Can All Religions Be True?
– by A.G Gann (Author of Why Truth, Why Jesus)
When men despise Christianity, they hate it and are afraid of it and are afraid it may be true
- Blaise Pascal
When one speaks of religion in this contemporary age it is often within a pluralistic context. We seem to have a vast array of religious paths and thought systems to choose from. When such a variety is placed before us, how does one make a conclusive choice in a culture that defiantly considers all of them equally valid? How do we know which religious path will ultimately be the path of truth? Every worldview attempts to answer questions on life, God, meaning, forgiveness, heaven and hell but how do we know who is actually leading us in the right direction. For example, the theist believes God exists but the atheist and naturalist does not; these are two different assertions; believing either one drastically alters to way we view everything else in life. The Christian depends on the Crucifixion of Jesus as the cardinal point for one’s redemption but the Hindu and Muslim does not – Which religion can I trust to be true or is it a case of whatever works best?
Firstly, we must consider if absolute truth exists, and I think it does. A lecture room full of determined NASA astronauts kept working meticulously on how much fuel they would need to land on the moon and finally a precise decision was reached. Hinged on that calculation rested the innocent lives of several brave souls ready to be blasted off into space not forgetting the billions of dollars invested in the space program; but NASA are certain that their mathematical equations are correct, it’s the truth they say, we can’t take chances, the margins are too fine. Try telling a grade twelve history student that dates don’t really matter. That it is perfectly OK to assume that Israel gained its independence last week Saturday or that Nelson Mandela was released from prison the following Monday. That wouldn’t be the truth would it. Try telling a science professor that atoms and molecules are relative to whatever I think they are after having a few shots of whiskey. In reality, we actually need the truth, we are in search for it because it does matter. If it’s appreciated and applauded in science, maths and history why are the rules different when it comes to religion? Why do we assume there is no absolute truth here? If the relativist says, ‘All truth is relative,’ yet one must ask: is that statement absolutely true? If so, then absolute truth exists.[i] If absolute truth does not exist then we really can’t be certain of anything else can we; whether they are matters of science or maths or even religion.
The illustrative story is often told of three blind scribes touching different parts of an elephant. The one who is holding the tail says, ‘This is a rope,’ another holding the elephant’s leg says, ‘This is not a rope; you are wrong. It is a tree.’ Still another who is holding the trunk of the elephant says, ‘You are both wrong. It is a snake!’ Unfolding the meaning of the story reveals the assumption that all religions are like these blind men. They each are holding onto a different part of reality assuming that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Is that the case with Christianity as well? Is Christianity holding onto to something with the assumption that it bares the banner of truth only to be disappointed by the reality of it in the end? Is Christianity guilty of arrogance and religious intolerance by making exclusives claims?
The Christian faith often comes under heavy criticism since Jesus is widely known for His exclusive claims. When one of Jesus’ disciples ask Him: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” [John 14:5-6]. At His trial, Pilate asks Jesus: “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” [John 18:37]. The Apostle Peter preaches a sermon in the market place and is heard saying: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name [Jesus’ name] under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” [Acts 4:12]. This appears to be arrogance but is Jesus the only one making exclusive claims? Interestingly not! No Muslim will tell you that it’s understandably OK to choose your own religious path. An atheist will never tell you that their decision to deny the existence of God is something they simply prefer as opposed to something they are fully convinced and determined to believe and even defend. If an atheist remotely believes in the existence of God then what becomes of his atheism? In a way, by choosing one religion, we are at the same time disapproving all others. If one is true then the others ought to be false or if we are convinced of a particular religion then we are actually condemning all others even if we respectfully doing so.
If a Muslim is not fully convinced that “there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His only true prophet”, a statement Muslims are taught at a very young age to recite, then what becomes their faith? If Mohammed is greater than Jesus or any other religious leader, which is what the Quran teaches, then shouldn’t that be considered an exclusive claim! Every Muslim I have spoken to believes that Sura 112 is a portion of text in the Quran that has the value of one third of the Quran in its entirety. It’s that very text that reads: Say, ‘He is Allah, the One; ‘Allah, the Independent and Besought of all. ‘He begets not, nor is He begotten; ‘And there is none like unto Him.’[ii] If the God of the Quran is unequivocally unmatched, then the god or gods of other religions come second best. Wouldn’t that then be an exclusive claim! Are you not saying that Allah is the only true God! Are not other religions coming second best!
Even Hinduism pens some its sacred texts with the ink of exclusivism. Lord Krishna once told Arjuna, a mythological character in the Bhagvat Ghita, these following words: “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.”[iii] Another translation says: “Relinquishing all ideas of righteousness unto Me exclusively; I will deliver you from all sinful reactions, do not despair.” – The idea is clearly evident. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, is no different either. Even though all the evidence he has only points to his personal experience and testimony and nothing else, no archaeological evidence, no eye witness accounts and traceable historic support, yet in a way, he is saying don’t just believe the Bible, believe me too. Why did Buddha start Buddhism if he believed Hinduism was the true religion? Fact is, his search led him believe that Buddhism was somewhat different than Hinduism hence Buddhism stands as an independent religion today.
