Aren’t All Religions the Same?

I love to read about different religions.  I’m intrigued by the various beliefs and practices that can be found in the world around us.  I have spent countless hours discussing religion with people from different faith backgrounds.  I have studied the major world religions in both a secular university and in my own formal religious education.  That being said, I am no expert on religion, so if what I’m about to share seems off to you, please let me know.

We all hear, whenever the topic comes up in mixed company, someone say that all religions are basically the same.  All religions have prescribed moralities and rituals that mark those off who are adherents from those who are not.  Some even argue that the basic moral structures of all religions are the same.  The underlying assertion is that Christianity is no more “right” than any other religion, or perhaps equally wrong.  The statement usually follows that all religions lead to heaven or that all fail to do so (usually, it is argued, because there is no heaven).

May I politely say that this is a load of bunk?

Nirvana is not heaven, but rather the state of extinguishing desire, urge, thought, and the cycle of rebirth.

Let’s ignore for a moment that some religions deny any form of heaven.  The goal of Buddhism is Nirvana, which is an escape from all desire.  It is not a place, but a state marked by total peace which usually includes the idea of cessation from thought, movement, and action.  In Hinduism, Nirvana is the result of reaching moksha, which as I understand it means the loss of ego, or self, into the all encompassing reality of Brahma. Brahma is not a personal God, but a divine essence of peace and stillness.  Nirvana is the release from the cycle of life and death we call reincarnation into the oblivion of nothingness where self is eradicated and only an ideal of peace remains.  I may be misstating some details, but you get my point.

Let’s ignore for a moment that religions do not paint the same picture of God.  Polytheists worship many gods, whole monotheists only worship one God.  Buddhists don’t really worship a god at all.  Neither do many spiritists.  No two religions seem to agree on who God is (if there is one), how we relate to him (or her), or what this god wants from us.

Let’s ignore for a moment that religions often require conflicting moralities, and therefore cannot be the same.  Many religions we call occultist require human sacrifice and death to appease the gods or spirits while other religions forbid this.  Some religions require the purging of the unbelieving by trial and death – I concede that many religious followers have undertaken this practice, but some do so in defiance to the teachings of their religion where others do it out of the requirements of their religious teachings – while other religions place no expectations on non-adherents.  Some religions require idols while others forbid them.  The list goes on and on.

But the single most striking difference you can find among religions is this –

All religions teach their adherents how to live in order to reach a higher state EXCEPT ONE!

From everything I’ve ever heard or ever read or ever experienced, every religion in the history of the world has been designed to instruct humans in how to act so that they can achieve some desired outcome or existence except Christianity.

  • Muslims have the 5 Pillars of belief, practice, and sacrifice to earn the righteous a spot in Paradise.
  • Buddhism has the Noble Eightfold Path which leads the faithful through changes in attitude, action, and finally thought life to a place of enlightenment.
  • Hinduism has its rituals and practices that will bring the lucky few to an escape from the never-ending cycle of life.
  • Paganism (I use the term loosely) has sacrifices and rituals to attain power and connect with the spiritual realm, whether a pantheon or animistic in nature.
  • The list goes on an on…

Only one religion places the hope for an individual’s future on God instead of the person.

All these religions assume that people can work hard enough to gain their deepest desire. In contrast to all this, Christianity stands alone as the religion that denies the possibility that men and women can work hard enough to attain that which they desire.  It is the only religion that proclaims the work has been done on our behalf.  Christianity alone makes the scandalizing assertion that we are all utterly incapable of becoming righteous, so God, in love, became our righteousness for us.  

The hero of Christianity is the Christ, named Jesus.  Jesus is God who became human (not an avatar, a god who simply appears in the flesh).  He lived a perfectly righteous life, meeting all the requirements that we have failed to live up to.  In his death he took all the punishment due us for our wicked and evil actions, thoughts, and motivations – our very rebellion against God.  In his resurrection he defeated death and sin, creating a way for us to have eternal life and to finally attain to the righteousness required by God.  In his current role, he empowers the faithful and intercedes on their behalf as they continue to fall short of his requirements.

