The Parable of Religious Convergence, -1- Paradise Lost and Religious Returns

Johannes C. van Nieuwkerk
13 min readSep 12, 2023

(Since the original long read text was very long, I initially decided to split the essay in two parts titled: “ -1- Paradise Lost and Religious Returns” & “ -2- Human and Spiritual Leadership”, after publishing these two parts, I realized that an important social scenario was missing, which I later added as part three titled: “-3- The Path of Non-Violent Resistance”.)


Once upon a time there was, or will, or could be, a place without suffering, without death, without survival of the fittest, without fear; a place full of spiritual harmony, enlightenment and absolute oneness: a true paradise.

Any such paradise is ruled by omnipresent and omnibenevolent forces named God(s), regardless of which religious tradition one follows.

This essay is about a fictive parable comparison between religions, travelling away or coming closer to spiritual harmony, and about the various options one encounters on the way. It starts from a point of disruption of harmony and the religious paths to travel back to the oneness one lost. It describes primarily a narrative of expansion and contraction of the human presence or footprint; it is about balancing the ecosystem. The article does not represent any absolute truth or a single choice; it is about what all religions may have in common, hopefully offering some food for thought.

I have to make a strong disclaimer here. I look solely from a cultural communication model perspective at the differences between spiritual traditions. However, my knowledge is extremely limited; one can easily study the smallest grain of almost any single religion for more than a lifetime; the subject is thus limitless and beyond human comprehension.

Still, in my experience, spiritual traditions are in practice a blend of individual, social/emotional and religious aspects. I therefore fully treat religions and their spiritual messages as black boxes here. Limiting myself to trying to find their cultural connections and model or stereotype them, I exclusively look at communication differences, and try to systematically encourage the growing together or convergence component of such interactions.

Because the total article became very long to read and digest at once, I decided to split it in independent parts, which can be read separately. Part two, titled “The Parable of Religious Convergence, -2- Human and Spiritual Leadership” can be found here.

Paradise Lost

Assertiveness versus Adaptiveness, Replacement of Trust

If there is no longer perfect harmony to be found in paradise (= Spiritual Unity (+SU)) because of any type of disruption, people will have to start acting (assertive reaction = bold print in all illustrations) or adapting (adaptive reaction = regular print in all illustrations) to acquire their relative position in the ecosystem or universe, which now replaces the absolute oneness. They establish a culture.

In case people do not act or adapt, they will simply die or will become extinct. There are four potential scenarios of how to handle this situation in order to survive. They depend on two factors: -a- the human span of control, -b- social fragmentation. The first factor represents the will to continue or expand one’s (or the collective) distinctiveness, the second factor is the social unit (individual or group) which performs such an attempt.

However, the assumption in the four described scenarios below remains that there is at all times an omnipresent spiritual force ruling or to be respected, even if humankind tries to establish a distinctive position for itself. Trust in “God” is only partially replaced by either trust in oneself or trust in others. However, if one travels further away from spiritual oneness (+SU) and reaches the limits of human expansion (= +II in my model), trust can become replaced by fear as we will see later.

-1- The road to Integrity or Individual identity (+II)

The first scenario is an active (assertive) one, in which individuals try to survive on their own by establishing a personally controlled habitat based on hunting or gathering (or nature based farming). If people manage to do so, they are the individual winners in a “survival of the fittest” contest, and establish a distinct Individual Identity (+II) for themselves. They develop inner (psychological) and optimize outer (physical) strength. Of course they will need others to be able to reproduce, but their social structure is based on the difference in or a hierarchy of individual strength rather than on their ability of forming social connections or communities. Still they are fully integrated and absorbed in, thus not dominating, the ecosystem.

-2- The road to Reciprocity or Individual Unity (+IU)

The second scenario is an adaptive one, in which individuals try to survive on their own, not by winning any contest but by adapting to serving or interacting with the winners. People establish a reciprocity situation in which there is bondage on one side and “life support” on the other. Also this situation is not founded in any social group behavior but rather based on individual trial and error attempts, similar to how ants find their way to food. Individuals become part of a rational interactive interdependence process and form an Individual Unity (+IU).

