Over this COVID-19 period I’ve been teaching a course for the University of the Third Age on the great religions of the world. For years now I’ve been interested in the religious traditions of humanity, what role they play in people’s lives and how they’ve moulded human culture.
The question that has really inspired me is a straightforward one: given the apparent unity of humankind as a species, why are there so many religions? Surely if religion is about ultimate truth, then we should all have the same beliefs and practices. Many religions have striven for just this.
But though there is unity among humanity, there is not uniformity. Diversity is essential to human existence. If we were the same, how dull life would be. There would be no curiosity about creation and no motive to explore the world around us. It is precisely because the world is not uniform, that it is filled with things that are mysterious to us because they don’t conform to our mental picture of the universe, that we can truly enjoy life. Since we find diversity in every other aspect of creation, we should find it in religion, too. And so we do.
Accepting religious diversity, the next question is how we should react to other people’s religions. How do we make space for them in our picture of the universe? I believe that is the one of the most important questions facing us today. It’s worth thinking about over these Days of Awe.
L’shana tova tikateyvu
-- Rabbi Fred Morgan, rabbi emeritus, Temple Beth Israel, Melbourne