Many have said to me that all religions are simply "different paths up the same mountain." We're all on a journey that ends up in the same place. I'd love to move beyond this way of thinking.
I have heard this metaphor often, frequently said as a counter to a Christian claim that only way to God (up the mountain) is through Jesus Christ.
My experience has been that while I deeply respect devout people of other faiths, I don't feel I have exactly the "same" religious experience or understanding as them.
But are all paths equal, even if different?
I think not. The truism that we are all on "different paths up the same mountain" can be countered with the truism that "the journey is the reward." As apartheid has shown us, separate but equal doesn't work. Seeking the same goal is not enough. The path we take changes us and forms us. How we perceive God on the top of the mountain will in part be determined by how the journey has strengthened and/or weakened us, how we have dealt with obstacles on our path and the place on the mountain at which we arrive. We may be glimpsing the same God but, because of our different paths, our understandings of God will be different.
All religions are not the same and because of that, I wish we would look more critically at the "different paths" metaphor. The major religions may share many major precepts, including a belief in lovingkindness and charity, but that does not make them identical to each other. They have different histories and have intersected with different cultures. Each of the major religions also has fundamental differences from the others. Buddhism and Christianity have similarities but Buddhism has no concept of God and Christianity has a strong concept of a loving and involved creator God. Buddhists, as I understand, believe we must self-empty of all illusions, even the illusion that love holds the universe together. After that, in resignation, Buddhists act in loving charity. Christians believe that God is love and that love does hold the universe together as the strongest of all forces. Jews share many many beliefs with Christians, but do not believe Jesus was more than a great teacher. Muslims revere Jesus, but only as a prophet. The list could go on. These are not "minor" details.
I worry that some people who think "all religions are the same" will, metaphorically speaking, spend their time at the bottom of the mountain, transferring from path to path as soon as the going gets tough, convinced there is an easy way up the mountain. I have read of people who want an "easy, beautiful" faith--my favorite example is the famous playwright's daughter, who, after rejecting the patriarchy of Judaism, had herself and her husband-to-be helicoptered in for a few hours to an Indian reservation to be married. Native American spirituality, she declared, was more pure and meaningful than Judaism.
At least for an afternoon.
I know that people use the different paths metaphor as a gentler approach to religion than what they perceive as Christian exclusivism. I agree that saying "Jesus Christ is my personal savior" is not a magic mantra to guarantee a place in the Kingdom of God. In the first place, saying an incantation is a form of magic and magic--the attempt to control God--is utterly contrary to the teachings of the Bible, which specifically counsel subordination of our wills to God's will. Second, Jesus himself said that he would not recognize many who came to him crying Lord, Lord. In another story, he points out that he (or she) who does God's will is the obedient servant, not the person who says he will and doesn't.
I think that the "same paths" metaphor must come from the modernist view that wants to classify and compare all religions as if they were flora, and which wants to get the uncomfortable miracle and mystery out of religious faith. This method purports to boil religions down to their "essence" and hopes this will allow us to live in harmony. Of course, this way of looking at the world and religion was devised by white European men, usually from prestigious universities--in other words, the wishful view of an elite. But as history has shown, you can't distill faith down to a set of principles. Better to reject "different paths" and embrace the differences that separate us--and love each other all the same.
Why do you think the "different paths up the same mountain" metaphor is so popular, when it so easily falls apart under scrutiny? What could we replace it with?