I was born in the Bible Belt, but went to high school in San Francisco, and college in New York City. I have been surrounded with people of different faiths, and different levels of devotion throughout my life. I did not go to church too often as a child, but my family was vaguely Christian, and all of our ceremonious occasions still had a religious bent to them.
My best friends in high school were all Jewish, and my boyfriends were all atheists. About 10 years ago my father began doing yoga and meditating for hours every morning after some nudist (yikes!) spiritual retreat that greatly altered his perception. (Note: I think the nudist element was unintended. He says it was, anyway, and I would like to continue believing this…) I also just recently discovered that my ultra buttoned up, conservative aunt and uncle can see dead people and follow a spiritual guru who has a penchant for embodying his pet dog.
Truth be told, if you start looking hard enough you will find that there are wonderful weirdos everywhere, all interested in transcendence, or understanding, or unity with the cosmos. Even my atheist boyfriends had interesting ways of explaining the world around them, and a serious desire to connect with humanity.
But the thing I have always found troubling about this was the fact that people from very different backgrounds could believe wholeheartedly, and with unwavering faith, in their own traditions. How is it possible that this same level of sincerity exists within people who hold such different, and often contradictory, worldviews? No one seems to have the monopoly on spiritual enlightenment, but they can’t all be right…or can they?
Is it possible for us to wrap our puny little brains around the thought that everyone is right about their own deeply held metaphysical (or lack thereof) beliefs? And, could we ever accept the idea that these beliefs can be malleable and still be true? Obviously it is contrary to logic to simultaneously believe and not believe that my aunt and uncle’s spiritual guru hangs out in his dog’s body. It can’t be right that animal embodiment is both possible and not possible.
But what if somehow it is? What would the world look like if we were able to conceptualize the idea that there might be an infinite number of conflicting right answers?
(I think from here there are a lot of other interesting questions born from this notion. If we accept infinite rightness, how do we avoid moral relativity? How do we approach ideas that we find objectionable or reprehensible? For example, we might have trouble entertaining the idea that certain forms of extremism are “right”. And yet, if we determine that a belief is decidedly “wrong” do we have to concede to the idea that some beliefs are in fact the “right” ones?)