Don’t all religions teach the same things?  It’s a question I’m asked on a regular basis when people realise I’m a Christian.  It’s kind of like saying, “I know you’re Christian, but lots of people are religious and believe in God.  Isn’t it enough that people have faith whatever their religion is?”  Now I agree that some faith is better than no faith at all, but to think that all religions are the same demonstrates ignorance of the world’s religions.

Of course, there are some things that are common to all religions.  The Golden Rule is one example, a universal truth that is embraced by all twelve classical world religions.[1]  It predates Jesus by 2,000 years and was first mentioned in a pagan Egyptian document.  The first religion to adopt it was Judaism, and then it was picked up by Jesus in His teachings, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).  Other things most religions have in common include a sense of community, belief in God, morals, compassion, respect for others, and the existence of the soul.  But to believe all religions are the same is naive.

Before I became a Christian, I dabbled in some religions.  Even as an atheist I was a spiritual person and was on a journey of discovery. I looked into Mormonism, Children of God, Ananda Marga, Buddhism and the New Age, and found they are not all the same.

Now, in making the following comments, I am in no way criticising or ridiculing other religions.  My Christian faith teaches me to be respectful to others, and I would deny my faith by deriding those of different beliefs.  That said, there are significant differences between the world’s religions.  For example, some forms of Buddhism don’t even teach that there is a God.  Hinduism teaches that God exists and everything is part of Him; Christianity teaches that God exists, but that He is separate from all He has created.  These are mutually exclusive definitions that cannot possibly be descriptive of the same God.

Every world religion teaches people to earn their way to God, whereas Christianity teaches that God has reached out to people.  Other faiths are works-based, that is, people reach out to God by doing good works – hopefully enough to earn salvation (whatever that happens to look like).  Christianity is faith-based with faith being solely in the work of God by Him becoming a person (Jesus), living, dying and resurrecting and thus being forever alive to save people completely.[2]  Christian grace recognises that salvation is God’s work from start to finish.  People don’t reach up to God; rather God reaches down to us.

That brings us to another significant difference – the Christian faith is the only religion whose saviour/prophet is still alive.  In his book Countdown, G. B. Hardy writes, “Here is the complete record: Confucius’ tomb-occupied. Buddha’s tomb-occupied. Muhammad’s tomb-occupied. Jesus’ tomb-empty!”  Jesus backed up His claims by rising from the dead.  No other world religion has a founder who has done that.

The various philosophies of the world’s major religions are illustrated by the story of the man who fell into a pit:

Mohammed said, “Alas, it is the will of Allah.”

Buddha, “Don’t worry, you’ll soon be reincarnated in another form.”

Ramakrishna, “You must have done something wrong in a previous life and are now being punished.”

Confucius, “Let this be a lesson that people should stay away from such places.”

Jesus, “Take my hand, and I will lift you out.”

Also, no other world religion has a founder who claims to be God.  Some claimed to be a prophet, or an enlightened one, but none of them, other than Jesus, claim to be God in human form. [3]  As C.S. Lewis so beautifully put it, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”[4]

That’s the challenge Jesus still gives to every person, a call I took seriously 40 years ago.  I chose to believe that Jesus was telling the truth and I decided to put my faith in Him as a result.  He has not disappointed me, and you will find the same if you chose to place your trust in Him.



[2] Hebrews 7:25

[3] John 1:1,14

[4] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


The recently released IPSOS Global Poll [1] shows that a majority of Australians (63%) believe that religion does more harm than good. The Poll also indicates that we are comfortable, in our multicultural society, in being around people with different religious beliefs to our own; that is of course for those of us who have a religious affiliation.  The Poll also shows that we are a shrinking number, with almost 40% of Australians saying they have no religion or religious attachment.

The statistic that concerns me the most is the number of people in Australia who agree with the statement, “Religion does more harm in the world than good.”  It concerns me, but it doesn’t surprise me.  Religion, of course, includes all faiths and not just Christianity.  Uppermost in people’s minds, no doubt would be the increase in religion-inspired terrorism, as well as religious infighting (think Sunni/Shia; Protestant/Catholic).  Religious persecution and wars, evils committed against others by religious authorities and religions (or religious people) dictating to others how they should live also come into the equation. Some of these undoubtedly resonate with many Australians.

