It was reinforced when Esau sold his birthright to his brother, and compounded when Jacob gained the father’s blessing that was really meant for Esau.
When Esau realised that the blessing was a fait accompli, he cried bitterly to Isaac, “Have you only one blessing, my father? Bless me, me too, my father!” (Gen. 27:38).
In a world of many rival religions, each could echo Esau’s question and address it to the Heavenly Father. Does God have only one blessing, only one true religion?
Arnold Toynbee said that all religions are alike seeking to respond to universal spiritual feelings and needs.
So why do they disagree on so many things?
Are they all equally valid… or equally invalid?
To claim they are all equally true is to trivialise and erase the things that make them distinctive. To say they are all equally false is to consign them all to the scrap-heap.
We have no choice but to say that each one is right… for its own adherents.
But almost all make the further, dogmatic claim that they alone possess absolute truth and the whole world should and must adopt it.
To bring their views into the democratic marketplace of ideas is one thing, but to proselytise coercively is to deny others the right to their own conscience and convictions.
To God we can leave the problem of why He has made us different in faith and commitment. But not everything has to be left to God.
“The heavens are the heavens of the Lord, but the earth has He given to the children of men”, the Psalmist says. There is a heavenly agenda… and an earthly responsibility.
That responsibility works in concentric circles.
The innermost circle is particularistic and concerns the internal affairs and dynamics of our own traditions.
Beyond it is the outer circle of shared inter-religious challenge in which we all work together.
That challenge insists that instead of, God forbid, fighting one another, we find common cause and fight together to bring spiritual insights to the task of peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all mankind.