Since Ham held a tolerant view regarding differences of ideas, he supposed the world and the life of humanity to be pluralised. In this connection, Ham thought that when life had sunk to its lowest level it tended toward standardisation and uniformity, whereas when life is raised toward a higher level, its forms become various and richer. Fundamental religious tenets are often held in all beliefs, but intrinsically it is essential that the believers of one religion should tolerate the beliefs of other faiths. Ham spoke about the importance of variety in humanity:
"Our thoughts should not be too narrow, bearing in mind the laws of the universe and of life are poly-dimensional. It should not make a difference if we have different thoughts. No two people have the same face. Such is life. Why do people insist that my religion and my thoughts should be the same as theirs? If they do, their thoughts are too narrow. Varieties of life and thought should grow."
Ham considered various people in different cultures as prophets of God, not only Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and Hosea but also Buddha, Confucius, Mencius, Lao-tzu and Socrates. For Ham, all of them were messengers of God and hence they presented certain aspects of God on behalf of the whole human race. In my view, God could be one Being, but at the same time could be revealed in varied and limitless ways. Why should the inspiration of God be illuminated only through the Bible and the Church? As Mahatma Gandhi said "What is the meaning of saying that the Vedas are the inspired Word of God? If they are inspired, why not also the Bible and the Koran?" The Bible and the Church reveal merely a part of God as do the Vedas and the Koran, not all of God. All the Sacred Scriptures of the main religions reveal some aspects of God.
Ham had keen senses and his views on religion and the world changed incessantly. Hence he considered that all things were in a constant metamorphosis, which required the ceaseless revising of the systems used by society. From this viewpoint, the same principle can be applied to life itself. Although human beings constantly strive for perfection in life, it is an impossibility because they themselves are imperfect. Because of this imperfection, no one can express the 'perfect' God or the whole truth, only each one of us can reveal a part of the truth or a division of God. Thus one's religious faith and God-given inspiration can be expressed through diverse modes and not absolutely through one alone. Ham spoke about the relationship between God and a religion in this way:
"From the Supreme Being's prospect there is only one way, yet from human beings' prospect there are limitless ways. God cannot be confined in 'one' religion, God is too big to be grasped in one religion." "God is limitless, so the way of God is limitless. Can we reach the limitless God through only one limited way, is this not a contradiction?"
God is infinite and so can be revealed through infinite ways. 'A' religion is not the panacea to solve all the problems of human beings, it is only 'a' solution which can solve only 'a' problem or a few problems, bearing in mind that human beings are multi-dimensional. Although God is an Unlimited Being humans are limited. Therefore, in my view, a limited being can only understand the Unlimited Being in a limited way. Thus it is a paradox when a limited being attempts to proclaim a definition of the Unlimited Being. It is an impossible definition. It is only 'a' limited definition of the Unlimited Being. In this respect, any particular religious establishment (limited being) cannot represent God (Unlimited Being) alone.
Perhaps Lao-tzu's rather mystic words are helpful in understanding Ham's attitude toward a religious organisation and institution, as well as his pursuit of human freedom, as an individual human being:
"The great Tao [The Truth] is overflowing: it can be to the left and to the right.
All things owe their existence to it, and it does not refuse itself to them.
When work is done, it does not call it its possession.
It clothes and nourishes all things, and does not play at being their master.
Inasmuch as it is forever not clamouring one may call it small.
Inasmuch as all things depend on it without knowing it as its master one may call it great. Thus also is the Man of Calling: He never makes himself look great:
therefore he achieves the great work."
It seems to me that the Tao, the truth and God is everywhere and in the heart of every creation, and humanity should bow in reverence. But what stony hearts humanity has! God is a Universal Being. A world monopolised by only one religion or one religious view would be monotonous and insipid. If truth is monopolised only by Christianity it is no longer the truth. As Paul Oestreicher argued, "neither goodness nor perversity are the monopoly of any one group of people." Every religious institution, certainly including the Christian church, is only a cultural phenomenon within a God-created world. Thus the Christian church alone cannot monopolise God, in Chuang-tzu's words "the most enormous thing [Tao] cannot be contained." God cannot be bound either inside church or within the Bible. Ham also did not believe in the historical man, Jesus, rather he believed in Christ. In Ham's view, Christ was the eternal, who not only was in Jesus but who also by nature was in himself. Neither did Ham believe in the resurrection of the body after death. His search was for a spirit which, he believed, lives on after death although the physical body dies. Therefore Ham argued as follows: "A life of the Spirit which is eternal transcending materialism, replaces the life of the physical body."
In this respect, in Ham's view the truth should be universal for everyone, regardless of one's religious or non-religious background. All Religions should also complement each other: As Ham argued, Western Christianity, although advocating the Gospel of Love, acted as the Crusader and running dog of Western imperialism; Asian religion, in particular Hinduism, although believing that Atman is Brahman, has maintained the most shameful Caste System in the world. One's maturity means embracing and having impartial views on different beliefs and ideas. No one has a monopoly on the truth, because different races have different outlooks and different reflections. One human being is as important as another, all having dignity and the right to proclaim their truth.
