In the history of the world, there have been many visions of God. Most people believe that their own visions are correct, and that all other people are senselessly pursuing false ideals. Yet if we acknowledge that we are human, we know that we are fallible, and thinking that most other people are wrong is surely just vanity. It is more likely that God reveals Himself to all people, at all times, and that the differences in the way people conceive Him stem from superfluous cultural and personal biases. If we are all vain, there can be as many different visions of God as there are people, but if we understand our own humanity, we might acknowledge that anyone inspired by God was probably inspired by the same God, and that we can come to a fuller appreciation of Him by examining all inspired writings.
As an analogy, consider that there was an event witnessed by four different women. Each witness, with a different vantage point and a unique personal disposition, sees a different aspect of the same event. When she explains the event to her friends, they interpret the story within the context of their own group dynamics. Eventually settling on a particular theme, the group then rebuilds the story, typically incorporating only some of the original information, along with fabrications suggested by the theme. Each of the four different groups does this independently, and the result is four different versions of the story.
So how are we to know what really happened?
If we attempted simply to merge the stories, we would arrive at the common theme. From that we could derive all of the "facts" to rebuild the story. But since the themes were just what each group wanted to believe, the merged story would be merely what most people want to believe, which might have nothing to do with the truth. And trying to interact with reality using beliefs based entirely upon wishful thinking can disappoint. Yet it is just as senseless to tolerate four different versions, each being respectable, yet mutually exclusive alternatives. Rather, we must ask what kind of event could have inspired all four stories, given the differences in position and disposition of the observers. With a careful analysis, we can get closer to what the witnesses actually saw, but did not fully understand at the time, and which was not fully represented in any of the individual stories.
In this way, we come into direct contact with God only if we understand that He has made His face to shine upon all people, and that every witness knows Him. Thus we can hear the words of God from people all around us, if we take their position and disposition into account. And when we read the works of the great prophets, we should strive to understand the cultures in which they lived and taught, so that we can properly interpret what they said, and get closer to the underlying universal truths. Then surely we will agree with all religions, and with a richer appreciation of each.
Of course, this is going to take a lot of work. All of the ancient religions evolved in relative isolation from each other, and the various wisdoms have never been fully reconciled.
Judaism (from which Christianity and Islam sprang) took shape during the Exodus, sometime between 1500 and .
Hinduism has its earliest roots in the Vedic period in northern India, between 1700 and .
Buddhism began with Siddhartha Gautama, who lived in Nepal sometime between 500 and .
And Confucius, perhaps the wisest (if not the holiest) of them all, lived from 551 to .
While the respective cultures certainly knew of each other during these periods, they were not intermingling in substantial ways. And while the individual prophets may have been inspired by ideas from other lands, each emerging belief system was a consensus, and the teachings that were rejected by their respective societies have been lost to history. The religious legacy that we inherit is then constrained to what isolated groups of Iron Age peasants and slaves were willing to believe, in systems that were canonized when writing was first adopted in the each region.
That having been said, there is certainly a lot more to the modern practice of an ancient religion than just the original inspiration. Eternal truths surface wherever there are people, and many of the same truths are recognized by all cultures. But the original frameworks persist, which are all mutually exclusive, making it difficult to integrate knowledge and wisdom from varied cultures into a unified system.
Moreover, all of these frameworks solidified before the emergence of modern science, which is now amassing a huge body of useful information. Unfortunately, there was no way that the ancient prophets could have anticipated the type of knowledge that we have recently gained, nor would their societies have seen the utility of frameworks that did, in advance of the knowledge that they would one day contain. So what got canonized in ancient times, when writing was first adopted, and that hasn't changed much since, didn't leave room for what we are now learning.
The ancient texts represented the wisdom of the time, and were not separate and distinct from the practical knowledge that was available. Until the Renaissance, life changed little, and the texts didn't need to be updated. By then, their millennial persistence authenticated them, and it seemed that they would never need to be changed. When new knowledge began to emerge, the existing systems rejected it, introducing a conflict between religion and science. At first the dichotomy impeded the progress of science, but now the legitimacy of science is eroding the credibility of the ancient religions, leaving us wondering what to believe.
Yet science and religion in conflict with each other is not how the ancients saw it, nor is the split actually useful. A true religion is the most complete embodiment of all of the knowledge available. Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Science are commonly considered to be five mutually exclusive systems, but such is not the nature of eternal truths. These are actually just five different perspectives from which we can divine the true nature of God.
So it's time to reconsider how all of this might fit together. But we should not think that it will take a "new" religion to reconcile ancient beliefs with modern science. Rather, we should seek eternal truths that could have resolved the differences even in ancient times had they realized the significance of what they knew. All "new" religions are just fads that will pass quickly. With modern science, and with an understanding of the perspectives of the ancient observers, we shall find only that which we have always known, yet in clearer terms.
Success in this endeavor will not satisfy just our own personal quests for deeper truths. Embedded in all of this, there is a global need teetering on crisis. Belief systems establish the foundation for moral standards. Unfortunately, the common morality between differing moralities is amorality. For example, both Christians and Muslims have strict moral codes, but feel no obligation to live up to those codes when interacting with each other. This is because morality is context sensitive. We are all selfish, and our moral codes do not prevent us from getting what we want — they just define when and where we can be selfish, and if everybody plays by the same rules, nobody gets hurt. But if the "when and where" don't match up when people interact, the context is gone, morality is abandoned, and people can very definitely get hurt. Throughout recorded history, places where cultures intermingled (such as cities) always had looser morals than more isolated regions, and in international politics, there has never been any morality at all. Such are the breeding grounds for violence. This is no longer acceptable, as our technology advances faster than our humanity, and now even small extremist factions have access to weapons of mass destruction.
Simply tolerating alternative views is not good enough. Loose standards do not prevent violence — they enable it. We need a common moral code, based on the humanity within all of us, and it needs to be canonized. To get there, we need a common framework. And if science has invalidated the ancient foundations for spirituality, leaving us with weak morals, while enabling international commerce that increases cultural overlaps, further loosening our moral fiber, and if science has given us the tools with which to destroy ourselves, science must help fix what it broke. If it is not to be denied, it must be accepted as the foundation for a new conception of reality. Insofar as modern science is still quite immature, especially when it comes to extremely complex topics such as spirituality and morality, we should like to inform it with the wisdom of the ages. But we must begin with what science can already prove.