Friday, December 3, 2010

Are they really all the same?

A good friend once suggested that all religions are basically the same. Their leaders--like the Buddha and Jesus--were great teachers and at bottom their message was not different. My friend is a Unitarian atheist--the logical, or at least practical conclusion of "liberalism in religion" (the Unitarian slogan)--although, to be fair, my friend's atheism preceded his Unitarianism. I pointed out at the time that such a view, while appearing to look on all religions with tolerant acceptance, actually rests on the assumption that Christianity is false.

Now comes an excerpt from the first episode of what promises to be a wonderful series of documentary films called CATHOLICISM that is scheduled to come to the TV screen in September 2011. It makes the point brilliantly, not by criticizing other faiths, nor denying what is good and true and divinely inspired in them, but by explaining the heart of the Christian claim. Its title, "Amazed and Afraid," already suggests the very different nature of the choice to which the Christian faith--and indeed the whole Judeo-Christian tradition from Abraham on--impels us.

To the extent this is understood, we can see not only political and cultural reasons why Western secularists and cultural relativists tend to tolerate--even celebrate the diversity of--all faith traditions but Christianity and hence all cultures but their own. We can also see how the claims of Christianity itself, no matter how appreciative Christians are of the truths within other religions, cannot be reduced to a matter of indifference.

Religious indifferentism itself cannot tolerate Christianity. Indeed that is why so many Christians were martyred in the early centuries. The Roman Empire did not require anyone actually to believe in the official gods of the Roman state or to abandon their own gods. They just insisted that sacrifice be made to the state gods as a matter of political acquiescence and loyalty. But Christians, despite rendering unto Caesar what was his, would not render unto the emperor what belonged only to God. And they would not abandon Christ's order to evangelize in the face of persecution.

Father Robert Barron is an extraordinary speaker, cultural critic, and evangelist for the Catholic faith. His series, which I understand will be used for catechetical purposes across the country, holds promise for recovery from the disastrous failure of the Church to educate a generation of Catholics in their own faith. Even those in the chattering classes (the 'cultural elite' of the media, academia, and certain professions) who hold no good will whatever toward Catholicism, will--if they watch with anything approaching an open mind--be challenged and informed in new ways.

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