Archive for the ‘Culture’ category

The Misuse of Tolerance: How Learning to Disagree Will Bring Us Together

August 11, 2011

“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” — G.K. Chesterton

“In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” — Dalai Lama

As a Westerner living in a Middle East country, every day is an adventure in what we call “tolerance” back in the US.

Living in a culture so vastly different than Western culture brings a new perspective on “tolerance”– I’ve been going over this in my mind recently. What follows are my mental ramblings on the subject.

Tolerance.org, an organization that helps promote tolerance in education, writes on its site: “In its Declaration on the Principles of Tolerance, UNESCO offers a definition of tolerance that most closely matches our philosophical use of the word: ‘Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference.’”

These definitions reveal what I have come to believe about American culture: we are terrified to disagree with each other and we are convinced that disagreement will lead to division, hatred and violence. Indeed, I have close friends and family with whom I am terrified to talk about religion and politics for fear of some big blow-up or disagreement.

It seems in an effort to stop ugly disagreements and self-righteousness we’ve developed this idea of tolerance. At its bare-bones, the idea of tolerance is great: don’t be so ethnocentric or self-centered that you judge others as less than you. But we have twisted this great idea into its own ethnocentric judgmental criterion.

It is to the point in the U.S. that if you condemn an idea, you are accused of being intolerant and self-righteous (especially if the idea is seen as a progressive one).  The idea of tolerance, how it is practiced now, seems to devalue and condemn whoever it deems intolerant. How are we ever to learn from each other if we cannot talk about ideas without condemning each other as awful people? We need to learn how to disagree and still value each other.

In our misuse of “tolerance” (of which I am also guilty), we have defined it very poorly and applied it in ways in which it cancels itself out.

Poorly Defined

The definition given above is logically inconsistent. It states that “Tolerance is harmony in difference.” But just before it states that, “tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation” of differences. If I respect, accept and appreciate the ideas and practices that make you different from me, then we are no longer different because I have now accepted your ideas and practices.

For example, say I am convinced that female circumcision is inherently wrong and oppressive no matter the context. You believe that female circumcision is okay within the cultural context in which it is practiced. Can I respect, accept and appreciate your view that female circumcision is a good form “of expression” and a good way “of being human”? I cannot “accept” your view, that’s why my view is different. I think my view is correct, that is why I cannot “respect” your view–I think it is wrong because I believe it is inhumane. And if I think it is wrong and oppressive, I cannot “appreciate” your view.

These definitions of tolerance fail us miserably when we scratch just below the surface–beyond superficial things like cultural dress and celebrations.

Here we run into the same problem I mentioned in my blog about the idea that all religions are the same. If we either a) only focus on the areas where we are the same, or b) accept and respect every idea for the sake of harmony, we end up with a false harmony–a harmony based on both parties not being allowed to be fully themselves. They are outwardly stunted, pruned and trimmed to avoid conflict. But the real differences are still there, lurking below the surface, and they are never brought into dialogue, never talked about, never allowed to emerge. We can never fully know and understand each other when we fear having real differences and fear expressing them.

Poorly Implemented

Unfortunately, tolerance is itself an ideal that not every culture holds. In other words, tolerance teaches me to accept and appreciate “the rich diversity of our world’s cultures” when many of those cultures do not teach tolerance. Tolerance unwittingly becomes another form of ethnocentrism by saying “Our cultural way (tolerance) is best. Intolerance is not acceptable.” By promoting a worldview that accepts all cultures, it becomes intolerant of worldviews that do not accept all cultures.

Take, for example, the cultural parts of America that say “God hates gays.” Can someone who promotes tolerance (like myself) “accept” and “appreciate” that cultural view? I cannot. Or, can they accept and appreciate the culture of Saudi Arabia that restricts women from stepping outside the home without a male relative? Those cultures are not tolerant so tolerance by definition cannot accept and appreciate them.

