Posts Tagged ‘Comparative Religion’

Poster for Oh My God documentary

Poster for Oh My God documentary

Peter Rodger, a Hollywood photographer and TV commercial-maker, has filmed what sounds like an intriguing documentary (due out this month) called Oh My God. Though there are a few celebrities in it (e.g., Hugh Jackman, Seal, David Copperfield), the majority of those interviewed are average people of multiple faiths from all over the world.

Hugh Jackman in Oh My God

Hugh Jackman in Australia for Oh My God documentary

On why his question was “What is God?” rather than “Who is God?”, Rodger says, “I wanted to look at God as a concept and be as objective as possible. Referring to God as ‘who’ is already putting the concept into the image of Man and therefore the objectivity becomes lost…. My goal was to find out what ‘God’ means to people, and to determine whether religion and religious people were causing all the world’s problems.”

I find the concept interesting, as well as the fact that Rodger didn’t “find” what he thought he would. Now, based on his comments in the article, I probably won’t agree with much of what Rodger concludes — though he supposedly leaves the question unanswered at the end of the film. There are indications of the usual mix of religious pluralism, moral relativism, PC “tolerance”, etc. For example, he says, “The similarities in belief-systems transcend time and geographical boundaries….” (There is some truth in that, but as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, it is the differences that make the difference.) Or, “I realized that we all have a responsibility to live our lives with tolerance and understanding for our fellow man. Don’t be barbaric and ignorant…. I learned that the world is way more united than divided, but most of us are conditioned to believe otherwise.”

Old religious guy from India

Old religious guy from India (Hindu?)

Here is another interesting quote from Rodger’s explanation of what he wants viewers to get out of the film: “If a viewer is religious, I would love them to take away from this film the desire to study their religion themselves, to understand their holy book and not rely on other human beings who might be manipulating the meanings of their scriptures.” I say “Amen!” But, taken in context with other comments, I realize that Rodger means it in connection with his concerns about Man using “God” and religion “to control other men, how he twists the preaching of its prophets to create politicized clubs that serve his narrow ends.” I agree that this is and has been true, and it is a HUGE problem. But, I don’t agree with the atheists & agnostics who use this fact as a reason to distrust ALL religion and throw out ALL religious teaching.

I also think that people should not rely solely on themselves for proper interpretation and understanding of scripture. It is better to first learn from those who have preceded us, who have perhaps had a lot more time to study the “holy book” in question (along with associated disciplines like ancient languages, history, and textual criticism). Then we can use critical thinking skills to judge the accuracy & implications of their interpretations by the consistency & coherency of their arguments in accordance with what we know of human nature and of the world around us. (Often easier said than done.)

I hope I get a chance to see this documentary….

Did you ever hear someone say “All religions are the same.”, or something along those lines? Or, maybe you’ve said it yourself. Did you ever really think about that statement? Does it make sense?

I say, “Not even close.” Hear me out….

Sure, religions have some things in common. That’s why they are all called ‘religions’. For example, each religion has some sort of belief system about physical and metaphysical issues, often expressed in rituals and ceremonies. This belief system in turn influences a broader worldview, a picture of reality.

Then there are “organized” religions, which have a few more things in common, like hierarchies of authority, “official” creeds, scriptures, perhaps special buildings where adherents gather to worship (something/someone) and/or receive teaching. Some religions also share certain basic beliefs and values. For example, many espouse love, justice, the Golden Rule (i.e., “Do unto others…”), strong family ties, etc.

But, are they all the same? No. In some cases, there may be a few similarities, but it is really the differences that matter. Even in regards to those “common” things I mentioned, each religion has a somewhat different idea of what each thing entails. Different religions make different truth claims. Some religions believe in many gods (polytheism), some believe in one God (monotheism), while others say there is no God (atheism). Among monotheists, there are differing concepts of the nature and abilities of that God. For example, some say He/She is personal (i.e., an intelligent, self-identifying “person” or entity), and others say God is an impersonal “it”. Of the former (e.g., Jews, Muslims, Christians, etc.), one teaches that Jesus Christ is/was God incarnate (among other details), while the rest do not.

Some religions believe in an afterlife; some do not. Some say the world of matter/energy/space we live in is infinite and eternal; some say it is finite in both space & time. Or, even that it is all illusion. And there are often different branches, sects, denominations within a religion. They branched off because one group held a strong opinion or conviction on one or more issues that differed from the rest of the adherents. One may teach that it is OK to murder people in God’s name, while others hold such an act to be terrible and immoral. Most of these are either/or issues. In each case, either one is true or the other, but they can’t both be true. Many of them are very important details — crucial differences, in fact, that can have significant consequences in both life and death. And there are MANY other examples….

So, you see, all religions are NOT the same.

“OK,” you say, “but all religions are still the same, in that they are equally good (or bad), moral (or immoral, or amoral). No religion is really better than any other.” But, that’s a topic for another day….