All religions begin with an experience of the transcendent. Transcendent refer to an experience of something totally other than things of nature. The word “god” is most often used for this experience but in religions like Buddhaism there is only nirvana. Buddha is not considered a god. He would be more like a prophet or one who shows the way to nirvana.
The word “religion” is a neutral word. We often will characterize a particular religion as a true or a false religion. Muslims consider Islam the only true religion. The U.S. Government publishes a list of recognized religions, with no value judgment attached. Thor’s Hammer is an Aryan religion that is popular in prisons. The U.S. Army has approved Wiccan chaplains.
The term religion is an umbrella under which people with an organized set of beliefs and practices operate. We have the problem with the term “Christian.” There is no one acceptable definition of who is a Christian. Who would be able to set the definition? We have many words we use and think others understand them in the same way. It is only by dialogue and clarification that we can be sure we are talking about the same thing.
Among the religions of the world, Judaism and Christianity are the only two which are based upon the experience of a personal relationship with God. The Old Testament repeatedly reminds us of the covenant “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Jesus makes the relationship even more personal by calling us adopted sons. We have a family relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There is intimacy in that relationship.
While Islam also proclaims one God, the relationship is very different. Even when they get to paradise, they do not share paradise with God. There is no personal relationship. While God promises paradise to those who are faithful and obedient, God can still arbitrarily change his mind.
Religions seek to bring people into some kind of relationship with the transcendent. God, or whatever fills that spot in their belief, is perceived through their history and culture. Religion can transmit moral values and practices that would make life meaningful. Religion can also be abused. No religion has a direct hotline where they receive faxes from God with all the answers. But even with their weaknesses, religion contributes to our lives. We must discern carefully where is God speaking and what is God saying.
Father Patrick Toner is pastor at Saint Joseph Catholic Church, 140 West Ave., Plain City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (614) 873-8850.