"World Scripture:" To Promote Interfaith Understanding by Andrew Wilson
A highlight of the Inter-Religious Federation of World Peace's [IRFWP] Inaugural Assembly was the unveiling of "World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts." This is an extraordinary reference work representing a new, holistic approach to understanding world religions.
Commissioned by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon in 1985, it required the labors of more than 40 scholars and religious leaders from every faith. "World Scripture" compares passages from the sacred writings of the world's great religions as they deal with all the significant issues of life: God, the purpose of life, sin, salvation, and the spiritual path, and demonstrates that there exists a vast sphere of spiritual common ground.
Sacred scripture lies at the very heart of religion. As the standard of truth and bearer of the founder's revelation, sacred scripture gives religion its stability and identity. As the starting-point of education, sacred scripture conserves cultural identity and is the basis for ethics. But sacred scripture also promotes exclusivism and separateness. Based on a narrow-minded reading of scripture, each religion can assert that it is the sole possessor of truth.
For example, the scriptures assert: "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me" (John 14.6); "I, Krishna, am the goal of the wise man, and I am the way" (Srimad Bhagavatam 11.12); "Muhammad is the Messenger of God and the Seal of the Prophets" (Qur'an 33.40); "Outside the Buddha's teaching there is no saint" (Dhammapada 254). Yet as long as the world remained divided into discrete spheres of culture with little interchange among the different regions and cultures, it was fitting that within each cultural sphere, its scriptures be affirmed as absolute and their teachings as unique.
Today, however, progress in transportation and communication has brought all the peoples of the world into close contact as members of one global village. God is calling the religions of the world to the higher responsibility of building world peace. This will require mutual cooperation among the world's religions, races and nations to build a harmonious family of humankind centered upon our Heavenly Parent, whether he is called Allah or God or Krishna or Ultimate Reality.
Therefore, each religion can no longer remain exclusively focussed on itself; it must take into account the legitimacy and validity of the other religions and of the truths embodied in the other religions' sacred scriptures.
Without denying the unique aspects of each religion, "World Scripture" underscores the universal themes and insights that make up the common ground which religions share. It was compiled with a reverence for all faiths. Therefore, it is fitting to become a treasured companion to the holy scripture of one's own religion the Bible, the Qur'an, the Vedas, or Divine Principle. It is an endless source of comparative material, filled with gems of wisdom, some which may seem surprisingly familiar, until we notice where they come from. By teaching the universal truths found in all religion, "World Scripture" will become a great textbook for promoting world peace.
Furthermore, "World Scripture" will help give definition and shape to Godism. Godism is a universal religious perspective, embracing the truths of all religions, that will become the basis for a God-centered, pluralistic society, nation, and world. Until now, religious exclusivism and intolerance have made religious-based society incompatible with democracy. This is because any attempt to establish a particular religious orthodoxy would inevitably trample on the rights of religious minorities.
For this reason, American democracy set up a wall of separation between church and state. Democratic societies have been able to accommodate religious pluralism only by establishing a secular common ground, fostering civility at the sacrifice of religious belief. But what a cost that is! Society devoid of religious values does not provide the nourishment that can sustain a civilization that will bring out the highest qualities in people and allow them to fulfill their purpose in life.
For example, our public schools have lost their mission to provide ethics and values to young people, since the most important ground of those values religious truth has been made off limits. Confused about values, young people become a prey to destructive lifestyles. Yet we cannot go backward and restore Christian values if this would deny an equal place for other religions.
Even the values of Western civilization as a whole, which are largely Christian, are under attack by the proponents of multiculturalism. What is especially valuable about Western civilization? they ask. America is a pluralistic society containing all cultures. Why is European culture more important than the others? Appeals to tradition or democratic values notwithstanding, the fundamental reason is that Western civilization has been the carrier of Christianity and Christian values. But that argument has been ruled out of bounds for secular discourse. Thus education for values continues to decline.
People will continually reject religious teachings so long as they lead to hostility and exclusivism. But secular values have also failed; in fact, they foster their own brand of exclusivism. By stripping away their traditional spiritual roots, secular society is oppressive to minorities. Hence democracies are in crisis, without any solution in sight. Those who long for a return of religious values will remain frustrated as long as they remain within the narrow perspective of their own religion and culture. The only way for religious values to return to the center of public life is if the individual religions can transcend their exclusivism and embrace the values which they share in common.
But do the religions share much in common? One might not think so, looking at most textbooks on world religions which treat each religion as a separate, independent entity. Today's education is pervaded by relativism, and by a habitual failure to get beyond the minute examination of isolated facts to uncover universal patterns. Of course, at a certain level of detail, when doctrines are examined closely, every religion is different, even every sect and denomination has its own unique version of truth. Yet from a wider, holistic perspective, we can see convergence and common values.