-3- The road to Empathy or Emotional Identity (+EI)

The third scenario is an active (assertive) one, in which individuals try to survive by joining a group which offers them better chances to survive. This process is opportunity driven and leads to a society of separated groups. On the foreground comes the (beneficial and empathic) membership of the group instead of one’s own individuality. People actively join an Emotional Identity (+EI) rather than establish their private Individual Identity (+II).

-4- The road to Solidarity or Emotional Unity (+EU)

The last, fourth, scenario is an adaptive one, in which mankind tries to survive collectively, not by splitting up in groups or individual interests, but by staying together as a species. There is general socialization and the Spiritual Unity (+SU) is replaced by a trust based Emotional Unity (+EU).

The Individualization Follow-ups

Besides the previous four basic “escapes” there are four potential “follow-up” scenarios in which people individually retract or are forced to retract from the social structures they previously established; the result is a two-step cultural positioning. Their group based “escape” is continued by an individual “follow-up” one.

-5- Self-Sufficiency

The first “follow-up” scenario is one of criticism on the opportunistic group (+EI) people previously joined, leading to an (adaptive) attempt to achieve autonomy and become self-sufficient (+II).

-6- Solitude

The second “follow-up” scenario is, that people who opportunistically (assertively) joined a separated group (+EI), do start to (actively/assertively) seclude or retract themselves from it again and opt for a solitude in poverty isolation (+IU) instead of using the exclusive group membership benefits.

-7- Selfhood

The third “follow-up” scenario is that people develop personality or selfhood (assertive reaction), and thus actively establish an Individual Identity (+II) out of the collectivity (+EU). This leads to haves and have nots inequality (primarily in obtaining inner strength but, as a result, often also in resource allocation). However, this inequality is not primarily based on any materialism (in which there is often aggregation or accumulation beyond personal needs) but it is instead founded on a difference in inward looking activity levels and individual distinction. The outcome is Integrity (+II) towards others, instead of (outward looking) comparing one’s material possessions with other individuals’ (-II).

-8- Destitution

The fourth, last, “follow-up” scenario is that people in the collectivity (+EU), who are not able to acquire such distinctive selfhood, receive an unequal (deprived) share of the available resources and end up in poverty or face destitution (+IU). However, their participation in society is based on Reciprocity (+IU) and the related principle of “live-and-let-live”.

Missing Processes and Summary

On top of the eight cultural positions mentioned here, there are another four convergent human leadership processes to be found. For this article, they are at this stage irrelevant and will therefore, for now, be omitted. Later they will play a key role in returning from divergence to convergence.

The result is that there are in my model eight fundamental processes to form a culture if the Spiritual Unity (+SU) becomes disturbed. A culture is in this context a process originating at a starting point and targeting an alternative for it (for more details see: The basic (+) cultures created here are from SU>II, SU>IU, SU>EI and SU>EU, the “follow-up” based two stage (+) cultures created are (SU>)EI>II, (SU>)EI>IU, (SU>)EU>II and (SU>)EU>IU.

Diagram 1: Paradise lost; replacement of SU by other dimensions (lower convergent, away from SU, EU & EI, Personal View)

The Eight Spiritual Return Paths, Religions


To travel back from a created culture to paradise (+SU) is the reversed direction of, or return path for, the previously described eight processes. This implies that there are eight fundamental options to return to oneness; four direct and four indirect ones. All convergent spiritual traditions can be classified this way, and are very often, but not always, institutionalized or formalized in religions. According to the model comparison in this article they are mostly culturally different but possess the same spiritual aim, namely to reach Spiritual Unity (+SU).

However, the observed reality is that the cultural and religious forces balance each other. This balance is mostly not stable though, this results in a dynamic outcome: either the cultural positioning is strengthened or religious progress towards oneness is made over time, this is a consequence that can be generally observed in any society.

