Is There a Common Theme in All Religions?

Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Mike:

Religions of the World

Religions of the World

I believe in God. But I don’t really know why. How can this be reconciled? I was saved as a Christian but I feel a connection for other faiths even Hinduism and Buddhism. I see truth in many areas of religion and spirituality. What is the most important message that God has for us according to each of the major (and minor) religions of the world? Is there a common theme?

Great question, Mike!

Of course, it would be impossible to say what’s the most important message according to each and every major and minor religion of the world. There are thousands, if not millions of ’em! However, there are some common themes that run through most of the religions of the world:

  1. Believe in, love, and honor God.
  2. Don’t do evil, selfish, and destructive things.
  3. Do good, loving, kind, and useful things for your neighbor instead.

Jesus summed it all up in the two Great Commandments:

  1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

(See Matthew 22:34–40; Mark 12:28–34; Luke 10:25–37.)

What? The two lists aren’t the same? Yes they are! Let’s take a closer look.

Many religions, one God

Yes, yes, there are too many religions to count. And yes, they say all sorts of different—and even conflicting—things.

  • Some say there are many gods, and some say there is only one God.
  • Some say only people in their religion are saved, some say people of all religions are saved.
  • Some say you have to be good only to people of your own religion and culture, some say you have to be good to all people.
  • Some say they’re completely right and everyone else is completely wrong, others say there is truth in all religions.

And, quite frankly, some religions are pretty messed up!

So it’s not as though we’re going to get all the religions of the world to sit down together and say, “Yeah, we all basically agree with one another, so let’s hold hands in a big circle and sing Kum Ba Ya.”

Ain’t gonna happen.

And yet, I still believe that there is one God who is the God of all the religions. (See: “If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?”)

And if there truly is one God who is the Creator and God of all the universe, and therefore the God of all the religions of our earth, then it makes sense that God would have some especially important and critical messages to convey to all people, through all the religions of the world.

That is why I believe that although there are many different religions saying many different things, there are some common strands of divine truth and inspiration that run through every legitimate religion.

I say every legitimate religion because there are some truly wacked out and illegitimate cults that have more to do with glorifying and enriching some truly sick human beings and gratifying their twisted whims than they do with loving God and loving the neighbor.

It is also true that some legitimate religions, such as the philosophical strain of Buddhism that has become popular in the West, hardly even mention God, and are more focused on achieving our human spiritual potential.

So it’s a good idea not to get too absolute about saying, “All religions believe X.”

And yet, once again, because I believe there is one God who created the entire universe and everyone in it, I do believe that there are common threads that run through most, if not all, of the religions of the earth.

Let’s look at two or three of these basic themes of religion.

God is the center and focus of all genuine religion

The central theme of all genuine religion is, as Jesus said:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Or as I phrased it above:

Believe in, love, and honor God.

True, some segments of some religions such as Buddhism and Taoism don’t have a clearly defined doctrine of God that they put at the center of their religion. But even these religious belief systems involve a “path” or “way” that is seen as transcending merely human and worldly concerns. In these religions, that “path” or “way” is an abstract conception of God.

However, most religions do have an explicit conception of a divine being (or beings) central to their belief and practice. Even polytheistic religions see their gods as being greater than human beings, and as requiring belief, love, and honor from their followers. And in the major polytheistic religions, some of the more philosophical believers and teachers think of the various “gods” as being more in the nature of various attributes or ramifications of a single universal God.

Regardless of whether a particular religion thinks of God as an abstract ideal, a multiplicity of individual deities, or a single supreme God who is the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, that Divine Being or Principle will form the center and focus of the religion. Everything else in the religion revolves around it.

So the first common theme of all religions is:

A belief in, love for, and honor of God, however God is conceived

That’s what makes a religion a religion rather than a secular moral and ethical system.

Loving the neighbor is a key element of all genuine religion

Although religions aren’t mere moral and ethical systems, all religions do have a system of morals and ethics guiding their followers on how to treat their fellow human beings.

