And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.” - Isaiah 29:12
Both Mormonism and Islam claim that a new prophet arrived after the time of Christ and delivered new scripture to the world. Both Mormons and Muslims claim that contradictory teachings between their faiths and the bible are the result of corruptions in the biblical text (the Quran itself doesn’t actually support this position, but that’s another discussion). Both Mormons and Muslims have tried to validate their respective prophets by pointing to supposed prophecies in the bible foretelling their founders.
On September 18th, 2017, Deseret News ran an article wherein Russell M. Nelson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church “invites young adults to study the Bible with him.” President Nelson reported that “he is seeking to learn how the inspired and holy ancient record predicted the coming of the Book of Mormon.” He said, “I want to find its prophecies about the Restoration of the gospel in its fullness in these latter days.” The article recounts a conversation that Nelson had with an unnamed Protestant minister. In this conversation, he appeals to Isaiah 29 and Ezekiel 37 as prophecies foretelling Joseph’s delivery of new scripture. I find it interesting that the article does not recount said Protestant minister’s response to these supposed prophecies about the Book of Mormon, but I can only speculate as to why and such speculations would be pointless at best and uncharitable at worst.
I spent my weekend helping out with a large-scale evangelistic event in the area. Held every year, it has become a staple of the local Christian community and something many look forward to. For the most part, it is always a positive experience with thousands of people coming to Christ, good music, and a small glimpse of heaven when we see dozens of churches working together for the sake of the gospel and joining together in communal worship. However, what has become equally common is the… well, embarrassing side of the church coming out as well.
Every year, we see that same group of protestors coming out with their signs trying to keep people from entering. Every year, we get Adventist street preachers railing against the leadership because we don’t focus on sabbath-keeping. Last year we saw the addition of a pro-life group that shows up with large, pool-table-sized pictures of bloodied, aborted babies and photoshopped pictures of crying children on fire as they’re sacrificed to Molech (Lev. 18:21, Jer. 32:35). They like to stand right at the entrance so I always have to shield my 7-year-old’s eyes or distract him as we walk by. I understand what they’re trying to do, but there’s a time and a place for grotesque imagery in the abortion debate and a family-oriented event is not one of them. Furthermore, I can’t imagine why they feel the need to protest abortion at an event organized and attended largely by people who are already pro-life. This year I came across an older man wearing a t-shirt that said, “Hetero Pride” in large, bold letters and had a crossed-out picture of stick-figure men having sex. Very classy. For whatever reason, these events always bring out the best and the worst in the church.
About this time last year, a Google Chrome extension was released on the Google store that automatically replaced the term “pro-life” with “anti-choice”. As with everything else in the abortion debate, both sides were quickly up in arms. The anonymous creator of the extension explained that he/she created it in an attempt to clarify the debate. It has been pointed out before that the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are flawed because they naturally demonize the opposing party. The implied opposite of being “pro-life” is to be “pro-death” or “anti-life” and no pro-choice advocate would ever claim such a position. Likewise, to say that you’re not “pro-choice” is to say that you’re pro-coercion or, as the extension claims, “anti-choice” which has never been the position of those fighting against abortion. However, flawed as the terms may be, the extension itself exposed a more fundamental problem. In an effort to clarify the debate by removing what the creator deemed as misleading language, all it managed to do was further confuse it. As a column on pro-life website LifeActionNews.com stated:
As a “narrative autobiography”, the book follows the larger story of Qureshi’s life and is not a point-by-point report. Qureshi is very forward about this fact in the preface to the book when he explains that the conversations and events recorded within are recollections of the general summary of a specific conversation or even a collection of conversations over time. This works to the books strength since, in my experience, biographies have a tendency to get bogged down in details and specifics (names, dates, etc.) that the biographer or historian may find interesting but the reader may not. The pacing of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, however, is fluid and fast-moving without feeling rushed. It’s a wonderful and difficult balance to find.
Certain phrases and slogans have become increasingly popular in our culture in recent years. People thrown them around with a general idea of what they mean, but rarely are they examined in any depth. For example, and I just heard this one today, “You shouldn’t impose your beliefs on others”. On the surface something like this sounds good. Naturally, in a pluralistic culture where tolerance is considered a virtue and in a country where freedom of religion is a fundamental right, the sentiment such a phrase is trying to convey – that everyone has a right to believe what seems correct to them without coercion or threat – is a noble one. However, the statement itself is self-refuting. To tell someone “you shouldn’t” do something is in fact an example of imposing your beliefs on that person, so “you shouldn’t impose your beliefs on others” becomes an example of the exact action that the phrase is intended to repudiate. The statement becomes cannibalistic, devouring itself.