Over the past few years we’ve witnessed Islamist terrorism at home, and overseas; we regularly hear about religious wars; we see people of one religion’s brutal treatment of those whose faith is different (like the actions of the Buddhist Burmese toward the Muslim Rohingyas).  In Australia, we’ve had the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that has highlighted the awful treatment that thousands of children have suffered at the hands of priests and religious ministers.  Almost 2,000 Catholic Church figures were implicated in the child sex abuse report, where seven per cent of Australia’s Catholic priests were accused of abusing children in the six decades since 1950. In total, between 1980 and 2015, 4,444 people alleged incidents of child sexual abuse relating to 93 Catholic Church authorities. The abuse allegedly took place in more than 1,000 institutions. [2] And that’s just one denomination in one religion.

On top of all this is the weariness I hear from many of my non-religious friends of being told how they should live – or not live – by people of faith.  Add all of these things up, and it’s no surprise that 63% of Australians believe religion does more harm than good.

The words “religion” and “religious” are used sparingly in the Bible.  Sometimes the Bible refers to religious people who are superstitious (as in Acts 17:22; 25:19).  Other times religion denotes self-imposed restrictions or human-made faith (Colossians 2:23).  But James, the half-brother of Jesus, gives the most interesting insight into what it means to be truly religious, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.  Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” [3] Notice the contrast between “worthless religion” and “pure and genuine religion.”  I dare say what Australians are referring to when they say “religion does more harm than good” is the incompetent, impure and spurious kind that even the Bible condemns.

Consider the three things that James says define religion that is pure and genuine: (1) people who control their tongue; (2) people who care for orphans and widows; and (3) people who are “free from censure, irreproachable, free from vice, unsullied.” [4] If you’re a religious person, does this describe you?  Does it define the religious people you know?  A principal reason why there are an increasing number of people in Australia who have no religion or religious affiliation is that they’ve seen way too much false faith rather than the real thing.  They’ve heard religious people argue & condemn. They’ve read the nasty blogs and heard about the abuse of orphans and widows. They watched on while people who professed a faith have been found incorrect, corrupt, perverted and disgraced.

What the world needs to see is a genuine religion where they hear kind words of inclusion, not exclusion; where they appreciate our good works directed to the poor, disenfranchised and marginalised people of society (you know, the ones Jesus hung out with). They’re not looking for us to be perfect but they are disappointed when we pretend to be but then don’t live up to the pretence.  As Andrew F. Dutney of Backyard Theology puts it, “Religious organisations need to get on with doing what they do – developing communities, practicing their faith, serving their own members and the wider community at real points of need. And they need to do what they do with integrity, fairness and transparency. That will be more than enough for Australians.”  [5] I agree!




[3] James 1:26-27 NLT

[4] Kenneth Samuel Wuest (1893 – 1962), a noted Christian New Testament Greek (Κοινή) scholar



This is the third and final blog in which I discuss a Christian attitude to differences in race (ethnicity), culture and religion.  When it comes to race – embrace!  When it comes to culture – embrace the good!  What about the various religions?  What should our attitude be towards people of differing belief?

Over the centuries the attitudes and actions of people of various faiths have been nothing short of atrocious towards each other – and nothing much has changed.  Today Christians are the most persecuted people in the world predominantly by communism (North Korea is the worst) and radical Islam.  According to Open Doors, Overwhelmingly, the main engine driving persecution of Christians in 36 of the top 50 countries is Islamic extremism.”  In today’s world we see all manner of persecution enacted upon people of faith by people of faith.  Once again Acts 17 gives us some good insight into what a proper attitude should be.

In these verses Paul the apostle affirms that God is everywhere, that we are all His offspring or children (28-29) and that “he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”  The apostle quotes two famous Greek philosophers (Aratus and Epimenides) in order to point them to Jesus, the one true God.

Aratus in his work entitled Phaenomena 1-5 stated: “Let us begin with Zeus whom we mortals never leave unspoken. For every street, every market place is filled with Zeus. Even the sea and the harbors are full of his deity. Everywhere, everyone is indebted to Zeus. For we are indeed his offspring.”

