Recently I was having a discussion with a man from another faith. He was trying his best to convince me that, though our faiths were different, we really believed the same thing, He claimed that the only difference between us was that was the prophet we were following. Mine being simply an earlier and therefore less enlightened prophet than his. He actually made the fatal mistake that so many make, assuring me that "We (who are Monotheists) really are all related and we really believe the same things — we believe in the goodness of man, trying to better ourselves, etc." were the gist of his concluding remarks.
My mind went back to the words of satirist Steve Turner, "We believe that all religions are basically the same — at least the ones that we read were. They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation." Therein lies the problem. While on the surface all religions may appear to be trying to achieve the same ends, the reality is on a much deeper level, all religions are not basically the same and ultimately mutually exclusive. The issue is not whether religion A or religion B is being tolerant or intolerant, the real issue is, at its core, which is more believable; which provides greater evidence consistent with the philosophical tests for truth? Those tests being logical consistency, experiential veracity (does it fit with known facts?) and practical applicability (does it work in life?)
The problem we often run into when we are trying to have dialogue with those of different faiths is that we often end up compromising our views to accommodate some other view. In our desire for harmony, we too often give up conviction. Ecumenical zeal at the expense of truth is an unsound practice indeed. It is better to be divided by truth than to be united in error, or as someone once put it, "Better a holy discord than a profane concord."
We have to face the fact that when all is said and done, what you believe at some level must divide. If you believe in God, you will be in disharmony with the atheist and visa versa. It is both foolish and impossible to believe that once we understand the other fellow, there will be total agreement and harmony. The idea that we can find some "common ground" that will erase all disagreements is a myth. While the Humanist Manifesto II calls for such an understanding at one point, at another point it declares that those who disagree with such a pursuit are in fact dangerous and must be dealt with ruthlessly. Tolerance quickly blooms into intolerance when one disagrees with the tolerant. The bottom line of this is that there can be no true unity without unity in truth.
As I was discussing beliefs with this new friend, we came to the place where I simply had to say, "You may disagree with what I’m about to say, but you are wrong when you try to make Jesus simply another prophet, if you accept the evidence of history." We were at a point of contention; a point of fundamental disagreement in our views. He disagreed with me and I with him. I am absolutely convinced that Jesus was and is who he claimed to be: God in the flesh. To the individual I was talking to, such a view is blasphemy. Pretty big difference here. But even in the disagreement we had not a hint of animosity. I certainly held none toward him and his desire to speak with me further leads me to believe he has none toward me. The danger of our day is that we often sacrifice what we believe for the false notion of finding a common denominator. What seems an admirable pursuit becomes a deadly trap.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. He can be heard Thursdays on the radio on WMVV 90.7 (FM) at 8:30 p.m.