Few have not heard about the offensive remarks President Obama made at the National Prayer Breakfast when he compared the Christian Crusades to the terrible atrocities done by ISIS. The remainder of that speech may have been less incendiary and less quoted but it is equally troubling. The blatant statement equating ISIS with Christianity only amplified the more subtle undertone of the speech, which was directed at leveling the differences between religions.
The president’s intent, it seems, was to make it appear that all faiths share the same good values when not being “twisted and distorted” by “those who seek to hijack religion for their own murderous ends.” For example, he implied that all faiths are based on one common principle, the Golden Rule, or love for others, and then he went on to quote passages along those lines from the Torah, the Quran, and the Bible, respectively.
So, what is the problem here? First of all, an assertion such as Obama’s is simply untrue. All religions are not the same, and they do not share a common philosophical framework, worldview, or theology. Islam and Christianity in particular, to use the examples given by Obama, are fundamentally different from the foundation of their most basic concepts, as discussed in the AFA Journal article “Not the Same.”
In fact, a comparative study of world religions will reveal that Christianity is entirely different from all other belief systems. In no other religion, does God come to save men and women, merely as an act of grace and wholly apart from any good or evil deeds man may do. In every other religion, we see man looking at himself, to see how he may please God, what he may do to obtain salvation and eternal security. In Christianity, a person can look only to God. God steps out of heaven to walk on earth, coming right to hopeless sinners and completely freeing them from having to try to earn salvation by paying the price Himself.
But even with recognition of Christianity’s uniqueness, pleas for religious tolerance do not seem like something to argue against. After all, we do believe in upholding religious freedom. But there is cause for concern when religious tolerance is confused with religious freedom, and that is what was done in the president’s speech.
The religious tolerance that Obama advocated is essentially religious pluralism, which says that all beliefs are equally valid. That means that one religion, such as Christianity, cannot claim to be any better than another religion, such as Islam. It also means that Christianity cannot make an exclusive claim to truth, such as saying that Jesus is the only way to heaven.
As apologist and author Nancy Pearcey told AFA Journal in the upcoming May issue, “[Religious tolerance], denying any conflict, denies that Christianity makes any real truth claims, portraying it as just a matter of personal experience that helps people cope with life or find guidance.”
This attitude of religious tolerance, or religious pluralism, was clearly described by the president at the prayer breakfast when he said, “I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt - not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.”
Interestingly, Obama grounded his call for religious pluralism in a vague sort of humanism. His basis for urging tolerance centered on the argument that we are all “children of God.” He used this terminology again at the more recent Easter Prayer Breakfast speech on April 7, when he described more fully what he meant by that phrase.
“Where there are differences, we find strength in our common humanity, knowing that we are all children of God,” he said.
Here again is a statement that sounds compelling, but veers off from striking a note of truth. Religion should not be based on our humanity, but on God. That is another thing that Christianity teaches and so, even as sought to deny any differences, Obama’s own words demonstrated that Christianity is indeed set apart from what he was advocating.
Yet, Christianity does offer what he hopes for. Near the end of his speech, he urged people of all faiths to work together in being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and then he shared a quote: “None of us are home until all of us are home.” That is what Christians, sharing and insisting on our exclusive truth claims, are on a mission to do. We are indeed concerned for our brothers and sisters, hoping and laboring for them to be brought home at last. And because we know the One who is the Way to that eternal home and they do not, it is up to us to keep watch over them, pointing them to the path they must take if they are ever to arrive there safely.