Jesus made this the second key principle of religion when he said that the second Great Commandment is:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Realistically, if we are going to follow that commandment there are two absolute necessities, which I phrased as:

  • Don’t do evil, selfish, and destructive things.
  • Do good, loving, kind, and useful things for your neighbor instead.

Or as stated compactly in the book of Isaiah:

Cease to do evil,
learn to do good.
(Isaiah 1:16–17)

Don’t do evil, selfish, and destructive things

The first step in loving our neighbor (meaning our fellow human beings) is to not do bad things to them.

Let’s face it. We humans tend to think of ourselves first, and of other people only as they relate to our own sense of wellbeing. And that natural self-centeredness leads us to say and do many things that are hurtful to our fellow human beings. Lying, cheating, stealing, attacking, fighting, and killing—all of these and many other hurtful and deadly things we do to one another arise out of our natural focus on ourselves and our own wellbeing.

So the first thing religions of all types tell us about our behavior is that we must not do evil, selfish, and destructive things.

Yes, different religions have different rules as to exactly what we’re not supposed to do. But the ones listed in the second table of the Ten Commandments—honoring parents, not murdering, not committing adultery, not stealing, and not even having a burning desire to have what belongs to our neighbors—are pretty basic and universal rules in all the various religions around the world.

One common way this step is expressed in various religions is that we must repent from our evil desires, thoughts, and actions. The word “repent” simply means, “Don’t do that anymore! Don’t even think about doing it!”

As long as we’re still doing bad things to our fellow human beings, such as stealing from them, lying about them, and killing them, it’s sort of hard to do good things for them, isn’t it? One cancels out the other.

That’s why the first step in loving our neighbor as ourselves is:

Don’t do evil, selfish, and destructive things.

This is Religious Common Theme #2A.

Do good, loving, kind, and useful things for your neighbor instead

As we stop doing bad things to our fellow human beings, we can begin to focus on doing good things for them instead.

Every legitimate religion has a moral and ethical code that not only says what you’re not supposed to do to your fellow human beings, but also what you are supposed to do for them.

There is an even greater variety here than there is on the rules of what we’re not supposed to do. But in general, the various religions teach that we are to be honest, compassionate, merciful, and faithful in our dealings with our fellow human beings, and that we are to devote our life to serving them through engaging in good deeds and useful service in our community.

Jesus tied this commandment to love and serve our neighbor directly to the even greater commandment to love and serve God. In his teaching about the Judgment of the Nations, also known as The Sheep and the Goats (in Matthew 25:31-46), he said that as much as we have given our neighbor in need something to eat and drink, clothing, a friendly welcome and invitation, cared for them when they were sick, and visited them in prison, we have done these same things for God.

Every legitimate religion teaches that it is God’s will that we should love and serve our neighbor in compassionate, practical, and helpful ways.

That’s because the second step in loving our neighbor is:

Do good, loving, kind, and useful things for our fellow human beings.

This is Religious Common Theme #2B.

The common themes in all religion

Here, then, are the common themes that you will find running through all genuine religions if you look deeply enough:

  1. Believe in, love, and honor God.
  2. Don’t do evil, selfish, and destructive things.
  3. Do good, loving, kind, and useful things for your neighbor instead.

Or to boil it down even further:

  1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in All About God, Spiritual Growth
21 comments on “Is There a Common Theme in All Religions?
  1. Ken Ridgway says:

    Hi Lee

    Trust you are well. I really could do with some guidance here. Can you tell me what the bible says of marital rape. Is it a sin or is it ok? I have asked my minister the same question but he is not willing to address this except face to face.

    Ken ________________________________

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ken,

      Apologies for taking so long to respond to this. Your question really requires an article of its own, but since it’s taking me so long to get to that, I’ll just go ahead and provide a brief response here.

