Are all religions the same?
Are all religions the same?
Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are all countries that I have lived in as a child. My father?s family lived for several generations in South India. More recently members of my family have lived or worked in Hong Kong, DR Congo, Mexico, Uganda, Chile as well as Manchester?s multicultural pockets on a short or long term basis. Other countries and cultures have always been an important shaping influence in my life. Because of this, I have always been fascinated by the world?s many religions.
In my early days I had decided that faith was something that other people had. It was irrelevant to the likes of me. I was just fine without God, thank you. Until... He walked into my life, tapped me on my shoulder and caught my attention when I was seventeen years old.
ARE ALL RELIGIONS THE SAME?
Now, as a follower of Jesus, a minister and a world traveller, I have needed to address the much asked question, ?Are all religions the same?? Many people consider that all the world's religions are basically alike - they just use different words for the same beliefs. Mahatma Gandhi once said: "The soul of religion is one, but it is encased in a multitude of forms." In our tolerant society we might find it easier to keep well away from such questions for fear of upsetting people.
I believe that although there are aspects of truth and helpful insights in many religions, the supreme answer to faith is found in Jesus Christ. The Christian faith is not a primarily western religion. It originated in the Middle East and spread into Africa and Asia as well as Europe. The branch of my family who worked in India lived in an area where there is an ancient church denomination believed to have been founded by the disciple called Thomas in the Bible. Many churches around the world were established long before European colonisation.
Over the years I have tried to understand Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism as well looking into some modern day faiths. After reading many books and also talking with people from other faiths, it strikes me that there is no way that I could ever say that the world religions are actually the same.
I would first need to ask if we are considering ?all? religions? For some ancient religions included human or child sacrifice as part of their practice. They are surely not the same. If we focus on just the more commonly held religions of our world today, I would need to ask who decides what is and what isn?t an acceptable religion for this discussion. Perhaps I will just focus on the largest religions.
ARE THERE ANY DIFFERENCES?
Forgive me for reducing years of thought into a few words but in order to examine the question we are considering I need to summarise my exploration of world religions. My apologies to anyone who feels I have misunderstood or misrepresented their faith.
Q What is God like?
Buddhism is generally agnostic on the existence of God. Hinduism believes that everything is part of God and that God appears in many forms, with a hierarchy of divine personalities. Christianity worships one God as does Judaism and Islam. There are differences.
Q What about the future after death?
Buddhism calls the future state nirvana, it is the end to suffering and can be described as like the snuffing out of the candle. Hinduism also uses the word nirvana, but instead of ceasing to exist, the devotee becoming part of everything, which is of course God. Islam looks forward to a paradise, which is very different in its understanding to the Christian future. For a Christian, eternal life has started and she/he will live with God forever. A Christian doesn?t believe in the end of existence or becoming part of God. There are differences.
Q Who is Jesus?
Islam honours Jesus as one of its prophets but declares that Jesus is human. Hinduism would say that Jesus one among many good men, human too. Judaism would describe Him as a misguided messiah, one of a line of men who tried to bring political change but died if failure. The Christian faith sees Jesus as both human and divine at the same time and that his mission did not end in failure. There are differences.
Q What about the resurrection of Jesus?
Christianity stands out as unique in all world religions when it declares that its founder rose from the grave. Mohammed, Gautama Buddha, Confucius? are all dead. There are differences.
Q How can we be good enough for God?
All religions speak of a 'better life' in the next world. This can be gained in some Eastern faiths by earning 'merit' for the next life on earth (salvation stored up). Other religions encourage us to try harder and be better by following certain laws and practices (salvation by good works). However the Christian Faith recognises that, hard as we try, we cannot be good enough for God. Instead, Christians believe that God is 'good enough for us' and rather than us trying to find Him, He has come to us to offer us a different life. Eternal life is a gift to be accepted, it cannot be earned. This is unique.
JESUS WALKS WITH US
Christians believe that Jesus is God Himself come to us. He walked on the same soil as us, breathed the same air and eventually died amongst us, by our hands. Jesus not only gave us an example through his life but also changed everything through His death. His resurrection from the dead is unique among all religions and is perhaps the heart of the Christian Faith. We believe that Jesus is alive and by faith walks with us today.
My answer in response to the question, ?Are all religions the same?? is a simple, ?No?. No they are not the same. Of course there is another question, ?Do all religions lead to God?? This question was addressed in an interesting angle in the recent bestseller, ?The Shack? (William P. Young 2007 Windblown Media ? a fictional novel). A man asks Jesus this same question. Jesus replies ?Most roads don?t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.? Jesus is alive and well and has a gift to offer anyone who will accept it.