Posted by: Tim | November 7, 2009

That’s a Good Question #4 – Don’t all religions basically say the same thing?

Here is the fourth article in the “That’s a Good Question” series of articles that have appeared recently in the Three Hills Capital. There are a couple of minor changes from what originally appeared in the Capital.

That’s a Good Question #4

Don’t all religions basically say the same thing?

It has become popular to say that all religions basically say the same thing, or to put it another way, that all roads lead to God. However, even a casual study of the major world religions shows them to have far more differences than similarities. Consider just a few examples:

Regarding God: Christians believe in one God who is a Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Muslims believe in one God who is not a Trinity. Hindus believe the one ultimate God is revealed in millions of gods. Buddhists do not generally believe in God.

Regarding Jesus: Christians believe Jesus is God’s Son and the promised Messiah. Jews do not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet but not divine. Many Buddhists think Jesus was a Buddhist.

Regarding salvation: Christians believe in salvation through trusting in Jesus Christ. Muslims hope for salvation through submitting to Allah. Hindus hope to eventually become one with God, though it requires being reincarnated many times to finally make it. Buddhists are seeking enlightenment.

I could go on, but you get the idea. World religions differ dramatically in their essential teachings. It is really not fair to any of these religions to say they are basically the same when so plainly they are not. So why do many people say it anyways?

One reason is the overlap in some ethical teachings. For example, murder, lying, theft and drunkenness are generally frowned upon by all world religions. But many atheists also uphold these moral values, and I doubt they would think this proves that they believe the same thing as a Christian or a Hindu!

Another reason is a concern that different religions are a source of conflict in the world. It is thought that if everyone would just say their religions are basically the same, there would be no need for religious conflict. The problem with this idea is that millions of people do not think their religions are basically the same, with good reason as mentioned above, and such an idea would have to be imposed on people against their will. This would certainly cause more religious conflict, not reduce it.

Another reason is that many people think it is arrogant for any one religion to claim to have absolute truth. However, as we saw in a previous article in this series, it is only arrogant to make such claims if it is done without evidence. The humble approach is to investigate the evidence and follow it where it leads.

The biggest differences between Christianity and other world religions are found in the nature of Jesus and the way of salvation.  Other religions have great leaders, but they are not comparable to Jesus. Moses, Mohammed, and Buddha never claimed to be God, and all are now dead.  Jesus claimed to be God, and proved His case by rising from the dead (We will investigate the historicity of the resurrection in a future article). Most religions are about people reaching up for the divine by working their way to God or enlightenment. Christianity is about God reaching down to us and doing the work for us, through Jesus Christ. Our role is to trust in Jesus’ work on our behalf, not to try and earn God’s favour.

Let me conclude by making the Christian call for gentleness and respect in our engagement of people of different religions. We can hold to different beliefs and still be decent to one another.  As the Jewish prophet Zechariah wrote: “Therefore love truth and peace”.

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