Thursday, March 29, 2007

All religions the same?

Have you ever heard people say that all religions teach the same thing, or that they are like different roads that all lead to the same destination? The sermon at our church a couple of weeks ago mentioned that idea, which I find really strange. Yes, many religions teach some things that are true, but that's far from saying that they are all the same, or that they all lead to the same place. Whenever this idea comes up, I always think about the treatment of widows. The Bible talks a lot about caring for widows and orphans, and in fact the first recorded church fight (in Acts chapter 6) was because people felt some widows weren't being given enough. This stands in stark contrast to the practice of burning widows. One religion says, "Feed them," and another says " the fire!" And these are the same? I don't think so.

Another example comes from today's Old Testament reading.
30“[T]ake heed that you ... do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? -- that I also may do likewise.’31You must not do so...; for every abominable thing which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.
Deuteronomy 12:30-31
Not to put too fine a point on it, but burning your children as an act of worship is a very different practice than bringing them up "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).

Given these astonishing contrasts, how is it that people can say that all religions teach the same thing, or lead to the same conclusion? Here are a couple of things that come to mind.

First, you can find people of different religions that are very nice, or very peaceful, or very mature, or very spiritual. And by the same token, you can find people of different religions that are not very nice, peaceful, mature, spiritual. So it's not obvious that believing in one religion will make you (or me) better than somebody else who believes in another religion. So... how do I explain that? Here's what I think. I think that just about every religion teaches some truth, and to the extent that we obey the truth (whatever its source), we are better people.

Second, people are basically lazy. Many years ago, I looked in the encyclopedia to learn about thought. What I found was that, at least according to this encyclopedia, thinking is something that people do when they have a problem to solve. We don't think, in other words, unless we have to.

This laziness, plus our desire to justify ourselves, brings us to... well, let me put it this way. If all religions are the same, that means I don't have to pay attention to any one of them. If they're equally true, then I can pick what I like. If right-wing _______s say we don't have to care about the poor but left-wing ________s say we do, then maybe today I'll be a right-wing-er. Tomorrow, when I discover that _______ say we have to pray 7 times a day but ________ say we don't have to, then I may prefer to identify myself with the latter. If I believe all religions are the same, then I can believe that I can do whatever I like. Or nothing, if I feel like that.

If I believe religions are different, that some might have key aspects of the truth that others miss, that lays an obligation upon me to find the truth, but if I deny that any one has more truth than any other, I then let myself off the hook.

Now there's some wishful thinking!

posted 3/30

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