Tolerance, as a concept, tries to decrease a judgmental, self-righteousness that ends up hurting and dividing people. But because it has become a philosophy itself, I have seen people who pride themselves on being tolerant say the most vicious and self-righteous things about those they deem intolerant (I’m guilty of this myself). The quality of people we call intolerant (like those who say God hates gays)– nonacceptance and self-righteousness– is mimicked by we who say we are tolerant, because we do not accept anything but tolerance and are sure we are right. Certainly, we can see the irony in that.

So what do we do?

I suggest we redefine the idea to specifically mean acceptance and respect of other people as fellow human beings with equal value no matter what. In other words, I do not have to respect your actions or your ideas but I respect you as a person no matter your actions or ideas.

Inherent in this view is that all people have equal intrinsic value that is not dependent on the views they hold or the things they do. The value of a human does not ebb or flow with their actions.

Further, we must recognize this idea as one that not everyone holds. So those who do not think all people have equal value should not be denigrated or thought of as less–we can fight their idea, but they are also equally valuable as people.

Secondly- and this is a must- we need to practice arguing and disagreeing fairly without it damaging the relationship. A good friend of mine, who grew up in the Middle East, came to the U.S.A. for college. For the first time she was introduced to the theological discussion around the God of the Old Testament seeming so angry and the God of the New Testament seeming so loving. She was baffled because she never saw that discrepancy, though she knew The Bible well. She didn’t see an inconsistency between anger and love–in her culture, expressions of anger do not rule out close relationship and love. In fact, love sometimes is the impetus for anger.

Lack of argument is not harmony. In the white US culture especially, we often think arguments are bad and we avoid really knowing each other for sake of this fake peace. I think we need to learn to argue fairly and be okay with disagreements. If we really try to value the other person we can battle over the ideas and practices–and maybe even understand each other better in the end.

Another definition of ‘tolerance’ puts it this way: “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.” (dictionary.reference.com).

Might I suggest a slight tweaking of that definition? “Tolerance is a fair, objective and permissive attitude toward other humans whose opinions and practices differ from one’s own.”

If we want a false harmony and a philosophy that continues to breed self-righteousness from all sides, by all means, let us continue defining and practicing tolerance as we have.

I’d rather have true dialogue and mutual respect as people, though it may cause arguments–at least it breeds understanding and brings us together.

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Christmas, Violence and God

December 30, 2010

Yesterday, December 29th, the Orthodox Christian calendar marks the commemoration of the Holy Innocents.

According to the biblical account, Herod ordered all the male children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem to be slaughtered, because he had heard from the Magi that a king was born there and he wanted to eliminate any threats to his throne.

According to Church tradition, 14,000 infants were massacred.

After a Christmas season of singing “Joy to the World!” this day is a stark reminder that God’s Incarnation into this world results in a violence the evil of which is hard to imagine.

The historic Christmas was not all sugar plums and figgy pudding.

This commemoration of these precious infants seems pertinent in this day and age when violence and God are often married together to ligitimize the actions of groups and governments as they terrorize and destroy innocent people.

The difference with this story, however, is that God comes to the earth not with drone missles, suicide bombers, preemptive strikes or 737’s.

He comes as a baby, helpless and homeless. He who holds the universe in His hand, was wrapped in swaddling clothes.

That His coming is accompanied by the violence of Herod is evidence that the world (read: our hearts) thinks of power differently than does God –that it will seek to seize that power however it can in its frantic existential anxiety.

The darkness prefers darkness.

It makes sense to me that when true peace and love are brought into a place that is not used to it, it causes violent reactions. Like a red hot iron rod dipped into a bucket of cold water. Until the water heats, it reacts violently to the superheated metal.

Let us remember those slain 2,000 years ago and those slain even today and ask God to heat us up and rid our hearts of violence.

Living in the Middle East: Different Strokes

December 23, 2010

I’ve struggled for some time trying to express what it is like to live here to anyone from the West who has never lived in this part of the world.

The following are my experiences only–as best as I can express them, understand them and explain them to fellow Westerns right now. This is not a judgment or riducule of either culture.

What’chu Talkin’ ’bout Willis!?

