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The God Squad: Many paths up the same mountain

Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Content Agency on

Q: I am a little confused about different religions. I am a Christian, I believe there is one God, and his name is Jesus Christ. (I don't believe in the trinity). Jesus is that one God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob wrapped in flesh. You are a Jew, you believe in one God and his title is Yahweh, or Jehovah, or the I Am. Muslims believe his name is Allah. These are not different names for the same God, because if that were true, we would follow the same teachings. So, are there multiple gods up there or is there just one God and some of us are right and some of us are wrong?

I am aware of your "different paths up the same mountain" analogy, but I don't see that teaching in any religion except your column. Can we believe what we want to believe and expect God to follow us, or are we supposed to find out what God wants, and follow Him? – (From R)

A: Let’s start with the mountain. If the teaching that, " There are many religions in the world for the same reason that there are many paths up the same mountain to the same summit" was just something I made up, I would still believe it. It just does not make any sense to me that God would give all the truth of life and salvation to just one faith and no truth to any other faith. Truth is just too broad and complex to be contained completely in only one faith.

I am also amazed how different religions with no contact still were able to develop exactly the same teachings. The Golden Rule appears in exactly the same form in the teachings of many different climbers to God. The core teachings of all the religions of the world are remarkably similar.

The problem with spiritual mountain climbing is when we encounter climbers who believe firmly that their way is the only way up. There is a part of their religious pride that I do admire. I personally believe that Judaism is a perfect blend of theology and history, but my friendship with Father Tom convinced me (and him) that other faiths had so much to teach us. We were more than friends to each other. We were teachers for each other. That is why the mountain was true for us.

Now this does not mean that every teaching in every religion is equally true. It is equally obvious to me that some of the teachings that have found their way into sacred scriptures of every faith reflect not the word of a just, loving God but the human interjection of ancient bigotries. Sorting out what parts of our inherited religious teachings are from God-inspired teachers and what parts are from God-deluded teachers is the main task of all religious seekers. Even fundamentalist folk are not free from the task of explaining how God could teach both love and prejudice.

 

That is what I believe, but fortunately it is also what the great faiths also believe. Islam and Christianity both teach that the prophets of the Hebrew Bible were real prophets of the same God. The rabbis of Judaism taught that,“The righteous of all nations shall have a share in the World To Come.” In the Christian Testament Paul taught that God’s covenant with the Jewish people was valid forever and that, There are different gifts but the same Spirit. There are different ministries but the same Lord. There are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone … it is one and the same Spirit who produces all these gifts, distributing them to each as He wills. (I Corinthians 12:4-11)

So you see, the mountain is not Gellman’s mountain. The mountain is God’s mountain. Our task as spiritual mountain climbers is to learn from the other climbers. Their teachings, their songs, their prayers, their foods, their holy days. Everything that they have brought with them in their ascent to God in this life that has nourished them might well nourish us. I was recently doing a Buddhist breathing meditation and afterward thanked God for sending the Buddha. I know he lived at about the same time as the prophet Isaiah who taught,“In sitting still you shall be saved.” (Isaiah 30:15) That is also what the Buddha taught. I wonder to this day if over the spice roads of the ancient world a Buddhist monk encountered a Jewish prophet and if they ate a meal together and drank some tea and shared some stories … about mountain climbing to God.

(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at godsquadquestion@aol.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman. Also, the new God Squad podcast is now available.)

©2024 The God Squad. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


(c) 2024 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

 

 

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