The fact that there are a number of major religions in the world has long been a point of confusion for those in search of ultimate truth. The array of faith options leads some to conclude that all religions must be right, and others to conclude that none are right.
“The variety of choices demonstrates that man simply needs to rationalize his existence in some way,” says the non-believer. “All religions have elements of truth,” says the relativist. “As long as you believe in something you’re going to be all right.”
Particularly in this age of ecumenism a movement promoting worldwide unity among religions through greater cooperation and improved understanding the tendency is to hold all religions in equal esteem and not risk appearing uncharitable by suggesting that any one is truer than all the rest.
So why, if all religions are equally true and all roads lead to the same God, should anyone attempt to puzzle out which is most true, when any one of them is true enough to bring us to our final destination of heaven?
Disturbing the Apple Cart
The Vatican issued a statement last week rejecting what it said are growing attempts by some to depict all religions as equal. The document made a distinction between the Holy Father’s goal of advancing inter-religious dialogue between churches, and some Catholic theologians’ attempts to manipulate fundamental truths of the church and undermine the church’s missionary message by suggesting that “one religion is as good as another.”
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, remarked at a news conference that “the principle of tolerance and respect for freedom” promoted by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council are today being “manipulated” and “wrongfully surpassed.” This led CNN and other news organizations to report that, according to the Vatican, non-Christians are in a “gravely deficient situation regarding salvation and that other Christian churches had defects, partly because they did not recognize the primacy of the Pope.”
It is not surprising that CNN would seize on that angle and thus imply that the church’s position is arrogant and contentious and the whole debate somehow silly. Leave it to the secular humanists to espouse the relativistic theories that seek to justify religious pluralism as a viable principle rather than the regrettable state of affairs that it is, which obscures and leads people away from the fullness of truth.
The entire matter begs the question of just how one can go about explaining to the average secular humanist or non-Christian on the street the supreme truth of our Catholic faith when there are so many different religions on the radar screen vying for people’s attention. Should one even try, or is the whole matter just too difficult to clarify and bring into perspective?
The One True Path
Naturally we should try. We’re commanded to do so. Jesus’ last words to the eleven disciples on the mountaintop in Galilee were: “Full authority has been given to me both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!” (Matt. 28:18-20).
The Christian belief that there is only one way to God and that it is incumbent upon the individual to find the one true path is not particularly well received by the CNNs of the world or the other major religions, for that matter. During a trip to India last year, Pope John Paul II faced protests by angry Hindus who said he did not have the right to spread his message in their country.
So how, then, should the lay faithful go about explaining to those of other religions, or no religion at all, that one can indeed sort through the maze of faith options and discover the one true path? A great place to begin is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The risen Jesus stands in stark contrast to Hinduism and other Eastern religions that recognize various gods and goddesses. They believe that all gods and goddesses are different aspects of the one absolute Brahman the vast force that pervades all things.
In Hinduism, the ultimate goal is to escape one’s bodily existence, to get out of the reincarnation cycle, stop being a distinct person, and merge your consciousness with Brahman, the God-force. According to Hinduism, all things are one with God, whether they realize it or not.
Hindus consider Jesus a great guru. But they would also have to consider him a liar if he did not make good on his promise to rise from the dead. Jesus is more than a teacher. He is the one and only person who is God incarnate in human form. His resurrection demonstrates the divinity he claimed, and sets him apart from the leading figures of every other religion.
The Risen Jesus stands in stark contrast to the Buddha. Siddartha Gautama lived over 80 years before dying of food poisoning. He never said he would rise from the dead, and did not rise from the dead.
Unlike Jesus, the Buddha never claimed to be God. He did not even believe in a personal God; he preached about an impersonal nirvana.
Jesus Christ, on the other hand, spoke of a loving heavenly Father, described himself as the Father’s Son from eternity, and rose again to prove it.
The risen Jesus stands in stark contrast to Confucius, another major figure in world religion. Confucius was a brilliant man who made a significant impact on the behavior and beliefs of millions of people, but when he died at age 73, his body didn’t get up again. And while many people began to revere and worship him after he died, Confucius never claimed to be divine while alive. Rather, he admitted that he repeatedly failed to live up to his own standards.
Unlike Confucius, Jesus said he lived perfectly, without any fault. Unlike Confucius, Jesus spoke of being on a level with God (John 8:46-58). And Jesus’ claims were shown to be true when he overcame death and rose from the dead.
