Clarification: All Religions the Same?

After some discussions with some honest and educated friends who don’t agree with my position and gave some constructive criticism about my last post, I felt I should clarify some aspects about my thoughts.

There are two points I want to clarify about my assertion that all religions are not basically the same. First, I wanted to make it clear that my goal and desire is also peace and loving coexistence. Second, I want to point out how the idea that all religions are basically the same actually works against bringing us together as it excludes some of us who have chosen one religion over the others.

1) I believe we should work toward living together in peace, no matter our differences.

I just believe that the differences in the world religions are real and deep and to pretend they do not exist is to promote a false peace. True peace comes through truly understanding our differences. Our modern ethos, I believe, often assumes that if someone is pointing out differences, they are trying to pick a fight or are not tolerant of others. We try to promote peace by promoting equality not only of people but of ideas and religions. Equality of the value and dignity of every person is, in my mind, intrinsic to the human condition. However, I do not have to value your ideas or philosophy to value your worth as a fellow human.

So, I do not fear understanding true and deep differences in cultures and religions. As such, I believe that true peace is found in deeply understanding not just the similarities we have but our differences also. One friend, who I highly respect, said, “But to get to where you’re saying it would take a lifetime to read and research all the major religions to understand them fully.”

I have to admit that not everyone is interested in such a search– and that is okay. But, that is a big part of my point. The phrase that “all religions are basically the same” is often uttered by people that have not researched religion and have no desire to research religion. They want peace, which is good. But they are, I believe, wanting peace without the hard work. True peace comes from understanding our differences better, not naively minimizing them in favor only of similarities. Peace that tries to make us all the same and only values congruency is not true peace. It is conformity to a pre-set value system.

If you’re the kind of person who has no desire to learn about religion or doesn’t know much about religions, that’s okay, too. Please, then, don’t go around saying, “Well, all religions are basically the same!” when you know very little about the different religions. Say what you mean, which I think is most likely, “I wish we could all live together in peace despite our differences.”

2) As someone who has researched the world religions and settled on one (for now) that seems to me to present the Truth, when someone says “All religions are basically the same,” it denies and degrades my experience and genuine quest for meaning.

The statement that all religions are basically the same, designed to bring us all together, often just alienates those of us who have chosen our particular religion for what we believe are very good reasons. It feels dismissive of my religious journey– and anyone’s journey that has taken them to a particular religion. It may be a unifying statement for those who are not exclusively committed to one  faith, but for those of us who have purposefully decided on one religion over the others, it pushes us away by insinuating that our decision is ludicrous– after all, who would chose one at the exclusion of others if they really are all the same!

So again, for these reasons, I reject the claim that all religions are basically the same.

If we want true peace we do best to educate ourselves as far as is possible for us individually and understand each other fully– similarities and differences.

Resources:

(Want to know more? Since writing my last post I have found a book that was just published this year by HarperOne. It is written by Stephen Prothero, a professor of Religion at Boston University and the title is God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World– and Why Their Differences Matter. Eight of the chapters each explain one of the religions. So, having only skimmed it so far, it seems like a perfect way for those who do not want to spend a lifetime researching to get solid information about eight of the world’s major religions. It also seems like his conclusion is similar to mine: all religions are not the same and true peace is through understanding the differences. I’ll know more once I read it. He also has a book called Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know– And Doesn’t. This also looks like it might be really good as a simple primer in religious studies.)

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Explore posts in the same categories: Christianity, Cross-Cultural Experiences, Culture, Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Philosophy

4 Comments on “Clarification: All Religions the Same?”

  1. Ron Krumpos Says:

    Orthodox, institutional religions are quite different, but their mystics have much in common. A quote from the chapter “Mystic Viewpoints” in my e-book at http://www.suprarational.org on comparative mysticism:

    Conflicts in Conventional Religion. “What’s in a Word?” outlined some primary differences between religions and within each faith. The many divisions in large religions disagreed, sometimes bitterly. The succession of authority, interpretations of scriptures, doctrines, organization, terminology, and other disputes have often caused resentment. The customs, worship, practices, and behavior within the mainstream of religions frequently conflicted. Many leaders of any religion had only united when confronted by someone outside their faith, or by agnostics or atheists. Few mystics have believed divine oneness is exclusive to their religion or is restricted to any people.