      In the Bible, marital rape really isn’t a thing. Rape is assumed to be of an unmarried woman or another man’s wife. So the Bible doesn’t give us much guidance on this, beyond general principles, mostly in Paul’s writings, about men loving their wives and treating them well. Marital rape was not considered a real thing until fairly recently. However, Swedenborg, for his part, makes consent to be essential to marriage. Having sex with a woman without her consent violates that principle, even if a man is married to her. So by extension of Swedenborg’s teachings on marriage, also, marital rape is a violation of a man’s wife and of marriage.

  2. Alex says:

    Hi Lee. Good article!

    I have a specific question. Some of the biggest religions on this world do have some rather inhuman practices. I am specifically referring to the Old Testament and the people who follow it and refuse the New Covenent, as well as the Islam. Mind you, I have read wonderful things in the Kuran, however, I have also seen very antiquated practices that remind me of the times before Jesus. As far as I understand, the Old Covenant was only for the people of Moses and was not meant to stay, but be fulfilled by Christ, who would make the New Covenant with all the people. Yet those practices stick around to this day, especially in the middle east. I know a person, who used to be a part of a religion like that, but left it behind because in his eyes in encourages inequality and exclusivity. He disliked that concept as he wanted to view people as equal and not discriminate or destroy ‘infidels’.

    This part has me puzzled. One the one hand, God gave us religions to glorify Him. But on the other hand, there is the New Covenant and many of the old practices should be no more. I have a hard time believing and stoning someone in this day and age is a reasonable command and that religious leaders should act as intermediaries between God and us. Wasn’t the point of His comming to eliminate the need for intermediaries, so that we can have a personal relationship with the Lord?

    This ultimately begs the question of whether some people are misguided, and this scares me. I do not wish for anyone to be damned because of the mistakes of another or because of manipulation. All should have the chance to experience the glory of God and choose freely. However, I also know that our God is a God of love, but also Justice. He will save the righteous and we can trust that His decision is the right one.

    You had an article about bloody and brutal religions and how people that walk away from it for the right reasons are justified, and yet we have evolved as humans, both intelectually and spiritually, but many bloody practices still exist in a time where the New Covenant has already been made.

    Anyway, I realize that I am rambling a bit, but I am having trouble to put my concerns into words. I hope you understand what I am asking.

    Cheers 🙂

    • Lee says:

      Hi Alex,

      Yes, I’m having a little trouble discerning the “specific question” here. 😛 But I’ll take a few potshots and see if any of ’em hit. 🙂

      Humanity around the globe progresses (or not) at varying rates, and takes different paths, culture by culture and individual by individual. Some cultures in various parts of the world are still very much in an “Old Covenant” state and mindset. These cultures still live by rules that are quite similar to those of Old Testament times. Other cultures have moved on to a “New Covenant” state and no longer follow the ways of the Old Covenant. And some think of themselves as being New Covenant while still really being Old Covenant in practice. On that, see my article, “Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!” And to make a long story short, the religion followed by each culture still to this day is adapted to the mindset of that culture.

      Individuals who don’t match the mindset of their culture have to deal with that in one way or another. Fortunately, it is generally easier today than it was in past centuries to leave one’s nation and culture for another one that is more suitable. Yet there are still many people stuck in cultures that don’t match their own mindset and spiritual path. Some of these people become the agents of change that move their cultures in new directions. Others get martyred. And some just keep their heads down and try not to get noticed.

      Yes, some people certainly are misguided. Whether than means they are headed for hell is another question entirely. It is a conceit of the educated classes, especially in the West, that our intellect determines our entire trajectory, both here on earth and in the hereafter. And though intellect, faith, and beliefs certainly do have a major effect on our life (see: “Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?”), it is what we love and what we do that counts the most in the long run—and especially in eternity. So people who are misguided but well-intentioned, though they may do some unintended damage along the way, will eventually find their way to heaven. Ditto for well-intentioned people who are duped by misguided or even badly intentioned spiritual and religious leaders.

