St. Georg Ochsenhausen (By Thomas Mirtsch, via Wikimedia Commons)
I know. I know. This is not really politically correct.
You’re supposed to pretend that all religions are equal. The comparative religions professor (who often has comparatively no religion) teaches that all religions are human inventions based on interesting and unique historical circumstances and cultures.
The theory is that religions developed from animism when cavemen grunted at the sun, moon and stars and made up stories about the people who lived there. Then they made up stories about gods, which became myths, and they started making sacrifices to the sky people and then they made more stories and eventually they added rules and so all the different religions just developed.
Like most heresies it is a half-truth, and like most half-truths, it is more believable than the full truth. The full truth is always incredible at first glance and yet completely credible on deeper examination.
Are all religions equal? If you have one of those posters with a sunset and a slogan that says, “We are all climbing the same mountain but by different paths” then you might draw the sentimental conclusion that all religions are equal.
But they’re not. Think it through for a moment. Is Judaism, with its monotheism, rituals, rules and regulations equal to the Aztec religion, with genocidal human sacrifice? I don’t think so.
Is Hinduism, with its ornate mythos, ancient rituals and fascinatingly populated pantheon of gods equal to Jehovah’s Witness? Is Islamic Wahhabism, which condones violence, equal to sherry-sipping American Episcopalianism?
Religions are not the same and they’re not equal. Some religions are morally, theologically and philosophically superior to others, just like some composers and artists are superior to others. McCartney wrote some nice tunes, but he’s not Mozart. Norman Rockwell painted some good pictures, but he’s not Rembrandt.
Likewise, some religions are superior to others, and Christianity is the best. And of the Christians, Catholicism is the best. In asserting this I’m not saying all other religions are rubbish. The Catholic Church teaches that all other religions have elements of goodness, truth and beauty, and we affirm the goodness in those religions. But we also affirm that Christianity is best and we do so for one simple reason.
Before I explain why I should say what I’m NOT arguing. I’m not arguing that Christians are the best people. We’ve got some pretty great accomplishments in our history, but we’ve got our share of stinkers too. Christians are hypocrites and sinners just like everybody else. I’m not arguing here for how brilliantly the religion has been lived out, but how brilliant the religion is. Chesterton (as usual) was right, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has not been tried.”
I am writing this during Lent, and to put it very simply, Christianity is a superior religion because of Holy Week and Good Friday.
It is superior because of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
What I’m getting at is that Christianity is the only religion that does not ignore or skirt the issue of suffering. Indeed, terrible suffering is at the very heart of our religion. Our central icon is a crucifix. Our central act of worship is a commemoration and re-presentation of the execution of an innocent victim.
Other religions skirt the issue. Buddhism and Hinduism teach that suffering is part of the karmic cycle and the way to avoid suffering is to rise above it through detachment from the material world.
Epicureanism avoids the issue by teaching one to “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you die.” While Stoicism teaches that one must accept suffering, if possible, with dignity, do one’s duty and pass on.
Islam teaches that suffering is God’s arbitrary choice, and don’t ask questions. Primitive religions have no problem with suffering because they do not have a God who is good. Suffering for them is simply part of the cosmos, and fatalism is their creed.
Judaism comes closest to Christianity in that the Jews accept suffering as an inexplicable part of being the chosen people of God.
But consider what we do with suffering. We struggle over the question, “How can a good God allow suffering?” We rage over the question. We debate it and people become atheists because of this terrible conundrum.
And Christians (and most especially Catholic Christians) say, “Yes, it is a problem, but the whole reason for our religion is God’s answer to the problem. This is not something we sweep under the carpet. This is not something we ignore. Suffering is the whole problem, and the answer is the point of our whole religion. We preach Christ, and him crucified.”
We see suffering as a result of free will and free will as the requirement for true love to exist. If you cannot love freely you cannot love. That free will ultimately produces bad choices and those bad choices produce suffering.
We acknowledge that suffering is the problem, and innocent suffering is really the problem.
Furthermore, within the problem is the solution and within the question lies the answer. We see the cycle of pride which blames others, excludes others and eventually kills others — and Jesus Christ comes into the midst of that cycle of pride and takes the blame. He reverses the cycle and by rising from the dead defeats the power of suffering from the inside out.
Christianity is the one religion that plunges into the depth of the suffering, wrestles with the darkness and comes out the other side, bloodied but triumphant.
We say this is what our hero Christ the Lord did on Good Friday, and this is why we say he is our Savior — because he wrestled with the devil, went through the dark and came out the other side. From that time on suffering had lost its sting and death lost its stench.
For those who would follow him there was hope. For those who would walk with him there was light on the other side and calm after the terrible storm.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker was raised in an Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from college with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University and was ordained an Anglican minister in England.
In 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. Since then, he has become a prolific writer and author of twenty books, including Catholicism Pure & Simple, Quest for the Creed and The Mystery of the Magi.
In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as Pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina.