Here's something to listen to as we talk.
As I've been considering topics to write on and survey, I kept coming back to the need to lay a foundation of definitions and expectations.
Very often one of the first questions that comes up in any sort of conversation about faith systems, particularly in the last few years, is "Why bother?" Indeed, why does it matter? It has become extremely popular in recent times to espouse varying forms of religious pluralism. This concept is difficult to define because each individual person may articulate it differently depending on their own background and how deeply they've thought about it, but the general idea is that it doesn't matter what you believe, which system you adhere to or who you worship, so long as you're sincere you will end up finding your way to "god", however you define it. If that's true, then it truly doesn't matter if someone believes in Allah, Heavenly Father, or Buddha. It wouldn't make any difference at all if they follow Charles Taze Russell, Muhammed, the Dalai Lama or Oprah.
However, I believe that this concept is flawed and ultimately incoherent. It seems like a great idea when you're looking at the faithful Mormon, the peaceful Muslim or the devout Buddhist, but to stop there and only consider the pleasant examples would be arbitrary. How does it hold up when applied to the white supremacist or the Nazi? I doubt anyone would claim that a Grand Wizard of the KKK is anything but sincerely devoted to his beliefs and following them to best of his ability. The same can be said of homicidal cult leaders like Jim Jones, David Koresh or Charles Manson. If it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're "sincere", then we can expect genocidal monsters like Pol Pot, Hitler and Joseph Stalin to have received the highest reward of their beliefs as well as the polite old Hindu woman in your neighborhood. For many people, that is (rightfully so) a horrifying and disgusting concept.
This is not the only problem with the concept of Religious Pluralism and I plan to expound on these issues in the future, but I hope - for now, at least - it is clear that simply believing something "sincerely" cannot be the only requirement.
Second, it is a matter of great controversy whether or not we (as Christians, Mormons, Jews and Muslims) all worship the same God. To answer this correctly, it will be necessary to look at what each faith system teaches about the nature of God and whether or not they can be reconciled. I admit that this brings up questions that I have wrestled with on a personal level. How "correct" must your theology be? It has been suggested that John Milton - a professing Christian - believed that Jesus was a created being. This is a heresy known as Arianism that was rejected by the church during the 4th century at the Council of Nicea. That same belief is shared by Jehovah's Witnesses who are largely considered to be a cult and outside of orthodoxy by the primary branches of Christendom. If the Witnesses are out, is Milton out as well? While I believe that truth about God can be known, I know that many (if not all) of us will err in some aspect or another in our understanding about Him. No mortal is omniscient and we're all flawed in one way or another. Because of our own finitude and God's infinitude, it has been long understood by Christian theologians that God is incomprehensible - which is to say that He can never be fully grasped and understood by anyone other than Himself (Psalm 145:3; 147:5; 1 Corinthians 2:10-12). If a perfect understanding of God is required, then we're all out of luck and I suspect that is a conclusion we all would reject. But then where is the line drawn? Again, I plan to explore these topics in the future.
Lastly, words have meaning and definitions can have a profound impact on the course of a conversation. In order to move forward with any sort of meaningful exploration of these topics it will be necessary to define what we mean by certain keywords and phrases in order for to keep from talking past each other. What does it mean to be a "Christian"? What exactly is "salvation by grace"? How do Christians, Muslims and Mormons differ in their understandings of the "Trinity"? More than one conversation between evangelical Christians (another term that begs for a clear definition) and Mormon missionaries has been derailed by misunderstandings and unclear terminology and I do not want that to be the case here.
These are all topics that I find fascinating and I hope you will stick around as I explore them.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.