The argument usually goes like this: All religions are the same. Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism are different paths to the same god. Human beings have gotten it all confused with religious mumbo-jumbo and cloud the picture of who God really is. If you press someone who is making this argument by asking who is the god behind all religions, they will tell you god is a loving spirit who wants all humanity to live in brotherhood.
This argument has appeal. It eliminates exclusivity and rivalry between religious systems. Believers in any faith could no longer judge others who believe differently. It seems tolerant. But the argument has a dark side. It rejects the idea of exclusive truth. Those who advance this thinking end up creating a new exclusivity in the name of tolerance. They judge those who speak for their faith and act on their faith’s teachings. They cut off moral conduct from an objective standard of truth.
All religions claim exclusive truth. Judaism claims keeping rules, laws, and instructions is the way to intimacy with God. Islam claims the essentials of salvation are the five pillars: confessing Allah is the only god and Muhammed is His prophet; participating in daily prayer; giving alms to the poor; fasting during Ramadan; and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. Buddhism doesn’t believe in a personal god at all. Hinduism does not believe in one god, but many gods.
Ravi Zacharias, the great Christian apologist, points to the four great questions that every religion seeks to answer: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. Only the answers of Jesus to these questions match the reality of life.
Origin: Christian faith says we are not identical with God. We are made in His image, yes, but we are a different order of being. Hinduism claims we are the same as the gods and through the process of reincarnation, it possible to ascend to the plain of deity (Mormonism also claims it is possible for humans to be become divine). Because we share the image of God, but are not identical with Him, we have a sense of right and wrong (morality), but we cannot act morally on our own one hundred percent of the time.
Meaning: The God of Christian faith does not ask us to have meaning by being “good.” Only through true worship – submitting ourselves to Him – do we find the meaning of our lives. We worship by acknowledging that He is greater and different than we; and we seek His involvement and help in daily life. This is contrary to Islam and Judaism, which teach your life’s meaning is based on your conduct.
Morality: This is the oldest and hardest question of humanity: Do I get to make the rules or are the rules made for me? Contemporary Judaism often finds itself at odds with different interpretations of moral law. To paraphrase Dallas Willard, Judaism struggles to define who is a good person. Christian faith is clear: No one is good. All sin and fall short of God. Morality and the definition of who is a good person arise from God’s character. Unlike the Hindu gods, goodness flows out of God himself. Because no human being is good, only God and God’s power can make a person good. This is why Jesus had to die on the cross, so we could be made good, righteous.
Destiny: Buddhism offers Nirvana, an escape from the cycle of reincarnation. Islam offers Paradise for those who believe and do good deeds. Christian faith says our destiny is based on the resurrection of Jesus. This historical event open the door to life change. Grace can flood our lives. Barriers that our goodness could never remove are removed by Jesus’s power.
On this, all world religions agree: If Jesus really did rise from the dead, this means He is God, then Muslims, Jews, and Hindi fail in a serious way to love God as God really is. On the other hand, if Jesus is not God, if did not rise from the dead, then Christian fail in a serious way to love God as He really is.
So why did God make Jesus the only to Him? Only through Jesus can our moral failures be forgiven. Only through the power of His resurrection can our powerless lives be empowered. Only through Jesus can we find the true meaning of our lives – loving our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and body.
*I’m very indebted to Tim Keller and Ravi Zacharias for their wisdom. Their thoughts flow through this post.