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Protestantism and Non-Christian Religions

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Religions of the World

Chapter 1
Comparative Religion in Perspective

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Associate Professor of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University

Comparative Religion in Perspective

Never before were there more urgent reasons to learn about the religious faith and practices of other people, beyond the universal instinct to know all we can about our fellowman in order better to know ourselves.

Translations by Western scholars of the sacred books of the East now reveal to Christians a wealth of customs and creeds that was never dreamed to exist, let alone to have flourished, from the second and third millennium before Christ. But not only the ancient religions of the Orient are coming to full light in the West. The first English translation of the Koran by an Englishman who is a Moslem was published in 1953. Previous translations, he observed, include commentary offensive to Mohammedans, “and almost all employ a style of language which Muslims at once recognize as unworthy. The Koran cannot be translated. That is the belief of the old-fashioned Sheykhs and the view of the present writer.” The result is a rendition that does full justice to the Koranic text in a way not previously open to English-speaking readers.

Along with accurate versions of the sacred writings is a mounting supply of contemporary religious literature, outside the ambit of Christianity, now available in European languages. A single book like the Poems from Iqbal can do more to familiarize Western people with present-day Islam than a library of commentary by men whose nearest acquaintance with Mohammedanism was the writings of Averroes and Avicenna from the Middle Ages.

A rampant Communism which denies the existence of a personal God and now glories in its conquests of almost a fourth of the world’s population is partly the result of ignorance on both sides of the idealism of East and West. It cannot be resisted by force of arms alone but needs the cooperative strength of believers in every religious tradition, notably Christians and Moslems, whose faith is founded on a pure monotheism and who therefore understand Marxism for what it really is, a movement bent on the destruction of the inherent values of Judaeo-Christian Civilization.

Among the positive elements of orthodox Confucianism now being tested to the breaking point in Red China is confidence in the basic goodness of human nature. All men alike possess the same moral powers, which direct them to the practice of virtue. “Man’s nature,” wrote Confucius’ disciple Mencius, “is endowed with feelings that impel it toward the good. That is why I call it good. If men do what is not good, the reason does not lie in the basic stuff of which they are constituted.” What a difference it would have made for the people of China now under Communism, if the Christian West had recognized this sound of optimism in the soul of a nation ground to the dust in great poverty and looking to others for help in its need.

Above the negative resistance to Communist aggression is the social evolution of the world into an ever more cohesive solidarity. Christians especially are beginning to see in rough outline a development, under the pressure of events, of a constantly narrowing international community. They know that this unification is not fortuitous but willed by the Creator, and that it should culminate in a union of minds and hearts which is held together by a common faith and common love. To forward the progress of this movement, knowledge of what the disparate elements of the world believe in their relation to the Ultimate in indispensable, at the risk of promoting a vague humanitarianism that may do more harm than good and result in sacrificing values that have been the mainstay of every vital religion worthy of the name.

A graphic example of ineptitude in handling a grave problem is the current one of offering contraception as the best, if not unique, solution to the so-called population explosion. Many of the world’s people’s resent America’s promotion of contraceptives because it violates their spiritual natures. Burma, for example, is eighty-five per cent Hinayana Buddhist with high ideals of self-sacrificing charity. Its leaders are brutally frank in exposing what they consider self-interest disguised as philanthropy. “American politicians,” the Burmese are told in a Rangoon publication (The Nation), “are obsessed with this thing that somebody has called Asia’s ‘population explosion’. All that we can say is that if (the dispensing of birth control information) is the limit of American ingenuity, inventiveness and technical know-how, they are welcome to use all of it themselves.”

Fifty years ago it would have been naïve to talk seriously about a dialogue between Christianity and the non-Christian religions of the world. A dialogue presumes a confrontation, where two people or two cultures meet in a common effort to understand the other’s viewpoint and profit from a friendly exchange of ideas. But until the present century, about the only contact between Christians and others was on a limited missionary front in Africa and the Far East and in the cosmopolitan fields of commerce and politics, where religion is the last, or at least not the first consideration.

