Friday, June 15, 2012

"Aren't all religions the same?"

One of the most frequently heard "objections" to the claims of Christianity is this: "Aren't all religions the same?  Aren't the followers of all the world's religions trying to do the same things, and get to the same place?"  This question, or the belief that all religions are basically the same, is frequently illustrated in various ways: such as a great wheel, with God at the center, the human race as the rim, and the various religions being the spokes. 

The problem is that while this is a pretty obvious question at first glance, it's not a very intelligent question.  One of the basic hallmarks of an educated mind (whether formally or self-educated) is the ability to make distinctions - - - which is just the opposite of lumping together things that bear a superficial resemblance.  Someone might say, "People get killed in every war, so all wars are the same." But all wars are not the same, as anyone knows.  World War II was very different from the "police actions" in Korea and Vietnam; the French Revolution was utterly different from the American Revolution.  If one doesn't acknowledge differences, one isn't thinking very deeply.  A doctor who doesn't know the difference between bronchitis and pneumonia might lose a patient; a lawyer who doesn't know the difference between murder and manslaughter might lose a client. Distinctions are not only important, but vital.

But this merely begs the question: taking into account the differences that may exist, are all religions the same?  And the answer is "Yes:" all except for Biblical Christianity.  Biblical Christianity (not Roman Catholicism or Protestantism or any of the other church traditions) stands out from the other religions of the world, and resembles them no more than a star resembles a starfish.


Books can be (and have been) written on this subject, and it can't be treated exhaustively in a single blog post, or series of posts.  But we'll look at some of the specific aspects of the question, and try to answer them.

1. You will sometimes hear self-styled experts in "comparative religion" say, "Why, most religions share the same myths and legends.  Many religions have a virgin-born saviour or messiah.  Most religions have a creation myth.  And many religions even have a great flood narrative: even the Plains Indians in America, who have never seen a body of water bigger than a creek, have legends of a universal flood." And this is largely true: many religions (not all) do have such common elements.  You'd expect them to: it would be a stumbling block if they didn't. Why?  Let's use the principle of "Occam's Razor," the philosophical notion that the simplest and most obvious answer is usually the correct answer.  If everyone from the ancient Jews to the Plains Indians have an account of a universal flood, it's because it really happened, and they're all trying to explain it.  If only a few isolated religious systems had a flood narrative, it could be dismissed as fanciful coincidence.  But if the belief is spread across the entire world, in hundreds of belief systems, then it's likely to be true: historically, empirically true.  If certain pre-Christian systems had a doctrine of God becoming a human being, that doesn't disprove the Deity of Jesus Christ: it points to the fact that God did become Man (or would become Man at some point), and humanity has had an awareness, or an anticipation, of it.

2.  All religions that are theistic or even deistic in nature - - - those that acknowledge "god" in some form, even if it's just as a force - - - involve human beings striving to reach God, or to become one with God, or experience God.  Jews follow the Law of Moses, or try to conform their lives to the teachings of the Torah and Talmud; Muslims try to reach God by memorizing the Koran, and waging various jihads; even Buddhists, many of whom say "There is neither God, nor no God; all is illusion," meditate on their sutras and spin their prayer wheels or fly their prayer flags.  Even Pantheists try to achieve perfect oneness with God, although they conceive of God as everything, everywhere.




In all of these cases, man is reaching up to God: trying to find God, trying to be accepted by God through their own obedience or efforts.  In this, Biblical Christianity is utterly unique: because Biblical Christianity recognizes that man can't reach God by his own efforts, and, in fact, doesn't really want to.  Biblical Christianity doesn't present man as a "noble seeker of truth" at all: As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes (Rom 3:10-18).  

Someone says, "But didn't you just say that all religions were seeking God?"  Yes, because, as a fellow human being, I was giving the other religions the benefit of the doubt, and taking them at their word.  But God, Who wrote the Bible, sees our hearts and minds more clearly than we see them ourselves, and He says that no one is seeking the true God.  Man is inherently religious; he likes to believe in a "Higher Power."  But the real God, Who made Heaven and Earth, and Who reveals Himself in the Bible, is a little too strong for most people's tastes.