      If none of this particularly answers your specific question, feel free to hone it down to something a little more specific and try again. 🙂

  3. Alex says:

    Hi Lee. Sorry, if it was rather unspecific. I tried to avoid taking a direct stab at a world religion, as it isn’t my place to judge. My primary concern was that I am sad and maybe anxious about those people, who live in a religion that is not based on lesser truths than those based on greater ones. I am hesitant to call the words of Jesus Christ superior, as it would be arrogance to presume the words I study are superior, but I can not shake the feeling that many other religions are lacking compared to the love and grace shown by Jesus during his time here and his new plan for Salvation. Seeing how the current Jewish religion could be a direct consequence of their denial of Christ in ancient times is making me feel uneasy. Or seeing how most religions, including Christianity, has turned into a exclusivity club where people argue that their way is superior to others. Such assumptions kill the very purpose of religion as a mean to glorfy the Lord. How can we love others if we treat them as inferior unbelivers?

    However, what you wrote gave me some solice, but there is still much unanswered. Answer only the Lord knows. But what chances are the Lord knows better than I. Everything we know of is of His design and nothing is beyond His control. And still I pray for those people, unable to cast all my worries on the Lord.

    But time and prayer on this matter should resolve it for me in due time, if the Lord wills it 🙂

  4. Eric Rosenfeld says:

    Hello Lee. I was wondering how you feel about the mormon church in general. I’m not very familiar with their theology. From everything I’ve gathered so far though, Joseph Smith’s claims seem unusual. Plus he had many wives and was accused of fraudulent behavior

    • Lee says:

      Hi Erik,

      With apologies to any Mormons reading in, I think the LDS Church is a bit of an odd duck. When you start digging into its beliefs, you find a lot of strange stuff, such as good Mormons becoming gods and ruling over planets.

      The LDS Church’s original allowance of polygamy placed it in a rather physical-minded, Old Testament mindset. Along the way its leaders had a “revelation” that the church must no longer practice polygamy. That might have had a wee bit to do with the fact that the lawmen were starting to come after them, because polygamy was (and still is) against the law in the U.S. Some break-away groups of Mormons still practice polygamy. If they do it quietly, the police will usually look the other way. But if they make a public spectacle of it, they are subject to arrest and imprisonment—and they’ll get no support from the main branch of the LDS Church.

      There is some likelihood that Joseph Smith got some of his ideas, such as there being three heavens and marriage continuing after death, from Swedenborg. But his system as a whole is very different from Swedenborg’s, starting with the Mormon concept of God, which basically sees Jesus as a human being who was so good that he became the primary demigod, above all the other deified people. For Swedenborg, Jesus was God come to earth as a human being.

      Having said all that, Mormons tend to be very dedicated, moral, family-oriented people. In general, they do practice what they preach. There is virtue in that, even if I disagree with many of their particular beliefs.

      • Lee Kerekes says:

        Thanks Lee. I meant no disrespect to Mormons. I was just a bit puzzled upon learning its origins.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Lee,

          Of course, traditional “Christianity” is also a bit of an odd duck. Its idea that God is in three Persons amounts to functional tritheism, no matter how many times Christians say “there is one God” with their lips. (See: “Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Polytheistic?”) If enough people believe something, people get used to it, and think of it as “normal.” Still, now that thinking people are starting to actually think about existing Christian theology, instead of just accepting it on blind faith as in the past, a lot of them are voting with their feet and leaving the fold. Hence the growing wave of atheism in the West.

        • Eric Rosenfeld says:

          Indeed. It was usually a headache to try and comprehend the idea of three Persons while growing up in a non-denominational church. They had good intentions, and I believe they tried their best to explain it through our limited english language. I think most who read the bible literally upon first read could assume that there’s a trinity of some sort. But of course, this is an assumption that most churches try to justify even though the text never mentions the word “trinity.”

