By Jon Topping | September 19th, 2022
When discussing religion, a popular opinion that comes up quite often is that all religions are basically the same. They all have thoughts about some sort of deity (or multiple deities), they all have a holy book, they all have prayer, they all have some idea of salvation, they all have moral rules, and even those moral rules always seem to look similar (obviously every religion will be against murder, theft, adultery, etc.). From the outside, a secular person will see all the religions of the world as doing essentially the same thing. This then leads many to think that all religions are the same in the ways that matter, and the only differences are going to be minor things that aren’t important. This can then lead to a further belief, which is that all religions are equally valuable, and that it’s wrong to think one is superior to another.
Not only are religions not all the same, but they’re different in quite crucial ways. Yes, they have things in common, but the differences are far more important than the similarities. Andy Bannister made a helpful comment on this when he said that religions are similar in the unimportant matters, and different in the important matters.
In terms of similarities, most religions will have a holy book/s (but those books will be quite different). They typically have something like prayer (but some will chant mantras, some will recite things similar to poems, some will speak from their heart, etc.). They’ll also have explanations as to where we come from and where we’re going (even though the answers to those questions will be drastically different). They also typically have rules to follow (and the rules are usually the same in many ways, but then there will be specific rules that are different). They will also typically have some type of meeting you attend (although what those meetings look like is also very different). So as you can see, there’s a lot that’s similar, but even in the similarities they’re very different.
In terms of differences, some religions hold to a deity like the Abrahamic God that is all-powerful, all-knowing, loving, and created the universe. Other religions believe the universe itself is somehow conscious and aware. Other religions believe there is some kind of spiritual reality binding everything together that we as humans can become part of through ascending our consciousness. So even the idea of “God” is drastically different, depending on which religion you’re looking at.
Some religions believe you are saved by asking for forgiveness and then depending on God. Others teach it is about obeying all of God’s rules. Some believe humans don’t need saving at all, and others say it’s about mentally ascending to deep spiritual truths (for example, realizing that you don’t really exist, and deliberately turning off the logic centre of your brain). So even though there’s some concept of “salvation”, the methods and explanations are drastically different, and completely change the core of what the religion is about.
The biggest difference, as I see it, will also show where my bias lies. I’m a Christian, and there have been many times where I’ve had people ask me about the similarities between the religions. However, all other religions teach something that looks like “you work hard enough and you get heaven”. Now, what “heaven” looks like is very different, and what “work hard” means can be very different, but the same focus of human works earning eternity is basically the same.
Here’s why Christianity has this crucial difference, which sets it apart from all other religions: on Christianity, we are hopelessly doomed; the only reason there is hope is because God loves us. Whenever we rebel against what God made us for, and choose to do things our own way, we are condemning ourselves through our rebellion. This is what sin and evil are; rebellion against the purposes God created us for. Even though we rebelled against God, He still loves us, and went out of His way to save us. That’s the whole point of Jesus Christ. He took our penalty onto Himself, paying the price that we owe, so that we can have true freedom, and be spared what we deserve. The whole point of Christianity is that you can’t do it; you need to rely on Jesus to do it for you. In this way, works do not, and cannot save you. Personally, I find this to make complete sense. If someone is found guilty of a grievous crime, we don’t just make them do some community service to earn their freedom; there needs to be a punishment. But on Christianity, even though we’re guilty, Jesus pays for our crimes for us. We can’t earn our own salvation, so Jesus has earned it for us. He is providing the help that we need, when we cannot help ourselves.
Because of this, Christianity is far more merciful and loving than any other religious system. Every other religion says that, if you do enough good works, then and only then will God love you. Christianity says that God’s love is not earned, and instead, He loves you unconditionally, regardless of what you’ve done. Every other religion says you can earn your salvation, if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds. Christianity says there is justice, where evil is always punished, but God does not want to punish humanity, and instead has offered a way of salvation. We cannot earn our salvation, so God has provided it as a free gift. The real issue now is whether you will accept the salvation God is offering you through Jesus, or if you’ll reject that free gift, and instead take the punishment of your own actions.
Another major difference between Christianity and the other religions is that Christianity can be shown to be true, using evidence and reason. Other religions are merely stated as fact, and we just have to trust the founder of the religion. In other religions, there’s no real justification for their beliefs. However, with Christianity I think we have very good reasons to think it’s actually objectively true. A good example of this is the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus really did die, and really was miraculously resurrected from the dead on the third day, that would make it seem as though Christianity must actually be true. If you doubt whether I can actually show, using evidence, that Jesus rose from the dead, or if you’re just interested in learning more, then you can check out my podcast where I go into the argument, and all the historical details involved. https://www.jontopping.com/post/episode-30-reasoning-for-the-resurrection
Jon Topping is a speaker with Engage International and is based out of Canada.