The history of humanity also reveals that tyrannical beliefs like despotism and totalitarianism, have claimed possession of the ultimate truth, but the ultimate truth is out of the sphere of humanity. Humankind can only perceive relative truth, because we are only relative beings not ultimate ones. It seems to me that in categorical terms, Ham was a Christian thinker. Yet Ham tried to understand and examine other religions with an equal eye and endeavoured to maintain an openness toward them: "I have concerned myself with Christianity more than with any other religion - not from an idea that Christianity is the one true religion, or that Christianity alone is the true view of history."
In consideration of this, Ham's understanding of Christianity was not just for Christians but was also valid for non-Christians. Ham criticised the narrow view held by dogmatist Christians in this way: "Christians are concerned only for other Christians and for their church affairs, not for non-Christians nor for secular affairs. For them, their churches are their whole world, separate from the real whole world. It is a wrong and narrow notion."
Ham could not think of Christianity in vacuo. In this regard the value of the whole human race should be placed before the Christian church. Therefore, he always believed that even a saint could not exist without his history and society. Correspondingly Ham denied the life to come and more willingly sought salvation within the historical context in which he lived. In like manner Ham's concept of salvation was the salvation of the whole community before individual salvation. Ham thought that although life is individual in semblance, it is not confined to the individual. Hence without the salvation of the whole there is no salvation for the individual. Where there is a salvation of the whole community there is a heaven, this is Ham's perception of heaven. Ham spoke of his view on salvation: "I don't want my salvation if it is only for myself. Salvation should be for everyone in the whole world. Even Communists, atheists, heretics, evangelists and shamanists, all of them should have salvation, that is real salvation."
Since Ham believed that all humankind, regardless of religious or non-religious orientation, has the image of God, he tried to concern himself as much with unbelievers and non-Christians as with Christians. Ham carefully thought about the concept of the "whole is holy" as an analogue of the flesh and the dirt in the human body: "When the flesh was separated from the whole body it became dead dirt. The flesh can be holy and alive only when it abides within the whole body [totality]." Considering Ham could not separate the individual and the whole in any way, he regarded himself as a debtor in relation to the whole of society and its subject people. In this way Ham regarded the difficulties of his fellow people, whether Christian or not, as his own difficulty.
In this regard Ham made an effort to avoid religious exclusivism. His disposition to inclusivism was the crucial basis for his merging of Western Christianity with East Asian philosophies. Ham's principle of inclusivism could also be applied to other religions: If a Buddhist's only concern was about other Buddhists well-being, and if a Moslem's only concern was for other Moslem interests, the world would simply be a congregation of selfish groups and show only religious imperialism and factional conflict. But perhaps it is also arguable that conservative Christians can have a concern for neighbours, while being exclusive in belief.
The main concern of Buddha and Jesus were for the whole human race, neither for Buddhists nor for Christians alone. Buddha and Jesus were both revolutionaries and reformers, they tried to overthrow the putrid institutions of their eras. For Buddha, this institution was Hinduism with its contradictory Caste System, for Jesus it was Judaism with its sentiment of the 'chosen people'. Furthermore, as impartial beings, both Buddha and Jesus tried to abolish the religious prejudice of their times. Ham was also a social and religious reformer and believed the essence of religion should be impartial. Thus he advocated the need of casting away one's religious prejudice. Human life likewise has always existed in the whole, never in isolation.
Ham illustrated the variegated characteristics of religious truth and compared it with the moving walker's view of the mountain: "As we get close to the mountain [truth], the appearance of the mountain can be seen differently according to our distance and angle from the mountain. Thus if the mountain can be seen as different at every moment, depending on our view, it is a natural phenomenon."
In my view, 'a' religion can be universalised when interpreted and illuminated through other religious terminologies. This interpretation through disparate religious languages can bring about the indigenousness of a religion in different socio-cultural soils. Ham was the main contributor to this task. Ham's religious universal views comprised various religious elements. Thus as Kim Kyongjae pointed out, "Ham was a pioneer for religious pluralism in Korea". Ham's erudition was the basis of his tolerance of all religions. He was thoroughly familiar with the intellectual currents of his time. His understanding of Western history and philosophy, at the same time as his understanding of East Asian classical philosophy and religion, helped his openness toward various ideologies and religions.
Subsequently, although he was a Christian, Ham taught his own version of the philosophy of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu and other East Asian classics to the Korean public, and published it in his magazine, the Voice of the People. In this way Ham attempted to find a middle ground between the philosophy of the Asia and the West, from the perspective of an East Asian Christian thinker. But being a pioneer for religious pluralism in Korea, Ham also recognised the religious agonies such openness brought him: "I am the Samaritan woman. I have five Masters: Native Religion [shamanism], Confucianism, Buddhism, Presbyterianism, and the Non-Church Movement, but nothing can be master of my spirit. Now, I am a Quaker, but none will be master of my spirit."
Ham perceived that humanity can live without barriers or religious doctrine. He freely avoided the doctrine of Christianity, whilst trying to live the spirit of Christ. It seems to me that the doctrine, static word and creed can be different things at different times and in different places. Words and doctrine are used to express concepts and truth, but once you have grasped the concepts and truth, the words and doctrine could be forgotten. In a similar way Zen Buddhism also stressed spontaneity of action, meditation, and the rejection of doctrine and scripture. If one does recognise God or the truth through consciousness and feeling, the doctrine and word are not so essential. But if one cannot perceive through consciousness and feeling, saying the doctrine or word could be in vain. But all individuals are susceptible to outside influences.
An Historical and Socio-Cultural Religion Table of Contents