-1- From +II to +SU, the Path of the Monk, Buddhism

The first spiritual path is leading from Individual Identity (+II) to Spiritual Unity (+SU); it is the path of the Monk. Since it is based on personal adaptation and thus not something one can achieve with any level of security about the outcome, the process is adaptive in nature. It is questioning the Individual Identity one has built for oneself (II = independence = model of the privileged or rich) and teaches how to dissolve this illusion in order to reunite and replace it with Spiritual Unity (+SU). The path dissolves all forms of individual attachment and replaces them with oneness. The main religion representing this path is Buddhism, but there are other (Monk/Sufi) traditions within Christianity and Islam that follow this individual “mystical” approach.

-2- From +IU to +SU, the Path of the Pilgrim, Taoism

The second spiritual path is leading from Individual Unity (+IU) to Spiritual Unity (+SU); it is the path of the Pilgrim. The Pilgrim tries to actively balance his or her role in the universe and to reach a perfect spiritual harmony. The starting point is reciprocity (IU) and interdependence (= model of the poor or deprived) and the balancing can mean to (actively) try to live in harmony with the universe and/or to deeply respect all other forms of life. Main religions following this concept are Taoism and Jainism, but also the Egyptian concept of Ma’at and various Indian tribes follow this path.

-3- From +EI to +SU, the Path of Reincarnation, Hinduism

The third spiritual path is leading from Emotional Identity (+EI) to Spiritual Unity (+SU); it is the path of Reincarnation. Since the path is mostly based on a circle of deaths and rebirths (Samsara) and on escaping this pattern by achieving liberation (Moksa), its character of expected proper behavior (Dharma) in accordance with the laws of the universe (Rtá) is dominantly adaptive because there is in principle no definitive achievable outcome of one’s ordinary individual life. The result is often a society split in groups according to an assumed difference in spiritual status or closeness to God (Caste system/Chosen people status). The main religion representing this concept is Hinduism. Another (single-life) interpretation of this path is to postpone the return to paradise to a later point in time (Olam Ha-Ba) and to include other groups (Tikkun Olam/”Light of the nations”). However, by my knowledge, no major religion is dominantly based on this second interpretation and it can only be found in two-step religions as their second step as we will see later.

-4- From +EU to +SU, the Path of Submission, Islam and Orthodox Christianity

The fourth spiritual path is leading from Emotional Unity (+EU) to Spiritual Unity (+SU); it is the path of Submission to God. This approach assumes a high degree of social collectiveness as a starting point and proposes to submit to God by actively following his/her rules and as a result to individually transcend the masses. As an ultimate reward, an achievable place in Heaven or Jannah is promised to those individuals who live a devout and obedient (single) life. Main religions that follow this approach are Islam and Orthodox Christianity; it can also be found as the second step in other religions as will be explained.

-5- From +II to +SU via +EI, the Path of Clustering, Judaism

The fifth spiritual path is a two-step spiritual path leading from Individual Identity (+II) to Spiritual Unity (+SU) via Emotional Identity (+EI); it is the path of Clustering. This tradition uses as a first step to “actively” live strictly according to religiously inspired social group norms in order to maximally identify or optimize the (fondness) connection to the social group one belongs to. This stage is then followed by an adaptive phase of returning to Spiritual Unity as described in the explanation of the third path. The religion which follows this concept is Judaism.

-6- From +IU to +SU via +EI, the Path of Qualification, Absorption by Hinduism or Judaism

The sixth spiritual path is a two-step spiritual path leading from Individual Unity (+IU) to Spiritual Unity (+SU) via Emotional Identity (+EI); it is the path of Qualification. Individual people, who live in seclusion, aspire to return from solitude, poverty and dispossession to an (exclusive) group. However, they must first qualify or adapt in order to be (re)admitted as a member. After being allowed to (re)connect with the group (often still in an unequal manner, for example as a lower class of beggars), they obtain access to the second stage (= third path). There is, by my knowledge, no institutionalized religion that primarily uses this approach and solely addresses the poor or deprived. But, both Hinduism and Judaism have mechanisms in place to spiritually include socially disadvantaged people.

