This article currently appears in the Huffington Post:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-mcswain/when-there-is-peace-among-religions_b_1443667.html
Slightly over a year ago, I picked up my iPad one morning and began drawing the image you see in this post. I named it the Unity pendant. I designed this to be a kind of "brand" for my speaking and coaching on matters related to spirituality and interfaith acceptance and cooperation -- even the interfaith comedy showa Jewish friend and a professional comedian, Mark Klein, and I have created. I have long felt that the Dalai Lama is right when he said, "When there's peace among religions, there will be peace in the world." I had those words inscribed on the outer rims of the pendant.
It's true -- embarrassingly true. Many of the conflicts between nations, peoples and cultures throughout history have been motivated and sustained by religion and religious differences. Virtually all religions start out well but it isn't long before a kind of collective ego takes over and things get insane. I've written extensively about what goes wrong in most religions, Christianity notwithstanding, in the book, "The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God":
"All religions are subsets of a stained-glass window through which the light of the Divine shines in all its dazzling color, diversity, and beauty."
In other words, there is no one religion that holds a patent on God, Allah, Yahweh, Source, Intelligence -- whatever you wish to call the divine. "God has no religion," said Gandhi.
I have concluded the same. Which is pretty long step for me to take, given I was raised in a Southern Baptist home, educated in Christian theological institutions and served as a Baptist minister myself for more than two decades. But I am at a entirely different place in my life today as I describe at length in the book.
The Unity pendant says it all, at least for me. It might or it might not for you. But here is its significance for me.
It's about the size of a U.S. quarter and I designed it to promote a more conscious, compassionate and charitable world. At the center of the pendant is the symbol of the Christian cross representing the largest of the world religions with more than 2.2 billion followers. I placed the cross at the center to acknowledge the centrality of the Christian faith in my life. Raised to be a devoted follower of Jesus and his teachings, his path as a way to know God, I could no more deny who I am in this regard than I could deny the parents who brought me into this world. Had I been raised by Muslim parents and taught the faith of Islam, I might have placed the Crescent Moon at the centermost place of this pendant.
Where the Christian cross intersects, you observe the familiar Yin/Yang symbol of Taoism. Taoism is an eastern religion with perhaps 225 million followers. While more accurately referred to as a philosophy, books on world religions almost always refer to it as a religion. The symbol itself represents the "dance of opposites" within the universe. There is daylight and dark, morning and evening, birth and death, and so forth. While everything may seem, however, to be an amalgamation of polar opposites, the reality is that all things are interconnected and interdependent. In the west, many mistakenly think this polarity refers to good and evil. But to the Taoist, good/bad distinctions are overlooked in preference for the idea of balance, harmony, unity. One for all, all for one is closer to the idea. By seeking balance in life, one becomes whole.
The symbol at the top left is that of Hinduism, the oldest and third largest religion in the world with nearly 1 billion followers. Unlike Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, Hinduism does not have a single recognized founder. While widely regarded as a religion, it is really much more like a way of thinking and living, much like the spirituality of Native Americans. Given the age of Hinduism, there are many variations and much freedom of belief among its practitioners of Hinduism. In India, for example, where Hinduism is believed to have originated, there is perhaps more religious diversity than in any other country of the world. While there is no one symbol for this faith tradition, the symbol in the pendant is the most widely recognized one for Hinduism. It is Om or Aum, representing Brahman -- the impersonal Absolute, the source of all that is manifest, as well as un-manifest, that which pervades all of life.
The symbol at the bottom left is that of Buddhism, or the Wheel of Samsara (sometimes referred to as the Wheel of Life). Buddhism is a philosophy based primarily on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as The Buddha (or, Enlightened One). Buddha lived between the sixth and fourth centuries B.C.E. and is highly regarded as an awakened teacher whose primary ambition was to help others end dukkha (suffering), reach nirvana (the supreme state of peace) and escape cyclic existence (birth, death and rebirth). The Buddha taught that our suffering was the consequence of ignorance -- which did not refer to one's intelligence or IQ -- but to one's understanding of the cause of suffering and the path away from it. According to the Buddha, therefore, the cycle of suffering could be overcome by understanding what he called the Four Noble Truths and by following the Eight-fold Path.
The symbol at the top right is that of Islam. Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam is a monotheistic religion -- belief in one God. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, already making up about one-fourth of the world's population. Most social scientists believe that within the next few years the Islamic population will exceed that of the followers of Christianity. Most Muslims belong to one of two denominations -- the Sunnis (80 percent to 90 percent) or the Shia (10 percent to 20 percent) and Muhammad is regarded as its founder. The word Islam means "submission to God." The symbol in the pendant is that of a crescent moon and star, the five points of which refer to the Five Pillars of Islam -- the Testimony of Faith, Prayer, Almsgiving, Fasting and Pilgrimage.
The symbol at the bottom right is that of Judaism. The oldest of the monotheistic religions, Judaism is the faith of the Jewish people. Their history of survival is in-and-of-itself truly remarkable. About half the Jewish population resides in Israel; the other half in the United States, and a small percentage of Jews live in Europe. The Star of David is highly regarded as the most familiar symbol of the Jewish faith. Similar to Islam, the basis of Jewish faith and tradition is the Torah, known as the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Old Testament. The shape of the symbol, a hexagram, is known to many Jews as referring to the Shield of David, but its significance as a religious symbol is not widely recognized. Throughout the centuries, many ideas have circulated as to the meaning of the six-pointed star. About the most that can be said is that the six-points represent God's absolute rule over the universe in all directions.
Again, I created this pendant to promote peace, harmony and the oneness of all religious traditions. Each tradition is valid. Each holds special significance to its followers. Yet, each must respect, value and so make room for all other traditions. All provide Light and Truth to the world and seek to hold sacred the Mystery of Life.
"When there is peace among the religions, there will be peace in the world," said the Dalai Lama.
May that peace come soon.