One of our current buzz words is “globalization”. It refers to the fact that our world is closely interconnected. What happens in one part of the world affects the rest of the world. The cost of petrol in Australia is affected by what happens on the other side of the world. Western Pop music is played in China and India as much as in the Western world. Our world is increasingly become a “global village”.
Australia is a multi-cultural society and multi-religious society. In the cities we find Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists walking our streets and staffing our shops. They are as much citizens of this country as those of us born here with the same rights and duties.
This has led some people to think that the various religions are much the same. They see the different religions as merely different ways of understanding the same God.
This is a very attractive idea for some people. Far too many disagreements-wars-persecutions have arisen because of religious differences. So let’s assume that there is one God whom the different religions are seeking in their particular ways. Let the Christians, Muslims. Buddhist, Hindu’s agree that they are worshipping the same God but in different ways and leave it at that.
To some people that would be the common-sense view and the tolerant view. Tolerance is a very attractive view, especially these days when traditional religious beliefs and morals are widely discounted and ignored by so many in our communities.
Furthermore most of the great religions have a lot of moral-ethical teachings in common. They generally teach respect for others-kindness-peace etc. So why not take the common ethical teachings of the different religions and build up a composite picture of God. Surely that would lead to world peace and understanding.
This view has wide appeal and was espoused by the late Indian Hindu leader Mahatma Ghandi who said, “The soul of religions is one but it is encased in a number of forms”. This is quite an old view. The Roman Emperor Septimus Severus hedged his bets by having statues of the former Roman Emperors’ but also miracles workers including Jesus Christ. It is a popular and widely spread view today.
This view is called Syncretism. The Hebrew people were tempted by this view. God made it clear that this was totally unacceptable. The First Commandment (You shall have no other gods) was specifically given to counter the view of Syncretism. It was not acceptable to God then and is not acceptable today.
Why not? There are a number of reasons.
+ Firstly if you ask the actual worshippers of the different faiths whether all religions are the same you will get an emphatic denial. They know very well that Christians are different from Muslims and Hindus. Some are so emphatic about the rightness of their religion they will even attack members of other religions and burn their churches-mosques-temples. Fanatical Muslims have burnt a number of churches in Indonesia in recent times. The Quran says sura 9:5 “Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them”. And that has happened to Christians in Indonesia, Nigeria and the Sudan in recent times. It is only Academics who write books saying that all religions are the same or people who don’t have any particular faith. But people who actually practice their religion certainly don’t say that.
+ Secondly the different religions hold diametrically opposing views of what God is like. The Hindus believe there are 350 million gods or deities, but they are not personal as the God we worship. Buddhism is a religion without a personal God and without even a final existence.
The Muslims worship Allah and believe he is the only God. They acknowledge Jesus as a prophet but not the Son of God.
Christianity teaches that we have a personal God who forgives and also offers supernatural aid. Whereas in Hinduism and Buddhism there is no concept of sin-forgiveness only ruthless karma –fate.
Islam denies that Allah ever reveals himself in person to people; he only reveals his Will and the proper response to Allah’s will is “Islam” which means “submission”.
Christianity teaches that God not only reveals his will but his person. Indeed he revealed himself to us thought his Son Jesus so we could know what God is like. That after all is what Christmas celebrates.
+ There is also a great difference between the religions in the goal of our lives and where we are heading after this life on earth.
The goal of all existence in Buddhism is Nirvana-extinction or the complete cessation of all desire and personality-“nothingness”. Incidentally it took the Buddha 547 reincarnations to attain that state.
Muslims look forward to a sensual paradise with wine, women and song.
The goal of Christianity is to live forever with God and his redeemed people in eternity. So what the different religions teach differs enormously.
+ But the greatest difference is in the area of salvation.
Christianity teaches that none of us can save ourselves or make us acceptable to God, try as we might.
Whereas all the other religions assert that by keeping their teachings a person can be saved or in the case of Buddhism they can be reborn.
Nothing spells out this contrast more powerfully than the Buddhist story which starts of like the parable of the Prodigal son. The spendthrift boy comes home after wasting his inheritance. He is met by his father and then has to work off the penalty for his past misdeeds by years of servitude to his father. He virtually becomes a slave to his father.
How different this is from forgiving love of the father in the gospel story who gives a great party to celebrate the sons return. And far from making his son work as a servant, the father reinstates the prodigal as his son-party-ring-sandals-robe.
Indeed the basic world view of Christianity, that a loving personal God longs to have a relationship with his people, is in irreconcilable contrast with the view of Eastern religions that there is no personal God and the best we can hope for is extinction- to be absorbed into nothingness.
These are some of the differences between the different religions. And they clearly show that many people who say, “All the religions are the same”, have never thought deeply about it or are totally ignorant of the differences as I have outlined them.
The fact is that Christianity stands out from all other faiths. It maintains that the living God has come to share our human situation-which he died an agonizing death in which he took upon himself the penalty for human sin-wickedness-that he broke the power of death on the first Easter day-and that he is preparing a place for to spend eternity in the presence of God and his redeemed people.
No other faith claims anything like that. Nobody with their head screwed on can claim that it is just like other religions.
Whether people like it or not, we cannot honestly say that all religions are much the same. Amen