Is Christianity or Islam the Greatest Religion?

UnknownGiven the amount of evil perpetrated by followers of Islam worldwide, I was quite surprised to read in Stephen Prothero’s introduction to his book God is not One that he thinks Islam, and not Christianity, is the greatest religion in the world. In this post, I’ll explain his reasoning and then share why I think he is wrong.

Prothero is quick to make a distinction between being good and being great. He is not asking which religion is the best for the world, or which religion is closest to the Platonic form of goodness, rather he is interested in the question of contemporary impact. Which, of all the religions in the world ranks first and foremost in terms of contemporary impact? Which religion most “moves us and shakes us and sends us scrambling after words”?[1]

Prothero admits the case for Christianity’s preeminence is compelling. Christianity is the dominant religion of the most powerful country in the world, America. Christianity is the largest religion in the world (2.1 billion vs. Islam’s 1.5 billion), and the Bible is the world’s number one bestseller. Still, in the global context, “Islam is the Muhammad Ali of world religions.”[2] Regarding numbers, Islam is the fastest growing religion, growing 33% faster than Christianity (thanks largely to high birthrates among Muslims in the middle and far east). The real metric is impact, and here, Prothero thinks that Islam wins because (1) Muslim’s don’t (whereas Christian’s do) generally make a distinction between the public and private life and thus, most see Islam as a way of life, (2) almost all political hot spots involve Muslim’s in some way, and (3) Islamic extremists and other jihadist organizations have made an incalculable impact on contemporary life.

Thus, “for better or worse”[3] Islam is the greatest religion.

In a superficial sense, Prothero is clearly correct. Every night I turn on CNN to learn of the latest horrors perpetrated by ISIS or Al-Qaeda, terrorist groups driven by their Islamic beliefs regarding jihad. It would appear that Islam is the most talked about religion.

But does this mean that Islam is actually the greatest religion, even if we confine ourselves to the metric of contemporary impact? I think the answer is clearly no. Christianity, as a force for much good in the world exerts a far greater influence on the world than Islam. True, Christianity doesn’t make as much noise and the influence is often hard to document. Rarely are there headlines on CNN about some aspect of Christianity and its positive influence on the world. Rarely too, contra Islam, do we read of the destruction caused by Christians or Christianity (even if some misguided folks do perpetrate evil in the name of Christianity, a claim I need not deny).[4] Still the impact is real and deep. The evidence is abundant and staggering: hospitals, aid workers, missionaries, pastors, counselors, teachers, politicians, businessmen and women, everyday moms and dads and more—all working to make the world a little bit better and doing so without grabbing any headline or bringing attention to themselves.

The impact that Christianity makes on the world is different in kind from Islam. Instead of suicide bombs and beheadings, Jesus calls his followers to the love of neighbor.[5] Instead of conquest, Jesus offers compassion. Instead of a holy war, Jesus defeated the real enemy on a wooden cross—sin and death—and offers hope to all.

In short, the revolution that Jesus inaugurated is a revolution of the human heart. Christianity changes lives from the inside out. This is a fundamentally different message than that of Islam. In a real sense, Christianity is utterly unique in the face of all the major world religions, offering grace and forgiveness in the place of a self-salvation ethic of work. The change Christianity brings is real and it is a good. Yet, as followers of one who preached self-denial, service to others, and the love of all, the real impact often goes unnoticed. But it is there. It is present as a father reads a book to his son at night, a mother drives her children to soccer practice, a lawyer works to free slaves from sex-trafficking, a doctor heals the sick, and a teacher teaches. Millions of faithful followers of Jesus are making a real difference everyday in the lives of others without drawing any attention to themselves and without grabbing any headlines.

That is real impact.

That is the call of Jesus.

 

Deny self.

Follow me.

Love.

 

That is real greatness.


[1] Stephen Prothero, God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2011 edition), 17.

[2] Ibid., 18.

[3] Ibid., 17.

[4] Objection: Christians do evil in the name of their God just like Muslims sometimes do. It is unfair to malign Islam but not Christianity in this way. Reply: True, but the difference is that when someone does evil in the name of Christianity, they are acting in a way clearly inconsistent with the ethic established by Jesus whereas when someone does evil in the name of Islam, they are not (or at least not obviously so).

 [5] I’m not making a claim here about the morality (or immorality) or war. There are a number of Christian perspectives on this issue, some of which allow for Christians to engage in war and battle when the cause is just. Further, going to war is not incompatible with Jesus’ command to love our enemies.

3 Responses to Is Christianity or Islam the Greatest Religion?

  1. Pingback: Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? | Wilsons on Mission

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