Question: I think we should look at similarities rather than differences between religions, as focusing on differences separates people. What do you think?
Answer: It’s actually important to see both similarities and differences. Real respect comes from recognising differences and making peace with them. Respect from looking only at similarities while ignoring differences isn’t genuine enough as it is conditioned by incomplete perception, which is to that extent delusional.
Question: Someone was talking to me about Christianity. Seeing some similarities with Buddhism, I highlighted them, but was drawn to the differences, as the intention was to convert me.
Answer: It is in reality crucial for every religion to differentiate their teachings from others’, lest they get swallowed up, generalised, forgotten. This dilution problem is one of the reasons why Buddhism faded into near oblivion in India in the past – when Hinduism assimilated it, though not completely, due to clear and present distinct ideological differences.
Question: But if we focus more on similarities, we can live with each other more harmoniously?
Answer: It is not difficult to focus on religious similarities – but this is semi-hypocritical because it means to feign ignorance of the differences in thought and practice. Such suppression might be a time-bomb of tension waiting to explode.
For example, as Christians generally believe most of us will go to ‘eternal hell’ (while only 144,000 virgin ‘sons of Israel’ will make it to ‘eternal heaven’, according to the Bible at Revelation 7:3-8 and Revelation 14:3-5), some try hard to impress the threat of eternal hell on others, to convert as many as they can (who are many more than 144,000 though, including many virgin and non-virgin females, non-virgin males and non-descendants of Israel) – even when many say ‘No thanks’.
There are unfortunate cases of forced bedside conversion and such – that lead to distressing last moments and family disputes. This is an important reason why there is a need for all to both recognise religious similarities – for harmony, and religious differences – also for harmony – by being clear that we have different ideologies – that they have to be respected – when alive and when dying. There is a need for harmony precisely because there are differences. Thankfully, not all religionists are extreme in conversion.
Question: I have to admit that listening about another religion at length really needs plenty of patience.
Answer: It takes the most patience when the other party is resistant to a genuine two-way dialogue, and is more interested in impressing their views. It takes even more patience when we are also eager for them to hear our views.
Question: After some time listening, I became resistant to views different from Buddhist teachings.
Answer: It is actually natural and healthy to be resistant to wrong views – if they are really seen as wrong. There is a difference between being resistant and being disrespectful. The Buddha in his time resisted against endorsing wrong views and even spoke against them rationally, but was always respectful to those who chose to subscribe to them.
Question: I left feeling exhausted and wondering why there are so many religions in the world.
‘There is a diversity of religious beliefs in our world simply because there is a corresponding diversity of mindsets. Even two random adherents of the same faith are unlikely to have totally identical views. We need to respect this worldly reality – before arguing on any spiritual reality. If not, there would be no harmony but only conflict. Surely, a religion that is pro-conflict is not one we need. What if it is a central tenet of a religion that it cannot agree to disagree with others? Thankfully, there is no such religion in practice today, or there would be inter-religious chaos. With all orthodox religions advocating peace, this implies that those who cannot agree to disagree might not really be religious at heart.’
Question: To those of other religions, they would think theirs is the truth .
Answer: This is exactly why the onus is on the discerning individual to investigate, to reflect on what really makes sense adequately.
Question: It is indeed important to know both differences and similarities of religions, but I think we should not overly focus on the differences, such that one feels superior to another and generates conflicts.
Answer: Contrary to popular belief, as mentioned, real harmony comes not from focusing on similarities only – which is what most believe at the moment. There are actually not enough people highlighting the need to know both similarities and differences. It is actually natural to feel that one’s religion is superior to others. If not, one’s refuge in one’s religion would be ambivalent, and not wholehearted. However, there is a difference between being confident with one’s faith, and being an arrogant and insensitive bigot, which no one would welcome, as in the quote above.
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