Theology 9

Developmental Revelation

This is the stage where the need for a personal god is strongest. In Hinduism this is the devotional path exemplified by the worshipers of Lord Krishna. “Krishna, Krishna, Hari, Hari”: Krishna, Krishna, Redeemer, Redeemer. In Christianity, we see this manifested in those kind and loving people that model their lives on Jesus. One is reminded of the words of the beautiful old hymn, In the Garden: “and he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own…”

The second stage of the “conventional” level of morality is compatible with the view of “law and order”.  At this stage, morality is defined as “doing one’s duty” and “obeying the rules”.  At this stage, rules are “right” because they have been formulated by one’s superiors – a prophet, king, judge, president, or priest.  This represents a step upward because, for the first time, the values of society as a whole are placed above the needs of the individual, his close family, or his friends.  This is the mentality of “my country right or wrong”.  

In the Bible, this is the mentality of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-17) and represents the stern but fair God of Moses and Mohammed.

Returning to ancient Egyptian religion, the concept of the justice of weighing of the departed good deeds is reinstated. As in Christianity, it co-exists with magic (e.g., The Book of the Dead’s magic formula of Salvation and Christianity’s “Jesus Saves”). The story appears of a grandson of Rameses II named Sa-Osiris, who is a seer, and his father. They were watching a funeral procession in which a rich man was being carried with his elaborate belongings to a princely tomb.  Shortly after this, they observed the funeral of a poor man wrapped only in a cloth who was being taken for burial in the desert sand.

The Egyptian prince remarks to his son that he hopes for a good funeral in preparation for a glorious afterlife, but his seer son remarks that all things are not as they appear to be.  He puts his father into a trance, and the two are transported to the land of the dead where the evil rich man is suffering a hellish fate and the righteous poor man is being comforted by Osiris, Isis, and the Egyptian gods, and is living afterlife in regal splendor.

This shows the development of morality and justice in the Egyptian religion, and some

Christian scholars think this is the origin of the story of the rich man and Lazarus in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 16:19-31).   The main point here is to underscore the great antiquity of the belief that salvation is by works. The idea that your good deeds must outweigh your bad deeds is found in all the worlds’ major religions. In ancient Egypt it is Anubis, the jackal headed god, who holds the scales of justice, in Christianity it is the Archangel Michael, in Islam it is the Archangel Gabriel, in Zoroastrianism it is the angel Rashnu, and in both Hinduism and Buddhism it is the yamadoots of the god of death Yama. In the Eastern Religions, Yama presides over both your fate in the intermediate state between death and rebirth, and your reincarnation. It is worth noting that salvation by works is the predominant message in the New Testament with 389 of the 551 verses supporting it on the lips of Jesus himself. The Unitarian William Ellery Channing called it “salvation by character”.

According to Kholberg, MOST of humanity will remain at this “conventional” stage of moral development.    

3)      Post-conventional

Only one-third of humanity will reach the “post-conventional” level of morality.  The first of its two stages is called, “the democratic social contract”, and one-fourth of modern adults achieve this level.  To these people, rules are obeyed because there is a consensus of the electorate.  

Also, the rules can be CHANGED whenever the majority of people agree to change them. The government of the United States is based on this level of morality, as were (to some extent) the governance of the early Christian church which, among other things, ordained women (Rom 16:

1).  While God’s laws are unchangeable, the ways religions operate can and do change. Also, Process Theology fits here (i.e., the idea that God has endowed the Universe with free will and that we are co-creators with God).  While Process Theology is a hot topic in today’s divinity schools, the idea that we are co-creators with God in helping bring about the perfection of the world is as old as Zoroaster. In the New Testament, you find this idea in Acts 3:20-21 and II Peter 3:11-13.  

The final stage of “post-conventional” moral development is that of the “universal ethical principle”, and only about 10% of humanity functions at this level. It recognizes a universal connection to nature, to each other, and to God.  At this stage, the rights of each individual are as important as the rights of the majority, and the individual follows the dictates of his or her conscience while at the same time being aware of the rights of others. This person is aware that what is “right” and what is “legal” may not be the same and that the dictates of conscience must be followed.  

This stage is epitomized by the Golden Rule, often associated with Christianity but present in virtually all of modern mainstream religions. Zoroaster does not need to give his followers a commandment that prohibits murder --- he does tell them that their good thoughts, words, and deeds are required to help God defeat evil in this world.  Lao Tzu says, “Respond to anger with virtue”, and the Buddha tells us to, “Overcome anger by love; overcome evil by good.”   

Within Islam, the sect called Sufis strives to reach a sublime level of mystic union with God. A Sufi motto is, “It’s not the letter, it’s the spirit”.  In Judaism, this highest level is epitomized by the Book of Isaiah.  Gandhi’s tactics of civil disobedience were a good example of “post-conventional” thinking leading to action, making the world better.

In the Bible, the whole of Jesus’ message of love and kindness speaks to this highest level.  

Think of the difficulty of his simple-sounding formula:  “Do unto others as you would have them do to you…Judge not… Forgive and you will be forgiven.. Blessed are the peacemakers… Turn the other cheek… Let him who is without sin cast the first stone … Love your enemies…It is not what goes into your mouth but what comes out that is important”.  You may recall from stories in the New Testament that Jesus himself encounters people who clearly could not comprehend his message.  More than once he simply refers them back to the Ten Commandments (Matt 19:16-20, Mk 10:17-20, Lk 18:18-20) or to the two Great Commandments, i.e., to love God and to love your neighbor (Matt 22:37-40, Mk 12:28-34, Lk 10:25-28). At the highest level: forgiveness is yours for the asking (Matt 6:12;7:7-11) and salvation is Universal (Matt 18:14,Lk 3:6; I Tim 4:10; Heb 10:15-17).  Every mystic knows that we will all be reconciled with God, and Universal Restoration is a minority theme in all the world’s religions.  Zoroaster, Jesus, and Bahaullah mention universalism directly; the Rabbis of the Midrash tell us that one cannot stay in Hell over one year!  In the Hadith, Muhammad predicts that there will be a time when Hell is empty of humans.  In Eastern religions, reincarnation offers the hope for universal redemption.

When we look at religions in modern times, it is clear that some have a broad appeal and others have a more narrow appeal.  I think that the greatest risk for individual believers is to get “stuck” in a religious community that does not value personal growth.  I have personally met people (including some ministers) whose intellect and spiritual experience have awakened them to a higher level of morality but whose congregations have discouraged or prohibited them from their pursuit.

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