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Don't All Religions Lead to God?
By Gary Poole
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Willow Creek Association
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDISCUSSION ONE
Don't All Religions Teach Basically the Same Thing?
What's the Big Deal Anyway?
The audience was in an uproar. Tempers were flaring. Shouts came from every corner in the room. The panel of experts seated in a row onstage tried to answer the questions being hurled at them like hand grenades. The talk show host ran from aisle to aisle, shoving the microphone at open mouths. Some waited for amplification; most didn't. The show's producer nudged the controller in the booth and grinned. "Nothin' like talkin' about religion to bring out the best-and worst-in people!"
It was sweeps week. And it was beautiful.
"What's the big deal anyway?" one woman from the back row shouted. "At least I believe in something. That's more than some people I know!"
"Come on, lady." A burly man front and center snatched the microphone and turned to her. "Do you really think everyone is right?" He shook his head and tightened his grip on the microphone as the host struggled to retrieve it. "How can opposite beliefs both be true? It's impossible."
An expert tried to speak up.
He didn't succeed.
"Buddha, Allah, Jesus," started a blonde in the middle section, "they're all the same. What does this 'higher power'"-she made quotation marks with her fingers-"care what we call him?"
"Or her," shouted an emotionally charged panelist from onstage.
"Right!" the blonde said. "Or her. What does 'it'"-again with the hand-enhanced quotation marks-"care what name we use?"
Those who agreed clapped and cheered as the show went to a commercial; those who didn't pulled the pins on their verbal grenades and laid in wait for the next round.
What does God care about the way we designate him or the way we choose to worship him? And why get so uptight about it? Doesn't life have enough trouble without us arguing over whose God is the "right" God and what hat you should wear to church on Sunday-or Saturday or the second Wednesday or whatever the case may be? In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott said, "Now, if you ask me, what's going on is that we're all up to HERE in it, and probably the most important thing is that we not yell at one another." She has a point-it's not God who seems picky, it's people. Why would God care about such trivial matters as who has just the right perspective or the precise theological terminology? There are as many opinions as there are people. Surely there is more than one path to God.
Or is there?
OPEN FOR DISCUSSION
1. Why do you think there are so many religions in the world?
2. Do you think all the major religions are fundamentally the same or fundamentally different? If you can, give reasons to back up your answer.
3. True or false: If a religion inspires people to live better lives, we shouldn't question it. Explain your reasoning.
4. What difference, if any, would it make if the source of an idea or concept of great value to you was false?
5. True or false: People who claim to have the only truth about religion are arrogant, and such conceited attitudes are the cause of great strife and conflict in the world. Give an explanation for your answer.
An Indian Legend: Six Blind Men and the Elephant
It was six men of Indostan To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind), That each by observation Might satisfy his mind. The First approached the Elephant, And happening to fall Against his broad and sturdy side, At once began to bawl: "God bless me! but the Elephant Is very like a wall!" The Second, feeling of the tusk, Cried, "Ho! what have we here, So very round and smooth and sharp? To me 'tis mighty clear This wonder of an Elephant Is very like a spear!" The Third approached the animal, And happening to take The squirming trunk within his hands, Thus boldly up he spake: "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant Is very like a snake!" The Fourth reached out an eager hand, And felt about the knee: "What most this wondrous beast is like Is mighty plain," quoth he; "'Tis clear enough the Elephant Is very like a tree!" The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said: "E'en the blindest man Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can, This marvel of an Elephant Is very like a fan!" The Sixth no sooner had begun About the beast to grope, Than, seizing on the swinging tail That fell within his scope. "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant Is very like a rope!" And so these men of Indostan Disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right, They all were in the wrong! -John Godfrey Saxe (1816-87)
6. How does the above legend apply to the issue of searching for and finding the truth about God and religion? Do you agree with its conclusion? Why or why not?
7. How likely does it seem to you that any one religion would have the final say on what is true or not? Explain.
8. Does it seem reasonable to expect all religions to be true in their own ways, in spite of significant differences? Why or why not?
9. Explain the significant differences behind the following two motivations for belief.
"Christianity is true because I think it so, and you should agree with me."
"Christianity is true because Jesus thought it so, and I agree with him."
Toleration or Validation?
Sometimes, as people attempt to accept widely diverse religious teachings, truth is sacrificed. R. C. Sproul confronts this issue:
I once had a conversation with a Bahai priest. He told me that all religions were equally valid. I began to interrogate him concerning the points of conflict that exist between Islam and Buddhism, between Confucianism and Judaism, and between Christianity and Taoism. The man responded by saying that he didn't know anything about Islam, Judaism, or the rest but that he did know they were all the same. I wondered aloud how anyone could assert that all religions were the same when he had no knowledge of what those religions professed or denied. How can Buddhism be true when it denies the existence of a personal God and at the same time Christianity be true when it affirms the existence of a personal God? Can there be a personal God and not be a personal God at the same time? ... Can orthodox Judaism be right when it denies life after death and Christianity be equally right when it affirms life after death? Can classical Islam have a valid ethic that endorses the killing of infidels while at the same time the Christian ethic of loving your enemies be equally valid? -R. C. Sproul, Reason to Believe
10. What is the difference between toleration of all religions and validation of all religions?
11. Do you think that in order for one religion to be true, all other religions must be completely false? (Do you think the six men in the Indian legend were each completely wrong?) Explain.
HEART OF THE MATTER
12. Do Christianity's exclusive claims worry, bother, or embarrass you? How has your reaction changed over time? Explain.
Even among Christians, the claim that Jesus is the only way creates a problem. For instance, Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli write,
In teaching apologetics (the defense of faith) and philosophy of religion for many years, we have found that students worry more and are embarrassed by Christianity's "unAmerican" exclusivist claims than about any other aspect of their religion. In an age of toleration and pluralism, the most popular argument against the Christian religion seems to be simply that it is only one of many religions. The world is a big place, "Different strokes for different folks," "live and let live," "don't impose your values on others." -Handbook of Christian Apologetics
13. Is it confusing or frustrating to you that there are so many different religions from which to choose? Why or why not?
14. If religions are all different, why do you think God allows so many of them to exist? Why doesn't he just narrow down the choices so it's easier to find him?
CHARTING YOUR JOURNEY
With this session you're beginning a journey. Keep in mind that you do not need to feel pressured to "say the right thing" at any point during these discussions. You're taking the time to do this work because you're looking for answers and because you're willing to be honest about your doubts and uncertainties. Others in your group would also benefit from hearing about what you'll be learning. So use these sessions profitably-ask the tough questions, think "outside the box," and learn from what others in your group have to say. But stay authentic about where you are in your journey.
To help you identify your progress more clearly, throughout this guide you will have opportunities to indicate where you are in your spiritual journey. As you gain more spiritual insights, you may find yourself reconsidering your opinions from session to session. The important thing is for you to be completely truthful about what you believe-or don't believe-right now.
Excerpted from Don't All Religions Lead to God? by Gary Poole Copyright © 2003 by Willow Creek Association. Excerpted by permission.
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