“All religions are basically the same. So I don’t see why you’re trying to say that yours is the best,” he proclaimed with a note of finality! However, my friend seemed to be saying that his own not-so-obvious religion of “religious pluralism” is the best!
“You’re right,” I responded, “They are all basically the same. They all recognize that, because of our sins and failures, we owe a debt and must, somehow, make payment on it. Therefore, they have all been engaged in some form of animal sacrifice. And, when they’ve realized that this lacked the necessary punch, they often graduated to human sacrifice. We moderns are little different. We accomplish this same thing through denial that there is any problem, masochism (self-punishment or deprivation) to convince ourselves that we’re worthy and righteous, and achievements (self-righteousness) to compensate for the indwelling-guilt. After we’ve inflicted enough pain or have experienced enough deprivation, we then assure ourselves that we are now worthy to enjoy ourselves for a bit. However, whatever pain we inflict or successes we achieve are only temporary.”
Guilt and shame are life-controlling forces. In “Healing the Shame that Binds,” John Bradshaw perceptively wrote,
“When shame has been completely internalized, nothing about you is okay. You feel flawed and inferior; you have the sense of being a failure. There is no way you can share your inner self because you are an object of contempt to yourself…To feel shame is to feel seen in an exposed and diminished way. When you’re an object to yourself, you turn your eyes inward, watching and scrutinizing every minute detail of behavior…This paralyzing internal monitoring causes withdrawal, passivity and inaction.” (13)
I continued, “Religion is merely an attempt to cover up the shame problem. It grants us a way to convince ourselves that we are truly deserving, at least more than the other guy, because of our good deeds. Some religions set the bar at the attainment of secret knowledge, which only the truly spiritual are capable of obtaining, while others try to distance themselves from their inner, shame-ridden reality through meditation and the hope of reaching true enlightenment. Nietzsche called it ‘the will to power,’ observing that everything we do is about self-promotion and self-protection.”
“So what’s your answer?” he challenged with a note of frustration. Although we don’t like to acknowledge these ugly truths about ourselves, it’s hard to keep reality at bay!
“The Bible’s answer is radically different,” I responded. “It exposes the ugly truth about ourselves, clearly demonstrating the impossibility of earning anything from God, let alone salvation. It also shows us that, instead of ascending to God through our “good” deeds, God had to descend to meet us in our utter destitution and self-deception and take the rap for us, paying off our debt in full. Only His dying for us would have the power to convince our shamed consciences to lay aside all of our feverish maneuvers to prove ourselves through masochism or self-promotion.”
“Well, if that nonsense works for you, fine!”
“It’s more than worked,” I continued. “He’s not only freed me from my sin but also the need to continually justify myself and to please others. This is because He’s taught me that it’s no longer about me and my righteousness but about Him and His forever-gift of righteousness and forgiveness. As a result of this, I am increasingly freed-up to take my obsessive eyes off myself and to look beyond my own needs.”
“I’m glad you’ve found something that works for you,” he uttered sheepishly. Whenever we’re faced with something we don’t want to accept, it’s very easy to hide behind the “insights” of post-modernism -- everyone has his own truth and road to finding peace, so we can’t say that we have the truth. However, it’s hard to deny the universality of the shame-guilt problem and the perfect logic of the solution. When we retreat to the hiding place of our own subjective “reality,” we are denying that great reality through which we must all navigate. It’s also a denial that we can learn anything about this reality from others. When we say that “All religions are basically the same,” we are not only contradicting ourselves—making a statement about our common reality, but in the same breath denying a common reality—but we are also refusing to recognize the distinctions among the religions. I’d rather hand a bomb to an Amish in his horse-drawn carriage than to a Jihadist. When we navigate with our eyes closed, we’re bound to crash.