Even a brief probe into some of our major religions will reveal that different religions make drastically different truth claims on several issues like; God, man, sin, creation, morality and the afterlife; hence all religions are in fact exclusive in their own right. Honestly, religions across the globe all raise their hands to exclusive claims and not just Jesus. It is not disrespectful or religiously intolerant to do so; it is a given right of every religion. Truth by its nature is exclusive and somewhat narrow anyway. All views and ideas can never be included in it; truth will automatically generate a theme of exclusion. For whatever is considered to be truth, it has to exclude its opposite as well as anything conflicting or contradicting it. Truth will therefore not tolerate anything contrary to itself. Our quest should then be to determine who of the truth claimants can actually trusted. Which religion is the way to God and helps us best to answer the questions of morality, suffering and forgiveness. Which religion is the truth – there can be only one.
All religions can’t be true since the very nature of truth is in itself exclusive and that each religion has contrasting views on certain key issues. If we believe that there is a God then atheism and naturalism can’t be considered valid. If we believe that God created this universe then all pantheistic religions have to be ruled out since they have an ‘all is divine’ concept which makes the universe God; Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are certainly out. Since the death of Jesus is an actual event in human history, if you then believe that Jesus died on the Cross then Islam cannot be valid or if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God then both Islam and Judaism are not valid. To further validate this point, we can consider the following:
# The logical argument
Logic is often used to test the coherency of religious worldviews with reality. Using the law of non-contradiction, we can see how different religions can’t all lead to the same God or to the same end simply because they are in contrast to each other. The law of non- contradiction simply states that two contradictory statements cannot be simultaneously true or that a thing and its opposite can’t be true at the same time. To illustrate further, consider this: three scientist set out on a discovery to find out the shape of the earth. After their equations and evidence added up, each scientist came to a conclusion. The first said that the earth in completely round in shape, the second said the earth is definitely triangular. The third scientist was also fully convinced that the earth is squared. Here we see that each statement is in contrast and contradicts each other hence there’s the possibility of only one scientist being correct or all three could very well be wrong and the earth is actually spherical.
In the context of religions, it would mean that two opposing religions cannot both be true at the same time. Hinduism is anchored on the reality of many gods and goddesses, Islam and Christianity believe that there is just one God. Atheism on the other hand says there is no god at all. All these views cannot be true; either there is a god/s or there is not. If we apply this to the life of Jesus, we can easily see how His claims are not statements of bigotry or intolerance but are rather very much in keeping logic and the nature of truth. For example: Jews and Muslims believe Jesus was not God on this earth yet Christianity has its foundation on the fact that Jesus was indeed God. Both views of who Jesus was could very well be wrong in this case but only one could be right; either Jesus was God or not.
# The theological argument
Theology is referred to the study of religious faith, practice and experience. It is also the study of God and God’s relation to the world or a system of religious beliefs or ideas.[iv] Whether theistic, atheistic or non-theistic religions, theology is utterly critical to every worldview. Every religion embraces its own theology. Theology is the fabric and framework of any particular religion. In essence, it gives distinction and clarity on what each religion believes and the things that they don’t. Some have even considered theology as the aspect of any religion that actually gives strength and stability to that religion. If one then destroys the theology, the religion will self-destruct.
When we begin to examine the theological differences between some of the major religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity, we quickly come to realize how much theological tension there is in fact between these religions. What’s even more crucial is that when we pay attention to these differences, the margins cannot be overlooked. In Hinduism, Jesus is actually seen as a god but more accurately as a god out of a possibility of millions, or one of many such beings having reached that place of divinity. Hindu’s also are not at all comfortable with the idea that Christianity is the only way and that all must convert to Christianity in order to be saved from eternal damnation. Christian theology maintains that Jesus is not just one of many gods but is the only Son of God [John 3:16] and that only through Him can one have salvation [Acts 4:12]; that is why Jesus said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ [John 14:6]; not just one of the ways but the only way. You can clearly see the difference here. It’s not marginal but it’s drastically different and so are the consequences.
A staunch Hindu man once told me that Hinduism and Buddhism are one and it’s OK to choose either one. I have to differ somewhat. Do you think the founder of Buddhism, Guathama Buddha, would agree that Hinduism and Buddhism lead to the same thing but are just different paths? Buddha was in fact born in a Hindu family, having strong traditional beliefs. Wanting to search for the answer to suffering and find more meaning to life than what he had experienced in his sheltered palace life, Buddha began his search. His explorations led him to find that Hinduism embraced the caste system, a system that was established in India during that time which determined the position any individual would have in society. What’s true of the Buddha was that he condemned this caste system and considered it extremely unjust even though it is still embraced in some Hindu circles. Buddha also made some assertions that the Vedas was not authentic enough.
