There is the "science" approach. I can sum that up with the phrase, 'religion is superstitious nonsense'.
There is the "Bible study" approach... that is to say the approach of delving deep into the religion of your culture. Such as that of a Bible College.
I can sum that up with the phrase, 'my religion is the only true religion, lucky me'.
And there is the much rarer approach of a comparativist.
"The origins of the discipline of religious studies in nineteenth-century Europe are not primary mystical or even religious. A highly developed
secular sense is a sine qua non of the discipline and its social sustainability anywhere on the planet (hence its virtual absense outside the Western
academy). I would like, though, to make a restricted and heterodox case that regarding the discipline as a modern mystical tradition could be useful
in approaching the constructive tasks being explored in these reflections. In this, I am not suggesting that the discipline must or even should be
read in this way.
Rather, I wish only to make the much more restricted, but no less unorthodox, case that some of the discipline's practices and practitioners (that is,
those capable of forging a tensive mystical-critical practice out of the discipline's dual Romantic/Enlightenment heritage) can be read in such a way,
and that, moreover, such a mystical-critical rereading of the discipline might be useful for the constructive tasks under discussion here, namely, the
cross-cultural influence of religious systems toward a safer, more humane, and more religiously satisfying world."
-Jeffrey J. Kripal
Just as comparative anatomy is vital to understanding evolution, comparative religion is vital to understanding religion. By comparing the anatomy of
animals, we learn how similar they are, how they share commonalities.
The comparative approach is not vital to following
a religion, however. To follow a religion, a local narrow focus works just fine.
Nor is it vital so simply rejecting religion.
But comparative religion alone is not enough. Comparative mythology and comparative mysticism are also part of the comprehensive panoramic view of a
comparativist. A comparativist then is at home in the sacred texts of all the world. Not just the religion of the culture he happened to grow up
Have any of you read The Mists of Avalon?
A great book which tells the King Arthur saga from the perspective of the women, such as Morgan Le
Fay, Igraine, The Lady of the Lake, etc. Christianity vs the Old Ways is a major theme.
Shortly after Arthur is crowned, he takes the Merlin and Archbishop Patricius as his advisers. There is a scene (page 259-260) in which Arthur
introduces the Archbishop to his mother Igraine, and a brief theological discussion ensues (one of many throughout the book). I will present that
short scene for your entertainment and philosophical consideration:
"Lady, I do not know, but I do know that the Mother Superior wanted to forbid one of them because" - her eyes grew wide - "he is a wizard and a
sorcerer, so she said, and a Druid!”
Igraine rose. "It is the Merlin of Britain, for he is my father, and he is no wizard, child, but a scholar trained in the crafts of the wise. Even
the church fathers say that the Druids are good and noble men, and worship with them in harmony, since they acknowledge God in all things, and Christ
as one of the many prophets of God."
The little girl dropped a small curtsey, acknowledging the correction, as Igraine put away the embroidery work and adjusted her veil smoothly
around her face.
When she came into the outer room, she saw not only the Merlin and a strange, austere man in the dark dress which churchmen were beginning to
adopt to set them off from seculars, but a third man she hardly recognized, even when he was turned; for a moment it was as if she looked into Uther's
"Gwydion!" she exclaimed, then, quickly amending, "Arthur. Forgive me; I forgot." She would have knelt before the High King but he reached out
quickly and prevented her.
"Mother, never kneel in my presence. I forbid it."
Igraine bowed to the Merlin and to the dour, austere-looking Archbishop.
"This is my mother, Uther's queen," Arthur said, and the Archbishop responded, stretching his lips in what Igraine supposed was meant for a smile.
"But now she has a higher honor than royalty, in that she is a bride of Christ."
Hardly a bride
, Igraine thought, simply a widow who has taken refuge in his house.
But she did not say so, and bowed her head.
Arthur said, "Lady, this is Patricius, Archbishop of the Isle of the Priests, now called Glastonbury, who has newly come there."
"Aye, by God's will," the Archbishop said, "having lately driven out the evil magicians from Ireland, I am come to drive them forth from all
Christian lands. I found in Glastonbury a corrupt lot of priests, tolerating among them even the common worship of the Druids, at which our Lord who
died for us would have wept tears of blood!"
Taliesin the Merlin said in his soft voice, "Why, then, you would be harsher than Christ himself, brother? For he, I seem to remember, was greatly
chided that he consorted with outcasts and sinners and even tax collectors, and such ladies as the Magdalen, when they would have had him a Nazarite
like to John the Baptizer. And at last, even when he hung dying on his cross, he did promise the thief that that same night he would join him in
paradise - no?"
"I think too many presume to read the divine Scriptures, and fall into just such errors as this," said Patricius sternly. "Those who presume on
their learning will learn, I trust, to listen to their priests for the true interpretations."
The Merlin smiled gently. "I cannot join you in that wish, brother. I am dedicated to the belief that it is God's will that all men should strive
for wisdom in themselves, not look to it from some other. Babes, perhaps, must have their food chewed for them by a nurse, but men may drink and eat
of wisdom for themselves."
"Come, come!" Arthur interrupted with a smile. "I will have no controversies between my two dearest councilors. Lord Merlin's wisdom is
indispensable to me; he set me on my throne."
"Sir," said the Archbishop, "God set you there."
"With the help of the Merlin," said Arthur, "and I pledged to him that I would listen to his council always. Would you have me forsworn, Father
Arthurs two councelors embody two different approaches. St Patrick's approach is the approach of local religion. Merlins is the apporach of
cross-cultural religion. Merlin will find bonds of brotherhood across cultural divides. St Patrick won't.
If you really want to understand your religion, study the religion of other cultures. The fields of comparative religion, comparative mythology, and
comparative mysticism provide the means to do so. These fields give one the means to escape the inevitable trap of exoteric dogma that obscures the
esoteric truth. They give one the tools to see God in all religions, all people.
"If you can't see God in all, you can't see God at all."
- Siri Singh Sahib
You can't think your way out of the subtle trap of localized, cultural thinking with the tools and terms that your local culture gives you. You need a
new set of terms...a new perspective... a new set of cognitive tools. The comparative fields give you that.
So where to start? Stay tuned...
edit on 20-1-2013 by BlueMule because: (no reason given)