I spent a number of years as a Unitarian Universalist, and during that time I was exposed to the assertion that poet Edwin Markham was a Universalist. I now understand that, regardless of his church affiliation, he resonated deeply with Universalist principles, especially if you define the philosophy broadly as “inclusive” (a definition that I don’t usually use–I think that the theological principle ought to be more narrowly defined to refer to “universal salvation,” but that’s a different blog).
Markham’s Universalism, broadly interpreted, is illustrated in his poem which is the subject of this blog, “Outwitted:”
- He drew a circle that shut me out–
- Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
- But Love and I had the wit to win:
- We drew a circle that took him in!
There’s a common thought pattern among Liberals that says that we should be as inclusive as possible at all times, that in this deeply divisive time in US history we should do everything we can to find “common ground” with our political and religious opponents–or, as I would call them, our enemies.
Before I was a Unitarian Universalist, I was a fundamentalist Evangelical Christian, so I know how to be very Conservative and very Liberal. I know a thing or two about monotheism.
By monotheism, I am not just referring to the notion of God just as the One Great Mystery, the Supreme Being, the Guiding Force behind the creation and maintenance of the universe. I am referring to God as “He,” and I use the term advisedly, is presented by religions that claim Him as the exclusive Lord, a concept best recognized in the West as articulated in the Hebrew Bible, the Nicene Creed, and the Qur’an, respectively: “Thou shalt not have strange gods before me,” “We believe in one God,” and “There is no God but Allah.”
Monotheistic concepts of God depend on revelation and an orthodox way of embracing those revelations. If there is an orthodoxy, then there is infidelity and judgment, and even persecution to death.
Monotheistic religions are inherently imperialistic because they depend on enforcing orthodoxy and obliterating pluralism, the tolerance of the non-orthodox. If each mono-God had His way, there would only be the Faithful to Him.
The religious cult that I belonged to for a number of years discouraged birth control and encouraged reproducing as many godly evangelists as possible. It was all about reproducing the gospel and dispelling unbelief. Language of warfare was frequently invoked.
In this way, monotheistic religions are a lot like invasive species: they will do everything they can to take root where they are not native and compete for dominance, obliterating diversity, or, in religious parlance, pluralism. The Gospel, for example, is news to which one must be introduced. It must be introduced into a person’s consciousness the way an invasive species–for this argument, let’s deal in plants–must be introduced into a habitat. People can’t intuit the Gospel, and they can’t conceive of the notion of one God and a Savior by dreaming it up on their own.
The Gospel, to believers who are truly monotheists and who embrace the Bible as the verbal revelation of what God wants humanity to know–“the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible,” as the saying goes–cannot coexist with other theologies. Believers who can coexist with adherents to other religions are not really monotheists. They are probably henotheists–those who say, “There may be more than one God, but we only acknowledge/worship one.” This is not the position I am talking about. YHVH (the symbolic name of the God of Jews and Christians) would not tolerate the presence of strange gods. He said that the nations surrounding Israel whom he is giving over to Israel as an inheritance “do detestable things in worshiping their gods” (Deuteronomy 20:18, NIV).
These religions get introduced the way invasive plants get introduced, and then by some combination of being naturally virulent or being propagated by tenacious people, they take hold stubbornly and compete for dominance with native species.
The thing about monotheistic religions is that they compete. It’s what they do. That competition is what makes invasive plant species “noxious,” a word deriving from a Latin word meaning “harmful.” All major religions claim to be about love, and what’s harmful about love? What monotheistic religions are harmful to is pluralism. Coexistence.
Right now that antipathy to pluralism is what makes the US hate foreigners (except the ones who are related to Donald Trump, apparently) and anyone who doesn’t embrace a (white, married to a white dad) mom-and-apple-pie understanding of America. And it all goes back to the Bible. Eventually, the intolerance all traces back to monotheism.
Those who believe that love draws circles to include are presupposing that everyone that they are including values coexistence as they do. Drawing circles to include only works if you’re not including anyone whose job it is to compete for dominance. If you include someone who perceives that it is their job to take over, eventually you’re going to have trouble, because eventually they are going to develop a root system that allows them to operate from a position of power, and then you’re going to have cultural kudzu.
This is what happened to the Religious Right in the US. Christianity seemed for so long to be such a beatific force, notwithstanding the Catholic Church’s record of mass murder in Europe. When I was a child it was considered a compliment to be referred to as a “good, Christian” person. But eventually forces within the American Church took over that insisted that the Church and Biblical influence would be eradicated if it did not fight for cultural dominance. I bear personal witness to this phenomenon, I having been a card-carrying member of the Moral Majority.
During my days on the Radical Right, people who valued pluralism avoided me, because I was obnoxious. I can’t blame them. If I were a gardener, I would do everything I could to make sure that that noxious species stayed outside the confines of my garden. There are states and nations whose agricultural boards want to keep noxious species outside the confines of their political boundaries, let alone gardens within those states and nations.
Drawing a circle that takes anyone in only works if everyone you take in values cooperation. If anyone you include values exclusivity, then the values-system that led you to include them is moribund. Sooner or later, it will end. As it has already.