A great deal has happened since the turn of the century to indicate that a new era was born that would belie the phrase that East and West have met in the most devastating war of history and they will meet again, as one Oriental writer observed, in a conflict that may destroy one or both civilizations unless each learns to respect the other and to share what they have separately received from God.

Any response that Christians make to the non-Christian world must be predicated on the assumption that a new situation has arisen which demands intelligent appraisal and reaction. What is this new encounter with the great religions of the East: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Shinto and Confucianism, to which we are supposed to respond?

In numerous ways the non-Christian cultures of Asia and Africa have entered the stream of Western thought and action to a degree unparalleled at any time in the past. Political interests of the large democracies have made information about India, China, Japan and Katanga necessary for peoples in the West, who not two generations ago were only mildly interested in what the Orientals or Africans believed or what their religion meant to them. Nationalism in many countries, only lately under colonial rule, has become the leaven for a religious renascence, where new countries are being shaped out of old colonies and the ancient faith is made the unifying element of the national structure. This in turn created tensions with minority religions, with special problems for the native Christians who are torn between fidelity to their faith and devotion to the country of their birth.

Apart from these transient factors is the universal shrinking of the earth, with speedy means of communication that practically erase distance between nations. Ideas are never sterile and religious ideas are no exception. Christians are living in the atmosphere of a world that is mainly not Christian, whose principles and institutions are daily projected into their midst to produce an encounter that is as real and potentially dynamic as the spirit of man, communicated from one mind to another and demanding a hearing.

On a lesser scale but also important is the daily meeting between Christian and Judaic cultures in all the major countries of the West, and particularly in America. To insure that the progress made in these relations be consolidated, a mutual and sympathetic knowledge of the other’s religious position seems imperative, at the risk of ignoring the depth of conviction on both sides or of indulging in vague platitudes about the golden rule.

Within the Christian tradition, the ecumenical movement has stirred the embers of unitive zeal and aroused leaders in the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches to reunite what was once a single community and heal what is commonly regarded as a sin before God. But Christian reunion cannot begin without previous understanding of the common heritage still retained among the churches, and of the profound differences which divide what should be the one Mystical Body of Christ.

There are grave moral problems that face all countries, particularly the less developed and more densely populated that cannot be solved apart from the ethical foundations on which the respective cultures are built. Symptomatic alleviation is possible on pragmatic grounds and without reference to the religious traditions of the people, but no lasting cure. This demands more than passing knowledge of national traditions and how they can be used to motivate a people that need above all spiritual vigor to meet the crisis of population density and the growing tension between the working and ruling classes.

Leaders in international relations are coming more and more to realize that religious factors cannot be ignored in the study of cooperative world problems. To leave aside the religious dimension on the plea of avoiding prejudice would be to fall into another prejudice and disregard an enormous proportion of the world’s cultures.

Thus in an endeavor to understand the cultural values of the Orient and Occident, to bring to light their origins and foundations, to discern their full significance for the people of these two segments of humanity, the religious factor is not only present but dominant. “The metaphysical beliefs held by the men of today may have grown away from the ancestral faith; the values to which these men still hold, the standards with which they comply, spontaneously and often unconsciously, in their individual and community lives, still bear the mark of their origin, and that origin is often to be sought in religious teaching.” [1]

Moreover these fundamental messages of various peoples are not reflected only in sacred writings, nor do they give rise solely to rites and beliefs. The day-to-day moral conduct of peoples everywhere is impregnated with religious implications. Intellectual systems often rest on this fund of belief. Through the centuries, it has been illustrated in literature and the arts. Legal systems, too, bear the same imprint. Daily life, no matter how secularized, whether in America or Afghanistan, still offers to the observer a reflection of prescriptions and ideals of religious origin.

