One of the biggest problems in the realm of religion has to do with truth. What is the true religion? Since the beginning of recorded history people of faith have insisted that there is only one path to truth—My Path. Yours is clearly wrong because …. Well, because it’s not mine. And why do you believe these false teachings? Because you were brought up badly by bad people.
The result: hatred–conflict—violence—massacres—genocide.
To the rescue come people like Charles Darwin who had this to say about the thorny question of creation: “I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.— Let each man hope & believe what he can.”
Here we have a signpost to Universalism, that admirable, 18th-century proposal that there are many roads to the Divine, and no single faith has a monopoly on truth. Universalism is a path out of the quagmire that is religious conflict. If everyone would just calm down and let each man, AND woman of course, believe what he or she can, what a wonderful world it would be!
But the key is the part that says “Let EACH man…” Until the time when everyone in the world subscribes to Universalism, we’re in serious danger from religious extremists whose beliefs include killing unbelievers, apostates, blasphemers and heretics, whose most holy scriptures justify slavery, misogyny, and torture. You can’t simply let a man believe what he can when that man is pointing a gun at your head telling you he’ll blow your brains out if you don’t believe what he does.
In Bengladesh vigilantes are hacking people to death who dare to challenge their view of Islam. In Glasgow a shopkeeper named Asad Shah suffered the same fate from someone who was convinced that Asad’s sect was an affront to the Prophet. Not so long ago the auto-da-fe (act of faith) for Christians was burning a heretic at the stake. Here we see the limit to Darwin’s Dictum.
These kinds of beliefs cannot go unchallenged and the way to challenge them is by doing what they are doing in Glasgow in the wake of Asad Shah’s murder. There is now a city-wide campaign “United Against Extremism” that includes leaders from all parts of the community. It’s the kind of step that will get the message out there that there is one belief that is non-negotiable: Universalism must be accepted universally.