April 05, 2012
Are all religions the same?
By Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, April 5, 2012)
Are all religions the same?
I sometimes encounter well-meaning individuals who, when they learn that I am a Christian, assert that all religious claims are pretty much the same. With respect, I think that their assertion is false.
To defend my view, I will do the following: (1) I will set out a couple clarifications concerning the notions of deep truth and exclusivity concerning deep truth; (2) then I will ask some important religious questions plus provide answers given to us by a few of the world’s religions.
1. A deep truth claim is a claim that accurately describes or corresponds to what is real, regardless of whether the claim feels good or works for me but not for you. That a religion is deeply true means it gives true answers (in the correspondence sense of truth) to some central worldview questions: What is ultimately real? What is the good? What is humanity’s basic problem? And what is the solution?
To say that a religion or worldview is deeply true is not to say that it is true in all of its doctrines, nor is it to say that no other religion can teach truths.
Philosopher David K. Clark clarifies: “[T]hose who follow a religion that’s deeply true aren’t necessarily right about everything. If Christianity is deeply true, that doesn’t mean Christians have only true beliefs.”
Clark continues: “[E]ven if…only one religion is deeply true, other religions teach many true things. Examples are easy to find. If Christianity is deeply true, Buddhists are right that suffering is universal [and that desire, especially misplaced desire, can lead to problems]. Muslims are right to believe in one God [and be strongly committed to the one God]. Hindus are right that [the] Ultimate is infinite [and not wholly understood rationally]. Jews are right that God spoke through the Hebrew prophets.”
“So,” Clark adds, “exclusivism regarding the truth question means that only one religion is right on the most central of religious questions. It doesn’t mean either that this one religion is right about everything, or that all other religions are wrong about everything.”
Yes, there are some important similarities among the various religions of the world. Nevertheless, we should also realize (as Clark would agree) that the world's various religions are irreconcilably different in several of their core doctrines, i.e., in their deep truth claims.
2. Consider the following sampling of questions and the answers provided by the world’s religions—questions and answers that show religions do not say the same thing in their claims to deep truth.
What is God? Is God a personal being or an impersonal force? Is there more than one God? Judaism, Christianity, and Islam answer that God is a person/personal being, and that there are no other gods. Hinduism, however, seems to say that God is, ultimately, an impersonal being—and that there are about 330 million lesser gods.
Is God's nature triune or a unity? Christianity says God is a trinity (one God who is also three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—living in an eternal relationship of love). Judaism and Islam say God is a unity (one God, but an eternal singular person).
What is humanity’s problem? Christianity says that we are sinful (i.e., we are rebellious against God, who is holy and good) and we need to repent. Hinduism and the New Age say that the problem is our ignorance of our divinity (i.e., we are gods but don’t know it) and we need to realize our divine status.
What is salvation? According to Christianity, salvation consists of living an eternal life as bodily resurrected individuals in a love relationship with God. According to Hinduism, it's an individuality-denying absorption into the One. According to Buddhism, it's an extinguishing of our selves.
Who is God's true prophet? Joseph Smith, according to Mormonism. Not Joseph Smith, according to everyone else.
What about Muhammad? Is Muhammad God’s greatest and ultimate prophet? Yes, according to Islam. No, according to Christianity, Baha’i, Sikhism, and most or all other religions.
What about Jesus? Is Jesus the God of the universe come to earth as a human being? Yes, according to Christianity. No, according to Judaism, Islam, and all others. (According to Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus is the archangel Michael.)
Did Jesus actually die on a cross (thereby taking our punishment for our sins onto Himself)? No, according to Islam. Yes, according to Christianity.
Did Jesus physically resurrect after his death? Yes, according to Christianity. No, according to Islam.
Is Jesus the Truth, the Way, and the Life? Yes, according to (traditional) Christianity. No, according to all other religions.
Clearly, as our brief sampling of questions and answers shows, religions at their core are not saying the same thing. (If one insists that they are saying the same thing, then, I submit, one is inventing a new religion.)
Easter is the celebration of Jesus' resurrection, which is a historical sign that Jesus' message is deeply true. I respectfully submit that readers interested in the deep truth claims of Jesus should check out the evidence for Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.
Significantly, if the Easter event occurred, as the evidence strongly suggests, then we have good grounds to trust Jesus and to follow Him. Jesus’ resurrection means that death and evil really do not have the last word—which is truly good news.
(Hendrik van der Breggen, Ph.D., teaches philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)