Consequently the central place occupied by the religious factor cannot be overlooked if we would arrive at a real understanding of the values of all peoples. Religion, it has been said, is the key of history. It is also the key to appreciating whatever a nation produces, from the ancient monuments of the Pharaohs and inscriptions of the early Chinese kings, to the current artwork of Japan or the latest novel in the United States.

For those who believe they possess the fullness of God’s revelation, to know about the religious systems of the world is a means of opening their horizon and animating their zeal to communicate what they have with others who are less privileged than they. If the letter of Xavier in the sixteenth century inspired some of the ablest men of Europe to leave home and kindred and go to the Indies, nothing less may be expected of present-day Christians to sacrifice themselves for the millions untouched by the Gospel, once they have learned what the teachings of Christ would mean to those whom we patronizingly call unbelievers. As expressed by Tanaka Kotaro, convert and chief justice of the supreme court in postwar Japan, “Christianity could be for a reborn Japan her qualification as a member of the world community of peoples, giving us for the first time in our history a sense of Japan’s place and mission in the world, and providing a spiritual bond between East and West, as well as a firm basis for world peace.” [2]

At the same time, knowledge of other religions offers a balance to that intemperate zeal which had much to do with creating the image of Christianity left in parts of Asia and Africa, as a mixture of colonialism, business and piety that obscures the true religion of Jesus Christ. Mahatma Gandhi was a friend of Christians all his life; he read the Gospels and the Imitation of Christ regularly; and his death by an assassin’s bullet was partly the result of his friendship with Christianity that some of his co-religionists resented. Yet Gandhi has written critically of those messengers of the Gospel who see nothing praiseworthy in other peoples, who seek to mold everything according to their own preconceived notions of society, and who are so far removed from reality as seriously to think that Western civilization has a kind of monopoly on culture and human intelligence.

Basic Principles

Any approach to comparing the religions of the world assumes certain principles of judgment, at least as a norm for classification, but more significantly in order to “make sense” of what is otherwise a maze of gods and goddesses, mythological fancies and philosophical theories, all strung together against the background of myriad details for which the average Western reader has no context and almost no point of reference.

The first thing that strikes us as we delve into the living religions of mankind is a fairly clear difference between what is properly their faith or creedal elements and the mythology that surrounds them. It has been correctly pointed out that the mythological side of man’s religion belongs to the poetical part of his nature, yet it seems strangely forgotten in some quarters that a myth is the work of imagination and therefore a work of art. Unless these things are appreciated artistically they are not appreciated at all, with the result that long dissertations are written and theories spun about the origin of myths, instead of seeing them as the spontaneous and exuberant expression for certain deep but often undefined beliefs that are the true religious spirit of the people.

How clearly the natives distinguish between faith and mythology may be seen among the primitives who can be most communicative about their mythical traditions but positively silent about their inner beliefs. The same, in different measure, is true of all the great religions of the world. They have their outer shell, which admittedly for many adherents occupies most of their time and attention, and an inner core that even the crudest worshiper vaguely surmises is the heart of his religion.

This inner religious core is surprisingly theistic, in spite of bewildering mixtures of gods and heroes, where even the pantheon of India’s thousands of deities centers mainly on the personal deity of preservation, Vishnu, to the extent that Hinduism can almost be summarized as Vishnuism.

Parallel with this inner religious core is another, more familiar inner structure of the main religious cultures excogitated by speculative philosophers. Since most people outside Christianity are not literate, their own faith seldom appears in print and for the most part is known only by and from those who have lived on intimate terms with this “majority mind” in Afro-Asia. All the evidence points to their faith being religious in the fundamental sense of theistic, even where a crude polytheism obscures the belief in a superior (and in that sense supreme) personal divinity. The same is not true of the literati, whose written productivity has created the impression that what they profess (or doubt and deny) is the common possession of most non-Christians.