Epimenides, in his work Cretica, wrote, “They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one. The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!  But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever, for in thee we live and move and have our being.”  Paul uses the poet’s words to introduce the Greeks to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In the 6th century B.C., when the poet Epimenides lived, there was a plague which went throughout all Greece. The Greeks thought that they must have offended one of their gods, so they began offering sacrifices on altars to all their various gods. When nothing worked they figured there must be a God who they didn’t know about whom they must somehow appease.

So Epimenides came up with a plan. He released hungry sheep into the countryside and instructed men to follow the sheep to see where they would lie down. He believed that since hungry sheep would not naturally lie down but continue to graze, if the sheep were to lie down it would be a sign from God that this place was sacred. At each spot where the sheep tired and laid down the Athenians built an altar and sacrificed the sheep on it. Afterward it is believed the plague stopped which they attributed to this unknown God accepting the sacrifice.

Paul tried to convey to them that the unknown God was the true God, Jesus Christ: the God who created all things and every person.  He then goes on to give a gentle but firm rebuke of man-made religion. It is of “man’s design” and Paul refers to it as “ignorance” that God once overlooked – but no longer!  God is not looking at our religion – He’s interested in relationship.  His desire is that we would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”  More importantly God has already reached out to us in the tangible person of Jesus Christ.

Christians are called to a life of love and tolerance towards others.  Jesus told the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10) to demonstrate that his people should love, respect, and help people regardless of their race, culture or religion.  But that doesn’t mean that we agree with what others believe or do.  Christianity is not just tolerant it is also exclusive.  Jesus made it clear when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  Acts 4:12 also states this truth plainly, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Paul makes it clear as well: God … commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man [Jesus] he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30b-31).

The Romans thought, “All roads might lead to Rome,” but all religions don’t lead to God.  As a Christian I strongly believe that Jesus is the one and only way.  But that doesn’t stop me from being respectful, kind, helpful and loving towards those who believe differently.  So …

When it comes to race – embrace!

When it comes to culture – embrace the good!

When it comes to religion – embrace the person!

That’s what Paul did on Mars Hill in Athens as he found some common ground with these highly religious people and shared the good news with them.  It would do us well to do the same!

In my last blog I outlined what I believe is a Christian response towards people of different races.  I summarised my thoughts in the statement, “When it comes to race – embrace!”  In this blog I want to answer the question, “What is a Christian attitude toward people of other cultures?”

Acts 17 affirms not just the unity of the human race but also the diversity of ethnic cultures: From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.”  This refers to God’s original command to the first people to “be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth!”  As groups of people settled in different parts of the earth, not only did different races develop but also distinctive cultures.

“Culture” is defined as “The collection of beliefs, values and customs developed by each society and transmitted to the next generation.”  As we examine the varieties of cultures we find two things:

They’re not all bad. All people are made in the image of God and thus all people reflect that image to some extent through their culture.  Some culture is rich in beauty and goodness.  Of the many things I love about our multicultural society in Australia are all the varieties of food we enjoy from different nations.

In the book of Revelation chapter 21 the apostle John sees visions of the world to come: The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.”  The splendor and glory of the nations refers to the good things that emanate from each of them.  If culture will enrich human life and community in eternity then surely it can do the same now!  We can enhance our lives by experiencing the good in things – the tastes, the sounds, the colour – in various cultures.

The second thing we find when examining other cultures is they’re not all good.  All people are made in the image of God but that image has been marred by disobedience to God.  Because of this some aspects of various cultures are tainted and some of it is just plain evil.  An example of this is female circumcision.  The World Health Organization estimates that three million girls and women a year are at risk of mutilation (approximately 8000 girls per day). This occurs mainly in Africa and in a few countries in the Middle East, Asia and among certain ethnic groups in Central and South America.  Any aspects of a culture that lead to discrimination, alienation, poverty or a denial of basic human rights should be actively opposed.

The answer to determining whether culture is good or bad is to test it.  The Bible encourages us to “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).  So, when it comes to race – embrace!  When it comes to culture – embrace the good!

What about the various religions?  I’ll discuss that next week!

Divisions, wars and disputes often happen in our world because of differences in race, culture and religion. So what is a Christian attitude towards these things?

