I am a theologically progressive believer. I am not among those who contend that all religions besides Christianity are false religions and have nothing of value to offer. Neither do I agree with Christians who insist that all who follow religions other than Christianity are ‘lost’ and rejected by God. I believe non-Christian religions are of immense value, make very significant contributions, and benefit their constituents (and others—like me) tremendously.
There are many progressive Christians who agree with me up to this point but will then go on to state that: “All religions lead to the same place.” Often they invoke the image of many paths leading up to the top of the same mountain—all paths leading to the same place but in different ways. This portrays all religions as equal and Jesus as just one among other religions leaders. While this is a noble notion, and I applaud its sense of generosity and acceptance, it is a notion I cannot accept.
The Main Thing All Good Religion Has in Common
All good religions do share one common, and very important, characteristic–treating other people right. Jesus says in Luke 6, ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ This ‘golden rule’ is a key element in his teaching and example on having empathy, compassion, and acceptance toward others. But most of us know that other religious leaders express the same sentiment.
The Jewish Leviticus 19 (also used by Jesus) states, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ And Jewish Rabbi Hillel taught ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation.’
Among other religions Confucius said ‘Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself’, while Lao Tzu said ‘Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.’ In Zoroastrianism it is ‘Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others.’ Muhammad said ‘Wish for your brother, what you wish for yourself.’
In Hinduism we find ‘One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self’, and in Buddhism ‘Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.’ One can find examples from other religions in this Wikipedia article.
These sentiments are not peripheral but reflect the essence of these religions. In this sense, I agree that all religions do lead to the same place—a very high regard for other people. I would suggest that a religion that does not have this focus is not worth much.
We can all think of followers of some of these religions (including Christianity) that violate the charge to treat others right, and even act exactly opposite to that expectation; but I would say that they have missed the meaning and depth of their own religion.
Additional Positive Contributions of Other Religions
There may be more, but I can think of at least two additional positive contributions of other religions: 1) they provide insight and support in coping with life in this difficult world, and 2) they help us become better people.
Over the years I have benefited here and there from non-Christian religions, but the biggest influence on me is Buddhism. Three principles of the Buddha have particularly impacted me strongly—the middle way, ahimsa (non-injury), and non-attachment. These are concepts I use in my life; and they do not conflict with the teaching and example of Jesus.
In addition (though I do not embrace these Buddhist beliefs) I am impressed with the concepts of Bodhisattva and the Pure Lands among Mahayana Buddhists, and I am also impressed with the peace and acceptance in Tibetan Buddhism as expressed by the Dalai Lama. I am NOT a Buddhist; I am a dedicated follower of Jesus, but following Jesus does not lead me to condemn Buddhism or other religions. On the other hand, neither do I accept that following either Jesus or Buddha leads to the same place.
Are Jesus and Buddha Equal as Founders of Religions?
Some progressive Christians state that Jesus and founders of other religions are of equal value and status—all leading to the same place. But, while I have a high regard for leaders of other religions, I cannot agree with this conclusion. Though other religious leaders are very beneficial to their followers (and others) I don’t think they are at all equal; and I believe Jesus is different in two important respects.
First, I think Jesus is uniquely chosen by God as his/her representative to teach us more clearly about the loving Father/Mother as opposed to the angry God many people envision. This happened, of course, within the Jewish culture at a particular time in history, though it could have been at a different place and time. But there is an even more important difference between Jesus and other religious leaders—the resurrection.
Jesus was executed by the religious and political powers of his day due to their need to demonstrate power and control; but Jesus, whom they killed, did not remain dead but was restored to life thus defeating the ultimate power of evil and death. Jesus’ resurrection also demonstrates the possibility of eternal life beyond death that is available to us as well. No other religious leader did that.
I believe Jesus provides eternal life to those who follow him in this life, but I don’t think eternal life after death is only for those who follow him in this life—eternal life applies to virtually everyone no matter where or when they live and no matter what religion they embrace. Thus Jesus leads to a place that other religious leaders cannot.
We will talk about that next time.
Articles in this series: Jesus, World Religions, and Eternal Life
- Do All Religions Lead to the Same Place? Not Really
- ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’; Is Jesus the Only Way to Life? Yes and No
- Will Everyone Live Forever with God After Death? Not Necessarily!
- Hell? Conditional Immortality? Something Else? What Happens to Those Who Reject God?
- If Most Everyone Will Have Eternal Life with God Anyway, then Why Do We Need to Share the Good News of Jesus?
- 3 Reasons Why Loving Others is Not All There Is to Following Jesus