I live in a rather small Arab town/city with little western influence. It isn’t a village, but it is not the metropolis of Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

The difference, culturally, from the West is dramatic. Okay–there is some western influence. But it comes in the form of KFC and the young men listening to Tupac– that’s pop culture. I’m talking about real cultural difference, when worldviews collide

What do you do when the underlying values and definitions through which you see  and understand humankind and the world–that you’ve been taught all your life are the correct views–are faced with a people group that not only hold a different worldview than you, but sometimes a complete opposite worldview from you?

How Do You Know That You Know?

Western culture is shaped by the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment is often taken for granted, especially if we grew up in the post-Enlightenment. We think in “Enlightment” ways that we just assume are the ways that everyone has always thought. However, The Enlightenment was a massive shift in epistemology and worldview. It elevated reason and the scientific method as the ultimate sources of truth. It encourages individualism and critical thinking.

In the East the Enlightenment never happened. Here someone with epilepsy, for example, may still be believed by many to be possessed by spirits. Keep in mind, this is not a village. The person may drive an Infinity, go to college, eat at Pizza Hut and listen to Dr. Dre– but the Enlightenment has not created a divide between scientific and spiritual in his/her mind.

Also, accepted truth is not always based on outside knowledge or scientific study. Many people get their information from neighbors and family members and do not question its validity. Some are long held beliefs.

Way of Living: Western and Eastern

One friend from the USA, who had a baby girl, lived in an apartment complex with many people from the Middle East and India as neighbors and friends. When the baby girl was about 1 year old and was starting to stand and walk, my friend’s Eastern neighbors would often pick up the baby and make her sit again. They didn’t want her to stand, as they believed that if baby girls stand too early they will be bow-legged. My friend tried to tell them time and time again that that was not true, but they adamantly stuck by their belief as truth. Only after my friend decided to tell them, “It’s okay for her to stand because American babies are different” did they let the baby stand and walk.

You Can’t Handle the Truth!

Western culture also is a truth-based culture. Eastern cultures tend to be more relationship-based. To give an example: I asked a man for directions to a certain place and he gave them to me. However, it was clear after following his directions that he had no idea where my desired destination was, but he was not going to say that he didn’t know– in his eyes that would be rude. He’d rather lie and give bum directions than say “No” to me because that would be seen as harming the relationship. The truth (i.e. “I don’t know”) is not as important as the relationship.

Whenever I ask someone for information, I have to take it with a grain of salt. I am getting a little better at reading the very subtle body language which helps me spot when someone is afraid to say, “I don’t know.”

Have You Been a Good Boy?

Western culture is a culture that is concerned with right and wrong. When faced with how I should act in a moral situation, I ask myself, “What is the right thing to do?” In my best moments, I then choose the right thing to do, no matter the consequences.

Eastern culture is not so much concerned with right or wrong as it is with honor and shame. An Easterner in the same situation will more likely ask himself, “What action will not bring shame  (or will bring honor) on me and my family?” The consequences or effects of the action (i.e. honor or shame) matter more than the action itself. So, “right” or “wrong” may not matter if I do not get caught. As long as I did not bring shame.

The Eastern way often feels “wrong” and “unjust” to me as I experience living here–but then I am looking at the East through my culture’s view of “right and wrong”– but I can’t help that, I am a Western.

The View of Self: Western and Eastern

Me, Myself and I

The West is a blatantly individualistic culture. I remember my parents telling me that their job was to raise me to be a self-sufficient adult– who could function well in life on my own. In the West we are concerned with the health, wealth, rights and actions of individuals.

The Eastern view is different. We call it collectivism. The individual is not more important than the family or tribe. There is not as much of a concern about “my rights.” If you were never taught to view yourself as a complete and separate individual, where would you even get the idea of “my rights?”

This plays out in teaching students not to cheat. How do you tell a student who grew up in the East, whose heritage is tribal, not to help a fellow student who asked him for answers? Not to help is thought unconscionable– life is collective. And even if you can convince them it is “wrong” to help in this case, you have to deal with the fact that the way they think about “right” and “wrong” is different (as mentioned above).

Sugar and Spice

Specifically in this part of the world how the genders relate is very different from the West and other Eastern countries. Schools, even colleges, are separated by gender (at least the government ones)– though it is slowly starting to change. A man will not tell other men his wife’s name– it’s considered shameful. Unmarried, unrelated men and women should not communicate with each other, and, of course, never touch. Even if a women talks to a man, she is being too forward, shames her family and drastically affects her ability to get married (if it is found out).