The philosophers are often, if not generally, a-theistic, not because they oppose the notion of a personal God but because they are indifferent to Him as eternal lawgiver who must be obeyed. Thus, in its extreme form, philosophic Buddhism denies the existence of God altogether and places exclusive emphasis on the deliverance of the immortal soul from the body. Always its attitude is conditioned by an unquestioned belief in re-incarnation which it considers not something desirable but as the supreme evil. Human life for the theorist of Buddhism is not God’s greatest gift to man, but a curse that inheres in the very nature of things. Tangible matter and the body are a perpetual drag on the soul, from which the soul longs to be freed. Moreover the deathless condition which is the soul’s natural habitat is not considered something we receive on trust from an external divinity, but something that can be experienced here and now, given the right method and dispositions.

An extreme emphasis on the experience of immortality, where all distinction falls away from the experiencing subject, led certain Indian philosophers of the Vedanta school to identify the human soul in this deep unity with the ultimate and impersonal source and ground of the universe. In fact, Vedanta would identify the soul with the godhead and claim that once this condition is empirically realized the whole phenomenal world is seen to be an illusion.

But Vedanta is not the religion of most Hindus, even as Zen is not the system of most Buddhists. Unless this distinction between oriental philosophies, which tends to monism and atheism, and Oriental religion in the hearts of the masses is kept in mind, the most extravagant theories of individual (although influential) thinkers will be saddled on the less pretentious but more theistic faith of the uneducated and unphilosophical believers.

Reflecting on the datum of man’s religious history, two principal positions have been taken by comparative religionists. The one sees religious culture as only another phrase of the evolutionary process of development from the less to the more perfect. According to this hypothesis, monotheism is a late phenomenon of religion. The trend towards monotheism, it is held, was gradual and had preparatory stages. The first stage was what is called Monarchianism. After the analogy of human society, one deity was exalted above the rest and became kind of the gods. A more advanced stage was that of monolatry, where other gods were admitted to exist, but worship was limited to one.

In the evolutionary theory, the earliest attempt to introduce monotheism, in this case a solar monotheism was that of the Egyptian Amenhotep IV, in the fourteenth century B.C. His efforts failed because of the popular pressure in favor of many gods. More impressive was the monotheism of Zarathustra about eight hundred years before the Christian era. However Zoroastrianism fell into the trap of a rigid dualism, in which all the goodness in the world comes from a good Deity and all the wickedness from an ultimate principle of evil.

Finally, by the time of the eighth century prophets of Israel, the earlier monolatry became a true monotheism, and the dualism of the Avesta was cleared away. Jewish monotheistic universalism finds its clear expression in the work of Deutero-Isaias, from which heritage of the Hebrew religion Christianity derived its pure monotheism, and the same influence is manifest in the religion of Islam.

Needless to say there are facts in religious history to support this theory, certainly the monotheistic influence of Judaism on its contemporaries and of Christianity since the time of Christ. But that is a far cry from maintaining that the hypothesis of a primitive monotheism lacks foundation and is intrinsically improbable.

However, the real issue involved is not whether cultural anthropology has established on scientific grounds the existence of a primitive monotheism, from which later polytheisms are decadent deviations. The question is whether man’s religious history is to be interpreted on a priori grounds of an evolutionary hypothesis, postulating a strict natural continuum from earlier to later stages, where everything that follows is explained by what precedes, and allowing for no supernatural breakthrough on the part of God as master of the universe and provident Lord of creation.

Judaeo-Christianity believes that historic religion is more than a natural phenomenon, rising on its creedal side from animism, through polytheism, to the monotheism of the Hebrews and Christians; and on its ritual side from magic and fetishism, through taboo, ancestor worship and tribal kinds to propitiation of nature spirits, culminating in adoration of the one invisible God. Aside from the curious fact that most contemporary religions are not purely monotheistic, which is hard to explain of a “natural” development of human culture, the Judaeo-Christian principle of religious origins shows from provable history that God has, indeed, broken through the sequence of world events to communicate truths and establish norms which transcend the capacity of the human mind to conceive naturally or implement by its own genius. This revelation was given, already in time immemorial, to the first progenitors of man, continued through centuries of pre-Mosaic history and other centuries from Moses to the last of the prophets. It reached its highest expression in the time of Christ, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and His apostles, and closed, as to content but not interpretation, around the end of the first century of the Christian era.

