Mankind's various religions share common features because they arise from a common root; and that root, if we understand it as a strongly convergent principle, indicates that religion isn't an accident or an artifact, a relic of primitive beliefs; it is a consequence and a necessity, a conscious awareness and a force produced, like everything else, by the strict conditions imposed by physics and chemistry. We can't, in other words, be different than what we are; and no matter how many differences we want to invent and impose upon our many and varied religious practices, ultimately, they keep defaulting back towards like sets of principles and ideas.
Everything, in other words, serves a higher and unseen purpose; world religions are convergent in the same way that biological structures are convergent, and for much the same reasons. This strongly resembles both Swedenborg's world of correspondences and Gurdjieff's world of laws; signs and symbols are not only imaginative and interactive, creative and mutable, they are also universal and consistent. We thus find no surprise when we see similar ideas, similar artworks, similar rituals, practices, and traditions arising around the world: they are manifestations of a lawful condition that must be the way it is, not a random set of choices which man can adopt or discard at his discretion.
This idea, in fact, that we can adopt or discard anything we want to at our discretion is a distinctly modern one. Our sciences have infused us with an arrogance of circumstance that presumes to divorce us from everything that has come before; in abandoning tradition and abandoning the deep need of the inner psyche to address religious tradition and sacred impulses, we abandon what makes us human; we abandon the ecosystem, we abandon our relationship to nature, and we allow ourselves a latitude for destruction which can only destroy us, in the end, because we really have no right to abandon the tradition that is so essential to our biology and our nature.
One of the reasons for my long-standing editorial association with Parabola Magazine is not just that I am a writer interested in spiritual matters; it stems from my conviction that the magazine's mission is absolutely essential in a world that is steadily abandoning this line of inquiry in favor of a technological disaster.
Taken from the perspective I am developing here, our spiritual traditions are not an option; they are an imperative, an imperative that is getting lost in the noise we create. Knitting the convergence of spiritual and artistic tradition back together, into a more comprehensible whole, is an essential task in front of the human species today, because within this action lies the potential for us to learn how to respect and love each other in a new and more expansive way.
Understanding the deeply biological and spiritual nature of this impulse towards the sacred in both organisms and ancient societies forms a bridge to discovering it in our modern ones; and so, when we encounter the Mayans, who seem on the surface to be so different than what we are, but were in the end so identical, we look into a mirror that provides us with a window on a commonality of practice.
Just as creatures are organisms, our individual psyches are organisms, and cultures and civilizations are, equally, organisms. All of them are subject to similar rules in terms of their complexity, their inner and outer organization, their evolution, and their dependence on other organisms for their very existence. It's easy for us to measure, using scientific instruments and statistics, the physical and outward interaction of biological organisms, but we seem to have failed to learn the lesson of how our inwardly formed ideas, consciousness itself, is subject to the same rules and laws as biological organisms. People grow, evolve, and dies; cultures grow, evolve, and die. We all have death in common; Gurdjieff felt that recognizing this had the potential to bring us to a new respect for others; yet we all also have life in common, and if we discover the common threads within our consciousness of the sacred and our respect for it, perhaps we can find new ways to live together — which we are not so good at — as opposed to new ways to die together, a practice which we have been developing a distressing expertise in.