On the Pretense of Universalism
At my college’s graduation ceremony the school’s chaplain offered a prayer to the creator of the universe.
Seriously though, I’m sure the chaplain meant “the creator of the world” to be generic, but it is not. It might be generic enough for Jews, Christians, and Muslims who think they’re worshiping the same god—by contrast to Christians, like Marcion, who did not think the Jewish and Christian gods were the same.
But this isn’t all that general. It exhibits a bias against all of the following groups:
- agnostics and atheists
- all religious practitioners who believe in a creator god but worship or pray to other gods
- Jews, Christians, and Muslims who, like Marcion, don’t think Yahweh, the Christian god, and Allah are identical
This kind of universalism is fundamentally self-centered and condescending: it involves the assumption that all other religious traditions are like one’s own, or it involves the projection of one’s religious views on other religious traditions.
It’s like the white guy who thinks that all races can get along becuase he believes that, at bottom, all people are just like him. (This guy is always surprised when he finds out that they’re not.)
It’s also what children do: seek to understand everyone else by thinking of others’ lives as somehow analagous to their own.