I was raised as a Protestant Christian, an Episcopalian. Then as an adult I became involved in Hindu spiritual groups, and was first exposed to the claim that there is some kind of unity underlying the world religious faiths. However, subsequent discussions with Christians made it clear that many of them do not accept this notion of "religious unity" and regard other religious traditions as having no positive role to play in human salvation.
Further research turned up a number of books by devotees of Eastern paths, each purporting to show that Christ's teachings are consistent with Yoga or other such doctrines. However, all these studies had a serious deficiency: each highlighted only selected statements of Jesus. This approach made it easy for them to possibly ignore or gloss over areas where real differences might exist.
Additionally, it is important to realize that the idea of religious unity can itself take many forms. Following are some possibilities:
In my own beliefs, I started at the top of this list and have gradually migrated toward the bottom. I'll pause here to elaborate the last viewpoint, that of Heterogeous Unity.
Each religion can be thought of as a tapestry woven of threads of varied colors, combined in varying patterns. For example, japa, or mantra repetition, might be one such thread. In Hinduism it is a very widespread practice, but it also pops up as the rosary in Roman Catholicism, worry beads in Greece, and the 99 names of Allah in Islam. On the other hand, Jesus appears to ban the whole practice when he says "use not vain repetitions." So the thread shows up in many, but not all, faiths; and even in the faiths that share this thread, it is present in different arrangements, in different contexts, and is regarded as having a somewhat different sort of significance.
Similarly, the "reincarnation" thread is found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and some African or African/American faiths such as Voudun -- not to mention in New Age thinking. You can find it popping up occasionally in Judaism or Christianity, but in those faiths it is a minority viewpoint that is usually branded as a heresy. Each faith gives reincarnation a slightly different "spin," such as the belief in Ifa that you are actually a reincarnation of one of your own ancestors; a notion not to be found in Hinduism, in my experience.
Speaking of ancestors, the practice of making prayers or offerings for the departed is found in Confucianism, Hinduism, and African traditions. In Roman Catholicism you have prayer for those in Purgatory, and prayer to saints for their intercession. Most notorious are the Ancient Egyptians, who today we mock for making elaborate tombs, mummifying their dead, and leaving offerings at the tomb. Yet in modern America we also embalm our dead, bury them in fancy coffins and leave flowers at their grave. Like the Egyptians, we have even been known to do the same for our pets.
Such recurrent themes must reflect some profound truths of our existence, whether they be metaphysical truths or psychological ones.
The search for the "historical" Jesus has become a booming industry of late, with many authors using complex analytical tools to trace the authorship and evolution of the New Testament. For example, Funk, Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar have recently published an edition of The Five Gospels that attempts to indicate which statements attributed to Jesus are authentic, and which spurious. The "historical" Jesus statements are printed in red, the "legendary" Jesus statements in black, with two other shades to indicate varying levels of adulteration.
Consider the following statement from the editors of The Five Gospels. In reference to Luke 22:35-38, they say:
The Fellows were virtually unanimous in putting this complex in the gray or black category, for the following reasons: (1) the sayings appear to have been assembled to suit the symposium context and to anticipate the impending arrest; (2) Luke has apparently composed the narrative in which the sayings are embedded, since this segment has no parallel; (3) the allusion to Isa 53:12 and the Lukan formula, often repeated, "what is written about me must come true," suggests that the imagination of the early community is at work, stimulated by the scriptures. Further, there is nothing in the words attributed to Jesus that cuts against the social grain, that would surprise or shock his friends, or that reflects exaggeration, humor, or paradox.
Now, Jesus certainly seems to have said a good many shocking, paradoxical, or inconvenient things. But does it follow that he never said anything straightforward or commonsensical? That he never anticipated the future? That Luke had no authentic sources that other gospel writers did not? You could argue that the various factors cited have a sort of cumulative weight, but even at that it amounts to systematic guesswork. Further, the authors overlook the most obvious reason for doubting this quote, which is that it contradicts others of Jesus' statements.
Because of the difficulties involved, I've made no effort on this website to indicate the possibly varying historical authenticity of the Jesus statements. The Jesus presented here is not the Historical Jesus, but simply the Gospel Jesus.
I hope that you find this website helpful. It contains no easy answers, but hopefully does provide much food for thought.
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© Copyright 1996 by Joseph Morales