Glorifying one God doesn't make us the same

By  Dave Gordon, Catholic Register Special
  • June 22, 2009

{mosimage}What God Really Wants You to Know , by C. David Lundberg (Heavenlight Press, softcover, 448 pages, $24.57).

Pope Benedict XVI’s recent visit to the Holy Land emphasized the idea that the three religions of the book — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — share common ground.

What God Really Wants You to Know, a self-published 427-page tome by C. David Lundberg, endeavours to teach the same lesson.

Lundberg was raised a Christian, but as a teen began asking questions he felt Christianity could not answer. He began looking to other religions, and although he still considers himself a Christian, he also counts himself as a member of all religions.

{sa 0979630800}From his study of seven of the world’s major religions — Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Confucianism — Lundberg realized there are universal truths and principles shared by all. He found religions have more in common than differences. He reckons if more people realized these commonalities, there would be less conflict in the world. He describes individual religions as being different paths to the same God.

Perhaps unintentionally symbolic, this go-at-it-alone self-publishing effort correlates with being joined to no one established religious organization. Lundberg’s declaration that he is a member of every religion hides the fact that even if he considers himself a “member” of all, he cannot be a practitioner of all. Therein lies a potential shortcoming of the book, a byproduct of his universalism.

The flaw is that he winds up ripping quotes to prove a thesis, but forgets religion along the way. Religions are not just made up of values and ethics, but also practices, community, traditions and beliefs. He accepts the essential parts of religions that advocate belief in God and good character traits, but this does not constitute a religion.

It’s almost as if Lundberg encourages what is holy to be removed from what is good. This separation raises a question. If all religions espouse ethical common sense, then what good is religion? A supreme ruler isn’t required if all humanity shares the same insight. And it goes without saying, though world religions advocate ethical behaviour, they do not guarantee it.

By distilling what is the same in seven religions, Lundberg has erased the individual essences of each and made them meaningless. The great spiritual traditions become nothing more than etiquette lessons that for most are common sense.

Lundberg has a noble goal in trying to bridge the differences between religions. But trying to convince people that religions are all essentially the same and equally valid and good is not a good way.

Lundberg has distilled the commonalities into 33 principles and gives them each a chapter in his book. The book’s contents are focused on two major parts of religious beliefs: descriptions of the nature of God and how to live a joyful and peaceful life. All told, Lundberg uses 800 quotations from various holy books to prove his points. The collected principles include known religious values such as the omnipotence of God, charity, loving speech, moderation and gratitude.

Lundberg offers only short introductions to each chapter and section, without further commentary on each quotation. This approach makes the book appear to be simply a compendium of quotes rather than an analysis. However, the amount of research done on each religion is apparent, as is the thought that went into developing each of the chapters.

Learning about the commonalities between world religions, in theory, is certainly one good way to start overcoming interreligious antagonism. For anyone who might suspect that a certain religion is inherently hateful, or lacks the preaching of loving-kindness, this book would be of service. Through this book there may be a certain comfort gained — that the intended messages world religions generally have at their core have the capacity to make us better. 

A better book idea, perhaps, might be to show us how we might all just get along by knowing and struggling with our real differences.

It’s not religions that hate; people do. A religion ought to be judged by its practitioners and what light they bring to the world, rather than how many wise sayings can be found that advocate ethical behaviours.

(Gordon is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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