It's Easter season. Perhaps this creates opportunity to give some thought to religion. And one concept even non-religious people ought to think about is the faulty idea that all religions are equally valid.
There are a number of ways to approach the notion that "all religions are equally valid." For instance, we could appeal to a subjective sense of decency. Are we really willing to agree religions requiring child sacrifice are equally valid to those that don’t? There are religions that have this horrific practice. There are also religions that teach child sacrifice is an abomination. They obviously don’t teach the same thing. Are we willing to agree they are equally valid? I don’t know many modern people who would say so.
Or take religions like: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity and compare them to Buddhism and Hinduism. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity believe there is only one God. Buddhism and Hinduism believe there are millions of gods. They can’t be all right at the same time. There’s either one God or there are millions of gods, but it can’t be “all of the above.” To believe it’s possible for there to be one God and millions of gods is like saying it’s possible for there to be such a thing as a married bachelor. Somebody is wrong. They can’t all be right.
Let’s break this down further. Islam and Judaism do not believe Jesus of Nazareth should be worshiped as God. He was a great teacher and prophet, but he wasn’t God. Christians, on the other hand, believe Jesus was and is God and should be worshiped as God. Jesus can’t be God and non-god at the same time. He’s one or the other. He’s either God or non-god. Therefore, to say Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are all equally valid and teach the same thing is transparently false. It breaks the law of noncontradiction.
If you put all this together, the conclusion is inescapable: either all religions are wrong or one of them is right.
Following Jesus should never become a business deal. “Jesus, if I follow you, what will you do for me?” It is, however, difficult to avoid the conclusion that there are real benefits to biblical Christianity. I’m working my way through Rebecca McLaughlin’s new book Confronting Christianity. In it she takes up this topic. If you aren’t a passionate follower of Jesus Christ, this is worth pondering.
1. Giving leads to a blessed life
The Bible teaches “…it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This idea cuts against the grain of a society that values acquiring more so than giving. However, more and more research is demonstrating the value of of giving. Volunteering, caring for others, and financial generosity all contribute to our mental and physical health. Atheist social psychologist Jonathan Haidt observes:
“Surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people…Religious believers give more money than secular folk to secular charities, and to their neighbors. They give more of their time, too, and of their blood.”
2. Happiness in all circumstances
The apostle Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want” (Phil. 4:12-13). Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert uses the term ‘psychological immune system’ to describe Paul’s mindset. Gilbert uses 17th century polymath, Thomas Browne, as an illustration of this. Browne once said, “I am the happiest man alive. I have that in me that can convert poverty to riches, adversity to prosperity. I am more invulnerable than Achilles; fortune hath not one place to hit me.”
Bold statement, I know. Gilbert asked in response: “What kind of remarkable machinery does this guy have in his head?” Well, as it turns out, Browne was drawing on his Christian faith to immunize himself against suffering.
The contentment that the gospel offers possesses a staggering correspondence to the ‘psychological immune system’ Gilbert speaks of.
3. Gratitude is good for us
The apostle Paul writes, “…give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:16). Paul wasn’t writing theoretically. He had been physically beaten, shipwrecked, sick, and materially impoverished. Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough discovered that conscious, daily gratitude is quite literally good for us. They noted those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week. This led Emmons to call gratitude “the forgotten factor in happiness research.”
May I be so bold? If your life is miserable, turn to Jesus!
Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Judaism… there are so many options. Which one shall I choose?
In college I took a comparative religions course from a self-professing atheist. I really appreciated his style and the class he taught. He was exceedingly objective - probably because he had no attachments to any of them. After poring over texts and pondering class discussions, I began to get a sense for something that I knew to be true, but just didn’t realize its magnitude. There is one characteristic of Christianity that sets itself apart from any other religion or worldview: grace.
Every other religion and worldview, once you boil away the jargon and idiosyncrasies, operates under the mantra of: “I obey therefore, I’m accepted.” Whether its karma, the eightfold path, the four noble truths, the five pillars, etc., all of them basically exhort the religious adherent to perform. And if the performance is good enough, “life as it should be” will be reached.
As I began to realize this is the fundamental operation of them all, I grew fatigued under the weight of a single question: “How do I know I’ve performed well enough?” None of them seem to provide a satisfactory answer.
Of course, the problem is, many people think this is what Christianity is as well. “Obey the Ten Commandments and you’ll be saved.” But the Bible doesn’t teach that. In fact, the Bible insists on our inability to perform well enough. We all fall short (Rom. 3:23). This is where Jesus’ entrance onto the human stage is such a relief!
Jesus came to live the perfect life I could never live.
Jesus came to die in my place the death my imperfect life deserved.
By faith, I am “awarded” his accomplishments.
You know what you call receiving an exceptionally good thing based on someone else's merits? GRACE!