A current maxim of today’s post-post-modern culture is to say that “all religions are essentially the same.” What is usually meant by that statement is that, while many religions may differ in their particulars, they all essentially teach the same thing: love your neighbor as yourself. This is commonly called the Golden Rule, and is supposed to be the center of every religion. Or so it is claimed.
Taking a look at Christianity, this “golden rule” was actually taught by Jesus, so many Christians and non-Christians point to this to back up the contention that all religions essentially teach the same thing. Jesus said, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12). Some English Bibles even have as the subheading “The Golden Rule” for the section in which this verse appears.
However, what is mistaken by many of the Christian faith, and outside of it, is that this is the gospel. This, however, is not the gospel. This is one of the greatest commandments that God and Jesus gave his people, but it is not the center of Christianity. The gospel, which is the center of Christianity, is defined in a number of places in Scripture (1 Cor 15:3ff; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 2:15-21; among others). In this sense, then, all religions aren’t the same, because all other religions deny Jesus as God who died a substitutionary atonement for sin.
The gospel is that we are unable to fulfill the Law on our own strength. We are sinners and we fail miserably. So Jesus condescended himself to the form of a human, lived the perfect life we were unable to live, and then suffered the punishment that we were supposed to receive, so that whoever puts their faith in him receives eternal life. Biblical Christianity, not cultural fundamentalism or right-wing political institutionalism, is about what Jesus did for you–not what you can do for him. All other religions, including distortions of biblical Christianity, are radically different, in that they make you conform to a certain way to earn God’s favor. Biblical Christianity says, God did it for you; and conforming to his way is an enablement by God as a response in faith.
So where does the Golden Rule fit into Christianity? Well, when we put our faith in Jesus and give our life to him, God changes us from the inside out so that in his strength, we are able to now fulfill this Golden Rule. Not to earn anything, but as a reflection of who we have become in him.
4 thoughts on ““All Religions are Essentially the Same”: The Golden Rule and the Gospel”
Great message! You really pulled it all together and effectively convey exactly what makes Christianity different than other religions. Looking forward to reading more of your post.
As I heard it well said by a professor teaching world religions once: “Sure, if you bracket out everything that makes the world’s religions completely different, then the bits you have left over will be the same,” but they won’t be recognizable as any actually existing religion.
Two quibbles with this post:
1) Actually, it is typically a modernist move to claim that all religions are “really the same” by reducing religion to ethics. The typical post-modern move is to claim that they are so different that there is nothing in common at all. That we can find both notions floating around in Western popular culture today is simply more evidence that shifts from one cultural era to the next never really happen in clean, orderly fashion.
2) Christianity actually is not unique for being a grace-based religion. Check out, for example, Amida Buddhism. The unique thing about Christianity is that it is the only religion centred on Jesus Christ. The key point for Christianity is the recognition that this man is the Lord and Saviour of the world. That does produce a unique overall soteriological configuration, but “grace, not works” isn’t a unique element. Ask Dr. Mark Boda next time you see him whether there is grace in the Old Testament, or just works, if you want a quick and decisive demonstration that Christianity didn’t uniquely introduce the idea of grace.
To put it succinctly, Christianity’s distinctiveness and relevance lies in the unique person of Christ, not a (supposedly) unique explanation of how individuals can find salvation.
To put it even more succinctly: it’s all about Jesus, not soteriology.
Jon, thanks for the response. (This is very late!) I agree with you for the most part, that the OT does “preach” grace over works, and that Christianity is centered (if there is an actual center) on Christology, not soteriology. But, without dividing too much Christianity and OT Judaism, how is Christianity not the only religion based on works? I am not so familiar with Amida Buddhism, but from my very brief investigation, it seems like Amidism is traced earliest to the second century in China. And Buddhism in general seems to be more of a philosophy of life than a religion based on a transcendent God. Can you explain further what you mean? Thanks for the interaction!