When looking at the reasons for why we should critically examine our faith and that of others, there are several good, practical reasons that have a great deal of impact on the lives we live now, but I don’t believe that these are the most important reasons. The most important reason, I believe, is that every religion, omitting Atheism, claims that the belief system we cling to in this life has lasting consequences in the life beyond the grave. Atheism is largely alone in this because it denies the existence of an afterlife and, as a result, all you have is this life. However, all the other major world religions teach that the soul continues after death to a fate primarily determined by the life you lived. Even the smaller faiths, such as Mormonism, or the historical practices going back to ancient Greece or Egypt all understood and taught that death was not the end of the road.
I’ve previously touched on the contradictory concepts of the afterlife in various religions, but at the time I focused on the rewards that one expects or hopes to receive. In addition to those rewards, each religion teaches that there is an opposite destination reserved for those who do not measure up. In Buddhism and Hinduism, that destination is another life and death in the cycle of reincarnation and the social standing you receive is a direct result of what sort of life you lived the time before. As a side note, don’t let westernized and romanticized versions of reincarnation fool you. In the Hindu or Buddhist framework, you’re not even guaranteed to be human in the next life. You could be a sea slug or a dung beetle if you really screwed up.
We’re jumping off the idea of religious pluralism and why, since religions can’t all be true, we must not therefore be flippant or utilitarian in our approach to who or what we decide to follow.
The following quotes are from someone you’ve probably heard of. See if you can guess who it is.
Note: All bible verses are from the ESV unless specified otherwise. Emphasis in all quotes has been added.
Some listening music while we talk again.
One of the reasons people conclude that “all religions are true” or that all paths lead to God is the assertion that all religions teach basically the same thing. Be nice to each other, don’t steal or murder, etc. While there is some truth to the idea that all religions tend to instruct people to live in ways that are generally conducive to a peaceful life (though there are exceptions), this is an extremely naïve approach to the teachings and requirements laid down by each faith system.
We’ll start with Islam. In Islam, it is expected that the faithful Muslim will follow what are called the Five Pillars of Islam. These Five Pillars are speaking the Muslim confession of faith (“There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”), paying alms (charities), reciting your five daily prayers, observing the fast during the month of Ramadan, and making – at least once in your lifetime – a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Here we already have problems. The first pillar is a confession and acknowledgement of Muhammad as a true prophet of God. This creates problems for the Jew and the Christian who believe that Muhammad taught false doctrine and therefore cannot be a true prophet according to the test of a prophet as laid out in Deuteronomy 18. I will not attempt to settle the issue of true or false prophets now, it is enough for the moment to say simply that already we have tension and disagreement between these faith systems which are supposed to somehow all be true.
The concept of rewards is an interesting one when speaking of different faith systems. Many if not all faiths promise some sort of afterlife that includes various rewards for the deeds done in mortality and a deeper look at these various promises reveals vast, even contradictory concepts.
For instance, when we look at the concept of Nirvana as taught in Buddhism, we see an enlightened and unembodied state where the person is literally one with the rest of the universe. The person does not do anything in this state, in fact the person essentially ceases to exist in any significant way. Just like a drop of water that a glass of water that is poured into the ocean, the person loses anything distinct about him or herself and is completely absorbed into the energy of the universe. The word "nirvana" itself indicates a sense of being "quenched" or "snuffed out". This is in stark contrast to the rewards promised by the faiths of the Judeo-Christian strain wherein the person continues to exist consciously and bodily in a place of unending pleasure. These two concepts are simply incompatible. One cannot be embodied and unembodied.
However, even within the Judeo-Christian concepts of paradise or heaven, we see disparate qualities. As a single point of comparison - though there are many more - I would like to look at the concept of sexual relationships in heaven.
Most, if not all of us, have at one point or another heard the old story about the blind men and the elephant. The tale varies in the telling, but the general idea is always the same. A handful of blind men are investigating an elephant with their hands and each one feels a different part. The one feeling the elephant’s leg says that the object is a tree, the one feeling the elephant’s trunk says it is a snake, the one feeling the elephant’s side says it is a wall, etc. The point is that each of the men is getting only a part of the truth and that they’re all right in their own way. This is often then analogized toward how different faith systems all teach different aspects of the same god – that we’re all looking at a different part of the elephant.
I do feel that there is a grain of truth or two to the story. For instance, I agree that a certain level of intellectual humility is always in order when discussing points we disagree on and that we should try to respect the opinions of others (so long as they are grounded in appropriate reasoning or evidence). However, that does not mean we should all just agree to disagree, particularly when the subject is one of eternal importance. Spending your life making a case for why Strawberry is the best flavor of ice cream would be silly, but spending that same life making a case for believing in the correct God is incredibly important.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.