When I walked into my yoga class this morning, the instructor and another lady were talking about attending church on Easter. One lady said that the preacher gave a sermon showing the similarities of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. He explained that all three are monotheistic and recognize the Abrahamic covenant.
I think his message argued for a basis of some form of unity, because the instructor chimed in with her opinion. She does not like the “segregation” of the religions and believes we should find a way to unite.
I wanted to ask, What kind of unity do you think is possible with these three religions? These intelligent women seemed to ignore the distinctions of each religious system that set each apart from other religions. These distinctions necessarily “segregate” each system in the sense that they explain why each religion needs to exist.
The call for a unity of Judaism, Christianity and Islam demands that each system deny its distinguishing doctrines. Islam would have to deny that Ishmael was the intended recipient of God’s covenant promises to Abraham. Judaism would have to deny that Isaac was the chosen seed. They would have to agree that descending from Abraham is all that matters. Then they would both have to accept that God also determined that others could become recipients of the promise through the same kind of faith that Abraham possessed, as much of Christianity believes.
Christianity would have to deny the deity of Jesus, the unique personhood of the Holy Spirit, the resurrection of Jesus and God’s offer of forgiveness to man through the work of Jesus on the cross, to name only a few doctrines. Islam would have to deny that God called Muhammad as a prophet. Judaism would need to abandon most of their holy days.
The mutilation of these three systems would leave nothing that even remotely resembles the originals. The character of God and the moral nature of the universe would remain, although the means of obtaining God’s forgiveness and acceptance would demand discussion, since the three systems disagree on this doctrine. Agreement on much of history would survive (except for the resurrection of Jesus), but interpretation of events would require negotiation.
As you can see, a few similarities do not provide a foundation for unity. Unity necessitates agreement, which could never evolve out of these divergent belief systems.
Every religion contains a set of beliefs that define it uniquely from other religions. Otherwise, it would have no reason to exist. Calling for unity asks people to jettison their beliefs for no rational, evidential reason, which seems naïve at best.
Many people suggest we need tolerance, an unbiased acceptance of each other with all of our differences. This tolerance would need to allow for a free discourse of ideas and beliefs. Each religion poses as the correct system. If the pursuit of truth is not compromised by this tolerance, then every human should be granted the freedom to seek this truth through careful investigation of each religion.
Fanatics of all three religions have sabotaged a peaceful coexistence throughout history. This fanaticism does not fairly characterize any of the religions. Debate surrounds Islamic teaching on jihad, but if we accept the dominant teaching, jihad should not disrupt true tolerance.
Christianity should distinguish itself from the other two in this respect. All three systems require a habit of love. But Jesus commanded a higher calling when he instructed his disciples to “love your enemies.” Adherents of other religions are not inherently our enemies, since a difference of opinion does not constitute enmity. Followers of Christ are compelled to practice an active love toward every person we know. We have no excuse for creating an atmosphere of superiority or hostility or strife.
Fanatics who choose to attack Christians in the name of their religious beliefs make themselves our enemies. According to Jesus, we should extend the same love and acceptance to them as to any other neighbor. This does not preclude the need for justice or a respect for and protection of life. The offer and practice of this kind of love is complex, but still necessary, if we want to practice our belief system with integrity.
Paul identified Jesus’ followers as his ambassadors. Jesus did not retaliate against his enemies. He did not strike back against those who struck him. He did not even revile those who made themselves his enemies. In the midst of intense pain caused by his accusers, he prayed to his Father to forgive them.
This kind of love should identify Christianity. Others may advocate for love in their systems as well, but I do not believe they take love to this degree.
Not only should we not concede to the cries for unity with other religions, but neither should we compromise a love that was projected onto all people from the cross.