A few years ago I was completing an undergraduate degree. There was an overall agenda taught that all religions were really the same. The parable of the elephant was told ad nauseam. Don and Joy addressed this in “Do All Roads Lead to God?” but as a refresher, the parable is about six blind men touching the same elephant, each at different points. One was touching the tail, the other the belly, the other the leg and so forth. Each was asked to describe what they felt. Of course out of each person came a different description – it’s a rope, a tree, a wall, and so on. The punch line of this parable was that each were touching the same animal, but had different understandings of it. All were right in a sense. This is imported into the realm of religions. Each religion touches the same ultimate reality, and – just like the blind men – they each describe the same only in different terms. This is fine for those who refuse to address the issues, but simply it does not work.
When looking at this parable none of the answers are right. They may describe pieces of the elephant, but none of them describes the actual elephant. In order for that to happen someone must stand outside and see what the elephant truly is. Inevitably, there is only one view of the elephant that is true, and it is not any of the blind men’s view. It is the one who sees the entire animal. The real question of comparative religion therefore is not whether they teach the same doctrine, but where do they differ and which one, if any, is right? We can study all the different perspectives, but all cannot be right.
This is basic to human thought. Idea A and non-A cannot exist in the same time in the same way. A woman is either pregnant or not pregnant. She either exists in category A (pregnancy) or non-A (not pregnant). There is no middle ground. The truth must either be one or other – it cannot be both. A woman cannot be pregnant and not pregnant at the same time. To assert as such is absurd. It is the same way when addressing religions.
If we were to go to the core of all the religions – as everyone claims we should – then we find that none of them fit together. To try to force the religions together in such a way is akin to that pregnant woman claiming that she was not pregnant. They contradict at the fundamental levels of Theology (understanding of God), Soteriology (understanding of salvation or relief from this life), Christology (understanding of Jesus), Eschatology (understanding of the completion of this world and life), and Anthropology (understanding of man). A full examination of each will not be attempted here, but a few examples should demonstrate what I am talking about.
As an example take Theravada (traditional) Buddhism and Hinduism. Theravada Buddhism had its beginnings in Hindu society and reacted against it. If any religions can claim to really be the same religion it should be these bedfellows. Buddhism looks at life and sees everything in constant flux nothing stays the same. From this is born the idea of the anatman that there is no soul. What makes a human, human is not a centralized, continuous existence. It is only a powerful illusion of continuity that causes humankind to think that there are selves. The self is constantly changing and is never the same. Buddhism believes no one can step in the same river twice; nothing is permanent. This is against the Hindu conception of the atman, the soul. Hinduism teaches that humans have continuous souls that remain fixed through death and rebirth. Clearly here is the issue one says no self exists the other does. We cannot even get beyond the understanding of what a person is before we come across an issue at the core of their understandings. Either there is a continuous soul or there is no soul it cannot be both. There are other fundamental issues like this across the board.
“Brahman is all, and the self (atman) is Brahman” 1.
Brahman is the supreme god in Hinduism, the one that unites all. Here the soul of each is god. All are god and god is all. Reality is only one – all of it at the fundamental level is the same. Set in contrast to the Muslim understanding of Allah, who is completely separate from the world. This is seen in their basic confession that there is one God (Allah) and Muhammad is his prophet. Against the Hindus it is claimed there is only one God no others. We are not each god trying to find the Oneness of all. There is Allah and there is everything else. In Surah 2 and 13 Allah is seen as the creator, sustainer, and judge of the universe. No one compares to him in creation 2. Within these Surahs’ the clear line of demarcation is set for the Muslim. There is god and everything else. Two separate categories in the universe. It is clear that people are not Allah over the Hindu conception of the atman and Brahman. Rather it is creator and creation. In terms of theology and anthropology these two religions cannot stand together. Either god is all or God and the universe are fundamentally different – it can’t be both.
The idea that all religions are the same is refuted by the essential doctrines. In reality, they are not all the same. To claim differently is intellectual dishonesty. But the wrench in all is Jesus Christ. As demonstrated in “Another Jesus,” every religious thought tries to include Jesus. He becomes either a Buddha, an Avatar, or a Prophet so He can fit nicely into the different systems. Jesus does not leave this option on the table. In fact, He makes a very bold claim of Himself. He clearly states:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me,” (John 14:6).
Jesus claims He alone is the only way, the only truth and the only giver of life and reconciliation with the Father (also see John 3:10-21). He stands in stark contrast to the parable. Only Jesus offers the way to the Father – no others. He leaves no possibility to the idea that all are the same. C.S. Lewis summed it up when he stated that Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. 3. The real question is not whether all religions are the same – they aren’t. Rather, if one is right which one is it? If Jesus is who He claimed to be then all the other religions are found false for He is more than a prophet or avatar. He claims to be the Lord of Glory and the only way to salvation. Let us be done with the idea that religions are all one. For on Jesus alone a clear division is made. Either He is the only one who saves or He is not. There is no middle ground.