“COMPARING THE WORLD’S GREAT RELIGIONS” by Judge Jim Gray 09/07/08
For a long time I have wanted to take a class about the comparative religions of the world, but it has never worked out. Nevertheless, and especially considering last week’s column about the dangerous situations all around the world due to the merging of church and state, I thought I would try to learn about and then discuss one or two of the world’s great religions in each of our upcoming columns for the next few weeks. Unfortunately, our public schools seem to have treated this fascinating and critical subject as taboo for many decades, but there is no logical reason for this situation to continue.
Please join me in this endeavor. Each day the world seems to become a smaller place, which means that all of our “neighbors” keep getting closer to us. So it would promote peace in the world for all of us to have a better understanding of each other’s religions, customs and points of view.
But as we begin, please understand that, although I will consult with knowledgeable people, I myself have no particular expertise or background in these subjects. That means I might at times misspeak or make other mistakes. Please do not take offense if I do, and please feel free to correct me. But if this will make us all a little less ignorant about our own and other people’s religions, it will be well worth the effort.
Of course, let us also not delude ourselves that simply by espousing universal education about each other’s religions, or engaging in interfaith dialogue we will somehow miraculously close the divide among Muslims, Christians, Jews and others. Throughout history, even a common religious background has not deterred significant difficulties among people of the same faith, such as Catholic and Protestant Christians, Orthodox and Reformed Jews, and Sunni and Shiite Muslims. But such efforts will at least allow us to focus upon real differences instead of false or even imagined ones.
Let us begin by making the point that each of the world’s great religions has similar values of peace, justice and respect for our parents and elders. Of course all of them are quite different from each other in many ways, but their basic values are similar. In addition, it is also true that each of the holy books of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths contain some “problematic” passages that can be interpreted as asserting superiority of its particular faith over all of the others.
For example, a passage in the Gospel of Mark in the Bible says: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Similarly a verse from Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Scriptures says: “(O)f all the peoples of the earth the Lord your God chose you to be his treasured people.” And also chapter 5, verse 51 of the Koran says: “Anyone who takes (Jews and Christians) as an ally becomes one of them - God does not guide such wrongdoers.” As we have seen, some people in each of these religions have used their interpretations of these passages for their own radical ends.
But despite these problems, let us try to move toward a mindset of “respect” for the religions, values and beliefs of others, as long as they do not profess or condone violence or subjugation over others, as opposed to a “tolerance” for those beliefs. The former connotes that all people who worship sincerely in their communities are entitled to be respected. The latter basically implies that other people’s beliefs are really mistaken or even silly, but we who have the “true faith” will patronize and humor those people by allowing them to persist in their deluded conditions.
Actually, the seeds of these articles were planted when I heard Dr. John Huffman include in his sermon at St. Andrew’s Church in Newport Beach a reference to a book written by Charles Colson and Harold Fickett entitled “The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters.” So I decided that if this book had Dr. Huffman’s “seal of approval,” I would read it.
I did so, and thus discovered many things I did not know about my own protestant religion. This led to further reading adventures about other religions, which disclosed much additional interesting information. For example, Jews have between 4 and 7 “expressions” or denominations of their religion, depending upon how you count them. Moslems have a score or more, and Buddhists even a greater number. Hindus, Mormons, and other faith groups also have quite a few divisions as well.
But Christians take the cake. They have literally thousands of denominations or expressions around the world. In fact there are somewhere around 470 denominations in the United States alone. Generally, most Christians see this diversity as both good and bad. It is “good” in that it speaks to how many ways there are to approach God and to worship and follow Him, and it also allows for individual personality and cultural needs. It is “bad” in that it is can be confusing to others, and also because so many of the religious differences are over seemingly small issues. But to summarize, and to quote my own pastor, to talk about Christianity is to talk about differences.
So in the coming few weeks I invite you to join us in exploring the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist religions, as well as humanist and some other atheistic views of life. We will begin next week with an exploration of Judaism as well as Christianity, which I openly acknowledge as being my faith. And throughout these weeks to come, if you have a different good faith perspective about any of the religions we discuss, please feel free to share it with all of us on the Daily Pilot’s website.
James P. Gray is a Judge of the Superior Court in California, the author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It - A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs (Temple University Press, 2001) and Wearing The Robe - The Art And Responsibilities of Judging In Today's Courts, has a blog at http://judgejamesgray.blogspot.com/. http://www.judgejimgray.com, and can be contacted at www.judgejimgray.com.