The coexistence of these two concepts of religious history, the naturalistic or continuous and the supernatural or revelational, dates back to the early period of Christianity. Always the focus was the acceptance or denial of miraculous intervention on the part of God to communicate the mysteries of faith to His people, and their responsive obligation to believe His message and follow the precepts which He laid down. In the middle of the second century, Justin the Martyr wrote an Apology to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, answering the Roman objection that perhaps, “the one whom we call Christ was a man born of men, and has worked what we call miracles through the art of magic, and thus appeared to be the Son of God,” without valid claim. His reply was an elaborate defense of the holiness of Christ, foretold by the prophets and fulfilled during His mortal life. The argument was that no one in league with the evil spirit would be the object of ages of prophetic prediction, or have lived so closely united with God, and have been so devoted to the welfare of His fellowman. [3]

Before the end of the second century, the Roman Celsus concentrated on the resurrection of Christ which he recognized as pivotal in the new religion. The resurrection of Jesus, he said, should be equated with the stories of heroes in pagan mythology; with the story of Zamolxis who dwelt beneath the earth for three years and returned on the surface alive, of Rhamsinitus in Egypt who played at dice with Demeter in Hades and returned to the upper world with a golden napkin he received from her as a gift, or Orpheus among the Odrysians, Protesilaus in Thessaly, Hercules at Cape Taeranus, or Theseus and other like fables.

Has anyone who was really dead ever risen with a veritable body? When others relate such stories, you brand them as specious and mythical, and do you explain your own myth as beautiful and believable, telling us how he (Jesus) spoke in a loud voice when dying on the cross, how the earth shook and darkness fell, and, though unable to help himself during life, arose from the dead and showed the marks of his punishment and the place where his hands had been pierced? Who beheld all this? A half-frantic woman, as you state, and some other one, perhaps, of those who were engaged in the same system of delusion. [4]

Origen answered the charge through a closely reasoned analysis of the historical evidence for Christ’s resurrection and the absence of any proof for the fables of mythology. Point by point, he replied to Celsus, and concluded with an appeal to logic. “I hold that a clear and unmistakable proof of the resurrection are the subsequent labors of His disciples, who devoted themselves to the teaching of a doctrine which was attended with danger to human life, a doctrine they would not have taught with such courage had they invented the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The disciples not only prepared others to ignore death, but they were also the first to show how they despised its terrors.” [5]

Before the end of the third century, another concerted challenge to the supernatural origins of a religion was made by Hierocles, provincial governor under Diocletian, who wrote a book (Philalethes, Lover of Truth) in which he tried to show that a first century philosopher, Appollonius of Tyana, was as remarkable a worker of miracles and as potent an exorcist as Jesus of Nazareth. Hierocles was promptly answered by the Christian apologists of his day, notably Lactantius in the Divine Institutes and by Eusebius of Caesaria in a special work dedicated to that purpose.

Since the rise of Deism in the sixteenth century and up to modern times, critics of the Christian revelation have used the life of Apollonius to advance their own naturalist theory of religion. Renan placed Apollonius above Socrates and equal to Jesus as a god. Guignebert believed there was an “essential similarity of means and results” between the wonders of the man from Tyana and the miracles of Christ.

Quite apart from Apollonius, however, a common approach to religious movements is to assume that because of superficial similarities they are all essentially alike and exhibit the same tendency to apotheosize their founders, with equal lack of foundation in fact. In this scheme, Christianity is no exception.

