Because I spend time with people from a variety of spiritual and religious traditions, I often hear people say, “I respect all paths.” Respecting all paths is an interesting concept. It conveys an acceptance of beliefs that differ from one’s own — a kind of affirmation of the universality in the spiritual quest and a sense of someone’s comfort with other perspectives, beliefs, and practices.
There are positive values behind the statement, “I respect all paths.” It’s a statement about one’s openness to diversity. It demonstrates a certain humility about one’s own beliefs, traditions, and practices and the detachment from needing to be right. It also opens one to learn from others in a way that may not occur for those who need to view their particular beliefs or tradition as better than those of others.
But I have to wonder: is respecting all paths actually a good thing? Are all paths really respectable?
There’s a church whose membership is reportedly growing in the United States. It’s membership appears to mainly be in rural parts of the country, but information about the congregations are not always clear. Like other churches, they have core values, practices, and specific rituals. A perspective that says, “I respect all paths,” would suggest that one should respect the spiritual path that members of this church follow. However, I cannot. The church is called, The Church of Jesus Christ Christian. They are better known as the Aryan Nation. The Holy People, as they call themselves, members of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, are Neo-Nazi’s who want to rid the United States of anyone who is not of the pure “White Race.” They base their beliefs on the Christian Bible.
Having worked with people who left or were rescued from cults, others who engaged in spiritual activities in ways that were designed to hurt or oppress others, and knowing that there are groups around the world who use religion and spirituality to harm others, I’m not willing to say that I respect all paths. Doing so, seems to me, to miss the value on a healthy integration of the spiritual dimension of one’s life.
From an external, sociological perspective, spirituality and pseudo-spirituality appear to be very similar. Both have beliefs, practices, traditions, and values. I would suggest that spirituality, over time, leads one toward a greater sense of wholeness, growth in compassion toward others, and a greater openness to life. On the other hand, paths that are harmful lead to rigidity, judgmentalism, and intolerance of others. Are these characteristics subjective? Of course they are. But they do represent values honed over ages in the great religious traditions. For example, Jesus told his followers, “You will know them by their fruit.” This is very similar to the Buddhist value for compassion and the respect for all created things found among indigenous spiritualities.
Ultimately, I don’t find that I can respect all paths. There are far too many people who use spirituality and religion to control and harm other people. But I have a great deal of respect for people who may be on any numbers of paths.
I have come to understand that respect for people is essential. That’s because we’re all in the process of becoming more than we have been. In that process, we all make mistakes, get lost, or potentially respond to others poorly because of deep hurts inside of us. Because of this, I can only assume that those whose path is most characterized by fear, hatred, or control have grown to be fearful, hate-filled, and controlling because of some deep hurt in their own lives. While I cannot respect their path or some of their actions, I can respect them as human beings in need of compassion. I can also hope and pray for their healing while attempting to limit their destructive influence on the lives of others.
Often, when I’m in a group and hear someone eloquently talk about the importance of respecting all paths, I tend to look at my shoes and bite my lower lip. I understand what values they want to emulate. I support those values. But, in the end, it is not the path that I find that I must respect. Instead, it is the person who is respectable. Yes, even when we fail to be our best selves – which happens more often than we recognize – we are all deserving of respect and compassio
© 2012, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.