Umbrella Faith?
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I recently completed my first year of college. During that year, I was able to examine the lives of many of my fellow students -- their beliefs, their mentalities, their personalities, their goals, etc.

One characteristic that seemed to stand out as perhaps unique was the tendency to make up religions by combining religions. Many people I met did not identify with a particular faith or denomination or even classify themselves as agnostic or atheist. Rather they, seemingly independently, grouped Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity into one faith. How could four completely different religions have enough in common to serve as an "umbrella" faith? At first, I didn’t have an answer. With time and many questions, however, I realized that the answer is quite simple. The answer is God.

In past times, a common answer to the famed question “What does it take to go to Heaven” has been “good works.” Indeed, this answer is still very common, perhaps even the most anticipated answer (well, maybe except for “I don’t know” combined with stumbling and sweating palms). Yet recently, I've noticed that “faith in God” is also a common answer. I know what you are thinking . . . YES! Maybe we are making strides, maybe America is finally understanding that faith, not works, is the good news. I had the same positive reaction . . . until I heard what college students meant when they gave this answer.

According to this new “umbrella” faith,” the religions in which God is a common denominator can be grouped together as one. They are all essentially the same faith, but somewhere in history they simply got "confused." As long as one has faith in a god, any god, that person will go to heaven. The idea is that there are multiple paths to heaven, all relating back to that common god. I’ve heard time and time again that these religions aren’t really that different. Maybe this is true when comparing them at surface level -- they all have a god, right? (Buddha is actually not considered a god in Buddhism; however, many people fail to recognize this fact.)

The problem, however, is that, when examined in depth, these religions are different -- so different, in fact, that they're contradictory. It is impossible to believe in all four, or even believe that all can be part of an “umbrella” faith, if one were to truly understand the core values.

If one acknowledges the true doctrine of each religion, it is possible to see how different they are. In Romans 3:28, Paul says, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” Christianity is based on faith in Jesus Christ, not works. While Judaism recognizes the Christian God, its followers must earn their faith by works, by following the Jewish law. They do not recognize that Jesus has come as Messiah, the basis of Christianity. In Islam, salvation is based on work through implementing the five pillars of faith. Similarly, Buddhists have to work for their salvation in order to be reincarnated as a higher level in the next life. This brings us to another subject -- both Muslims and Christians believe in an afterlife, while Buddhists believe in reincarnation. The topic of sacrifice reveals even more differences. Islam practices animal sacrifice on the holiday Eid al-Adha, while Buddhists condemn animal sacrifices and Christians have no need for it because of the sacrifice in Jesus Christ.

And so this new “umbrella” faith has me confused. But, most of all, I am saddened. If these same students really understood, were educated about the real facts of these religions instead of the surface-level, thought-to-be “facts,” they would not be fooled by a universal god. How can a god that requires his followers to work for salvation also teach that one needs to have only faith? How can a god that promises eternal life to his followers also preach reincarnation? Why would a god that requires sacrifice send his son so that sacrifices would no longer be needed? Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity cannot lead back to the same god. They teach different doctrines. It is impossible.


Comments:

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Curious
Designer Christianity? Is that what being an EpiscaBaptiCostal is all about?
On its own logic is never sufficent but in order to have sound logic one must know all the facts. Far too often people don't search for the facts behind their beliefs.
One reason people today may be more willing to abandon sound logic is because they have grown up in a culture steeped in humanistic thinking. Without even realizing it, they employ existential methodology, which isolates reason from non-reason. Faith, values, meaning, and optimism are placed in the realm of non-reason. When this happens, values become obsolete. Without any standard of values, men are free to pick and choose whatever they wish to believe as their "faith" because it really doesn't matter in the end. As Francis Schaeffer stated it, "Once people adopt this dichotomy - where reason is separated totally from non-reason - they must then face the fact that many types of things can be put in the area of non-reason. And it really does not matter what one chooses to put there, because reason gives no basis for a choice between one thing or another."
Today's BP broadcast
To me, this thread is related to Eric Metaxas' commentary today.

