Isms and ologies
Comparing religions, philosophies and worldviews and choosing between them
One of the defining characteristics of humanity is that we are religious by nature. Universally, whether in the form of organised religions, deep philosophical thought about ultimate meaning, or a personal way of looking at life, we do not live by instinct but think deeply about life and from this draw our values and make our most important decisions. However, our students are confronted with a bewildering array of options, all of which call to them to choose their way. How are they to choose between them? Are they all really the same? Does it matter? Is Jesus really different? What criteria can we possibly use to decide? Choosing, however, cannot be avoided, and the consequences could be eternal in nature, so being able to think through the options is essential.
In one sense the array of options is bewildering and it is tempting to simply say it is too hard. Some are well known, such as the major religions:
plus a host of smaller groups, including the very many folk religions to be found among the indigenous populations around the world.
In addition to these are a further range of philosophies/worldviews , which are perhaps less well known but arguably more important in the sense of current influence, though not numbers:
Eastern religious/philosophical approaches in general
These various world views are not necessarily mutually exclusive, with some ideas reappearing in many forms. Some are polar opposites. Though the names may not be familiar, the ideas behind these worldviews permeates our society and both we and our students are heavily influenced by them whether we realize it or not. In general, but not always, these views are built on a foundation of Materialism/Naturalism/Scientism, here are joined together as being essentially different names for the same basic idea. Being thus related, it is possible to address them all at the same time, unless there is a need to explore them in depth. The point is that all of our students have imbibed this potion and so there is a need to open it up and examine it in the light of day.
A useful way of doing this is to break them down into some basic questions which are foundational and through which the various positions can be conveniently compared. Some suggested questions are:
Where did I/we come from?
Who or what are we/
Why are we here?
How can we know what is true?
What is wrong with the world?
What is the solution?
How does this religion/philosophy express itself in history and values?
Where are we going?
Humanity is created in the image of God and is fundamentally religious in nature
God has revealed himself in creation but we worship the creation instead of the creator
Faith in the Bible is grounded in facts. It is not faith without a foundation
Our choices will determine how we relate to all of life
Our choices will have eternal consequences. This cannot be avoided
Why do you believe what you believe?
Are all religions the same?
What about other philosophies? What are their foundations?
What are the major options and how do they compare to Christianity? Are they all the same or different?
Christianity begins with Jesus and everything builds and flows from there
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. Col 1:16.
Genesis 1:26-28 - created in God's image, we are inherently religious
Romans 1:18-32 - worship the creation instead of the creator and suppress the truth. In a sense, there are only two basic religious/philosophical positions. One is Monism, which means that there is only one reality, the Creation if you like, and that all answers and hence all worship is found here. So, the Hindu might believe everyone and everything is God, while the Materialist might believe that only the physical reality is real, yet for both they focus on this creation and seek to know and understand it by the same means, that is we explore and understand it. The other is Dualism, which posits a Creation and a Creator, where all the answers and worship lie outside the creation and hence outside ourselves. Only Christianity is truly dualistic because only Christianity put its faith solely in the the God who came into the world in the person of Jesus to save us. In all other religions we essentially save ourselves, even if they do acknowledge a Creator.
Galatians 1:6-10 - only one Gospel
Colossians 2:6-15 - call to not follow worldly philosophies (the background here is thought to be a kind of incipient Gnosticism, which was an important philosophical/religious movement at the time of Christ and afterwards. It was highly syncretistic, that is it absorbed other beliefs into itself an attempted to do so with Christianity. It is similar to Hinduism in this aspect. Rather they were to ground themselves in Christ and work outwards to all of life from there.
John 14:6 - the way, the truth and the life, one way to the Father
Luke 1:1-4 - faith based on the facts
Romans 12:1-2 - renew our minds
1 Cor 15:1-12 - many, many witnesses saw Jesus
1 John 1:1-4 - saw and touched Jesus
2 Peter 2:16-18 - not made up stories
Matthew 7:15-28 - true and false teachers, true and false disciples, be careful how you build
See Digital ToolKit Apologetics section for relevant resources
Veritas - talks at Universities by top Christian thinkers on topics of relevance to today. You can search by topics and there is also a special Science and Faith section, which interns of Western culture is a key area. It has short videos of about 5-10 mins in length which can be used as discussion starters.
Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath debate (very intellectual, may be too hard)
Ideas/Strategies for Lessons
Brainstorm - What are the options? What are the fundamental questions? What are the grounds for belief in each of the major world views? List and set out the major religious and philosophical options, get students to consider where they stand
View various short to even a bit longer videos and use as discussion starters
Allow students to express their deepest reservations/problems in relation to Christianity and use as discussion points for the various lessons, seeking to relate the various answers to the major religious positions/worldviews
Set a longer video, maybe one of the Veritas videos as homework to be watched and then discussed in at school, or watch one week, discuss the next
Stage a debate between competing options
View a Richard Dawkins speech or a debate involving Dawkins and discuss or perhaps a summary of his arguments in "The God Delusion” (See Resources above)
Choose a current hot topic and seek to relate the discussion to the basic world views/religious positions