The Key Difference
Belief in Jesus’ resurrection marks a clear divide between Christians and everyone else. If you believe in this unique supernatural miracle, then you certainly can’t be an atheist. Atheists try to explain the empty tomb after the crucifixion by saying Jesus’ disciples stole the body, but this is not likely. The apostles were weak and filled with fear, and were of no mind to confront the heavily armed soldiers for purposes of creating a grand deception.
Not only was the tomb empty, but in the days and weeks after Jesus was killed, hundreds of eye-witnesses said they saw him alive, spoke with him, touched him, and even ate with him. These witnesses were people of mixed occupations and personalities, including some skeptics whose instant conversions were like that of St. Paul miraculous in and of themselves. These people saw and believed and nothing could make them change their stories, not imprisonment, torture nor execution.
If we accept the evidence and believe Jesus rose from the dead, then certain things become clear. The first is that atheism must be false; there must be some sort of God. The second is that the religion of Jesus must be a true revelation of God. Christ could not have conquered death if he were just another inspired mystic.
So where does that leave the non-Christian religions? Is faith in Jesus able to do what no other religion can? Or are the various religions all true in certain respects, and therefore equally helpful in bringing people to God?
The answer lies in the resurrection itself. It is the central defining principle of the Christian faith, and nothing more clearly sets Christianity apart from every other religion than this stunning historical event. The resurrection is the difference.
The risen Jesus stands in stark contrast to Taoism, a pantheistic religion which, like Hinduism, teaches that all is God and God is all. The physical world turns out to be a trick, individual identity an illusion. Indeed, the view that all is God means that there is no real distinction between God and other beings, no real distinction between good and evil, light and darkness, life and death.
This idea appears in popular culture in the Star Wars movies: the Force has a positive side and a “dark side,” but both are part of the same universal Force. This same idea is conveyed in the yin and yang of Taoism: opposites are not opposites, but flip sides of the same coin.
According to Jesus, there is moral truth, right and wrong. Sin is not holiness, God is not the devil, and death is not life. Jesus’ resurrection marks Christianity as utterly different from pantheistic religions that deny the seriousness of sin, the tragedy of death and the joy of having an immortal body and belonging forever to a personal, holy God.
Judaism differs from pantheistic religions and is closer to Christianity in a number of ways. Jews believe in a personal Creator and creatures who are distinct from the Lord. There is also an awareness that sin offends God, that death is a bad thing, and that personal bodily existence is a good thing.
But Judaism refuses to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. It discourages any reading of the New Testament, and rejects the crucified and risen Christ as the source of forgiveness and eternal life.
Though Jesus and his early followers were Jewish, and despite the fact that a significant number of Jewish people today believe in Jesus as the Messiah promised in the Hebrew Scriptures, the religious institutions of Judaism insist that faith in Jesus means the abandonment, and not the fulfillment, of Judaism.
Like Judaism, Islam also mirrors Christian belief in the God of Abraham. But again, Muhammad, the foremost teacher of Islam, did not rise again and show himself to his friends after his death in 632. Neither did he claim while alive to be divine, nor permit others to worship him.
Jesus, on the other hand, claimed equality with God and invited and accepted other people’s worship. Muhammad considered Jesus a prophet, but insisted that He blasphemed by claiming to be God’s Son.
How can all religions be true if the Christian view of Jesus is considered blasphemy by Muslims? One or the other must be wrong on this vital point.
All Religions Are Not Equal
So while suggesting all religions are equally true may sound appealing and help you avoid arguments, it is nonsensical, and a cop out to boot. The differences are too great to overlook. The cloud of confusion surrounding the issue rolls away like the sepulcher stone when one focuses on Jesus’ resurrection.
As for the differences between Roman Catholicism and the Protestant denominations, that’s a different article. One need only read about the Catholic priest Martin Luther’s rebellion, his editing of Holy Scripture, and his ultimate recommendation to his mother on her deathbed that she not convert to his new religion, to perceive where the fullness of truth lies.
And as for CNN and the humanists who suggest the very question is ridiculous, it is they who need to reassess their own belief system. They think that all they are and all they do, all they possess and all they accomplish is of their own doing. One hopes they will one day realize that they know nothing – not why or how they came to be, when they will die, or how they are even able to draw their next breath.
They are colossally fooled by the mystery of existence, and can think of nothing better to do than poke fun at the Holy Father for occasionally reminding the world that his religion, his church, is the only one founded by Jesus Christ, Son of the living God.
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