What’s On The Menu?
When someone is interested in religion in Western culture, there is a buffet of religions to choose from. Not only that, but we can even mix and match the options! If you really want to, you could believe in Hindu principles while also attempting to follow Jesus’ teachings. You can be agnostic, yet attend a church regularly. There is no shortage of combinations. This combination of religious beliefs is called syncretism. Outside of a more systematic approach to one particular religion, syncretistic beliefs are very popular in our culture. One phrase that you may have heard (or even adhere to) is, “Well, I am a student of all religions”… Interesting concept. However, what is usually implied beneath this assertion is the belief that every religion has certain characteristics that are appealing to an individual who doesn’t wish to adhere to one religion in particular.
Furthermore, sometimes people feel that all religions have certain commonalities and therefore, all religions have the “same goal”. I would agree that there are some common themes among several religions. Although, does the existence of some similarity equate a system of common objective truths across multiple religions? Is there a God who is generally behind all of our “religion”, or perhaps a select few? Could there be a generic God or force that is behind the complexity of our reality of whom we all can find our own path to?
First and foremost, what is it that we are looking for when we pursue a particular belief system, namely a religion? Religion can essentially be defined as a set of beliefs regarding the cause, nature, and purpose of our reality and how humanity relates and responds to this perception of reality in its conduct and affairs. As laid out in Bridging the Gap (Pt. 4): The Faith Delusion, we know that no one escapes an element of faith in their belief systems. This is because faith is typically required to believe in many theories and presuppositional beliefs about our reality which are not “provable”, whether attached to a particular “religion” or not. Furthermore, it appears reasonable to contend that in order to fully account for one’s foundational presuppositions, they will often be reliant on faith in unprovable beliefs. The problem is that many people will not make the effort to examine the coherence, applicability, and evidence for their beliefs. When examined, at least some elements of faith will likely come to the surface.
Nevertheless, we all seek answers about our reality that are clearly not evident from scientific study and observation of our world. We all desire knowledge of who we really are, how we came to exist here, what we are supposed to do while we are here, where we are going, and why it all matters? Interestingly enough, that covers the who, what, when, where, why, and how questions! I will categorize these questions as our: CUPID – Cause, Understanding, Purpose, Identity, and Destination.
Where We Begin Matters
In order to find answers to our questions (CUPID), we must first understand where to begin looking for them. We will either search for them externally or internally. When we look to ourselves (internally) as the source of “rightness”, “authority”, “meaning”, etc., we are already falling short of any real objective truth about our reality. If we each thought that we had the “right” idea, then what would stop someone who thought mass murder was “right” (Adolf Hitler)? He would be “right” according to his own moral compass and belief system. Therefore, if we submit to the authority of our subjective and flawed human standards, we will fall short of objectively answering these big questions.
Usually, the second place that we look for objective answers to these questions is a “god”, “gods”,”supernatural force”, or “being”. As mentioned above, there is a plethora of religions with some “commonalities” among them. But, if one wanted to syncretize (copy and paste) from multiple religions to create their own beliefs that “make more sense” to them personally, then we begin to see a serious problem. For instance, the core Christian belief is that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the God-man, who lived a sinless life so that He could die on the cross and then rise from the dead, conquering sin and death, so that we can be forgiven of our sins and have eternal life. However, Islam only considers Jesus a respectable prophet wasn’t actually crucified. Does this not contradict? Jesus was a prophet indeed, and a good teacher, but if we actually read His teachings and the New Testament accounts, we quickly realize He was SO much more than just that! This is just one of many contradictions. The conception of God, for Christianity (Yahweh) and Islam (Allah), are fundamentally different conceptions of who God actually is. For more on this (and Judaism), click here.
Another example would be that Christianity teaches that suffering is a result of sin, death, and evil, while Buddhism teaches that our desires cause suffering. In Christianity, our good desires are twisted by our sin nature for the purposes of evil. For Buddhism, the desire for pleasure itself is the cause of suffering. However, Christianity teaches that while desire can be twisted into evil desires and lead to sin, the original intent of those desires created by God in the imago dei (image of God) was actually very good! An example of this would be the natural desire to eat and enjoy a good meal with friends. This is both practically a part of our survival and enjoyable, as God intended. But, when our desire for food is twisted by our sin nature, then we can become gluttonous or or unhealthily self-conscious and harm the bodies that God gave us. The differences here are obvious.
While there are some underlying similarities between these examples, they are fundamentally different as a whole and thus, propagate very different answers to our CUPID questions, along with many other philosophical and theological ones. So can all or some similar religions be collectively considered wholly “right” or “true”? Simply put, no. Then why is there some similarity here and there? Perhaps this is because they are all operating in a reality where only one is actually true but all have a level of exposure to who God is through Creation and all are created in the imago dei, living in His world, although they exchange the truth of God for idols and false worship (Romans 1; Genesis 1). Therefore, there are some concepts of truth found in each, but each incorrect system is incomplete and propagates a message that is counter to the one true religion that we seek. It is very possible that the religious system that does worship the one true God would be borrowed from and thus, principles from that belief system would pop-up in the other belief systems. Islam uses the Old Testament as a “means to its own end”. Jehovah’s Witnesses use the Bible as a base for their Watchtower teachings but loosely hold to any of its teachings. Mormonism does the same, inserting the Book of Mormon as well as other far later and contradictory far and above the Bible. I think you get the picture!
The Path You Take Matters…
I hope that if you are uncertain, skeptical, or even adhering to another religion, that you see the importance of what we each claim to believe and how the coherence of our beliefs matters. At least, if we really are seeking the truth, then it will matter to us. Even when faced with the truth, there are sadly many who would rather continue in their partial-truth, their comfortable beliefs that permit their personal autonomy, or syncretized religious beliefs that make them feel “good” (for now), even though, if truly evaluated, many of those beliefs will likely leave one living in a perpetual contradiction about our reality. And yes, our beliefs do seriously affect how we live our lives.
What is even more disheartening is that so many self-proclaimed “Christians” will champion or submit to these contrary “truths” for the sake of comfortability and maintaining good standing with others in society. If you truly are a Christian and are compromising the truth of the Christian message, I must say that you are only doing others a disservice, if indeed Christianity is true. Simply put, you are affirming false teachings and dishonoring the Lord. You are selfishly preserving your own image at the cost of sharing the urgent, yet wonderful, truth with others. If you really believed it to be true, then I feel as if you would likely handle things differently. Perhaps, you may not even actually believe that Jesus is really who He said He was or really did what He did… If so, you would understand the value of holding fast to His gospel of truth.
When we seek God, we simultaneously seek the truth and vice versa. For in God we find the source of truth and would expect nothing less. While there are many paths that we may take, they do not all lead to the same place. It is true that not all roads lead to Heaven! Consider these words from Jesus:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt 7:13-14)
The truth of the matter is that Jesus is the one who bridges the gap between us and God. Jesus also said that He is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that anyone who desires to come to the Father (God) must go through Him (John 14:6). Jesus said that He is the “way”, the path to God. If this is true, then Christianity will answer our CUPID questions about our existence.