One thing which I think might be relevant to this discussion is the relative infrequency with which the entirety of human experience is addressed in churches, with the constant pressure to make the Xn life always seem positive, positive, positive!
I think that a more frequent engagement with the OT, such as the lives (and prophecies) of the prophets, might be significantly therapeutic, in that it would show this upcoming generation that the Bible DOES take seriously the REAL struggles and hardships, pains and disappointments in Life.

In how many churches is "Blessed are those who mourn" given more than polite adherence?
Someone somewhere
I have always found it amusing/encouraging that the author of Hebrews had to resort to this same 'somewhere,' in Heb. 2:6.

Is it biblical to not have all your citations at hand? (well, except for this one?) I knew someone who would always resort to, "I think it's in Romans."
Ellen
Ellen,

Thanks for sharing your story... "Someone somewhere" -- too funny!! I'll definitely try to keep you entertained with my university stories. I have many :)

Megan
Megan, allow me to add my belated "Welcome!" to all the others who were more prompt.

Your post reminds me a little bit of what it was to be PC on my university campus ... ooh, was it really 20 years ago? An overheard conversation:

Girl: "I can't eat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese anymore!"
Boy: "Why not?"
Girl: "It's not PC."
Boy: "Why not?"
Girl: "Oh, I don't know, but somebody somewhere said it's not PC, so I can't eat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese anymore."

I kid you not. She really said "somebody somewhere" and based her choice of action on that.

As the mom of two elementary school kids, I look forward to all your posts to get a glimpse of current university life and challenges my kids might face in their futures.
Jason
Jason,

I actually haven't thought of your idea, but thanks for brining it to my attention. I wasn't raised on "Exclusivism," but I definitely grew up thinking that Southern Baptists had everything right. I'm not saying that they do or don't, but when I went to college and joined a nondenominational church, my eyes were open... wide open. It definitely took some getting used to and I had to be more accepting than ever of other denominations. Joining a nondenom church was probably the best decision I made in college. It definitely changed my view on Christianity.

Megan
Elyssa
Elyssa,

I have had the same experience with people “suppressing what is written on their hearts,” so I agree with your statement. I have also met people, however, who truly aren’t convicted or unsure about their beliefs – they are just simply uneducated about the different religions, and don’t have enough information to realize how different these faiths truly are. They think a god from one faith is the god from the other faith, and they truly believe this – with no conviction. That is what worries me. As you said, it comes down to reading, which can reveal so much hidden information and context.

Megan
You're welcome Carol.
Jason
Thank you, dear, for your post about Exclusivism. You hit the nail on the head as far as my dad was concerned. In a Sunday School class, he heard that only those members of that particular denomination could go to heaven. His best friend did not belong to dad's denomination. When he left church that day, he swore he'd never go back. And, he didn't. Aside from weddings and funerals, he never attended church again unil my daughters were born. He was there for their baptisms. After my mother died, I made it my goal to "love Dad into God". I don't know if I accomplished my goal or not, but he seemed to be softening when he died.

While not denying the importance of church attendance, THAT was not my goal. Church is what you do AFTER you meet Jesus and fall in love with Him.

And, finally, I need to mention that I don't care much for the appelation, "Designer" Christians. I've seen some designer things that I thought were quite pretty. "Designer" Christianity is not! I like "umbrella" Christians as a designation because I can see a vast assembly of people herded together under their umbrellas, hoping the silly things will hold together in a storm! Or, there's always the name Catholics have used for 40+ years: "Cafeteria" Catholics. They pick-and-choose their beliefs, wrap them all up in a big red bow, and then go out to have some fun! What a sad state to live in.
Have you ever considered a fairly simple explanation? Children raised on Exclusivism when confronted by a choice between illogic and accepting the damnation of their friends just might well say, "fooey on logic".
My experience has been that many people today no longer employ thinking that involves reason and logic in an attempt to supress what is "written on their hearts". If they truly sought out all of the assumptions behind their beliefs, they would quickly discover that many of their beliefs actually contradict each other. When we do think about the implications of a belief and how it applies to daily life, we are forced to make adjustments as to why we believe it, discard the belief altogether, or incorporate its applications into our life.
It also carries over into reading. Real reading requires thinking and reasoning about what is read. Deep thinking has a tendency of revealing things that we try to ignore or keep hidden.
Good job!
Megan, may I add my congratulations to those of others here. Good job!

