In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus said “who isn’t against us is for us”. However the Gospel of John reports Him to have said “do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” So, let’s face it, it is complicated. But undeniably Christianity and other religions have been fraught with divisions, arguments, and fighting. In Russia in the 1600’s, a great schism occurred based partly on whether the sign of the cross should be made with two fingers or three. Tens of thousands of people died. In 1066, Christianity split into Eastern Orthodox and Catholic segments, partly because of three additional words added to the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed itself was created in the fourth century in response to many bitter disputes over theology. The Protestant Reformation resulted in wars killing millions of people. And don’t overlook the many wars and dead in the centuries-long conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims. One is tempted to remark that if people are going to fight wars over religion, they would be better off without religion.
But surely we would be better off to focus on what we have in common. Religions differ in myriad ways in theology, dogma, and doctrine, but most major religions have a great deal in common in terms of morality and ethics. Jesus emphasized love for God and love for one’s fellow humans over and above doctrinal and ritualistic details. Surely all Christians can agree with Jesus that these are the two greatest commandments. And almost all major religions have a version of the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We should love and honor all who those who heed the two great commandments by recognizing that life has Purpose and Meaning, and acknowledging the golden rule and the primacy of love for one’s fellow humans.
Consider prayer, which is another universal amongst major world religions. As a Christian, I can attest that prayer works. It calms and focuses the mind, improves the mood and promotes optimism. Ultimately, through the subtle left hand of God, it often improves outcomes. Once , in Ahmedabad in Gujarat Province of India, I happened to walk by a courtyard full of sincere, reverent and devoted ladies of the Jain faith. Their piety moved me and I was struck by their indistinguishability from reverent Christian groups I have seen and participated with. I have seen similar scenes at Shinto shrines in Japan, Buddhist temples in China, Japan and the United States, and at an Ismaili Mosque in the USA. I think the same God is listening to all of these prayers, at least at some level and in some sense. I also have read prayers from both ancient Egypt and Sumer (circa 4000 years ago) that would fit into the Biblical book of Psalms or one of the Hebrew prophets without attracting notice. Prayer is truly a universal.
In a lifetime of searching, I have found the life and teachings of Jesus to be my best clues to what is right and good. Jesus incarnated in a particular time and place. If He were here physically today, I doubt He would approve of religious strife and hatred, and I suspect that He would love people of all religions.
Peace be unto all people of good will.
Per Baha'u'llah, "the earth is but one county, and mankind its citizens."