The most striking parallels occur in the case of the notion of miraculous birth for the messiah of the movement. Scores of half-man, half-god personalities were announced to be of virgin birth, spiritual conception, or in some fashion not tainted by the normal processes associated with being born. Such accounts were given for all the following persons before Jesus: Krishna, Buddha, Codom, Lao-tsze, Confucius, Horus, Ra, Zoroaster, Hercules, Prometheus, Mercury, Apollo, Alexander the Great, Cyrus the Persian, and even Plato. In each instance there are accounts which contain claims to authenticity. Where does this leave the person committed to the view of biblical inerrancy? Why should one account be considered more authentic than any other, since each is vouched for by a written testimony? [6]

The difficulty with this approach is not its interlarding of fictional characters (Krishna, Mercury, Hercules and Apollo) with real persons (Confucius, Alexander and Cyrus), or even its lumping together of poetic fiction with empirical fact, but its calm ignoring of the mountain of evidence in favor of one Person who proved His claim to transcendence by verifiable phenomena and established a spiritual community whose twenty centuries of corporate existence alone argue to more than human origins.

Behind such naturalism is a principle that would not only rule out the supernatural character of Judaism and Christianity, but deny the very possibility of a divine entrance into human existence by way of special revelation. Immanuel Kant’s Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone and Julian Huxley’s Religion Without Revelation illustrate the principle and, at least with Kant, had much to do with shaping it.

The same intransigence which explains all religious beginnings by purely human agencies has developed an elaborate theory on the future destiny of the world’s religions, which are seen to be merging into one composite whole. It begins by assuming their essential oneness but separate inadequacy and therefore postulates a time when each will borrow from the other to form a syncretism which happily combines them all. In the words of the Kasidah of Haji Abdu el-Yezdi, “all Faith is false; all Faith is true. Truth is the shattered mirror strown in myriad bits; while each believes his little bit the whole to own.” When all the broken chips are pieced together, then the wholeness of truth will be known.

Parallel with a naturalistic hypothesis of religious origins and final consummation is the Judaeo-Christian interpretation which recognizes that “When in former times God spoke to our forefathers, He spoke in fragmentary and varied fashion through the prophets. But in this final age He has spoken to us in the Son whom He has made heir to the whole universe.” [7] Man was not left to his own resources but received communications from eternal Truth, addressing Himself to the rational creatures whom He destined to a share in His eternal beatitude.

Nor was this all. Although the public revelation, as it is technically known, closed with the death of the last apostle, the hand of the Lord is not shortened. He does not ease to enlighten by the internal light of His grace every man who comes into the world, teaching and directing the souls of the most distant Pygmies to arrive at the saving knowledge of His name. [8]

While saying this, however, and admitting that divine revelation has affected all nations or that interior illumination is open to every heart disposed to receive it, we compromise on the essential message of supernaturalism if we add with Arnold Toynbee that, “We ought to try to purge our Christianity of the traditional Christian belief; it is intrinsic to Christianity’s uniqueness.” [9] Of course Christianity should not be intolerant of persons. It must recognize the right of each man to follow his own conscience; but it cannot help being sure of its uniqueness without betraying its own nature and denying the very purpose of its existence, which is to teach men the way to salvation.

Yet there is a legitimate sense in which the Christian can be convinced of the absolute truth of his own position without belittling and much less despising other religious systems than his own. He may consider his own religion normative for others, without looking upon them as empty of content or devoid of profound insight into man’s relations with God.

When Thomas Aquinas built the edifice of Medieval Scholasticism and united the corpus of Christian revelation into a marvelous synthesis, the structure he used was mainly that of a “pagan” philosopher, Aristotle, together with borrowings from Homer, Plato, Virgil, Sallust, Seneca, Horace, two great Islamic writers, Averroes, Avicenna and the Jewish sage, Moses Maimonides.

