Some years ago I was on a panel with a Muslim cleric, talking about our differences in front of a group of college students. And one college student kept insisting, ‘Well, I listened to you both for twenty minutes, and I want you to know that I just don’t see any real difference between you. I just don’t see any difference between the religions. It seems like they’re basically saying God is love and we should love God and love one another.’ In our responses to the student the cleric and I were in complete agreement. At first glance it looks tolerant to say ‘you are both alike,’ but each of us argued gently that the student was not showing enough respect to listen to each religion’s distinctive voice. Each faith had made unique claims that contradicted the deepest teachings of other faiths. And so, we concluded, while each faith could certainly appreciate wisdom in the other, we couldn’t both be right at the deepest level. The student maintained his position, saying that all religions are fundamentally alike.
Ironically, the young man was being every bit as dogmatic, superior, and ideological as any traditional religious adherent can be. He was saying, in essence, ‘I have the true view of religion, and you don’t. I can see that you are alike, but you can’t. I am spiritually enlightened, and you aren’t.’ But as I spoke to him a bit afterward I concluded that he was motivated by an underlying fear. If he granted that any religion made unique claims, then he would have to decide whether or not those claims were true. He did not want the responsibility of having to ponder, weigh it all, and choose. Among young secular adults it is common to adopt this belief that all religions are roughly the same. Dare I say this is a form of emotional immaturity? Life is filled with hard choices, and it is childish to think you can avoid them. It may seem to get you out of a lot of hard work, but the idea of the equivalence of religions is simply a falsehood. Every religion, even those that appear more inclusive, makes its own unique claim. But Jesus’ claims are particularly unnerving, because if they are true there is no alternative but to bow the knee to him. The annunciation pushes the exclusivity of Jesus right in our face. It demands a response and shows us there is a lot of hard work to do.
- Tim Keller