Acts 17 tells of Paul the apostle’s time in Athens – particularly his discussions at the Areopagus – the place in which the Areopagites, the supreme judges of Athens, assembled. It was on a hill almost in the middle of the city. Many accounts suggest that this was the most celebrated tribunal in the world. Its decisions were distinguished for justice and correctness. This court punished vices of all kinds – including idleness; they rewarded the virtuous; they were especially attentive to blasphemies against the gods; and to the performance of the sacred mysteries of religion. Paul was brought before this tribunal, being regarded as a teacher of strange gods and doctrines and introducing a new mode of worship.

Athens was a city of people from diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. When Athens was incorporated into the Roman Empire it became one of the leading cosmopolitan cities in the world. Paul referred to the Athenians as being “very religious.” This was an accurate statement according to Roman Satirist and historian, Petronius, who said it was “easier to find a god in Athens than a man.”  The city was crammed full of temples, shrines, altars, images and statues. Paul’s response to this multi-racial, multicultural and multi-religious city is a good response for any Christian facing questions or challenges over race, culture and religion today.

Paul affirmed the unity of the human race by recognizing two things: Everyone was created by one God and everyone was created from one man: “He himself gives life and breath to everything, and satisfies every need there is.”  In verse 28 Paul quotes some Greek Poets who wrote, “We are His offspring” – speaking of the entire human race. In a general sense, God is the Father of every person; since He created us we are all His offspring. That means every human being is our brother or our sister. One of my favourite writers, John Stott, put it this way: “Being equally created by Him and like Him, we have an equal right in His sight to worth and dignity, and therefore have an equal right to respect and justice.”  We would do well to remember this as we seek justice for every person, especially those who are unable to fend for themselves, like refugees and the 35 million people in modern-day slavery.

One God created everyone and everyone was created from one man!From one man he made all the nations that they should inhabit the whole earth.”  British Anthropologist Ashley Montagu wrote, “Concerning the origin of the living varieties of Man we can say little more than that there are many reasons for believing that a single stock gave rise to all of them. All varieties of Man belong to the same species and have the same remote ancestry. This is the conclusion to which all the relevant evidence points.”  This is backed up by the fact that the four human blood types are, in every respect, the same in all human beings regardless of ethnic background.

With this in mind there is absolutely no room for racial prejudice and there is no room for generalizations about races. On this the apostle James wrote these words, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (3:9-10).

The Christian community should be a place that brings heaven to earth, where we enjoy unity together in our faith regardless of racial background with persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

When it comes to race – embrace!

Next week we’ll discuss a Christian attitude to differences in culture and religion.

Interestingly, those that were in the church saw it as only negative: “dead, repetition, ritual, legalistic, boring, tradition and rules” were amongst the list of adjectives.  This is because often within the contemporary church the word “religion” is used negatively in order to distance itself from the more traditional, and generally declining, churches.  You’ll hear statements like, “we’re not religious, we just love the Lord” and, “God’s not into religion He’s into relationship.” 

While I understand what is being communicated here and why, this attitude to the word religion is not completely accurate. 

The truth is that everything that is good, true and real can also be counterfeited.  Those who make forgeries of money, for example, don’t make $7 notes (unless they’re Irish ).  The reason is that a $7 note would be easy to pick as a forgery because there’s no such thing.  When it comes to money it’s the real notes that are counterfeited – $20, $50 & $100.  And those involved in this crime go to great lengths to make their product look exactly like the real thing so that only an expert, who spends years studying the real thing, can tell it apart.

It’s the same with religion: that’s why the Bible distinguishes between true and false religion.  In the New Testament three different Greek words are translated “religion.”  One means “superstition,” another “ceremonial observance,” and the third means “to love and worship God and to give respect and caring support to others.”  

When the people who engaged with our research viewed the word “religion” as negative they were talking about false religion: the superstitious, ritualistic, ceremonial observance that turns so many people off.  The positive view of religion is what the Bible calls “Pure and genuine religion” – the kind that loves and worships God while also being respectful and supportive to others.  

This is the kind of religion spoken of by the apostle Paul: “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:3, 4, 8)

Another Bible writer puts it this way: “If you claim to be religious but don't control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.  Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:26-27)

I understand people being confused when it comes to religion.  I spoke to a man this week that said he’d believe in a religion if there were only one of them.  Truth is, there are over 20 in the world today, and, in Christianity, there are over 40,000 different groups.  The only way to find the true is by studying it – by looking out for the qualities the Bible gives for the genuine article: the kind that loves and worships God while also being respectful, caring and supportive to others.