Some women will not go to the movies because of what people may think about them. If they do go, they will go with a male family member– never just with other women. Law does not require a woman to cover, but if a local woman does not, the social and familial consequences would be dire or worse. Also, special permission must be granted to take photographs of women. If a photograph showing the face of a local woman, without permission, is shown to anyone whom is not her family it is a great shame.

I work with several local women. I’ve never taken their picture. I am friends with many of them on Facebook–but they never put a picture of themselves in their profile, and they often alter their name so only their friends know it is them. It is an ingenious way to make social networking something they can enjoy while remaining women of integrity and honor.

Never the ‘Twain Shall Meet?

So, the cultural gaps are many. Living here is far different than living in the West. Learning how to navigate these differences and sometimes altering a core worldview seem the keys to survival and growth here.

How would you do if you had to live in a place where all your underlying assumptions about truth, right and wrong, personal rights and gender are challenged on a daily basis?

We either bend with the breeze or we break.

Some days I bend, some days I break. But, I am always learning!

Islamaphobia: A Mosque at Ground Zero

August 19, 2010

Should a mosque be built near Ground Zero in New York city?

Answers to this question vary, opinions vary and emotionally it seems like a charged issue for many Americans.

Those in favor, like President Obama, cite American religious freedom guaranteed by law. They also note that “Muslim” terrorists are a small minority and most Muslims are peace-loving people who oppose such acts of violence. Our war is not against Islam, they say, it is against terrorists.

But those opposed to the mosque in New York say that Muslims will see it as a trophy of victory for 9-11 in their conquest to take over the world. They often believe that Islam is intrinsically violent and facist and that America is a Christian nation. They make no distinction between the political and religious aspects of the issue, seeing those aspects as combined and united. Or they say they believe in the religious freedom, legally, to build it, but feel the people who want to build it should not.

It is not unlike a question the small community in Walkersville, Maryland faced a few years back– do they allow a Muslim group to build a convention center in their town? A local pastor did not want the Muslim group in the town, citing our country’s constitution and Christian values and heritage. Islam is unAmerican, was his point.

Here’s how I think through three of the points from those opposed. (Disclaimer: I say all of the following as an American and as a Christian).

1) Is Islam intrinsically violent? Opinions differ. Most Muslims would answer that question with a resounding, “No!” Also, it could be claimed that the America government is intrinsically violent– and history might make it hard to argue against such a claim.

2) Is Islam intrinsically unAmerican? True, Islam by nature is designed to be a state religion. So an Islamic government could not hold the ideal of separation of church and state in the same way that the American government has so far. But those opposed to the mosque on the grounds that “America is a Christian nation” obviously do not believe in separation of church and state in the same way the American government has so far either.

To say Islam is unAmerican is apparently ignorant of the fact that many American citizens are Muslim and they, with clear consciences, pledge allegiance to the same Republic, serve in the same military and vote in the same elections as do all other Americans.

America is changing socially. It is becoming less white and less Christian. American no longer means “white” and “Christian.” If some are so upset by this that they will fight a war to keep it from happening, then I would suggest that maybe they are more attached to their race or narrow view of America than to their Christian faith and ethics.

3) Do Muslims want to take over the world? Some do. Some don’t. But they might think, after the invasion of Iraq, that evangelical Christians like George W. Bush want to take over the world. Would the same people who oppose the building of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York also oppose the building of an evagelical Christian church in Baghdad? Both can be taken as a slap in the face to a traumatized nation. Not to mention that some Americans want American democracy to take over the world and use that stance to justify unjustifiably violent acts.

The effect 9/11 has had on peace-loving Muslims is great (the majority of Muslims are peace-loving). They are ashamed that people calling themselves “Muslims” would do such a horrific thing. Many of them tell me of the fear, hurt and anger they feel when judged and shunned in the West just because they are a Muslim. They are scared and upset by what seems to be a growing Islamaphobia in Europe and America. Many won’t travel to America for fear of what might happen to them.

