by Alan Wolfe
from Signs of the Times No 52 - Jan 2014
Those of us who have problems with 'comparative religion' tend to read specialist books by experts on Islam, or Buddhism, or Christian Science and so on.
This book, though handling the subject in less depth, is nevertheless extremely helpful in a different way. The editor, an academic, has collected from his acquaintance representative believing practitioners of 12 different religions - from Baha’i to Wicca - and asked them to summarise in 1-2 pages each the answers of their religion to five questions:
What is God?
What is Faith?
What is Evil?
What is Contemplation?
What Happens When We Die?
The given answers suggest that while no two systems of belief are identical, there is huge overlap in many areas between many of them, and the possibility we should be able at least occasionally to worship alongside several (most of whom should welcome us). Monotheism in particular extends far beyond the three 'people of the Book', Jews, Christians and Muslims.
As the Baha’i put it:
'because we as human beings cannot directly access and know [the One and Only] God, He has in each age sent a pure and stainless soul who has acted as an intermediary between God and humanity. These intermediaries (or “Manifestations of God”) have included such historical figures as Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, the Bab and Baha’u’llah. They have been the founders if the world’s great religions. The Manifestations are God’s representatives - “mirrors that truly and faithfully reflect the light of God”. Although God’s essence will forever remain unknowable to the human mind, God’s qualities - such as love, mercy, knowledge and power - may be known through the Manifestations who perfectly reflect these divine attributes.'
The common attitudes however do not always overlap with Christianity, particularly some of its most traditional ones. For example many find belief in any personification of Evil clashes with their monotheism, and that 'evil' means simply 'absence of good', for which humankind has to take full responsibility.
The least consensus was about the last question where nobody offered a definitive answer, only opinions or beliefs with little justification, although the 'Heaven or Hell' of mediaeval Christianity gets very little support!