The religion of atheism will once again be preached at the 2012 Atheist Convention coming up in April in Melbourne with an impressive lineup of preachers including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett.  Christopher Hitchens was also supposed to be there but he sadly passed away last year.  In the past Antony Flew may have been invited to speak as well but he’s also passed away – after converting to Christianity!

Flew was a strong advocate of atheism for most of his life arguing that one should presuppose atheism until empirical evidence of a God surfaces. He also criticised the idea of life after death and the meaningfulness of the concept of God. However, in 2004 he changed his mind stating that in keeping with his lifelong commitment to go where the evidence leads, he now believes in the existence of God.  He later wrote the book “There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.”

Flew’s conversion no doubt infuriated the likes of Richard Dawkins who regarded Flew as a mentor. Some ugly accusations ensued with some suggesting that Antony Flew was old and demented and didn’t really write the book.  How childish it is when people get personal to either win an argument or try and belittle someone else’s opinion.  Antony Flew wrote the following in response:

“My name is on the book and it represents exactly my opinions. I would not have a book issued in my name that I do not 100 per cent agree with. I needed someone to do the actual writing because I’m 84 and that was Roy Varghese’s role. The idea that someone manipulated me because I’m old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. That is my book and it represents my thinking.”

I admire Antony Flew for examining the facts and having the courage to change his mind in his old age.  As Leo Tolstoy wrote, “I know that most men … can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”  Antony Flew truly was a rare individual.

I’m glad I changed my mind in my youth.  I was an atheist until I was 19 but then had an unmistakably powerful encounter with God.  That encounter is just as real almost 35 years later.

The religion of atheism may have some good arguments but it can’t answer life’s most fundamental questions: Who are we?  Where did we come from?  What are we doing here? And where are we going when this life is over?

The religion of atheism can’t tell you where Christopher Hitchens is right now but the Christian faith can tell you with assurance where Antony Flew is.  I’m glad he changed his mind and I bet he is too.

This question is usually asked because of the exclusive nature of the Christian faith. That is, Christians believe it is only through the completed work of Jesus on the cross and His subsequent resurrection, that a person can have a relationship with God. I believe that! Bible verses such as these are used to substantiate this:

In John 14:6, Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Acts 4:12 states “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

The problem arises when the exclusiveness of the Christian faith leads to a lack of tolerance and respect towards those of other faiths. Some Christians have been guilty of this for centuries – and those of other faiths have been equally guilty.

I believe that Jesus calls all people to live lives of love, tolerance and respect towards others. This is particularly born out in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, in which he illustrates what it means to love our neighbour.  A Jewish man is robbed. Two people of like faith show no compassion towards him. Then along comes a man of another faith – a Samaritan – and it is he who shows the qualities of compassion, love and respect. Jesus teaches that loving our neighbour means showing these qualities even towards those with whom we disagree. People of all religions would do well to heed Jesus’ teaching on this.

Even a casual look on the internet reveals the amount of persecution that is still going on in the world today – Christians being persecuted by Muslims; Muslims being persecuted by Christians; Buddhists being persecuted by Christians and Muslims; Christians being persecuted by Buddhists; Christians persecuting Hindus and vice versa – you get the picture?  No wonder many people sit back and want nothing to do with religion.

As Christians we need to learn to move beyond the stereotypes. Yes, there are people with evil plans in every religion, but there are far more people of each religion who are good.

While we were on holiday last year in Malaysia I met two such people – two Muslim guys from Saudi Arabia. They were in their mid-twenties and we met over a game of water volleyball. Later that afternoon we sat together drinking tea and chatting about the differences and similarities in each other’s culture and faith.  It was one of the most enjoyable conversations I’d had in ages and, dare I say, the presence of God was very evident while we chatted. This encounter reminded me of how similar human beings are. We might have differences in skin colour, eye shape, language, religion and culture; but we are all made in the image of God and we all came from the same parents – originally. 

So, while we continue to hold to the exclusivity of our faith, let us also reach out in love, compassion, respect and tolerance to those who are different – and discover the similarities.  One thing I know – this pleases the heart of God.

For more blogs click here .