What many don’t understand is the great amount of fear in America after 9-11. They see America as the sole superpower in the world with nothing to fear. It often doesn’t cross their minds just how scared the average American is after 9-11. Yes, a superpower can still be traumatized.

And the average American doesn’t understand the difference between Sunni, Shi’ite, Sufi, Wahabi or Ahmadiyya (or know that some do not consider the others true Muslims)– traumatized thinking equates Muslim with terrorist, period.

Fear seems to be the key issue here, on both sides.

But acting out of fear promotes continued fear and encourages continued ignorance.

The remedy to most fear is education, relation and the will not to act on fear. Let us Americans educate ourselves on Islam, share our lives with more Muslim neighbors and have the willpower, as hard as it is sometimes, not to take action motivated by fear.

Modern Religious Questions, Part III: For God So Loved the World that He Sent a Book?

August 12, 2010

Does the historical and textual reliability of the Bible really matter? Does Christianity stand or fall on a rational evaluation of its Scripture?

This is a great question and one that is answered differently by different people and different denominations.

Protestant Christianity traditionally holds the Bible as their only authority in matters of faith and the church. This is a doctrine developed by the Martin Luther himself, called Sola Scriptura.

To raise the Bible to such a level as supreme authority in the Church makes two things happen. One, it places all the burden of Christianity on the Bible. And, two, makes the Bible an object of faith itself.

First, if all the faith rests only on exactly what the Bible says then if the Bible can be proved as unreliable on any point the whole house comes crumbling down. Two, if all my faith’s authority is in the Bible, I have to believe in the Bible (i.e. have faith in it). The problem with this is that in Christianity our faith is in Christ, not the Bible. We hold that the Bible testifies accurately to Christ, but our faith is in Him not the book.

This is one category where, in my opinion, Christianity differs from Islam. Islam is, by nature, a religion based on a book– the Qur’an. Indeed, Muslims consider the miracle of Islam to be the Qur’an– to them it is God’s full revelation to humankind.

From a Christian point of view, we hold the Bible to be God’s inspired word. But, Christianity is not based on a book– it is based on a Person. From a Christian point of view, the Bible is not God’s revelation of Himself to humankind; Jesus is God’s revelation of Himself (God loves the world by sending Himself, not a book) — we believe that God desires intimate communion with humankind, not just submission to His will. Knowing God is not through understanding words (though words help); it is from intimate connection with Him through Christ.

The Bible was produced by the Church for the Church — and therefore we believe it is infallible. Though the Christian faith is based on seeing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as true historical events, questions of historicity of the Bible sometimes miss the point. The point of the Bible is the spiritual health and truth of the Christian and the Church. It is not primarily a history, biology, or journalism textbook.

In the previous two posts I’ve tried to show that it is not so simple just to dismiss the Bible as unreliable from a textual and historical point of view. It is more reliable than many people think. Also, we must remember that Christ is known and experienced in the Church and in individuals and has been for thousands of years. The New Testament flowed out of the Church and her knowledge and experience. It is, therefore, only properly understood within the context in which it was created.

My thanks goes out to those who are not interested in religious topics– the themes of my writing vary widely, even though the last three have been a series on the Bible. Thanks for your patience and please keep reading!

Clarification: All Religions the Same?

July 2, 2010

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.)

The Death of a Modern Myth: All Religions are Basically the Same

May 19, 2010

“All religions are really basically the same, aren’t they? ”

How many times have you heard that phrase thrown around in casual conversation– as if agreeing with it were the only logical option available? I often feel compelled to nod– because it seems, at that crucial point, that the only other choice I have is to disagree and be branded close-minded and intolerant (and, perhaps worse of all, a Republican!)

The statement “all religions are basically the same,” often parades itself as a very intellectual proclamation that is meant to show a progressive, educated mindset.  We think, “We’re past all those petty differences.  We have to have modern, reasonable views on religion!”  But what do we mean by such a phrase?  Are we saying religions do not have dissimilarities?  Are we saying all religions basically boil down to the same philosophies?  Certainly a belief in one God and belief in many Gods are not the same basic philosophy.  So, why is the belief that all religions are pretty much the same so popular?