I do have a thought that is tangentially related, I think.

One large concern I have about those under 30 (35?) is how much ability and how much interest they have in READING. I ask this because so many modes of communication in American culture these days seem to be immediate, instant, visual, and possibly quite ephemeral.

Yet the Bible is to be READ, and I simply see no way around this. Videos and YouTube just cannot communicate with much depth, nor can songs.

If a person has not read a lot, and read broadly, then how can he/she be expected to pick up on tone, atmosphere, irony, sarcasm, and so on? How can they possibly appreciate Paul's rhetorical technique in 2 Cor. 11:18-21, as one example?

I will be interested to hear what you and others think about this matter, what appears to be a kind of illiteracy, especially as it will affect the future of the American church.
Dennis,

Thanks for the welcome. Gina doesn't seem TOO bad. haha :)

I completely agree with your statement -"Designer Christians" definitely are not influential. And God calls us to be influential - to not be ashamed of the Gospel! Designer Christianity really isn't Christianity, just like lukewarm Christians aren't really Christians.

Megan
Topher,

I completely agree. As a young adult, you get where I'm coming from, especially with college campuses. Even if some people are confident in their faith, many do not show it. Our world would radically change if the next generation, those in college now, would stand up for their beliefs – as you mentioned, stand up for the ONE true Christian God.

Megan
Jason,

Thanks for the analogy... so true!

Megan
LeeQuod,

Thanks for the kind comments. I’m blessed to be here at Breakpoint and to get to interact with the readers! Thanks for the story about CS Lewis (he always knew what to say). That is so true - "Grace" defines Christianity over all other religions. None of the other faiths - Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism - mentioned in my post are focused around grace like Christianity, which is what makes it so special!

Megan
Carol,

Thanks for sharing your personal story. I hope that, through you, your grandson can see how passionate you are about your faith, like you said, and that he will want to adopt that same passion. It sounds as if he is open to discussion which is always a great sign!! I love the way you're going about it. Your love for your grandson is evident. By not catechizing him, you are facilitating this open dialogue.

Megan
Kevin,

I agree with you: I definitely think some people are dishonest -- they can't stand the thought of all the "rules" of Christianity. From my experience, I've also noticed that many (though not all) of the people who claim this faith can be strong-willed and perhaps slightly arrogant. Perhaps they don't want to admit others are right (if they have even the slightest inclination) or do not want to submit to an omniscient and omnipotent God. But, some are also just uneducated about the subject. Thankfully, however, these same people are the easiest to talk to. They want to learn about the "real" Christianity, even if they don't later adopt it. Thanks for your feedback.
Hey Tim,

I was able to do some research on that UNC study last night. I definitely found it relevant to my post! I thought it was interesting how they broke Moralistic Therapeutic Deism into five points:

1) "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth."

(2) "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions."

(3) "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself."

(4) "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem."

(5) "Good people go to heaven when they die."

I noticed that nowhere in the five points was "Christ" mentioned. And, actually, the article I read went on to say that "even secular researchers recognized that this creed is a far cry from Christianity, with no place for sin, judgment, salvation, or Christ." Glad they pointed that out!

Two other points that stood out to me were...

1) The people who have adopted this religion are active in their churches (this makes me wonder if churches are too concerned with attendance numbers, and thus focused on preaching what their members want to hear rather than the truth)

2) It is considered a "dominant American religion"

Again, thanks for sharing. I definitely found it relevant and interesting. Glad some researchers were able to put a real name to the "new religion" rather than "umbrella faith."
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