“Dig deep within yourself, for there is a fountain of goodness ever ready to flow if you will keep digging.”Marcua Aurelius
Diversity is our strength. It’s a phrase many have heard over the years in numerous contexts. But what is the meaning of that phrase? What is the notion of embracing differences in people as opposed to unity as a community? Is it truly a strength when people’s values clash way too frequently in this constantly changing landscape that is modern day America? If there is a difference in values among certain racial and ethnic groups, then who is right and who is wrong? Which ideas are best suited for every human? Is there such a thing as a universal ideal for all humans?
Everyone thinks their religious values are the ultimate values and that everyone else is the enemy. No one ever thinks of themselves as the enemy or the villain in any situation. This isn’t an argument for moral relativism. This discussion will instead focus on people’s infatuations both past and present with the view that their worldview is the ideal worldview for all humanity. This post wishes to analyze the idea of universalist religions and ideals both in the past and present. To begin, let’s discuss the universalist ideas of our ancestors.
Universalist Ideals in the Past
Throughout most of written history, the vast majority of religious faith was devoted to ancestor worship or a pagan pantheon of gods that were based around the heritage of the nation. The religions of the past had no interest in converting outsiders from different nations as they were usually limited to the people within the tribe. Someone from Africa would not be able to practice the Shinto religion because it is a religion native to Japan. The Norse pantheon was meant solely for the people of Norway or Sweden. In a way, the religions and philosophies of the past were a form of patriotism because they weren’t meant to be shared across the globe. Any new converts were mostly created via force through conquest.
Christianity and Buddhism are examples of universalist religions that try to convert followers without the use of force. Christianity mostly advertised themselves through charity and established followings through the poor. They accepted any and all converts regardless of race or ethnicity. That is not to say there weren’t instances of force or violence used to convert in different periods of history, but that wasn’t the normal approach for universalist thought.
Many of those universalist religions usually abhor horrible crimes such as murder, rape, theft, or other offenses regardless of the victim’s class or tribe. They wanted to ensure everyone lived by the same basic principles to ensure some form of equality within their communities unlike many other cultures which were based on class. They try to incorporate the idea that men should strive to do good in every instance of their lives regardless of race or class.
Philosophies such as Taoism or Stoicism also discuss universal good and evil. Taoism believed all people were part of the same universe and shared the same life force, therefore you were not as separate from the world as you would normally think. The idea behind that was to understood that you shared this world with others, therefore you had no right to dominate them through force. There are verses in the Tao Te Ching that regarded proper methods for ruling a kingdom that illustrate the need for treating people with kindness and decency.
“The more restrictions and prohibitions there are, the poorer the people will be.”Lao Tzu
In Stoic thought, the idea was to hold oneself accountable for their actions through control of one’s behavior. By the use of rational thought as opposed to giving in to their emotions, Stoicism hoped to achieve proper self control. Those who lacked self control would often seek to control the behavior of others. Stoicism was able to be utilized by anyone regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation so long as they knew how to control their own emotions, thoughts, and actions. This made the Greek philosophy accessible in contrast to old world religions that focused on the tribe.
“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”Marcus Aurelius
The universalist mindset, although a recent phenomenon, has become a successful model for converting people to new religions or philosophical thought. It has also branched out into government to appeal to the most people possible in any nation. Universalist thought has an appeal that tribal beliefs and systems of the past have been unable to compete with because they give everyone a feeling that they can become a part of something bigger than themselves. This feeling of belonging and shared responsibility is still with society today. Universalist thought in the present and the possible future should be the next idea to explore now that the past has been examined.
Universalist Thought in the Present and Future
Universalist thought has influenced human civilization in the past through religion and philosophy. In the recent past and the present, those universalist thoughts made their way into government through constitutions giving people the idea that they have unaliable rights that are given to them by God as opposed to the state.
The attempt at giving people rights under the law was supposed to imply legal equality of opportunity in order to drop the idea of medieval feudal classes who were above reproach. It gives people the opportunity to get themselves out of poverty through individual hard work and innovation. They felt through liberty and individual rights that people would understand a non aggression principle to live and let live.
Other approaches wanted to create a system where everyone had equal wealth and resources through a communal system. Whether or not this will ever work is continuously being debated as we speak. The principle of equality under this system has been tried for generations with no success due to human nature, but the point stands clear. People resonate with the ideas of equality and see it as a universal good. They wish to benefit all of mankind. So where does that take humanity in the future?
In the future, some will value equality as their universal good. Others will value stability to maintain order. There will also be a third group who values freedom as their universal principle. Whether they see this through a religious principle or something to be established by or without government will lie solely with the individual. One thing is clear: There will always be people who believe in universal principles of good and evil, right and wrong, and slavery versus freedom. Do you think there are universal principles or do values simply depend on the culture one lives in at the moment?