"It has been fashionable to affirm that all religions are beautiful and all are true," writes Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero in the Boston Globe. In fact, many feel-good declarations often take it a step further: "Even the Dalai Lama, who should know better, has gotten into the act, claiming that 'all major religious traditions carry basically the same message.'" That's just not true, says Prothero. More than that, it's "disrespectful":
The gods of Hinduism are not the same as the orishas of Yoruba religion or the immortals of Daoism. To pretend that they are is to refuse to take seriously the beliefs and practices of ordinary religious folk who for centuries have had no problem distinguishing the Nicene Creed of Christianity from the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism from the Shahadah of Islam. It is also to lose sight of the unique beauty of each of the world’s religions.
In a practical sense, too, assuming all religions are ultimately the same is "dangerous," argues Prothero:
"How can we make sense of the ongoing conflict in Kashmir if we pretend that Hinduism and Islam are one and the same? Or of the impasse in the Middle East, if we pretend that there are no fundamental disagreements between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam?
It's great that many now reject "the exclusivist missionary view that only you and your kind will make it to heaven or nirvana or paradise," he writes, but we must acknowledge that "each of the world's religions looks to different exemplars," and have different "techniques they employ to take you from problem to goal." Varying beliefs in salvation, reincarnation, and enlightenment likewise demand different ways of approaching life. In this sense, "what the world's religions share is not so much a finish line as a starting point. And where they begin is with this simple observation: Something is wrong with the world."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.