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Religions teach same virtue

>Q: I was raised as a Christian. I can understand the relationship of Christianity to Judaism, but I wonder what you think of Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism? Some very great people have embraced those religions. What do you think happens when they die?

-- R.

A: I agree with you that all the great wisdom traditions have much to teach us about virtue, salvation (and really delicious holiday food!). I'm also proud to be a believer in Judaism, which teaches that after death the righteous of all nations will have a share in the world to come (heaven).

The specific theological issues raised by each faith remain for each of us to ponder. The most problematic belief of Christianity for many stems from Jesus' statement: "I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) And in Acts 4:12, the Apostle Peter says of Christ: "There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved."

Some Christian theologians, such as Karl Rahner, have tried to soften these claims by arguing that those who have never heard of Christianity but live good and pious lives might also be saved by Jesus as "anonymous Christians." This idea seems paternalistic and condescending to many non-Christians and fundamentally anti-Christian to other Christian theologians. So the argument continues.

The theology of Islam is very close to that of Judaism, although there does exist a proselytizing element in Muslim theology that also can rankle non-Muslims who want their own theologies recognized as valid and salvific on their own terms.

The theological problems with Hinduism have to do with its belief in many gods. Such practice strikes many non-Hindus as close to idolatry. However, the centrality of Brahman as the cosmic spirit of the universe does support a more monotheistic interpretation of Hinduism.

Brahman, by the way, is not to be confused with Brahma, one of the three chief gods of Hinduism, along with Vishnu and Shiva.

The theological beliefs of Buddhism are by far the most problematic to all forms of theistic religion, since Buddhism does not profess a belief in God. However, the Buddhist ethical teachings called the Eightfold Path derive a morality completely consistent with that derived from theistic religions. This fact has always been inspiring.

No matter how deep the theological differences may be, all the wisdom traditions of the world teach the same wisdom concerning our need to be caring and compassionate to all.

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>Q: I'm in my mid-50s, recently divorced. I have three children, all grown and on their own, and four grandchildren. When raising my children, I would classify myself as a "Sunday Christian." Since then, my life has changed. I've been saved. It was not easy giving up a lifestyle I'd followed for many years, but I did and feel rewarded.

Now, I'm being told by a spiritual adviser that I should distance myself from my children because they're not living a godly lifestyle.

Are there parts of the Bible that reflect on this situation? I have read that we need to distance ourselves from ungodly people and ungodly situations. Do you think it holds true in this case?

-- K.

A: I think your familial and theological instincts are correct. I follow the word of God that commands us regarding God's laws to "Teach them to your children" (Deuteronomy 6:7). Teaching requires contact and love. I would urge you to continue to teach your children by godly witnessing, not judgmental distancing. God is not through with them yet, and God is not through saving you yet. We are saved together. Good luck and God bless!

Rabbi Marc Gellman is happy to try to answer your religious, personal or ethical questions. Send questions only to The God Squad, c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207, or email them to godsquadquestion@aol.com.

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