to be made much more clear.

~

As a reference book, not only does it function well in examining the various similarities and crossovers between faiths, for the most part, it is well organized and easy to find their commonalities.

This book also has a great potential as a stepping stone and introduction to other faiths. I personally found a great many 'hidden' gems and pearls of wisdom from other religious traditions. (There are some incredibly beautiful pluralistic quotes and references from the Bhagavad Gita – pg's 84, 125, 292).

In a world on the brink of Islamophobia I found it hopeful and refreshing to find a good number of Islamic quotes and references identifying Jihad as the Greater Holy War (al jihad al-akbar); the internal struggle one must battle within oneself (or against one's ego), rather than the commonly held assumption of Jihad being a war against any and all infidels (al jihad al-asghar).


I found it an odd choice that he would use all biblical quotes from the King James version. It isn't the easiest to understand (Olde English) and some verses are difficult.

I personally also use the John C. H. Wu's 1961 translation of the Tao Teh Ching and have it on good authority of two Asian friends (one of which is a Linguistic Translator) that this version very accurately relays some of the more subtle nuances many other translations miss.

However, Lundberg's efforts to extrapolate a theistic perspective from the Tao Teh Ching bothers me.

On page 108 Lundberg states, point-blank, ”In Taoism, the Eternal Tao is God the Creator”, before quoting Tao Teh Ching's verse 1.

Although I again wholeheartedly agree that both 'God' and the Tao (alongside Dharma) share many traits I think you would be hard pressed to find a Taoist who would agree that the Tao is God.

In fact, it would almost fly in the face of the wisdom of the Tao Teh Ching's opening verse:
”Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao. Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.” Lao Tzu
If you can conveniently name, label, define, and put God into a box, then you have not successfully 'found' (or understand) God.

Conclusion:

As a reference book it would be worth adding to anyone's library.
However, the ideas this book is trying to put forward strikes me as an awkward attempt of hammering a round peg into a square hole. The ideas and thoughts rely too much upon the selected quotations with not enough unpackaging.






Disclaimer: I received this book free from Heavenlight Press. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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