A movement that has gained traction over the last few years is the Coexist movement. From bumper stickers to t-shirts, almost everyone has seen the iconic word ‘Coexist’ comprised of the various symbols representing the major world religions. Perhaps it’s not entirely accurate to call this a movement as such, but rather an idea or even an ideal. The notion that all people, regardless of faith or religious affiliation, should share this life and this planet peacefully is a sentiment that any reasonable person can appreciate and agree with. In a way, it’s a call-to-arms to put down arms and stop the needless violence and bloodshed that plagues our planet today.
However, there is one fundamental issue with this movement that most people never stop to consider; namely, the people that share this sentiment are rarely represented by any of the symbols used in the word. In my personal experience I have yet to meet one single member of an organized religion who subscribes to the idea that all faiths should be welcomed, respected, and even celebrated. Instead, the people promoting the ideal of peaceful coexistence are usually pagans, atheists, or members of fringe groups that constitute life OUTSIDE mainstream religion. Needless to say, this isn’t to suggest that there are no members of those religions who agree with the message of coexistence. Rather, it is to point out that the message is largely from the outside-in, not the inside-out.
There is a very good reason as to why the idea of peaceful coexistence amongst the faiths is more prevalent amongst those who don’t practice any of the traditional, organized religions. Simply put, within the framework of those religions there is a very significant notion, one that is the virtual cornerstone of any belief system. This notion is that there is only one true path that leads to salvation, and that all others are false either by accident or by design. Therefore, those who follow those other paths are destined to spend eternity in hell, or the equivalent thereof.
Growing up in a fundamentalist environment I was indoctrinated into this way of thinking. The idea that there was any such thing as a good Muslim or a good Buddhist was simply inconceivable. Subsequently, you had one of two choices; you could either feel sorry for those who were following a false path, knowing that they were heading straight to hell regardless of how nice or good they were. Or you could see them as the enemy, dangerous people who could lead you astray by opening your mind to ideas and beliefs that were outside the Bible, and thus deceptive and dangerous.
Unfortunately, I took to this brainwashing early on, determining that only those on the path I was raised to follow would ever escape eternal damnation. Equally unfortunate is the fact that countless people continue to believe this dangerous and hate-driven narrative to this day, people who think nothing of killing or exploiting those of a different faith since they are somehow inferior or even wicked in nature. In fact, it is this very belief that has not only justified the constant violence and oppression of the Old Paradigm, but that actually gave rise to much of it in the first place.
Take away the idea that other faiths are evil or inferior and you take away the Inquisition, the Crusades, genocide against ‘heathen’ inhabitants of foreign lands, and a whole host of other horrific acts of aggression and untold cruelty. In fact, take away the notion of ‘our way or the highway’ and you undermine the very principle that allowed for the enslavement of millions of African and Mesoamerican peoples over the latter half of the last millennium. Thus, this principle of exceptionalism is more than just a bad tradition that can be talked away, it is the fundamental core of the Old Paradigm and its control-driven values. It is the very DNA that allows one person to treat another with anything but compassion and love.
That said, although it is a wonderful and noble idea that all faiths and creeds can live together in peace and harmony, it is not necessarily a realistic one. The simple truth is that the only way for people to come together and coexist is for them to leave the traditions of the Old Paradigm altogether. Only when I had walked away from the traditions I was born and raised in was I able to find the peace and harmony I had always sought. This was not only internal peace and harmony, but it was also peace and harmony with those around me, those of different backgrounds, faiths, and lifestyles. Only when I rejected the traditions that promoted bigotry and self-supremacy was I able to see the true value of those unlike me. That was when I began to see just how alike we all truly are.
Therefore, as long as the old traditions remain alive and well, so too will the conditions of hatred, xenophobia, homophobia, and the like continue to thrive. In fact, it is the old traditions that foster and nurture these negative mindsets, mindsets that cause people to abandon their true nature of peace and compassion and become hostile, violent and control driven. As such, expecting those following these traditions to be able to get along with one another is about as realistic as expecting two feral cats to become the best of friends. It simply isn’t going to happen.
An insight I had recently is one that is as mind changing as it is controversial. Simply put, there is no such thing as a good Christian, a good Buddhist, or a good (insert religion here). Instead, there are good people. No religion ever made a person good. Rather, good people choose to follow a given religious path in order to maintain and further their good nature. And even then, it’s the inherent good within the individual that determines the course of their moral development, not the book they are given to read or the sermons they listen to on a regular basis.
Therefore, in order to achieve the ideal of peace on Earth, the traditions that undermine that peace must be left behind. It is no coincidence that the symbols on the Coexist signs are the very symbols of the religions that have been responsible for some of the most horrific epochs in human history. Nor is it a coincidence that the call for coexistence largely comes from those unaffiliated with traditional, organized religion. Fortunately, the current trend that sees people moving away from organized religion also sees them moving toward a mindset that embraces other lifestyles, one that is necessary for the peace and harmony we crave. This is part of the evolution that is moving humanity from the Old Paradigm to the New Paradigm.