I was thinking about this yesterday during a walk; I've mentioned this before, but I believe that every man, living in any time or in any place, has the intrinsic right to a Total Explanation, or at least as much of an explanation as he can assimilate. God furnishes this explanation in the form of religion, and religion coevolves with man (for example, polytheism is prior to monotheism, or exterior sacrifice prior to interior).
You may think to yourselves: wha? But for the vast majority of human history, these explanations were indeed adequate. Yesterday while reading Sowell's revised edition of Wealth, Poverty and Politics, I was reminded that 95% of human history took place even before the discovery of agriculture; or in other words, "virtually everything that we today recognize as civilization dates from the beginning of agriculture" during the last 5% of our existence.
We don't know much about what sort of Total Explanation man had for himself during the vast 95%, because written language hadn't been invented. But I'll bet you anything it was adequate. I say this because it has only been in the last 1% or less of our existence -- basically in the last 200 years -- that people have begun to reject our venerable Total Explanations, and even to say that no such explanation is possible -- which means in effect that man's stupidity is total.
Actually, if my math is correct, it's only been in the last .02% of our existence (200 ÷ 100,000). If so, that is a rather tiny blip on the scale. It might well be that we are merely going through a brief period of transition, as the Total Explanation reconstitutes on a higher and more comprehensive scale. Certainly this is what we endeavor to do around here: to preserve the God-given Total Explanation via assimilation of new knowledge and perspectives. Nor do we care where it comes from, so long as it is True.
For example, it was really only in the last century that the various revelations came into full contact with one another. There was some scattered contact in the 19th century -- e.g., Schopenhauer falling in love with his translation of a translation of the Upanishads, or Vivekananda speaking to the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in 1893. I wonder what he said to the curious audience?
Here: "In this speech Vivekananda tried to explain the reason of disagreement between each other and different sects and religions. He told the story of a frog. In the story, a frog used to live in a well. It was born there and brought up there and it used to think his well was the biggest body of water in the world.
"One day, a frog from the sea came to that well. When the frog from the sea told the frog of the well that the sea is much bigger than that well, the frog of the well didn't believe it and drove the frog of the sea away from his well. Vivekananda concluded: 'That has been the difficulty all the while. I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Muslim sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world.'"
Remember, that was just the start. A little over half a century later, Schuon published his first major work, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, in which he attempts to tackle just this problem: the coexistence of diverse Total Explanations. For him, religion was an expression of universal metaphysics. Thus, this solves the problem of diversity -- just as, analogously, the "problem of color" is really an extension of the existence of light. As color issues from light, religion issues from universal metaphysics (and likewise faith from intellect).
I am not critiquing this idea, merely setting it forth. However, bear in mind that there are only four other alternatives upon discovering that other peoples have their own Total Explanations: we can insist that only ours is correct and all the others wrong; dismiss all of them as equally wrong; pick and choose what we like from this or that one; or find some way to harmonize them. Note that the latter need not necessarily be accomplished "horizontally," but rather, can be approached vertically and hierarchically (which is what I attempt to do).
In my view, our Total Explanation can profit a great deal by learning about the other guy's Total Explanation. For Schuon, each "intrinsically orthodox religion" may "serve as a means of expressing all the truths known directly by the eye of the Intellect..." Whereas for a few people these universal truths are directly accessible by the Intellect, for most they are only accessible via faith -- which I think is where the real inter-religion problem arises, because faith tends to particularize the universal, and thus have difficulty appreciating the other guy's view.
If only people could appreciate their religion from the summit and not the foothills! Even Islam would be cleansed of its low-lying troubles -- as is seen in the case of Sufism, which doesn't hurt anybody.
Consider the sixth commandment, Thou shall not murder. I ask you: do you not murder because it's a commandment, or because your higher intellect spontaneously knows this in the form of natural law -- i.e. the law engraved on your heart?
For me -- and probably you -- it is the latter. And yet, it is a commandment. Therefore, we can assume that there was a time when this wasn't so easily recognized, which is precisely why God had to emphasize it. My point is that the sixth commandment is an example of a universal truth, accessible via the intellect, particularized in dogma. Others are easily accessible to the awakened intellect, e.g., don't steal, don't lie, don't envy, don't worship graven images, etc.
This reminds me of another thought that popped into my head yesterday: that the gift of speech obligates one to be honest. Can you see why? First of all, if truth doesn't exist, then speech is ultimately as pointless as the chirping of insects. But "free speech" can only be given to a free being, and responsibility is naturally prior to freedom (freedom is meaningless in the absence of responsibility or duty or obligation). Therefore speech obligates us to the truth. But how many people can work this out on their own? So we just give them the commandment -- which is again a kind of prolongation of intellect into faith. Faith is a kind of light, only it is a reflected light.
Nor can we know everything via the intellect -- or at least I can't. However, once you begin to appreciate how much universal truth the intellect is capable of seeing, then you start to have more faith in faith, as it were. It's like the old crack: I believe in order to understand. You do this in the faith that your faith is a prolongation of the intellect, and that your faith will over time be increasingly illuminated by the intellect from which it proceeds.
This whole post veered into unanticipated byways. We'll leave off with an Aphorism or two:
All truths converge upon one truth, but the roads have been barricaded.
And In order for a multitude of diverse terms to coexist, it is necessary to place them on different levels. A hierarchical ordering is the only one that neither expels nor suppresses them.