It is only speculation to surmise what would have been the course of Western religion if the Renascence and Reformation had not occurred. The Renascence revived interest in classical thought and mythology, discovering the riches of Homer and Plato, Virgil and Cicero; and the recovery of an appreciation of the glories of ancient Greece and the splendors of pagan Rome might have led to a corresponding discovery of the wisdom of China and India, as suggested by the sixteenth century labors of Matteo Ricci and Robert de Nobili. But the Renascence was quickly followed in Northern Europe by the narrowing influence of a new theology which circumscribed the native capacities of human nature. Instead of the broad tolerance of Aquinas whose veneration for Aristotle led him to speak of the Stagyrite simply as the Philosopher, “the Calvinistic doctrine of the inherent depravity of unredeemed humanity reacted against a sympathetic understanding of pagan religion.” The consequences have been felt for centuries directly in the Protestant tradition and indirectly, through Jansenism, in Catholic circles. [10] Fortunately they are being neutralized on all sides by a return to the wisdom of the early Church, which distinguished in other religions the authentic spirit of God, whose Truth is not limited to one people or nation, and the aberrations caused by the weakness of man’s intellect because of the Fall.

The ancient Fathers, Augustine, Jerome, and Prosper of Aquitaine said some harsh things about pagan depravity and the spectacle of a thousand gods. But they never lost sight of the “naturally Christian soul” described by Tertullian, and even defended the classical authors against their traducers, as when Gregory Nazianzen opposed the imprudent zealots who would forbid Christians to learn Greek and Roman writers.

Implicit in this attitude is a realistic optimism which steers a middle course between two extremes, neither considering those outside Judaeo-Christianity so perfect as to ignore their need of revelation nor so depraved they are given no credit for any spiritual achievement. With St. Paul, it asserts the power of the mind, even of the unregenerated, to arrive at some knowledge of God and of the moral law, “for all that may be known of God by men lies plain before their eyes; indeed God Himself has disclosed it to them. His invisible attributes, that is to say His everlasting power and deity, have been visible, ever since the world began, to the eye of reason, in the things He has made.” If they fail to worship the Creator, “there is no possible defense for their conduct,” if, “knowing God, they have refused to Honor Him as God, or to render Him thanks.” [11]

It is not the role of comparative religion to pass moral judgment, but only to describe phenomena and evaluate them according to objective norms. For the Christian these norms are remarkably broad and inclusive. They are based on the double premise that, in spite of the consequences of sin, man’s spirit remains substantially intact and therefore capable of autonomous insight and volition in matters religious; and that God’s grace is universal and therefore active on all men without exception, since it is His will that all should come to a knowledge of the Truth and be saved.

From this viewpoint, the study of world religions becomes more than a catalogue of numerous beliefs and rites. It is an effort to trace the cosmic dialogue between God and the human race, of His operation on the souls of men and of their response to His claims.

Chapter 1 - Comparative Religions in Perspective


[1] Luther H. Evans (Unesco Director General), Culture and Religious Values. Address delivered at Vienna, September 6, 1958.

[2] Sources of Japanese Tradition, New York, 1958, pp. 890-891.

[3] Justin the Martyr, “Apologia I,” Patrologia Graeca (Migne), 6, 374.

[4] Origen, “Contra Celsum,” Ibid., II, 886.

[5] Ibid., 887.

[6] Donald A. Wells, God, Man and the Thinker: Philosophies of Religion, New York, 1962, p. 228.

[7] Hebrews I, 1-2.

[8] St. Thomas has suggested that in case of necessity God would “reveal by internal inspiration what he has to believe,” to the “good pagan” who followed the dictates of conscience in doing good and avoiding evil (De Veritate, XIV, II). Some theologians have extended the idea to say that every dying person has a supreme moral test on which his destiny depends. At that moment infidels receive a special revelation. This theory is perhaps tenable, provided a possible exception to the ordinary course of Providence is not stated as an absolute and universal law.

[9] Arnold Toynbee, Christianity Among the Religions of the World, New York, 1957, pp. 95-96.

[10] E. O. James, Comparative Religion, London, 1961, p. 15.

[11] Romans I, 19-21.

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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