    Note: This is just a consensus to indicate some differences between the approaches of mystics and that of their institutional religion. These statements do not represent all schools of mysticism or every division of faith. Whether mystical experiences vary in their cultural context, or are similar for all true mystics, is less important than that they transform each one’s sense of being to a transpersonal outlook on all life.

    • boehadden Says:

      Thanks Ron! I was conflicted about letting you advertise your ebook on my blog. I read parts of it and, though I don’t agree with all your conclusions, it is well researched– kudos to you.

      Your point is well taken: Many mystics from various religions have very similar experiences of the Divine. To say all religions are basically the same because of this, however, would be, I believe, a mistake. For two reasons:
      1) It is quite possible that different mystics from different religions having the same experience is evidence that God is One– not that all religions are one. Even as you state– the mystics experience is often “outside” of the definitions and constructs of the orthodoxy of their particular religious affiliation. that their “religious” practices all led them to the same God may be, again, a testament to God’s mercy and Oneness, not to the merits of their religion leading them there.
      2) Some religions (I know Eastern Orthodox Christianity, in particular) would say that just because a mystic thinks he is experiencing God doesn’t mean that he is. Their religion informs them that Satan and one’s own subconsious can mislead even the most experienced monk/mystic and an experience with evil can feel/look/seem very much the same as experiences with God. Also, mystics in Eastern Orthodoxy are not outside the mainstream of their religion. The very goal of the interpretation of scriptures, prescribe practices and rituals for all Orthodox Christians is their union with God.

      Your book encourages people to take up the pursuit of the Divine. I, being more Eastern Orthodox Christian in my understanding of the world would give these suggestions to someone looking into this:
      a) don’t seek to have an experience of God (any spiritual practice can give you “an experience”),seek God himself, have your only initial motive be love for God, experiences, imagination, intellectualizing and emotion can all misguide you very easily and quickly.
      b) don’t buy into the idea that we are intrinsically Divine– the road to union with God is humility, not self-aggrandizement (you can work toward union with God, but you are not, and never become, God in essence)
      c)it takes a lifetime, so if you try something and it seems to “work” quickly it is, chances are, not God you have found
      d) don’t go it alone, there are too many opportunities to be misguided even by your own subconscious, seek the regular help of your (or a) religious community and an experienced spiritual director
      e) Being more Orthodox Christian than anything else, I believe this way holds the Truth in a way no other religion can. Look into Eastern Orthodox Christianity, research and study it, visit a church near you and talk to the priest…

      Thanks again, Ron.

  2. Erik Says:

    Ooooh, oooh, oooh… was I the friend you highly respect? I think I might have been! I’m famous! 🙂

    I like this follow-up. Here are just a few thoughts:

    It seems to me that you’ve run into quite a few people who have claimed that all religions are the same in a particularly negative way. In other words, they are saying “all religions are the same,” but what they mean is “because all religions are the same, it makes little difference which one you choose.”

    My claim is that people will sometimes say “all religions are the same” when they actually mean “many religions are based on fundamental beliefs that are similar to my religion, so I am therefore careful to be accepting and tolerant of other faiths.” I humbly admit that I have probably done this before.

    That said, I understand your stance much more clearly now.

    • boehadden Says:

      Thanks for commenting, Erik 🙂 It was you I was referring to!

      Thanks for your clarification, too. I like your re-wording of what people actually mean. Very well put.

      I would say that I do not accept other *faiths*– in fact I down right reject many teachings of other faiths. However, I can be accepting and loving of *people* of other faiths and respect their journey.

      We shouldn’t have to see similarities to be loving and accepting. In fact, if I have to see similarities to be tolerant than I really am close-minded. How great is it if I love someone only once I see that they are similar to me?

      It is a greater thing to understand our true differences and still love and accept each other.

      Thanks for your input! Your point is a good one and a necessary clarification.

      🙂


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