The following is an excerpt from To Unite the Scattered Children of God by Stephen Finlan. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.
[A] Spiritual Unity
Spiritual unity between those of different faiths and beliefs is a necessary precursor to inter-religious peace. Spiritual unity does not mean that we will all think alike or believe alike, but that we will all strive alike, that we honestly seek God’s will. Spiritual unity arises from our ability to recognize honest spiritual motivation in others, even in those who have completely different belief systems. It involves letting consideration and respect be more important than being right or winning arguments.
Spiritual unity comes from the similarity of values instilled in the lives of all those who wholeheartedly seek spiritual guidance; and from the recognition that such value- motivation can be found among people whose beliefs differ. It is the individual’s experience in religion that really matters, along with acceptance of the fact that only God has the last word in matters of spiritual truth.
Jesus did not advocate spiritual sameness; he called for tolerance and sympathetic spirituality among people who walk different paths, but whose paths converge in God. He shocked his apostles when he responded to their complaint about a strange preacher who “does not follow with us,” by saying “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:49–50). He was not concerned with social control, but with spiritual growth. Elsewhere he emphasized the saving value of a simple act of kindness: “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward” (Matthew 10:42). The sincerity of the act of kindness is recognized and honored by God. These sayings speak of an attitude of generosity and acceptance, not of dogmatic correctness or of social belonging, much less of exclusivity. Without any reference to beliefs or dogmas, Jesus pronounces someone saved on the basis of offering a cup of water. This shows that people are capable of doing good deeds, and that good deeds matter. “Whoever does good is from God” (3 John 11).
Spiritual unity is not a uniformity of belief; it is more like a synchronizing of spiritual motivation. None of us knows all of God, but each of us knows something of God: “truly it is the spirit in a mortal, the breath of the Almighty, that makes for understanding” (Job 32:8). Everyone has the breath of the Almighty within them.
Spiritual unity begins with individuals sincerely desiring to do the will of God (Mark 3:35; John 7:17). It also requires the ability to recognize this motivation in others. It affirms the validity of the individual’s “walk with God” (Micah 6:8), recognizing that “these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance” (Luke 8:15). If we can recognize that the Hindu or the Muslim can also have a “walk with God,” and can also hold fast a word of truth “in an honest and good heart,” then we are capable of reaching spiritual unity with such a person. The Scriptures of Sikhism say “One who submits to the will of God attains Liberation.”
Of course, this is not just a hazy desire to “be nice.” This is religious motivation, based on the consciousness of relatedness to God or the Way. True unity is inseparable from a life of faith in God and progress in insight. If there is no God, no source of true values, then values are mere inventions, and each value-inventor is an isolated soul in a universe of alienation. If spirit is an illusion and God a fiction, then all spiritual or social values are only a glorification of natural appetites and psychological projections. The political consequence of such a belief would be tyranny. Atheistic philosophy offers no real defense against totalitarianism.
Only religion can really affirm the value of both the individual and the whole. Voluntary identification with God is the only way to have both unity and freedom, to avoid the coerced “unity” (uniformity) imposed by tyranny. “Belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.” Lewis uses the term “Tao” to refer to traditional religions’ belief that there is a moral law in the universe.
The belief that true value is based in God is what distinguishes religious from non-religious idealism. “The meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but rather detected.” If there is a moral Tao, it is up to us to detect it.
If values are real, then, as we discover them we will move toward unity, without losing creativity. Our perceptions of values may differ, but they are the same values (on God’s side), and so “everything that rises must converge”—or at least harmonize. A unity of supreme loyalties does not obliterate human diversity but it does extinguish hatred and fear.
Each person must be allowed to experience a unique walk with God, yet each truth-motivated person will seek unity and peace with the rest of the planetary family.
Perhaps the most touching of Jesus’ prayers is the plea “that they may all be one. . . I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:21, 23). The mutual love among Christ-followers should be a testimony of God’s love for everyone, and thus a means of drawing the whole world into one, spiritually. However, this will not work if religions are overly withdrawn and ritualistic, nor if they are overly committed to external social activism, which is inseparable from political ambition.
Spiritual unity must be founded upon an enlightened concept of Personality: balancing the spiritual value of the individual with the all-encompassing unity of God, the Father/Mother of all persons, and the destiny of all who hunger for truth. Others may conceive of “God” differently: “Conceived of as having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; conceived of as having a name, it is the Mother of all things.” Seeking to harmonize with the will of the Originator or Mother is the same fundamental motive as seeking to do the will of God.
This is not to say that God or the Originator will be conceived in the same way by Christianity and Taoism, but that there is a commonality of motivation that can be discovered and described, and which can form a basis for mutual understanding.
Praise for To Unite the Scattered Children of God
“This book is an original and highly readable synthesis of biblical theology with a scientifically informed sense of a still-awakening universe. Highly recommended.”
—John F. Haught, author of God after Einstein
“Stephen Finlan has written a richly concise theological synthesis on the theme of spiritual unity that begins with Genesis and takes us through both Testaments, the church fathers, a host of modern theologians, and official church teachings, with vital applications for peace in our world.”
—Terence McGoldrick, Providence College
“You don’t have to belong to an organized religion to celebrate the ideal of spiritual unity. Inspired by eminent philosophers like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Alfred North Whitehead, Stephen Finlan points to the potential for greater harmony among religions through a focus on shared worship. Finlan’s book is an inspiring read.”
—Steve McIntosh, author of The Presence of the Infinite
About the Author
Stephen Finlan has a Ph.D. in Pauline Theology from University of Durham (U.K.) and taught Theology for fourteen years at Fordham, Drew, and other Universities. His nine books include Salvation Not Purchased (2020), the highly acclaimed Problems with Atonement (2005), Bullying in the Churches (2015), and The Family Metaphor in Jesus’ Teaching (2013). He also co-edited the groundbreaking Theôsis: Deification in Christian Theology (2006). He is the pastor at The First Church (UCC), West Bridgewater, MA.