"World Scripture" highlights the convergence and agreement among religions. There is no attempt to write a systematic treatise on the unity of religions according to some conceptual scheme if that is even possible. Rather, a wide variety of topics are laid out, and scriptures on that topic are presented wherever appropriate. Looking at the topics, we can see that the various religions concur on about eighty percent of them. Our conviction is this: instead of insisting on a religion's uniqueness on the basis of the 20 percent where it differs from the others, let's celebrate the common ground on the basis of the 80 percent which is shared. Commonly shared religious values can become public values, since they do not favor any one religion over others. They will support pluralism and protect minorities better than secular values have done thus far. Godism means to recognize the common spiritual values of humankind as the basis of democratic pluralistic culture.
"World Scripture" was formally presented at the IRFWP assembly in Seoul on August 27, 1991. In his Founder's Address, "Religion's Mission for World Peace," the Reverend Sun Myung Moon thanked the scholars and religious leaders who worked for the publication of World Scripture, and remarked on the volume's significance:
"World Scripture" will become a shining light, a volume of holy scripture that puts together the universally valuable contents of the world's religions. In particular, it will become a precious textbook for educating the younger generation who are to live together as one global family. It will teach them to overcome barriers between religions, between races, and between cultures. I believe that, through this text, all people will not only free themselves from religious ignorance and self-righteousness, but also realize the fact that, among religions, there are shared values and a universal foundation which are of greater significance than the differences which have historically divided religions."
Following the speech came the presentation ceremony. Reverend Kwak introduced Dr. Savas Agourides, Professor of Theology at the University of Athens, Greece, and a member of the Editorial Board, who presented two copies to the Reverend and Mrs. Moon.
Dr. Agourides, who reviewed the manuscript from an Orthodox Christian perspective, was representing all the distinguished scholars and religious leaders on the Editorial Board, which includes the Grand Mufti of Syria, Hajime Nakamura, the dean of Japanese professors of Buddhism from Tokyo University, H. K. Mirza, the High Priest of the Zoroastrian religion, the Hindu scholar K. L. Seshagiri Rao, Monsignor Antonio Silvestrelli from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Huston Smith, author of The Religions of Man, and twenty other scholars from every religion.
Their efforts assured the volume's inter-religious integrity and high standard of excellence. Ninian Smart, the distinguished professor of comparative religions at the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote the Foreword.
The Reverend Moon, beaming, held the volume over his head and looked out over the assembled religious leaders, former heads of state (delegates to the FWP inaugural meeting to be held the following day), and scientists (attending ICUS 18) in the audience. Then, departing from his prepared text, he spoke in English:
"Why do we need such books as "World Scripture"? God's original purpose for theology is to make for world peace, and the goal is one world under God. Now in this world there are many varieties of religious viewpoints, and likewise political and economic viewpoints. How can we combine all these into one direction? This is the problem. God's absolute goal is one terminal point, but how in this world can we approach this goal? Unless every religion, and every political and economic realm, converge to one direction, we cannot make world peace. Therefore, I want to recommend this "World Scripture", and encourage the making of similar books."
As soon as the he sat down, Reverend Kwak stood up again, and in the spontaneity of the moment he called on all religious leaders to publicize "World Scripture". He bade the audience to rise, and asked them to signify by their applause that they would use the book in the education of their young people. The unanimous response was "Yes!"
"World Scripture" was edited by Dr. Andrew Wilson, who devoted more than five years to this task. In addition to his work with the International Religious Foundation, Dr. Wilson teaches biblical studies at the Unification Theological Seminary. He was assisted by Dr. Yoshihiko Masuda and the publications staff at IRF. Reverend David Hose contributed some beautiful illustrations.
This is a substantial book: its 928 pages contain over 4,000 passages gathered from 268 sacred texts and 55 oral traditions. The religions represented include Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Jainism, Sikhism, Shinto, and Zoroastrianism. Also featured are the oral traditions of the various primal religions of Africa, Native America, Asia and Oceania. New religions, including the Baha'i Faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the new religions of Japan, and the Unification Church, are also represented.
These scriptural texts are gathered around 165 topics and concerns shared by most or all religions. These topics have preoccupied religious minds and hearts since the beginning of time:
The nature of God one, transcendent, loving, our Parent, etc.; Divine Law the Golden Rule, Ten Commandments, cause and effect; The Purpose of Life man as the image of God, perfection, the family, the; ideal society, stewardship of nature; Evil and Sin the human fall, ignorance, pride, idolatry, etc.; Salvation grace, atonement, liberation, enlightenment, restoration, etc.; Responsibility vs. predestination and karma; Faith, obedience, and gratitude; Prayer, meditation, and worship; Sacrifice, offering, and martyrdom;Self-denial, repentance, and renunciation; Messianic hopes.
Poring over any of these topics, the reader is immediately acquainted with the wisdom of all religions as they each deal with these universal human concerns.
Anyone who wishes to comprehend the variety of the world's religions and their inner connectedness can benefit from World Scripture. All Christians, and Unificationists in particular, should have a copy of "World Scripture" next to their Bible in order to understand how the teachings of the world's religions connect to the Gospel and to the Principle. Likewise, Muslims can understand how the teachings of the world's religions connect with the teaching of the Qur'an, Buddhists can understand how other religions relate to the teaching of the Buddha, etc. "World Scripture" can help us to become world citizens who can better relate with all the world's peoples.