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.