I have been saying this for years but Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed said it succinctly and well in reviewing a new book by Stephen Prothero.
A pastor once said to me that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam believe in the same God but just worship him differently. I said two things back: (1) Not true, for no Jew or Muslim believes in or worships God as Trinity, and (2) just try getting an ordinary Christian, Jew or Muslim to say they think that we all have the same God.
I have believed for a long time that touchstones are to be used but the only honest way to dialogue about our faiths is to tell the truth about our faith and tell the truth of what we think of the other faith, and then to listen to the other person say the same to us and of our faith. With love from first to last, but with the truth of love and love for the truth. The worst thing we can do is to pretend we are all really saying the same thing.
But the pastor's comment is common and widespread. For instance, Swami Sivananda said, "The fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same. There is difference only in the non-essentials." To which Stephen Prothero, author of God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter , says both bitingly and truthfully: "This is a lovely sentiment but it is dangerous, disrespectul, and untrue."
I see this sentiment to which Prothero addresses himself in his new book to be a religious colonialism. It is a way of incorporating the beliefs of another into what one person believes and clarifying, for the truly enlightened, that after all these religions are all variations on a theme. Once you get the theme, and one must be exceedingly broad-minded to grasp it, you can see that we differ only on particularities. Prothero's book is designed to rebut the whole approach of religious colonialism. Here are a few of his opening statements:
He calls this religious colonialism "naive theological groupthink -- call it Godthink" (3).
"God is not one. Faith in the unity of religions is just that -- faith." It's "an act of the hyperactive imagination."
Karl Rahner once spoke of others in other religions as being anonymous Christians. Hans Kung answered back: "It would be impossible to find anywhere in the world a sincere Jew, Muslim or atheist who not regard the assertion that he is an 'anonymous Christian' as presumptuous."
Yes, Prothero says, the world's religions share one thing: they all believe there is a problem or something's wrong. But from that point on they differ, and often dramatically. The solutions show how much they differ. They are not all climbing the same mountain but they are on different mountains.
Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2010/07/religious-colonialism-1.html#ixzz0t5PveqJS
I'd don't know how many times I've heard Universalist Friends say "All religions are the same." To my mind, this is modernist thought that arises from the same Enlightenment impulse that led botanists to classify plants into categories. There's nothing wrong with the Enlightenment, but we have seen its limitations and are in a period of paradigm shift. Also, as more than one postmodern thinker has pointed out, our understanding of "comparative religions" is heavily influenced by the worldview of those mid-twentieth century scholars who wrote the textbooks: primarily white Protestant males from elite East Coast college and OxCam backgrounds: not precisely a broad spectrum. What they give us, some have argued, is a distorted understanding of world religions to begin with.
I'm glad more and more people are challenging the truism that "all religions are the same." As both a Quaker and a religion reporter I chose to bite my tongue more than once when an older white male leaned over to me and said, as if revealing the secret of the ages: "Buddha and Jesus believed the same things" or "all religions are the same." After hearing the "revelation" about 50 times, I found myself having to suppress sarcasm: "Wow! Is that so? I never thought of THAT!" I've often wondered how otherwise intelligent people have gotten stuck on that groove or morphed the idea that some religions share some common tenets into a history-denying and specificity-erasing truth claim all faiths are the same.
It troubles me that so many liberal Quakers hold unreflectively to the "all the religions are the same" falsehood. The same people who deride the Christians who say with conviction "Jesus Christ is my personal savior" will in the next breath say with the same conviction that all religions are different paths up the same mountain--and if you disagree, will judge you with all the scorn of the fundalmentalist Christian towards the unsaved.
Is it "colonialism" to say that all religions are the same? Are Jews--fewer than .02% of the world's religious population--wrong to be worried about being subsumed or erased under thinking that throws us all into a common melting pot? Is a universalist worldview "dangerous?" Why or why not? Why are some Quakers so bent on this universalist worldview? Is there a way forward?