Tuesday, February 1, 2011

All Religions Are Not the Same

For many years now, it has been commonly asserted that many religions, if not all, are different paths to the same divine being. One metaphor is that of blind men touching different parts of an elephant and coming up with different descriptions of the one elephant. Another is that of several different paths leading up the same mountain. In other words, Jehovah = Allah = Brahman.

Boston University professor Stephen Prothero takes issue with this in God Is Not One. We’re not taking different paths up the same mountain; in truth we’re not even on the same mountain. His premise is that the various religions of the world not only appear different, they are different; in fact, they are not even seeking the same thing.

Many Christians have espoused, says Prothero, that while all religions seeks salvation, only Christianity can satisfy that search. But the truth is, according to the book, only Christianity seeks salvation. Other religions seek other things. This belief is reflected in the chapter titles, such as, “Islam: The Way of Submission,” “Christianity: The Way of Salvation,” “Confucianism: The Way of Propriety,” “Hinduism: The Way of Devotion,” and so on.

Does Prothero find any common ground? He believes that each of the religions is concerned about helping people become fully human. “Of course, we are in a sense born human beings, but only in the most trivial sense of genus and phylum and DNA.” Each religion helps us to become fully human, for, as Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive” (331).

Why did Prothero write this book? Two reasons are more easily discerned. One reason is to point the way to a more honest position on world religions by debunking the myth that under their dressing they’re all pretty much the same.

Second, the author wishes to point a way toward a more peaceful world. Religions matter, because religions, while a source of much good in our world, also create a great deal of conflict between people who are passionate about the metaphysical beliefs they cling to. Ironing out the religions, pretending they are at the foundations all similar, does nothing to foster peaceful relationships. Dealing with what is is better than pretending what is not. Since the religions are different, let’s acknowledge the differences, empathize with one another, and possibly even embrace the differences.

I think the book’s premise, that religions are not different paths to the same end, is a breath of fresh air--a truth that has been contradicted for some time. However, it’s na├»ve to think all religionists, once they recognize their differences, will empathize with one another and leave one another alone. That would require some religion's adherents, especially those who proselytize in one form or another, to deny themselves.

God Is Not One is an interesting read. The body of the book is given to describing in readable detail the thrust and characteristics of each of what Prothero believes to be the eight greatest religions--Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba (tribal religions), Judaism, and Daoism (or Taoism). It serves as a good introduction to these religions.

The author attaches an interesting brief on atheism, referring to it as “The Way of Reason.” This provocative title, however, does not show the author’s preference. He considers atheism a religion and its current proponents--Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc.--to be religious about their anti-god beliefs.

One of the dangers of studying comparative religions, whether sitting in a class or reading a book, is that simply by comparison Christianity is flattened out to the level of the other religions. It becomes one among many. We talk about Muhammad, Moses, Buddha, and Jesus as founders, lumping them together. And we discuss the developments of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, lumping them all together, and one begins to have questions as to why Christianity is superior. That can be a good thing, if it forces the Christian back to his Bible and his theology to identify the distinctives and truth of Christianity. But it can also be a danger if it leads him away from the faith (something of the like which appears to have happened to Prothero).

In one sense Christianity is one religion among many, but in many ways it stands head and shoulders above all other religions because it is truth, truth that is demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One day all religious and irreligious people--everyone who has ever lived--will stand before, not the god of their choice, but Jesus Christ. And all will be judged, not on the basis of their particular religion’s standard, but on the basis of what they did with Jesus. All men are religious in one sense or another because we are all made in God’s image, and we are religious by nature; we are partly spiritual beings. Several religions (but not all) claim to be revealed or divinely inspired, but they are all the doctrine of demons or the makings of man. Only two religions are revealed by the Creator of all, Judaism and Christianity, and the former was truncated when it denied the Messiah to whom it pointed.

For its premise and an introduction to other religions, read God Is Not One. It’s quite readable. But read it remembering that while Christianity is chapter 2 in the book, in truth it towers over the others.

My rating (out of 5): 4

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Kent,

The BIBLE, which outsells every other book printed every year, also which cannot be -- nor has ever been refuted states through the great apostle, Paul (Romans 1:3 & 4): "3 Concerning God's Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; 4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:" [The King James Translation, (Cambridge: Cambridge) 1769.
Also, in a philosophy of religions, Kent, someone has said: "The reality that there are so many religions argues for one major point: Somewhere there is the true." And fundamental Christianity is the only religion on earth that points to the One and only God Who arose from among the dead by His own power, even Jesus Christ." --Dad