You may not believe that these claims are true.  You may reject them.  You may decide that Jesus isn’t real or that he didn’t do what the Bible says he did.  But you cannot say that Christianity is like all the other religions in the world.  It is categorically different.  It is operating from an entirely different point of reference.  It alone places the hope of humanity on the person of Jesus as opposed to the human hoping.

 

Showing 4 comments
  • Kelly Levatino
    Reply

    Have you seen this? http://www.jameswknox.net/store/images/coexist_front.jpg

    Aside from it treating all Muslims as radical terrorists, I find the rest of the explanation humourously interesting.

    Anywho, I like your response to how and why all religions aren’t the same. Tangentially, one thing I’ve pondered in the past is the Christian claim that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works. While I believe this, I think a sly wordsmith could say that our choosing to have that faith could be a type of “work”. We DO have to do something to be saved – we have to believe in Jesus as the Bible describes Him. This isn’t a work proper, but it is a “requirement”, much to the universalists’ chagrin. But we can’t even make that choice without His unmerited grace, which is just another way of saying Christianity is distinctly different from all other religions.

    • Stephen Johnson
      Reply

      I had not seen that, Kelly. I think you nailed it with humorously interesting.

      I guess you could say that by holding out your hand to receive a gift, you have thereby worked for it and earned it, diminishing its “gift-ness”. But why would you want to say that?

      If you belief in the election of individuals, you concede that even choosing to have faith is a work of God, not of the individual. So there goes that.

      As you point out, whether one believes in individual election or not, the Bible is clear that Jesus sought us out first. While we were his enemies and not seeking him out, he sought us out through the incarnation and his subsequent death and resurrection. His Holy Spirit called us and initiated the relationship with God as sons and daughters.

      To mirror the statement above, it would be like saying the adopted 6 month old baby was working so hard to let herself be loved and welcomed by her new parents, and gave her consent by loving them back. Gotta love that effort!

  • Mike
    Reply

    When comparing anything it’s useful to find the similarities AND the differences between each subject being compared. I find people normally leave out the second part of the comparison in regards to religion.
    I’m not sure I care for the picture since it includes Science. I think it promotes a misrepresentation of what Science is. Some people might classify it as a religion or use it to debunk religious claims, but it’s a tool in the philosopher’s belt more than a belief system. The people that respond to the question, “Do you believe in any religion?” with, “No, I believe in Science.” never really answered the question. They’re taking Science farther than it can really go; it’s out of bounds so to speak.
    I forgot who said it, but it speaks to your point about Christianity being unique. I’m paraphrasing. When taking into consideration the magnitude of worlds and planets out there and calculating the factors that make a world fit for life, the earth is very peculiar. If humans are nothing but animals, we are the most peculiar creatures to have ever walked the world. If all religions are equal, Christianity is the most peculiar major religion we have.
    This is not a defense of Christianity, but rather saying it sits apart in regards to the major religions of today.
    Most of the times when I hear “all religions are the same” phrase, I reflect on the laws of logic. If one religion believes it takes doing 50 jumping jacks a day to get to paradise and another religion believes it takes 50 sit-ups to get to the same place, they both cannot be correct. We can all be wrong, but we can’t all be right.

    • Stephen Johnson
      Reply

      Mike, thanks for the response.

      Good point about comparing and contrasting, as opposed to simply contrasting. In this case, I was responding tot he focus on the similarities. Since all religions are, in fact, religions, there would be many things they hold in common. As a Christian, I take the position that all truth found in the world is from God. Everyone has a lot of truth, because God made so much truth evident to us through creation and our own conscience. Good word.

      Also, If I had created the graphic, I would not have included science but I might have included naturalism, the belief that only the physical world is real and/or knowable. That might be considered a religion because it makes claims about the spiritual realm (it is not, or is not knowable) and claims about God (he is not, or is not knowable). It is also based on faith and not provable facts.

      Again, thanks for the comments.

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