In every religion, man reaches up to God.  The Mormons do their "evangelism," and are baptized in the Temple; the Hindus try to please the gods by giving reverence to animals; and uncounted tribes make sacrifices of every sort to "gods" of every sort.  But Biblical Christianity is different. Because, instead of man reaching up to God, Christianity reveals God taking the initiative, and reaching down to man: For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).
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For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18).  Get that:  Christ did this to bring us to God - - - because we couldn't get to Him ourselves.
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3.  Related to this is a totally different perspective among religions.  As noted, "religions" teach that the important thing is what man does: either for himself, through piety and church work and other devotions, or what he does for his fellow man.  Indeed, even in Christianity itself (not Biblical Christianity), the theological emphasis for over a century has been on the "Social Gospel:" that our "Christianity" consists of feeding the hungry and trying to stop wars and trying to alleviate poverty.  Those are good things, of course, and it would be wonderful if everyone on earth cared about them.  But it's utterly different from Biblical Christianity.  We needn't look to the Muslims, as they pray five times daily, or the Roman Catholic flagellants; we can look closer to home, right here in the west.  Some professing Christians think that "Christianity" is handling snakes; some believe that it's speaking in tongues; some believe that it's campaigning for Republicans.  In every case, and in the cases of the Muslim dervishes or the Hindu mystics, the emphasis is on what I do, or what you do.  In Biblical Christianity, the emphasis is on what God did.  
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In every religion on earth, man attempts to achieve salvation (or nirvana) by "being a good person," however that is defined: following the "Golden Rule," keeping the 10 Commandments (which nobody does, perfectly), by carrying crosses through the streets at Easter, or by killing "infidels."  These things are not done because they're fun to do; they're done to achieve salvation. But, in God's sight, such things are utterly worthless in achieving salvation.  We may think highly of our own efforts, but God doesn't: But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away (Isaiah 64:6).  Religions teach that we should all "do our best."  God says that doing our best won't bring us one single centimeter closer to Him. Because it's not a matter of what we do; it's a matter of what God did, when He became incarnate as Jesus Christ, and was tortured to death for your sins and mine.  That was the only way that we could ever hope to reach God, or reach Heaven.  If you doubt it, ask yourself this very basic question: If "doing our best" could get us to Heaven, why would Jesus have had to die?  What a monstrous joke that would have been!  For the Father to allow His Son to do all that, when it wasn't necessary?  If any religion teaches that man can be saved by doing this, or doing that, or following this or that list of rules and regulations, then it utterly denies what Jesus Christ did on the cross.  As someone has so wisely said, "Jesus paid a debt He did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay."   ...

4.  Which brings us to the greatest difference of all between Biblical Christianity and the other world religions.  (There are many other reasons, and they're important, but this is the salient difference.)  That's the Person and work of Jesus Christ Himself.  Because, in a nutshell, Biblical Christianity is Jesus Christ.  
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No "religious leader" in human history ever did the things that Jesus did, or said the things that Jesus said ... or was, in fact, What Jesus was. Buddha could speak of illusion and unreality, but he couldn't pierce the "veil of illusion" for a man or woman: the Buddhist must do such things themselves (and with no greater promise, in the end, than nothingness).  Buddha claimed to be a teacher, nothing more.  Joseph Smith was simply a swindler and a demagogue, somewhat like Jim Jones, who could convince the gullible of whatever he wished. He claimed to be a prophet, but bore none of the Biblical marks of a prophet.  And, of course, the demon-possessed, bloodthirsty pedophile Muhammad was nothing more than a military marauder fueled by hatred, lust, and genuine egomania.  And he, too, claimed to be a "prophet."  Moses and Abraham were great men of God and great leaders, but they couldn't even keep their own followers from apostasy and idolatry. 
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But Jesus Christ  actually claimed to be God: yes, "the Son of God," but also God Himself.  No other religious leader of any importance has ever made such a claim; not even the monomaniac Muhammad.  "I and my Father are one," he said (John 10:30).  "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9). "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58).  Muslim imams and liberal Protestants alike have tried to explain these statements away, but the Jews to whom Jesus spoke undserstood Him perfectly: Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God (John 10:31-33).  They got the message very clearly.

No other "religious leader" claimed to be God, apart from the odd lunatic every century or so.  But Jesus Christ did something else: He proved it, by dying, and rising from the dead. Somewhere on this cruel earth lie the bones or the ashes of Muhammad; and Gautama Siddartha, the Crown Prince of Nepal; and Abraham; and the syncretistic absurdist Bahá'u'lláh; but where are the bones of Jesus Christ?  For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church made a tidy sum by selling alleged fragments of the bones of their "saints;" they sold pieces of "the true cross;" but even they didn't have the bones of Jesus Christ.  Because, among all the prophets and charlatans and mystics throughout history, only Jesus Christ claimed to be God incarnate, and proved it by rising from the dead, and ascending into Heaven.

That's why, in the final analysis, it is idle to speak of Biblical Christianity as a "religion" at all.  For those who have received Jesus Christ as their Saviour, according to John 1:12, Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship with God - - - the one true God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, all religions are the same - - - except for Biblical Christianity, which involves a personal relationship with the living God.  And, if you don't have such a relationship, then all the religions in the world won't do you a bit of good.  But once you've been born again, according to John 3:3-7, you won't be waiting for eternity to begin.  Your eternal life will have already begun, and nothing can take it away from you.

What a Saviour!

2 comments:

  1. Well written, succinct and easy to understand.

    But will they believe and be saved? The choice is up to them, individually.

    ReplyDelete
  2. There's nothing complicated about it either, is there? The simplicity that is in Christ. The relationship. To Hell with religion, literally!

    ReplyDelete