          Once I stumbled across Swedenborg’s writings, I had much greater understanding of this concept. Unfortunately, Swedenborg isn’t very well recognized today and most are left unaware of the deeper truths he brings forth. But you’re definitely right, we are starting to question more and more about why we all have different beliefs. That’s how I found your website. As long as we question from a genuine urge to seek truth and righteousness then it’s all good.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Eric,

          I believe that the idea of the trinity of persons first arose because the Christians of the third and fourth centuries were thinking literally and materialistically, not spiritually. If they had been thinking spiritually, they would have understood that in God, words such as “father,” “son,” and “spirit” are metaphorical, and refer to parts or aspects of God, not to three different personalities.

          Materialistic thinking has led to much, if not all, of the doctrinal error in Christianity. And once a particular false doctrine won out over all the other false doctrines (also born from materialistic thinking) vying for supremacy in the church, that doctrine became settled, and people just believed it, even if they didn’t understand it, because that’s what the church taught them.

          Today, people are more able to think abstractly and spiritually, and are no longer willing to believe things that they don’t understand or that make no sense to them on the simple authority of the church. Unfortunately, as you say, Swedenborg and his writings aren’t widely known. So in the absence of a generally known sensible idea about God, many thinking people are abandoning the concept of God altogether. I expect that this will keep happening until traditional Christianity has declined to the point where it is no longer a major influence on people’s thinking about higher things. That could easily take a few more centuries.

          Meanwhile, I believe it is important to get true Christian ideas out into circulation in the world, for people whose minds are searching and are open to a deeper understanding of God and spirit. That is what Annette and I are devoting our lives to doing.

  5. Rod says:

    Hi Lee. I’m not sure if this is the right article to ask this question, so I’m sorry if I’m posting in the wrong place. But anyway, here it goes: Long story short, my brother has a lot of interest in witchcraft and wants to have a pentagram in his room. Should I be worried?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rod,

      That depends upon how serious he is about it, and which direction he’s going with it.

      Many people get “interested” in witchcraft more as a fascination and social statement than because they’re really interested in witchcraft itself. It is often seen as asserting one’s individuality in a restrictive culture, or even as an outright rebellion against uncomfortable strictures imposed by the person’s family, church, community, and so on. In these cases, it is mostly harmless, though it may eventually lead to the person physically leaving home, family, and community if the causes of their chafing and dissatisfaction are not addressed and overcome.

      In other cases, even if there is an interest in actually casting spells, the person goes toward “white magic,” in which the intention is to do good rather than evil, and the spells are about bringing success, wealth, love, fertility, and so on. Whether or not the spells themselves actually work, it may put the person in a positive frame of mind, which could have positive effects in his or her life.

      And sometimes people go for “black magic,” in which the intent is to do harm to other people or to gain unfair advantages or undeserved power for oneself. In this case, it really can have harmful effects. Once again, whether or not the spells actually work, it expresses and strengthens a negative frame of mind, and causes disturbances within the community as people distrust and fear the person practicing this dark magic.

      I should also mention that in traditional Christian cultures, witchcraft is believed to be evil due to its being forbidden in the Bible, such as in Exodus 22:18 (KJV). I believe this prohibition of witchcraft in biblical times was largely due to cultural issues of it pulling Israelites, Jews, and Christians away from their own God and religion. However, many Christians consider that prohibition still to be in effect today. Ironically, this is what makes turning to witchcraft an effective expression of rebellion for people who have issues with their family, church, or community.

      As for your brother, I would suggest asking him why he is interested in witchcraft, and what it means to him. This should give you a better idea of what direction he’s going with it.

  6. Rod says:

    Thank you for your answer. Well, my brother’s beliefs are complex and he kinda takes a little bit from all religions, mostly buddhism and hinduism. He did reject christianity while I remained a christian. He has a very impredictable behavior and a difficult personality, so it’s hard to know which way he is going and often he says that he will do something but turns out doing the oposite. I do not know if he would get into dark stuff (I hope not), but he does have a fascination with esoteric things, the occult, “secret knowledge” and weird beliefs. Having a pentagram in the house would make me uncomfortable but he insists that there is nothing wrong with it and it’s almost impossible to talk him out of something. The more you oppose him the more he wants to do it. I don’t mind him believing whatever he wants as long as it makes him a better person, but I can’t deny that there are certain practices and symbols that make me feel bad, but he thinks that I have no reason to feel bad. Do I? Would you say that having a pentagram in the house is not necessarily something evil? Would it attract some kind of evil despite my brother’s intentions? Thank you.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rod,

