Written by Steven Liechty
"For God so loved the world that [God] gave [God's] only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." - John 3:16
Some people believe that deep down all religions say the same thing. Each is a "Different path up the same mountain." I wish this were true, but it isn't.
Imagine a Buddhist monk and an Orthodox Rabbi. If the monk would set aside Buddhism's rejection of an almighty God whose hand controls the universe, and the rabbi would put away Judaism's insistence that Yaweh created the world, perhaps they'd find some common ground.
But a more likely scenario is that robbed of their religions' distinctiveness they'd have little to say. Buddhism with an omnipotent deity is no longer Buddhism. Judaism without Yawheh makes no sense at all.
What are progressive Christians to do? If we insist that all religions are traveling up the same mountain, we do violence to the differences that make religions vital. But if we insist "Hey! My religion is different from yours," we imply intolerance.
The Lutheran theologian George Lindbeck's answer to this this question changed my faith. "Much of what other religions teach, for instance, the Buddhist emphasis on compassion, may be truth God gives to them, and through them to us. Christians don't have all of God's truth. What we have is the criterion of all truth: Jesus Christ."
This means we ought to listen to the world's great religions for the voice of God. Of course it also means we can judge them, but why? Most days it isn't Islam or Hinduism that put us in conflict with Christ. It is secular religions like capitalism, nationalism and fatalism that contradict him. If we're going to get judgmental, let Christians use the criterion God has given us to name the lies the world tells. Once we've wrestled those to the ground we can start worrying about other religions.
Dear God, thank you for giving us the criterion of truth. Let us see with his eyes, full of truth and love. Amen.
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ, Chicago, IL.