Question: I was raised as a Christian. I can understand the relationship of Christianity to Judaism, but I wonder what you think of Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism? Some very great people have embraced those religions. What do you think happens when they die? — R., via firstname.lastname@example.org
Answer: I agree with you that all the great wisdom traditions have much to teach us about virtue, salvation (and really delicious holiday food!). I’m also proud to be a believer in Judaism, which teaches that after death the righteous of all nations will have a share in the world to come (heaven).
The specific theological issues raised by each faith remain for each of us to ponder. The most problematic belief of Christianity for many stems from Jesus’ statement: “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) And in Acts 4:12, the Apostle Peter says of Christ: “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”
Some Christian theologians, such as Karl Rahner, have tried to soften these claims by arguing that those who have never heard of Christianity but live good and pious lives might also be saved by Jesus as “anonymous Christians.” This idea seems paternalistic and condescending to many non-Christians and fundamentally anti-Christian to other Christian theologians. So the argument continues.
The theology of Islam is very close to that of Judaism, although there does exist a proselytizing element in Muslim theology that also can rankle non-Muslims who want their own theologies recognized as valid and salvific on their own terms.
The theological problems with Hinduism have to do with its belief in many gods. Such practice strikes many non-Hindus as close to idolatry. However, the centrality of Brahman as the cosmic spirit of the universe does support a more monotheistic interpretation of Hinduism.
Brahman, by the way, is not to be confused with Brahma, one of the three chief gods of Hinduism, along with Vishnu and Shiva.
The theological beliefs of Buddhism are by far the most problematic to all forms of theistic religion, since Buddhism does not profess a belief in God. However, the Buddhist ethical teachings called the Eightfold Path derive a morality completely consistent with that derived from theistic religions. This fact has always been inspiring to me.
No matter how deep the theological differences may be, all the wisdom traditions of the world teach the same wisdom concerning our need to be caring and compassionate to all. I’ve always believed that if we stand on our ethical insights, we can see most clearly that the ways we are different are so much less important that the ways we’re all the same.
Q: I’m in my mid-50s, recently divorced. I have three children, all grown and on their own, and four grandchildren. When raising my children, I would classify myself as being only a “Sunday Christian.” Since then, my life has changed. I’ve been saved. It was not easy giving up a lifestyle I’d followed for many years, but I did and feel rewarded.
Now, I’m being told by a spiritual adviser that I should distance myself from my children because they’re not living a godly lifestyle. They all attend church, although I do consider them strictly “Sunday Christians” because of the ungodly people they hang around with and their lifestyle. I have a problem, however, with pulling away from them. Where would I be now if my spiritual adviser had taken that attitude with me?
I can understand not participating in any ungodly activities they’re involved with, and I agree that I don’t need ungodly influences, but distancing myself from my children seems like turning my back on them. I can’t do that. I’ve never heard of God turning His back on anyone. I need to show my children what God can do by witnessing to them.
Are there parts of the Bible that reflect on this situation? I have read that we need to distance ourselves from ungodly people and ungodly situations. Do you think it holds true in this case? — K., via email@example.com
A: I think your familial and theological instincts are correct. I follow the word of God that commands us regarding God’s laws to “Teach them to your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Teaching requires contact and love. I would urge you to continue to teach your children by godly witnessing, not judgmental distancing. God is not through with them yet, and God is not through saving you yet. We are saved together. Good luck and God bless!
Send questions only to firstname.lastname@example.org.