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Pastor's Corner: Why are religions different?

Churches have a lot of things in common. But they are not all the same. There are differences as well as similarities, as anyone who has visited other churches while on vacation can verify. And if there are differences between one congregation and another, or one denomination and another, that’s even more obvious between one religion and another.

If you’ve ever thought about it, it’s kind of a strange thing. We’re all human beings, after all, and we share a lot of the same interests, concerns and problems. If all religions are motivated, at least in part, by a sense that there’s more to this life than just what we see, how come they wind up being so different from one another?

It would be too easy and superficial to explain those differences as just due to a unique history or a distinct culture. Of course that kind of factor plays a role. But there is also a difference of ideas (aka doctrines or teachings).

In one of his early books, The Pilgrim’s Regress, C.S. Lewis gives a very striking image. “In a country where all the food is more or less poisoned – but some of it very much less than more – you need very complicated rules indeed to keep healthy.” That vividly explains why every religion has things you’re supposed to do, and things you aren’t. We all know that there are problems and dangers that have to be navigated somehow.

Lewis’ imagery gives us one clue to answering the question why religions are different. What they ask their followers to do is different, in part, because there are different views as to which metaphorical foods are more poisoned than others, or how best to counteract the poison. In that way, it’s a similar situation to different diets. People go for ketogenic or plant-based or Mediterranean or carnivorous diets, based in part on what problems they’re trying to address with a special diet.

We can give one answer to the question, “Why are religions different?” We can say, “Because their diagnosis of the human problem, and their prescription for what to do about it, are not all the same.” If you had to describe in simple language the basic problem humans face and the best way to tackle it, what would you say?


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