The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Is there one true religion? Part 1

All of the major religions say ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Jesus said to ‘Love one another and that, of faith, hope and charity, love is the greatest of these.’ So why do they also say that their religion is the ‘one, true religion,’ when they all share the same premise?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Elisabeth G-P send the following question to the Ethics and Religion Talk panel at [email protected]:

“All of the major religions say ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Jesus said to ‘Love one another and that, of faith, hope and charity, love is the greatest of these.’ So why do they also say that their religion is the ‘one, true religion,’ when they all share the same premise?”

Elisabeth, I challenge your assumption that all major religions share the premise that their set of beliefs or religious practice is the “one, true, religion.” It is true for some Christians, some Moslems, and some Jews. But even many of those who believe that their tradition is the best way to live out God’s will on earth still acknowledge that other traditions are also true.

Another problem with your assumption is in the way that you use the word ‘true,’ as if it means that there is exactly one set of ideas that is true, and every other set of religious ideas is false. The goal of a religious way of life is to lead one to God. There are some traditions which believe that there is exactly one path to God, that path is true, and all other paths are false because they don’t lead to God. However, there are many more traditions which believe that there is more than one path to connect with the Divine. Every tradition which connects the individual to the Divine is therefore true. Judaism describes this by comparing God’s voice to flint and steel being struck together. A single word produces many sparks. Each individual, separate, spark equally represents God’s word.

Finally, regarding those traditions which both assert the truth of the Golden Rule and believe that they and they alone have the one and only true path to God and salvation. I ask you, ‘What is the contradiction?’ The Golden Rule describes how we are to treat other people. There is in fact no contradiction between believing that one’s tradition is the one, true, religion and also believing that the faithful have an obligation to treat all people with love. And in fact, this is exactly the motivation of evangelicals to share their faith. Those who know the password to the kingdom of heaven, consisting of a narrowly defined set of beliefs, their love for others would compels them to share it.

I have prepared three columns on this topic. This week, I present, in addition to my own response, two more non-Christian responses. Next week and the following week, I will publish two sets of Christian responses.

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“First of all, I believe that this quote is from Paul, not Jesus. There is a misperception that all religions claim that theirs is the only true belief system that pleases God. Hinduism is a very pluralistic path that doesn’t pay much attention to the theological beliefs of its adherents or followers of other religions. ‘Truth (God) is One. The wise call it many names,’ is a verse from our earliest scripture, the Rig Veda. This exhorts us to be accepting of all faiths that encourage the kind of behavior we deem as wise, compassionate and charitable.

“While there have been misguided movements within Hinduism that have worked toward growing their ranks through efforts to denigrate other paths, history shows us that these have been very rare exceptions.”

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“It is the practice of most Unitarian Universalists to concentrate on the shared beliefs or common threads running through all religions. We tend to focus on our collective common ground in hopes of promoting cooperation or peace among the various world religions. While lifting up our shared beliefs may feel positive we can also miss something by this approach because it does not allow us to gain a deeper understanding of how each religion is different and why. Religion scholar Stephen Prothero* believes that different religions are responding to different problems. He writes for example, Christians identify the problem as sin, and the solution is salvation; for Buddhists, however, the problem is suffering and the solution is nirvana.

“This week’s question asks us to look at our common ground then asks us why one religion would lay claim as the one true way. The answer is not found in where we are similar but where we are different. In this one aspect of Christianity there is an urgency, a goal of salvation. Looking at this religion in totality and not merely at our common threads one can see the need to be definitive, with a believer's salvation on the line this religion must be clear to say they are the one true path to salvation.”

*God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter. by Stephen Prothero. HarperOne, 2010.

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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