The religions of the world are not the same. About 80% of Americans identify as Christian, and I think most of them presume that Buddha is just the Indian Jesus or Mohamed is just the Muslim Jesus, but that’s not true.
Islam began in 610 A.D when Mohamed went into a cave and came out with the Koran. He said an angel revealed the word of God to him that day and many more times over the next 23 years. The Koran is meant to be taken literally. Mohamed fulfilled no prophesies, performed no miracles, and never claimed to be anything other than a prophet. Islam is spread by military conquest and Church and State are the same thing under the Caliphate. Mohamed is buried in Medina, Saudi Arabia. He was familiar with Judaism and Christianity before he formed his religion and borrowed from them.
Hinduism is an ancient Indian religion that teaches a belief in reincarnation and that everything in the world is an illusion. Some Hindus are pantheistic (they believe the universe and god are identical) and some are polytheistic (they believe in various gods and goddesses). Yoga is one of their religious practices for achieving oneness with God. Buddhism’s beliefs are similar, but atheistic. Buddha never claimed to be a god and performed no miracles. Buddhism acknowledges neither heaven nor hell. It’s goal is Nirvana, when your “self” will be extinguished like a flame.
New Age spiritualism is a mish-mash of Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Shamanism. It was founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in the 19th century. It is a pantheistic religion that teaches that the universe is permeated with a life-force “energy” that can be manipulated for human benefit. Transcendental meditation, feng shui, reiki, guided imagery, therapeutic touch, the use of crystals, labyrinth walks, and holistic medicine are all New Age practices. Few people know that acupuncture and reflexology are Eastern spiritual treatments to balance your “energy” flow.
Protestant Christianity was born in the 16th century when Martin Luther justly criticized abuses going on in the Catholic Church and created his own religion, Lutheranism. Other Protestant religions that formed around this time were the Presbyterians, the Puritans, and the Anglicans. Protestants rejected the authority of the pope, abandoned several Catholic sacraments, believe that faith alone gets you to heaven, and assert the right for each person to have his own private interpretation of the bible. New Protestant denominations continue to form to this day.
The Catholic Church was established by Jesus 2000 years ago. We believe in the God of the Jews and that he is a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Jesus being the Son. Catholics believe in heaven, hell, and purgatory. We believe Jesus died to pay the debt for our sins, otherwise we couldn’t get to heaven. We believe in seven Sacraments for conferring God’s grace to help us get there. The apostle Peter was the first Pope and there has been an unbroken line of popes for 2000 years. For the first 300 years of Christianity, to be a Christian was illegal and all of our popes were killed. Catholic was the only form of Christianity available for 1000 years, until the East/West schism and the Protestant reformation.
Even atheists have formed creeds that need to be taken on faith. Secular humanists have laid down their dogmas in their Manifestos I, II, & III. Secular Humanism has influenced psychology and education in America extensively (and I would say disastrously, providing neither mental health nor a civilized, educated society). They believe the universe wasn’t created and that belief in God is useless, if not harmful. Manifesto I was somewhat nebulous but insisted its beliefs would affirm life. Manifesto II nailed down more specific beliefs: that everyone should have the right to abortion, divorce, euthanasia, and suicide – not so life affirming. It also favors one world government. The same questions apply as do to any religion: Are these beliefs true? Are they good? Do they lead to human happiness?
I know these descriptions are superficial, perhaps insultingly so, but my point isn’t to touch upon every world religion but to point out that not every religion is the same. Most Americans assume the basic formula for all religions is: God + be nice = heaven, but that’s not really accurate.
This is my letter, so this is my plug for why Catholics believe what they do:
Catholics believe Jesus fulfilled a lot of specific predictions spelled out in the Old Testament. The Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem, work specific miracles, be put to death by crucifixion by the religious leaders of his time, and be buried in a rich man’s grave. He had to be from the line of David meaning for 1,000 years there had to be an unbroken line of sons leading to Jesus. There are more, but you get the picture. I suppose you can argue that people see what they want to see in the Bible, kinda like how people shoehorn current events into the writings of Nostradamus, but these biblical predictions are pretty specific.
You’ve never met Abraham Lincoln, nor visited Botswana, but you believe of their existence based on credible witnesses, which is not really proof but evidence. Politicians, prostitutes, doctors, lawyers, peasants, and soldiers testified to the miracles Jesus performed, the most important of which is his Resurrection. We don’t believe these miracles because they sound nice. We believe them because credible witnesses testify to them and were willing to die rather than deny they happened. If Jesus’ apostles were deliberately lying about these miracles, what did they have to gain but persecution, imprisonment, and death? No one witnessed the angels that spoke to Mohamed (Islam) or Joseph Smith (Mormonism). Thousands of people witnessed the miracles of Christ.
Catholics don’t believe that all non-Catholics go to hell (or like Homer Simpson said, if we’ve got the wrong religion, every week we just make God madder and madder). If you are “invincibly ignorant” of the Truth, God does not hold it against you. We acknowledge the goodness and truth found in other religions. Some people think the Church is arrogant for claiming to have “the Truth” and that other religions only have partial truths, but really, if your faith isn’t true, why bother? Shouldn’t we respect other faiths enough to acknowledge what they really say and be honest about how we disagree?
Yeah, yeah, I know the Church is rotten because of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. Regrettable things were done in during both, but many of the claims about them that you find on the internet are outrageously false. The abuse scandal is a shocking disgrace, but it was caused by dissenters, not followers, of the Faith. At least we are cleaning house. Your child is 100 times more likely to be abused in the public school system, but the media doesn’t seem interested.
Everything else I say in this letter really is moot if Jesus actually did what the gospels claim he did. If Jesus did what the witnesses say, then he is God, and there really is a Heaven and a Hell and if those things are true, they are the most important truths in our lives. I believe the reason the Church is right about all the ideas I defend in this letter is because the same God who created the universe created the Catholic Church. Ironically, Freethinkers would declare that you are not free to think this.
If you have any interest at all in what the Catholic Church really teaches check out:
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church – If you think you know what the Church teaches about just war or homosexuality or how we should treat animals and the environment, look it up and see if you are right
- Cable channel EWTN – I especially like The Journey Home and The World Over
- Atheist who have converted to Catholicism write terrific blogs, like Jen Fulwiler: New Site Old Site Link Link and John C. Wright: Link Link Link.
- Catholic Educators Resource and Catholic Culture
- Fr. Barron – he personally responds to people’s questions in the comments on YouTube
- This is a great summary of the basics of the Catholic faith and the origins of other religions
Things are in a bit of a mess in my Church right now. Starting around the time I was born our sacred art was removed, our music secularized, our devotions abandoned, and our catechesis watered down. Some Catholics filled the spiritual void with false apparitions and bizarre spiritual practices, some moved on to Protestant churches or just abandoned the faith. If you went to a Catholic Mass today, it would probably be quite unfaithful to what Rome has directed it to be, but if the words of the Consecration are said properly by a priest, I still get what J.R.R. Tolkien (author of The Lord of the Rings) called “the one great thing to love on earth”: God in the flesh in the Blessed Sacrament. Despite the fact that we human beings have screwed things up in my Church, I think we are finding our morals and traditions again. My generation has had to eat the rotten fruits of the sexual revolution and moral relativism, and the priests and sisters of my generation actually want to restore and preserve our beliefs, so I’m hopeful for the future.