An Amalgamation of Belief
by Dave Brown
Sometimes explaining one’s religious and spiritual beliefs can be challenging if those beliefs don’t fall into a neat and tidy category. I once had someone ask me to write down my beliefs so that she could understand them (communicating them verbally was an epic failure). I wrote out what I believed and that was pretty much that. In the years that have followed, I’ve realized that my spiritual philosophy was a bit more complex than I originally thought. Back in 2005 when I wrote that piece, I essentially saw myself as a deist, but I’ve come to recognize that by itself the term deist really doesn’t fit.
My beliefs are actually an amalgamation of three different outlooks on spirituality. I tend to sum these up with three names—Joseph Campbell, Thomas Jefferson, and the Dalai Lama. So what exactly does that mean? Joseph Campbell was a universalist, Thomas Jefferson was a deist, and the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist. I tend to believe in a combination of these three philosophies.
But that still begs the question, what does that exactly mean? Let me try to break each down a bit.
Universalism is defined by Merriam-Webster as:
1 a: a theological doctrine that all human beings will eventually be saved
b: the principles and practices of a liberal Christian denomination founded in the 18th century originally to uphold belief in universal salvation and now united with Unitarianism
2: something that is universal in scope
3: the state of being universal : universality
And according to Wikipedia
Universalism, in its primary sense, refers to religious, theological, and philosophical concepts with universal application or applicability. Religion in this context is defined as a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.Universalism is a term used to identify particular doctrines considering all people in their formation. Universalism in the religious context claims that religion or religious man (sic) is a universal quality. This can be contrasted with nonuniversalist religions.
In its secondary sense, a church or community that calls itself Universalist may emphasize the universal principles of most religions and accept other religions in an inclusive manner, believing in a universal reconciliation between humanity and the divine. For example Abrahamic religions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam still claim a universal value of their doctrine and moral principles because they feel they are inclusive.
A belief in one common truth is also another important tenet. The living truth is seen as more far-reaching than national, cultural, or religious boundaries.
Joseph Campbell believed that there was a divine spirit/entity/god that humanity cannot full understand but has tried to interpret throughout history. It’s these different interpretations that have been the basis for the different religions and mythologies throughout humanity’s history. This belief was an extension of Carl Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious and was most famously laid out in his discussion of the Hero’s Journey as laid out in the book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Deism is defined by Merriam-Webster as:
: a movement or system of thought advocating natural religion, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe
And by Dictionary.com as:
1. belief in the existence of a God on the evidence of reason and nature only, with rejection of supernatural revelation (distinguished from theism).
2. belief in a God who created the world but has since remained indifferent to it.
And according to Wikipedia
Deism is a religious philosophy which holds that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator rarely, if ever, either intervenes in human affairs or suspends the natural laws of the universe. Deists typically reject supernatural events such as prophecy and miracles, tending instead to assert that a god (or “the Supreme Architect“) does not alter the universe by intervening in it. This idea is also known as the clockwork universe theory, in which a god designs and builds the universe, but steps aside to let it run on its own. Two main forms of deism currently exist: classical deism and modern deism.
The earliest known usage in print of the English term deist is 1621, and deism is first found in a 1675 dictionary. Deism became more prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries during the Age of Enlightenment — especially in Britain, France, Germany and America among intellectuals raised as Christians who found they could not believe in supernatural miracles, the inerrancy of scriptures, or the Trinity, but who did believe in one God. Deistic ideas also influenced several leaders of the American and French revolutions.
While Jefferson himself never claimed to be a deist, one can easily draw the conclusion that he was (see the Wikipedia article Thomas Jefferson and religion). Jefferson obviously had a deep faith and belief in God, but that belief was a far cry from that of orthodox Christianity. Like many of the Founding Fathers, Jefferson was deeply influenced by the Enlightenment and used reason above scripture to develop his beliefs. Much of how I see the world of spirituality is through reason. It’s logical to me that something created the universe. It is also logical to me that humanity has interpreted this something in countless different ways. And it is also logical that one’s actions determine one’s destiny.
Buddhism follows the teachings Siddhartha Gautama. The goal of Buddhism is the alleviation of suffering. I’m no expert in Buddhism, but recognize that my worldview is very Buddhist in nature. It will be a long time before I’d feel comfortable calling myself a Buddhist outright, but the more I read about it, the more I feel drawn to it (I’m currently reading, albeit a little off and on depending on my mood, the book Rebel Buddha: On the Road to Freedom and with each page that I turn I feel closer and closer to Buddhism). Of the Buddhist philosophies/schools, I am most drawn to Mahayana Buddhism (the Dalai Lama practices Tibetan Buddhism which is a form of Mahayana).
So in my head and heart I believe that there is a creator that has been interpreted in countless different ways and that our spiritual wellbeing is determined by our actions and intentions. I firmly believe that there is something after this world and that our actions, our karma, will determine what happens to us after death. I find this to be an empowering way to look at the world because I know that it is ultimately up to me to determine my salvation. I never bought into the idea that one had to believe in a certain deity or set of scriptures to be saved, even when I was heavily involved in the Episcopal Church. If that is really how God set things up, then he (or she or it) is petty and childish. This world is too vast and varied for there to only be one path. It is, in my opinion, illogical, unreasonable, and arrogant to think otherwise. Of course I could be wrong and lord knows I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but these are the conclusions that I have drawn based on my research, experience, and reason. This is my path and it is one of many available for the taking.