-7- From +II to +SU via +EU, the Path of Sharing, Christianity

The seventh spiritual path is a two-step spiritual path leading from Individual Identity (+II) to Spiritual Unity (+SU) via Emotional Unity (+EU); it is the path of Sharing. Independent (individual) people start to (adaptively) share their wealth in exchange for togetherness. Although the principle of “Love your neighbor as yourself” possesses the spiritual component of respecting everything God created, it simultaneously represents the social component of solidarity. This community aspect determines the first step of this seventh spiritual path and it shares this component with socialism. Establishing solidarity or Emotional Unity (+EU) is followed by a process of submission, which is identical to following the fourth path. Religiously, most Christian denominations follow this two-step spiritual approach.

-8- From +IU to +SU via +EU, the Path of Acclimation, Liberation Theology

The eighth, last, spiritual path is a two-step spiritual path leading from Individual Unity (+IU) to Spiritual Unity (+SU) via Emotional Unity (+EU); it is the path of Acclimation. Poor, dispossessed or excluded people want to (actively) become part of the in principle open society (+EU) again. Individuals are first seeking for appreciation for their (active) contribution to the community and hope to assimilate; this gives them access to the second stage of returning to Spiritual Unity. The religion that follows this approach is Liberation Theology, which connects to or is part of Christianity.

Eight Paths One Goal, Trust and Fear, Humans Being Supreme

The above eight paths separate religions in fundamentally different traditions that nevertheless all aim to reach the same goal of reestablishing Spiritual Unity (+SU). This split is stereotyped here; many traditions possess elements of other spiritual paths and have influenced each other over time. However, one aspect always prevails: the one fitting best to the local cultural context.

Although the above described paths and return paths represent different levels of spiritual harmony, their orientation is consistently inner trust based; either trust in oneself, trust in others, or trust in/true respect of God. This is a perspective in which, although there may be territories or classification, the assumption is an inward looking one, reflecting on being together in the ecosystem. Convergence remains the dominant basis: respecting the other, others, or God.

Diagram 2: The Religious paths to SU as the single dimension (lower convergent, towards SU, EU & SI, Personal View)

Nevertheless, if one travels further away from paradise, the above foundation may change into an attempt to gain more human control, and a related fear of losing such control. Fearing the other(s) (or fear of losing the other) and fearing leaders or gods is starting to dominate. This leads to growing apart or divergence between people. Such phase represents an outward looking perspective; people start to live by comparing themselves with others.

Human control and the expansion of the dominance of mankind in the ecosystem becomes at this stage rooted on the assumption or people’s observation of humans being a supreme species and on the prospect that humans would be able to control the ecosystem. This development and its counter paths are described in part II of the article: “The Parable of Religious Convergence, Spiritual Leadership”


Looking at the worldwide population and our ever growing human footprint, we have clearly reached our limits and are, as mankind, no longer in control of our living conditions. Meanwhile, we are plagued by climate change and economic inequality, leading to ever growing forced migration and human suffering. A further, related, issue is that we live in a permanent state of conflict and war.

Although we, in principle, could address the root causes of these issues, we seem to be unwilling to do so at the moment. This is a systematic flaw in our attitude. In order to tackle the global problems we face, we will need cooperation and to look inward to see the similarities or compatibility instead of the differences with others. This will automatically stimulate more inclusion and less exclusion. As a result, we will be able to grow together again and establish convergence.

Traditionally, this is the role of spiritual traditions, either in absolute or in a relative “balancing” sense. Religions show or teach us the formalized paths to spiritual oneness.

In this first part of the article I describe the root causes of disharmony and the structure of the return paths various religions offer to their followers in order to (re)accomplish Spiritual Unity.

Because the total article became very long to read and digest at once, I decided to split it in independent parts, which can be read separately. Part two, titled “The Parable of Religious Convergence, -2- Human and Spiritual Leadership” can be found here.

If you are interested in this topic and want to cooperate in finding ways to implement religious convergence, please contact me at