Are all religions the same at their core or different?
Yes and No.
All great religions tell three stories:
1.) the cosmological story of the beginning and the end of times – the fancy names of which are etiology and eschatology.
2.) the ethical story of how to live,
3.) the ethnic history of when, how, and why the truth was revealed to a particular people.
The historical and cosmological accounts vary. The ethical story is the same. The similarity reflects our shared genetic code. The differences reflect geography and chance. The similarities make cooperation, peace, and justice possible. The differences both make life more interesting and make communication difficult.
The common ethical core can be reduced to six principles: two injunctions, three warnings, and a plan.
1.) Gratitude, also called piety: be thankful.
2.) Kindness: be nice.
Three warnings: following the two injunctions can be very, very difficult owing to three factors:
1.) Other people are mean to you
2.) Bad stuff happens (think Job)
3.) You wake up in a bad (greedy, angry, envious) mood
The plan: how to stay on the straight and narrow path of gratitude and kindness:
1.) Pray x times per day, y times per week, month, year.
2.) Obey your priest, mullah, teacher, guru.
3.) Donate as much as possible to your church, mosque, temple.
Religion in Practice: A common pattern
The history of all great religions traces the same path: a history of noble deeds, the cynical abuse of power, and resistance to the encroachments of science.
The human law that all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely applies to religions as to all human institutions. There is no power more absolute than the power over the human soul.
In the words of Seneca, “Religion is true to the people, false to philosophers, and useful to politicians.”
Or in the words of Eric Hoffer:
“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and degenerates into a racket.”
Or in the words of Karl Marx, “Religion is the opium of the people.”
More people have been killed in the name of “God” than in the name of anyone else.
And more children abused.