Those who argue that all religions are essentially the same reveal the fact that they know little about these very different belief systems. The worldview of Christianity is, for example, radically different from the belief structure of Buddhism (some forms of which may actually claim to resist the very idea of beliefs).
These differences in belief systems are apparent in Lisa Miller’s recent article for Newsweek. As she explains, “A million-plus Hindus live in the United States, a fraction of the billion who live on Earth. But recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.”
Many Christians will flinch when reading this. Does this mean that Hindu temples are appearing across the American landscape? Not hardly. What Miller describes is the transformation of the belief system in ways that resemble Hinduism. Her argument deserves a fair hearing.
She begins by quoting a Hindu writing, the Rig Veda: “Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names.” The idea of one truth known by many names is not new. Indeed, it is central to polytheism and the syncretistic beliefs of several historic and current worldviews. Hinduism is radically polytheistic and syncretistic. According to Hindu belief, the many gods and goddesses of their veneration all represent one fundamental divine reality. The idea of a singular and exclusive truth is antithetical to classical Hinduism.
So what is Lisa Miller’s point? She suggests that contemporary Americans, including many who consider themselves Christians, are abandoning the exclusive truth claims of Christianity for a form of theological pluralism or relativism.
“A Hindu believes there are many paths to God. Jesus is one way, the Qur’an is another, yoga practice is a third. None is better than any other; all are equal,” she asserts. Christianity, on the other hand, has affirmed that Jesus Christ is the only Savior, and that the only way of salvation is through faith in Him.
“Americans are no longer buying it,” she insists, and by this she means many American Christians. She cites a 2008 Pew Forum survey that indicated major slippage in terms of Christian conviction. According to the Pew Forum survey, 65 percent of Americans believe that “many religions can lead to eternal life.” More tellingly, 37 percent of those identified as white evangelicals shared this belief.
Miller cites Stephen Prothero, a leading researcher on American religion, who defined this “divine-deli-cafeteria religion” as “very much in the spirit of Hinduism.” As he added, “You’re not picking and choosing from different religions, because they’re all the same.” This is not exactly like traditional Hinduism, of course, but it works in much the same way. As he explains, “It isn’t about orthodoxy. It’s about whatever works. If going to yoga works, great—and if going to Catholic mass works, great. And if going to Catholic mass plus the yoga plus the Buddhist retreat works, that’s great, too.”
There is every reason to believe that Lisa Miller and Stephen Prothero are correct in these assessments. Without doubt, Americans have been growing more and more accepting of plural and relative understandings of truth. A tragically large number of those who identify as Christians have been drinking from the same wells of thought.
The exclusivity of the Gospel is not merely a facet of the church’s message. Indeed, a Gospel that does not affirm that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone is not the Gospel of Christ, but a false gospel. As Lisa Miller correctly recites, Jesus did say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” [John 14:6]
Another aspect of the story is this: Many Americans have such a doctrineless understanding of Christianity that they do not even know what the Gospel is — not even remotely. A greater tragedy is that so many who consider themselves Christians seem to share in this confusion.
Many observers who trace these trends see this doctrinal shift among Christians as a good development. After all, if you hold to nothing more than a functional view of religion, this might seem to promise less conflict among religious believers. But, if you believe that truth is essential to Christian faith, there is every reason to see these trends as nothing less than catastrophic. Nothing less than our witness to the Gospel of Christ is at stake.
Are we becoming a nation of Hindus? Well, in this sense it appears perhaps we are. The really urgent question is whether the Church will regain its theological sanity and evangelistic courage to resist this trend. If not, being described as a nation of Hindus will be the least of our problems.
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