      It sounds like your brother does have a maverick and rebellious streak in him. As you say, if you try to get him not to put a pentagram in his room, that will likely only make him even more determined to do it. People who want to rebel, or at least not conform, are strengthened in their resolve to do something if they see that it is upsetting to the people around them. That’s the whole point, for them. Further, unless you own the house, there’s not a lot you can do about it. If you feel very strongly about it, then you would have to move out yourself (again, assuming you don’t own the house).

      Personally, I’m not the superstitious type, and I don’t get too worried about people displaying various symbols, assuming they’re not symbols of bigotry and hate. But if it’s upsetting to you, short of moving out, you could place your own religious symbols in your room to keep the atmosphere of your own (Christian) faith surrounding you there. This will make your room a sanctuary, and keep your spirit associated with Christian spirits.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rod,

      About witchcraft, my general view is not so much that it’s evil, as that it is not much practical good.

      Christianity is not just about what you believe. It’s about what you do. Jesus said that people would know we are his followers if we have love for one another (John 13:34–35). And if we really do love people, we will do good things for them, and serve them in whatever way we can. In the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus tells us that people who do good deeds for their fellow human beings who are in need will go to eternal life, while those who do not will go to eternal punishment. Christianity is a religion not just of faith, but of love that leads to useful service to our neighbor.

      My problem with religious and spiritual paths that are all about “secret knowledge” is that knowledge by itself does no good whatsoever. Instead, it tends to make its adepts feel that they are better than other people because they have secret knowledge that other people don’t have. And yet, spiritual knowledge is meant to teach and guide us in doing good for other people. If it doesn’t do that, it is useless.

      This is why I cannot accept any religious or spiritual path that prioritizes faith and knowledge over love and good deeds. It is why I don’t accept Protestantism, and also non-Christian paths such as gnosticism, New Age spirituality, wicca (witchcraft), and so on.

      People who follow these paths aren’t necessarily bad or evil people. But their beliefs have the wrong focus: on belief and knowledge rather than on love and service. Their beliefs therefore do not give them the level of support that they should for becoming a good and loving person. They may become a good and loving person anyway, but it will be no thanks to the particular spiritual path they follow, which tends to distract them from “the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).

  7. Rod says:

    I agree with everything that you said, Lee. Thank you for your advices. I don’t know if my brother will end up doing those things, but I really was thinking about having a cross and an icon of Christ in my room, as well as a Bible (which I read on a daily basis). And since I mentioned those things, let me use this opportunity to ask: does iconography have a role in Swedenborgianism? Did Swedenborg say something about it? What about devotion to the Virgin Mary and other saints? Would it be okay for me to keep at it? I come from a catholic background and despite having several disagreements with catholic doctrine I still consider myself a christian. I found out about Swedenborg recently and I think I finally found my spiritual home and the answers, comfort and strength that I need.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rod,

      Glad to help. In general, Swedenborgians aren’t big on iconography. But that’s probably because the early Swedenborgians came almost entirely from a Protestant background, so that culturally and religiously, icons weren’t much of a presence in their lives. That set the tone for the organized Swedenborgian church, even after Catholics started joining it as well. (My pastorate in southeastern Massachusetts was in a heavily Catholic area. At least half of our new members came from Catholicism.)

      Having said that, from a Swedenborgian perspective, there is nothing wrong with iconography as long as we keep it clear in our mind that the objects themselves are not to be venerated, but rather are symbols to remind us of corresponding spiritual realities and virtues. For example, sheep represent and correspond to innocence, meaning that an image of a sheep, or a lamb, can remind us of the virtue of innocence. This is why the Lord is pictured as a Lamb in the book of Revelation. A cross or crucifix should not itself be venerated, but rather should serve to remind us of what the Lord did for us on the cross.

