If you’re reading this, then you and I likely have this in common: when we were growing up we were taught that we were among God’s “elect” children because we were born to parents who were members of the only true and living church on Earth. That idea made us feel good because it made us feel special and important.
And if you’re like me, the more you read your scriptures, the more you found statements that seemed at odds with the idea that God plays favorites with his children like that. Scriptures like: “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34), and “all are alike unto God” (2 Ne. 26:33), and “he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). These scriptures were difficult to square with the idea that God blesses 0.2% of his children (i.e., the percentage of the world population counted as members of the LDS church) more than the other 99.8% of his children.
In other words, it was difficult for me to reconcile the egalitarian God who “sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” with the elitist God who blesses 0.2% of his children more than everyone else.
But when I was seventeen years old, I found a passage in the Book of Mormon that comforted me because it portrayed God as a loving father who “speaks the same words” to “all nations of the earth”. It was a big idea that blew out of the water the idea that God has historically spoken only to one tiny “chosen” group of his children:
“. . . Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also. . . .
“For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them . . . .
“For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.”
(2 Ne. 29:8, 11-12)
This expansive and inclusive idea that God speaks the “same words” to “all nations on earth” and that all nations “write the words” God speaks to them presented me with a new question: Where are the books that contain the “same words” that God has spoken to “all nations”? I was familiar with the Bible and the Book of Mormon, but I wondered: where are the books containing the words God has spoken to his children in China? Or in India? Or on the islands of the sea? Etc.
This question sparked in me an intense curiosity to read all the books of scripture I could get my hands on. I wanted to figure out whether there were any common messages found in all the scriptures of the world. Such common messages would be evidence that God has in fact spoken the same words to all nations (or so I reasoned).
While on my mission I read portions of the Koran, and when I returned home I enrolled in a World Religions class at BYU. For the first time, I learned about Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, Shinto, Zoroastrianism, and Sikhism. Since then, I’ve read every book of scripture that I’ve been able to get my hands on. Some have become personal favorites that I’ve read over and over again: the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita of Hinduism, the Tao Te Ching of Taoism, and the Dhammapada of Buddhism.
As I’ve read the scriptures of the world’s religions, I’ve come to the same conclusion that many others reached long before me: there is a striking overlap–what you might call a common core of spiritual ideas–in the scriptures of the world. C.S. Lewis called this common core of spiritual concepts “the Tao” (borrowing that term from the Taoists), Aldous Huxley called it the “Perennial Philosophy”, and others have simply called it “universal truth” or something along those lines.
If you’re a theist, you might see the overlapping messages found in the world’s scriptures as evidence that God has spoken the same words to all nations. Personally, I view the common messages found in the world’s scriptures as evidence that we’re all one human species grappling with the same human condition and learning the same lessons about life on planet Earth.
The common core of ideas found in all the world’s religions has become an anchor to me since losing my faith in Mormonism’s peculiar claims. When I discovered that people living on opposite sides of the globe came to some of the same conclusions about reality, life, and morality, that global consensus was impossible for me to disregard. It seemed wise to take those common ideas to heart, and to use them as guide posts for navigating life.
Below is a summary of the common concepts I’ve drawn from the world’s scriptures over the years:
There is an eternal aspect of reality. (Science agrees: energy cannot be created or destroyed.)
There is more to reality than what we can directly perceive. (Science agrees: as just one example, there are parts of the light spectrum our eyes cannot see.)
Life is precious; life is a wonder; life is a gift. (Whether you think God made man from dust or the human species evolved from life that spontaneously arose from the Earth, either way it’s incredible that life exists at all.)
Our bodies and the bodies of other living things are animated by some unseen power. (Science agrees: we all run on electricity.)
At the deepest, unseen level, everything and everyone is interconnected; we only appear to be separate and independent. (Science agrees: we’re all made of star dust, running on energy that cannot be created or destroyed.)
You are not your body; the real “you” is the consciousness within you.
Nature is both generous and cruel: it sustains our lives but also sickens, hurts, and kills us.
Our circumstances are constantly changing. Therefore, whether our circumstances are fortunate or unfortunate, it is wise not to assume they will always be so.
Nature is full of cycles and patterns (e.g., seasons); if we understand the cycles and patterns we can understand and navigate life better.
In this natural world, death creates and sustains life: we and other animals must eat plants and animals to survive. We should be grateful, respectful, and moderate in our consumption of living things and beings.
Each generation sacrifices itself (i.e., gives its time, energy, resources, and sometimes even life) so that the next generation may live. We owe a debt of gratitude to our ancestors and elders because we would not exist without them.
There is cause and effect; we should choose actions most likely to bring favorable consequences.
Unity and balance lead to peace and stability, disunity and imbalance lead to conflict and instability. Therefore, we should seek unity and balance.
In life, moderation is key.
We have animal instincts that we need to moderate in order to create stable, healthy, peaceful societies. (Human history agrees.)
We should treat others as we would like others to treat us.
Love, charity, compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, humility, gratitude, generosity, non-violence, and honesty are virtues we should cultivate as individuals and societies because they maximize individual and collective happiness and well-being. Their opposites should be avoided because they bring misery.
Ego-centrism is a barrier to seeing, thinking, speaking, and acting virtuously, and it leads to misery for ourselves and others. We should strive to let go of (sacrifice) our egos.
Life inevitably involves suffering, much of which is self-inflicted because we set our hearts on things we will never obtain or will inevitably lose. The cessation of suffering comes from identifying with that which transcends the temporary.
Material wealth is insufficient to produce lasting happiness.
Striving to fulfill our greatest potential is a worthy endeavor.
Creating and maintaining loving relationships is a worthy endeavor.
Getting married and having children is a worthy endeavor.
Perseverance can keep us alive and enable us to overcome our challenges.
Do what you sincerely believe is right; don’t violate your conscience.