I wonder how many religions, denominations, and sects claim to know the only way to God, and promise that all who follow their rules will be among the chosen few who will share the glory of heaven for eternity? It seems that the number of such exclusive faith groups has grown with the passage of time, but thankfully there has also been an increase in the number of people who recognize that a God of Love who created all of us would not be so selective.
Just for discussion's sake, suppose I decide to convert to one particular denomination which warns that I will spend eternity in hell if I don’t do as they preach. I believe I've been born again, and I am baptized by immersion in the church pool. I am so relieved to know with absolute certainty that I will go to heaven when I die! I am absolutely ecstatic until it occurs to me that none of my family or friends share my faith, and some do not believe that Jesus is the ONLY way to heaven. How will I enjoy eternity without my loved ones?
As I continue to ponder my salvation, I wonder about the millions of people who have lived in different parts of the world, far away from the place where Jesus lived and died. The Hindus believe that Krishna was an incarnation of God who lived in India thousands of years ago, the Buddhists believe that Gautama Buddha demonstrated the way to enlightenment, and the Muslims believe that Mohammed is a divine messenger and prophet of God. And then there are the other millions of people who believe that God or other divine beings have spoken to them through Nature or other sources. Can I believe that the God who created all of us would have restricted his communications to one little part of the world, for one period of time, through just one person who was granted the sole power to save all of us from an eternity of despair?
Now I have to wonder . . . if God had nothing to do with Krishna, Buddha, and other religious leaders, such as Tao-te-Ching and Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, founder of Sikhism, from where did these men get their ideas? And if they were so completely off-base, why would God have allowed them to teach their flawed concepts to anyone? Would it have been better for the people of Asia and other parts of the world to be kept in total darkness while awaiting the Christian missionaries who wouldn’t arrive in those countries for many centuries? Or is it possible that God revealed divine truth to different people at different times, in different parts of the world; knowing that religion would not be a “one size fits all” concept for all of the earth’s inhabitants?
I ponder these questions while looking more closely at the core lessons of each religion. Buddha taught that one must develop wisdom and compassion in order to attain enlightenment. Enlightenment, rather than salvation, is the goal of a Buddhist. But the Buddha’s appeal that compassion be put into selfless action by alleviating suffering wherever it appears, is really not different from Jesus’s commands to his disciples to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick.
The Hindus know Krishna as the embodiment of love and divine joy, who destroys all pain and sin, who was born to establish the religion of love. Jesus said: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" and, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27). He also said: "Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). Christians who believe the prophecy in Revelation 21:4 will see the similarity between their goal and that of Krishna’s followers: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
I can’t read the Bible and not feel its underlying message that God is Love; we are all children of Love; and it is the messages of love that emanate from a divine source, while those passages that encourage judgmental thinking were added, I believe, by oppressors who played on the fears of the masses in order to gain power over them.
I have given examples of love as the central message in just three religions; but the golden rule, that you should do to others as you would have others do to you, is the law of love that has been laid down over and over, in different languages, in various religions, around the world. (See The Golden Rule in Thirteen Sacred Texts.) The Dalai Lama has said: "Every religion emphasizes human improvement, love, respect for others, sharing other people's suffering. On these lines every religion has more or less the same viewpoint and the same goal."
Now I have a problem with my membership in the church that promised to save me from eternal damnation. After my contemplations, I realize that a God who is Love cannot leave anyone to such a fate. Even those who don’t believe in God are children of Love, just as a child who runs away from home is still loved and welcomed back on her return. No matter how much our children ignore us and disobey us, we will always love them, won’t we? How could we expect less of God?