Baskin-Robbins is not a place I go for religious insight, but I have to credit them for a true epiphany.
The other day I am talking with a radio producer about doing an interview with me. “In twenty-five words or less,” he said, “tell me your approach to God and religious diversity.” Out of the blue I came up with this:
“Religion is like Baskin-Robbins, and God is like ice cream.” Twelve words!
“OK,” he said, “I’m hooked, now elaborate a bit.” This is what I said:
Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors of ice cream, but even if you taste them all, you still have no idea what ice cream itself tastes like. The flavors mask the actual taste of ice cream. In fact as far as Baskin-Robbins is concerned there is no such thing as “ice cream itself.” If you order ice cream they want to know what flavor ice cream, and if insist that you don’t want a flavor of ice cream but ice cream itself they have nothing to offer you.
When it comes to Baskin-Robbns ice cream I prefer mocha almond. Imagine you and I go to a Baskin-Robbins, and you order strawberry, and I say, “No, that’s wrong. You are wrong to order strawberry. True ice cream is mocha almond; anything else is something else. If ice cream is what you want, mocha almond is what you must get.” You’d think me mad.
Now think of this in terms of religion. Judaism is one flavor, Christianity another, Islam, Hinduism, Paganism, Buddhism, etc are still others. You may prefer one flavor to all the others, nothing wrong with that. But you would be a fool to insist, as I did in my little fable, that only one of the many flavors is the true one.
“What about Stone Cold Creamery where you make your own flavor?” the producer asked.
Well, I said, you don’t actually make your own flavor you just customize an existing one. This is like a Christian who incorporates something from Native American spirituality into her primary flavor of Christianity. You still don’t have ice cream in and of itself.
“OK,” he said, “so what is the flavor of ice cream? What is God?”
Ice cream without any flavor is unknown and unknowable. It has no taste. Sure, I may be pushing the analogy here, but you get the idea. What mystics desire is to taste ice cream itself, to get beneath all the flavors to the thing itself. And when they do they can go back to the 31 flavors with all their preferences in tact and yet know that preferring mocha almond doesn’t make rum raisin and those who love it wrong or damned.
I like this analogy. I don’t know if I will be asked to go on air with it, but at the very least I should get some payola from Baskin-Robbins.