February 19, 2016

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

Despite what some say, all religions are not the same

Recently, a controversy about God has taken place at a well-known Christian college. An associate professor had suggested in a Facebook post that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

The controversy blossomed on the Internet. It was recently resolved with apologies and an agreement that the associate professor and the college would end their ties amicably. (Washington Post, Acts of Faith section, Feb. 6 issue)

Do Christians and Muslims (and for that matter, Jews) worship the same God?

Before I address that question—which will require another column next month—let me approach an underlying question which is both ecumenical and inter-religious.

Are all religions the same?

If one answers this question based on religious texts (e.g., the Bible or Quran), the answer is no. Looking at historical origin, no. Witnessing worship practiced by each, no.

Then how is it that often we hear or read the claim today that all religions are the same? Externally, they are not. Why then, do some say, “They are the same?”

In the history of the Catholic Church, such a statement (and its attending explanation), is called “indifferentism.”

Originally, this term was applied to both religions and philosophies, stating that no one of them was superior to another. Over time, the original meaning has been expanded.

Indifferentism can be “absolute,” stating that there is no “rational ground for accepting any philosophical position” (i.e., absolute skepticism).

Indifferentism can be “restricted,” stating that there is a necessity for religion because it positively affects human life, and that all religions are equally true.

Indifferentism can be “liberal,” stating that Christianity is the true religion, and therefore it does not matter which Christian denomination one chooses.

Not all philosophies or ways of seeing the world are of equal value or truth. If all religions are equally true, then it follows that all religions are equally false. And it is clear that all Christians do not profess all the same doctrines or dogmas.

The Second Vatican Council states in “Lumen Gentium” that “the Church has many reasons for knowing that it is joined to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian … ” (#15). The paragraph notes that other Christians honor sacred Scripture, believe in a triune God and Savior, are sealed in baptism and accept other sacraments, celebrate the holy Eucharist, and even honor the Virgin Mother of God. But they “do not profess the faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity of communion under the successor of Peter” (#15).

The Second Vatican Council states in “Nostra Aetate” that “the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in [non-Christian] religions. It has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from its own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women”(#2).

The Church, even as it honors Christian and non-Christian religions, believes that they are not equally valid paths to salvation.

For Christ, the very revelation of God, is the source of salvation for all humanity in his paschal mystery.

And the Church, which has held the fullness of truth of faith in Christ in its 2,000 years, is the most genuine expression of the continuity of that truth.

All religions are not the same. But all religions are seeking God, and the God who is mercy notices.

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism. He is also dean of the Terre Haute deanery and pastor of St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary parishes, both in Terre Haute.)

Local site Links: