Religious freedom is important

All religions are not the same

It is common in today’s world to run into people who believe that all religions are basically the same. In fact, it is even becoming common to run into Anglicans or Catholics who have adopted this viewpoint. It is considered the tolerant, open-minded point of view. But in reality, it is just the opposite: it is the most close-minded and intolerant viewpoint someone could have in regards to religion. 

Human nature is the same wherever we find human beings. Human nature always has the same basic needs and problems—biological, emotional, and spiritual. Every religion tries to address those basic needs—for happiness and meaning, for example. Every religion tries to solve those basic problems—sin and forgiveness, and life after death, for example. In other words, all religions have to deal with the same basic human condition. This is why some people try to claim that all religions are the same. 

The interesting thing is that different religions actually deal with those basic problems and needs in different ways. Atheistic religions say there is no god at all. Pantheistic religions say that everything in the universe is part of god and identical to god. Polytheistic religions say that the divine realms is full of numerous, competing gods. Monotheistic religions, like Christianity, believe in one, all-powerful, eternal God. 

The differences don’t stop there. Inside each of those groups are different variations. Each variation presents its own view about the nature of God, the nature of salvation and happiness, and how salvation can be found. This is why it is a sign of close-mindedness or laziness to simply say that all religions are the same: it is a refusal to show any respect at all to what religious people really believe.

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Christianity comes to ancient England

In the history of Christian missionary activity, there are many great examples of what true open-mindedness really is. When St Francis of Assisi set out to evangelise the Muslims, he did not use violence and accusations, or threats and tricks. He listened sincerely and explained patiently. His dream of converting them all did not come true, but one of the Muslim leaders he befriended became a Christian on his deathbed. 

When Christian missionaries first came to the pagan kingdoms of ancient England, Edwin, the King of the Angles, met with his royal counsellors to discuss how the missionaries should be received. One of the King’s wise advisors gave the following speech:

“The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift of a sparrow through the [banquet] room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad. The sparrow, I say, flying in, at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm. But after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”

St Bede the Venerable, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, (Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum), Penguin Classics 1990, first published 731. 

All religions are not the same. If they were, our Lord Jesus Christ would never have come to earth to teach us the truth. But He did come, and His answers to life’s biggest questions are the greatest treasure we possess. 

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Christianity defends religious freedom

It is because we, as Christians, recognise that all religions do not offer the same explanations and solutions to the human condition that we, as Christians, are so firmly committed to religious freedom. 

The Church teaches that religious freedom, the freedom to believe, worship, and live in accordance with one’s religious beliefs, is a basic human right. This is because a relations with God is one of the most basic human needs and duties—it is as basic for the human mind and soul as food and water are for the human body. Christians defend this right not because we think all religions are equally true, but because we recognise that every human heart must be free to search for God without being forced. 

If all religions were the same, then religious freedom would have no meaning. Religion itself, in fact, would have no meaning. It would be nothing more than a personal hobby, with no real truth or relevance for society. This is exactly what many lawmakers (and even some Scouters) say at the moment. They want to take religion out of social life (or out of Scouting) and keep it behind closed doors. But that policy backfires: it turns atheism into the required public religion—violating the human right to religious liberty. 

Of course, freedom of religion is not limitless. It is not the only human right. No one has a right to use religion as an excuse for injustice. 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

As Benedict XVI said in a meeting with leaders from different religions:

“In the face of a world torn apart by conflicts, where violence in God’s Name is at times justified, it is important to reaffirm that religions can never become vehicles of hatred; it is never possible, invoking God’s Name, to succeed in justifying evil and violence.”

Greeting of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Meeting of the Heads of the Delegations taking part in the International Encounter for Peace, 21 October 2007, Archdiocesan Seminary at Capodimonte, Naples. [accessed 2020-06-06]

All religions are not the same. They give different answers to life’s biggest questions. Today, as we profess our faith in the one, true God, the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity, let us thank God for showing us the true answer to all those questions: Our Lord Jesus Christ. And let us renew our commitment to live as true Christians, so that those around us who are still looking for answers, will find Jesus Christ in us. 

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