I was recently involved in a Facebook conversation about other religions. The original post said, in part, "We are all, regardless of our religion on the same spiritual path - just calling the path itself and the guides and mentors on the path by different names." This is a common understanding, and I thought it deserved a response, so this is what I said.
It seems absurd to me to suggest that all other religions are completely false - there are many points of agreement. But it also seems very odd to suggest that we are all on the same spiritual path: what is the evidence for this? Different beliefs clearly lead to different outcomes, both in terms of physical activity, but also in terms of the character and personality being developed as you learn to live and express that belief.
Someone else objected to this: "What is the evidence that "other" religions (other than Christianity) lead to a different outcome? And even you stated the commonalities. Those commonalities are most often conceptual and involve wise living. Why should those lead to different outcomes because they are dressed in different observances?" With hindsight, they were probably assuming that when I refererred to outcomes I was actually talking about whether you end up in Heaven or Hell. It's not an unreasonable assumption, as most Chrisitans seem to be fixated by this question, but I really was talking about 'outcome' in the most general sense. My reply went as follows.
To be clear: I did not suggest that 'other' religions lead to a different outcome, I suggested that every different belief leads to a different outcome - that what you believe affects what you do. This seems like a trivially obvious point: why would you consider something a belief if it makes absolutely no difference to the way you live?
But applying the point to world religions, there is a clear connection between the dominant religion and the structures of a society shaped by it. For example, if you believe in karma, then individual suffering is the inevitable result of past bad deeds. You may give alms to help the one who is suffering, but the gift only helps you: it is a good action and improves your karma, but any suffering you relieve now is just stored up for later. In other words, if your belief in karma is true, then the only person you are helping through your alms giving is yourself: the person you give to is not helped at all.
It is not hard to see that the Christian disbelief in karma helped to shape society, and played an important part in the creation within Christian societies of the world's leading charities, while the societies where people believe in karma and reincarnation did not. Similarly, I don't think anyone is seriously questioning whether Confucianism has played a significant role in shaping Chinese culture or the character of Chinese society.
I simply don't understand what people mean when they say, "We are all on the same spiritual path". If there is only one spiritual destination, then it really doesn't matter where you go or what you do, which seems a terribly depressing belief. Even if 'all roads lead to London', surely this also means that all roads lead away from London, too, unless our choices are completely meaningless? And is it not at least conceivable that some roads might lead to Bristol, Brighton, or Birmingham? If you believe you are on a journey to a destination, surely you should also believe that your destination matters, otherwise why bother?