      The reason images (i.e., iconography) were prohibited to the ancient Israelites is that the people of those times were very physical-minded, and could not help worshiping the icons or idols, rather than thinking of them as symbolizing spiritual virtues. This prohibition of graven images in the Ten Commandments has led some Christians to believe that iconography is evil in itself. But it is evil only for those who can’t think spiritually, and therefore are unable to see the iconography as representative of deeper spiritual realities, and not holy in themselves.

      As for devotion to the Virgin Mary and the other saints, I would suggest letting that fade away. The Bible is very clear that we should worship and serve the Lord alone. See, for example, Deuteronomy 10:12; 1 Samuel 7:3; Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8. I am aware that the Catholic Church says that veneration of the saints is not worship. But if it isn’t, it comes perilously close.

      Besides, now that we have the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no need to worship or venerate anyone else, or to have any human or angel intercede between us and God. The Lord is his own mediator (see, for example, 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6, 9:15), and has no need of saints or angels to handle prayer requests from humans, and deliver them to the Lord. God is infinite, and is able to hear as many prayers as we humans can possibly direct toward God.

      I would therefore suggest that you leave behind veneration of Mary and the saints, and direct all of your worship and veneration to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is your Savior, and who loves to hear from you directly.

      This is not to say that we can’t gain from reading the biographies of great people who did great things for their fellow human beings. Mentors and heroes can be inspiring! But it is good to keep in mind that they are still created, finite, and fallible human beings just like the rest of us. In God’s sight, we are all children. And to each other, we are all brothers and sisters. That’s why Jesus said:

      But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. (Matthew 23:8–10)

      • Rod says:

        Hi Lee. Devotion to Saint Mary and other saints is something that diminished inside of me in the past few years, but coming from a mostly Catholic place (I’m Brazilian) it’s a strong part of daily life. But I do agree that maybe it’s better to just focus on Jesus and leave the rest aside. About iconography, I am totally aware that they are just symbols that should not be venerated themselves. It simply helps me to focus during prayer to look at an icon of Christ or a cross and in a way it strenghtens my devotion and helps me to connect with God, but I don’t worship objects in any way, shape or form. Anyway, thank you for your answer. Almost everyday I read something on this blog and I love it. As I reflect about the things that I read I come up with my own questions so I’m always learning something new. This website and the Swedenborg Foundation have been literally life changing for me. God bless you!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rod,

          I’m glad you’re finding such help and inspiration here and from the Swedenborg Foundation. If you have any further questions along the way, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’ve been on a hiatus from posting new articles here for a few months, but will get back to it before long. Meanwhile, I’m happy to continue the conversation in the comment sections.

          About icons, here are a couple of passages from Swedenborg’s writings that you might find interesting:

          First, about the origin of idols as representative figures that later came to be worshiped themselves, see Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture #23.

          Second, in Marriage Love #76, when Swedenborg visits angels from the ancient Silver Age, along the way there he sees statues (without actually using that word) of various humans and animals, and has a brief conversation with his angel guide about them.

          If you’re interested in learning the spiritual meanings of various people, animals, plants, and so on in the Bible, which would also be their meaning as icons, here is a great book:

          Dictionary of Correspondences, by George Nicholson

          The link is to its page on the U.S. Amazon site. I’m trying to get Amazon to stock it direct from the publisher, but for now it’s available only from third party sellers. This means it might be tricky to find a seller that will ship it overseas. If you want to purchase it, but have trouble finding a seller that will ship to Brazil, you can purchase it direct from the publisher, the Swedenborg Foundation, here.

  8. Rod says:

    Very interesting, Lee! Thank you for the resources. As I said, always learning something new!

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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De Coelo et de Inferno

Facsimile first Latin edition
of Heaven and Hell (1758)

By Emanuel Swedenborg

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