All religions are not the same
I think the opinion essay by Stephen Prothero in the May 17 issue, "Stop thinking that all religions are essentially the same" raises a number of good points about doctrinal differences between religions that we too often paper over in an effort to all just "get along."
The mature interfaith dialogue begins with a willingness to understand unity as something beyond sameness.
The interest today in spirituality rather than religion reflects that many are more earnestly wanting a discussion not of a belief system but how they as individuals experience the holy, transformative moments, and encounters with the divine.
In the deepest moments of prayer, people – like spokes on a wheel – are closer to others also approaching the hub of the wheel.
Way too much sharing of faith, even within the same religious tradition, is done with the externals of belief ideologies rather than discussions of "how do you feel close to God."
James Fowler's now classic work "Stages of Faith" outlines that people functioning at the higher levels of their given belief system may have more in common with those at the same level in a differing system than they do with those operating at a lower level within their own.
Fowler's highest stage is loving without thought of return, something not achieved by many people in any religious tradition, but the sort of spiritual practice that – for the one on the journey – may enable one to authentically see a universality that cognitive or intellectual discourse never will.
Stephen Prothero misses the mark by dismissing the fact that it is important to understand the role of worldviews in determining our spiritual beliefs.
Are all religions the same? No.
Has our focus on these differences caused humanity difficulties? Obviously, yes.
Do we collectively need to develop a realistic view of religion so that we can be respectful of our differences yet through healthy dialogue "agree to disagree" on those details? The answer is yes.
Many totally dismiss other worldviews as not being based in "reality" when they themselves do not realize how their own lens is defining for them what reality is.
What's called for here is to put on what philosopher Ken Wilber would call an integral viewpoint. Using an integral viewpoint allows us to see how humanity is evolving – both internally and externally.
The Buddhists have a saying that we should focus our attention on the moon, not the fingers pointing at the moon.
As Mr. Prothero focuses us upon all of the fingers of religion, of course we all see differences.
Rev. Mark Gilbert