Some people may say that all religions are basically the same in that they teach us to treat each others fairly.  This view boils morals down to what is called the “Principle of No Harm.”  In his book Godless Morality, Richard Holloway defines a wrong act as “one that manifestly harms others or their interests, or violates their rights or causes injustice.”

The inadequacy of the “do not harm” view to unify religions is revealed, however, when we see that different religions cannot even agree on what “harm,” “violation of rights” and “injustice” all mean.  Islam has strict punishments for those caught in adultery that the Christian might say are disproportionate to the crime, unjust and harmful. Some Hindus hold to the caste system that both the Muslim and Christian must (according to their religion) reject as immoral and unjust. We cannot say that all religions teach us to “do no harm” when the religions themselves define “harm” and “injustice” differently.

Others say, “All beliefs are equally true.”  Their view is that there are no absolutes so all religions are true if one really believes them.  This, however, is illogical.  Ravi Zacharias, in his book Jesus Among Other Gods, points out, “To deem all beliefs equally true is sheer nonsense.”  His point is that someone who says “all beliefs are equally true” has to admit as equally true the belief that all beliefs are not equally true.  In other words, the statement cancels itself out by allowing its opposite to be true.

Still, some may say that God is big enough to be all things; maybe He is (for example) many and One all at once!  Maybe He is, but to hold this belief we would have to deny the critical Judaic, Christian and Islamic teaching that God is not many, He is only One. This idea creates a false unity by asking some of the religions to be less than fully themselves in order to be “unified”– which of course is a false unity.

Also, one of the first rules of logic is that something cannot be both true and untrue at the same time and in the same manner.  As a simple example of this let us look at religious rules of consuming food.  Which is right: to eat pork or not to eat pork?  It cannot, at the same time, be both right and wrong for everyone to eat pork.

Someone might argue that God gives different rules to different people.  Therefore, it is an offense to Him for the Muslim and Hindu to eat pork, but for the Christian, it is not.  “Certainly, we could all agree on that,” you might say.  However, if God told the Muslim that it is wrong for everyone to eat pork, but then told the Christian that it is not wrong to eat pork, God would be contradicting himself.

In the same way, if God says to the Muslim that He is not many, but says to the Hindu that He is many, He is contradicting himself.  If this is the case, when He says He exists, then He may also not exist.  Our religious devotion is then rendered null and void because it is impossible to know anything about a Being that is self-contradicting.

So why do we hear the phrase “all beliefs are basically the same” if it doesn’t seem to make logical sense?

Sometimes the statement is an attempt to lessen our religious differences to promote understanding and decrease violence and hatred.  Though the objective is honorable, to seek peace by minimizing differences is to ask each religion to be less than fully itself. And, it makes us who are committed to a particular religion feel unaccepted–exactly the opposite of its purpose often. True spiritual understanding comes from knowing each other more completely (similarities and differences), not reciting hollow statements that create bogus unity and strip us of our individuality.

Other motivations may include the following:  1) a statement by someone who is not really committed to any one religion and makes the statement assuming their listeners agree or assuming that any modern, educated person could do nothing but agree. This person can also have the same motivation as above.  2) a statement by someone who wants an easy, intellectual-sounding excuse for not engaging in a spiritual search for truth.  It is a sort of “giving up without a fight” phrase of the spiritually lazy.  This person will eloquently say that Truth cannot be found, all the while not looking for it.  Of course they will never find Truth or believe it is out there, because they are not truly seeking it.

At best it is the statement of a befuddled individual genuinely searching for Truth but confused by all the religious fare available.  To that person I say, do not give up with such an empty phrase.  Keep searching.  Truth wants to be found.

I believe that “All religions are basically the same”  is a philosophy that keeps us from truly knowing each other fully and it encourages us to wallow in a shallow spirituality devoid of logic and truth.

It is a modern myth that should be allowed to die.

Our differences are our differences. We ignore them to our peril. Let us understand them as we search for Truth together and truly listen to each other– not being afraid to disagree.

May we not settle for anything less.