In some theologies, as well as in Christian theology, sin in the heart of man is seen as the primary cause of human pain and suffering. This not the case in Buddhism where ignorance is seen as the main perpetrator. If there are theological differences to our approach to sin then there has to be theological differences to our approach to redeem man from sin. Both Hinduism and Buddhism theologies emphasize the need for good moral deeds on the part of the sinner in order to escape the wrath of sin. Christianity teaches quite the opposite; its theology is strictly hinged on the Crucifixion of Jesus on the Cross. So on the one hand we have Hinduism and Buddhism saying depend on yourself whilst Christian theology teaches you to depend on God for redemption. One points the believer to his/her own good works whilst to other points the believer to the finished work done through Jesus Christ. It therefore can’t be a case of either or; do it yourself or receive what Jesus did already for you. It cannot be a case of what works best for you or go with whatever you most comfortable with since Hinduism/Buddhism and Christianity are by their own right claiming exclusivity in the matter of redemption. Both offer two distinct and different theological principles with which we apply our beliefs.
# The ontological argument
Christian apologist and renowned speaker, Michael Ramsden, commented the following: The Gospel is not just a system of thought, a type of mystical experience or way of life. Christ did not simply come to give us a new system of thinking, even though there can be nothing more profound than knowing Him. Christ did not come to give us a new feeling of God, even though there is nothing more life changing than meeting Him. Christ did not come to simply tell us how to live, even though we are told we should be known for the things we do. Christianity is ultimately rooted ontologically, in being.[v] If we remove the person of Jesus Christ, Christianity falls flat on its face. It is the Word of God that took on flesh and became the person of Jesus Christ [John 1:1] so that the Christian could have something more than just an idea or thought, more than an experience of a feeling or something still left to do in order to find God. Jesus Christ pulls together our thinking, feeling, doing and knowing into Himself so we can experience God in and through Him, live for Him and obey Him. When we see Jesus, we see the Father [John 14:7] because Jesus did not come to tell us about God but He came as God to draw all men unto Himself [John 12:32]. Everything Jesus did, His miracles, His teachings and His life was to show us His divine nature so that we might believe in Him.
The book for Revelation tells us: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” [Rev 21:3]. The God of the Bible is seen as relational and approachable where as in Islam, Allah is seen as distant and remote. In his book, A Faith For All Seasons, Shabbir Akhtar notes to following: “Muslims do not see God as their father…Men are servants of a just master; they cannot, in orthodox Islam, typically attain any greater degree of intimacy with their creator.”[vi] Whether it is for the believer’s revelation, redemption or transformation, it all has its place in the very being of Jesus Christ; that is why the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy and says: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day” [2 Tim 1:12]. Again Paul writes and says: “Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him” [Phil 3:8-9]. It’s a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that gives Christianity distinction. God is revealed to humankind through the life of Jesus Christ which is contrary to Islamic beliefs as Isma’il al-Faruqi points out: “Allah does not reveal himself to anyone…that is the great difference between Christianity and Islam.”[vii]
Similarly, Christianity and Hinduism separate from each other because they are rooted differently. Since the essential nature of all living things is really divine in Hinduism, God is ultimately “approached as either a personality or as a formless principle.”[viii] So the Hindu god/gods can sometimes be relational and at other times not; but when can I know the difference? My good Hindu friend once told me that the Holy Hindu scriptures have got to be taught to you by a Hindu guru and can’t be understood by one’s own revelation of it. The Bible on the other hand is revealed through the Spirit of Jesus living in each believer [John 14:26]. Therefore unlike other religions and system of thought, Christianity is not rooted in thinking or feeling or doing but in the very person of Jesus Christ. It is in Him that we live and move and have our own existence [Acts 17:28]. Therefore the Christian faith can’t simply be reduced into a system of thought to be mastered even though there is nothing more profound than coming to know the person of Jesus Christ. It can’t be reduced into a feeling, even though there is nothing more life changing than meeting the person of Jesus Christ. And it can’t be reduced into a list of do’s and don’ts, even though Jesus Christ himself said that Christians should be known for what they do. [ix]
Christian apologist, Norman Geisler, noted this: Christ is absolutely unique among all who ever lived. He is unique in his supernatural nature, in his superlative character, and in his life and teaching. No other world teacher has claimed to be God. Even when the followers of some prophet deified their teacher, there is no proof given for that claim that can be compared to the fulfilment of prophecy, the sinless and miraculous life, and the resurrection. No other religious leader [except some who copied Christ] offered salvation by faith, apart from works, based on acting to take away the guilt for human sin. No religious or philosophical leader has displayed the love for people that Jesus did in dying for the sins of the world [John 15:13; Romans 5:6–8]. Jesus is absolutely unique among all human beings who ever lived.[x] All religious views and systems of thought simply can’t all be true because whilst they enjoy some common matters, they are distinct, contradictory and are in contrast to each other. So why should anyone trust Jesus? How is His message more relevant and plausible than every other religious figure? To ask why we think that Jesus Christ is the only way is to miss the point entirely. Jesus does not compete with anybody. Nobody else in history made the claims he did; nobody else in history claimed to be able to deal with the problems of the human heart like he did. Nobody else in history claimed, as he did, to be God with us. To say that we believe Jesus is the only way should have nothing to do with arrogance and everything to do with introducing people to him.[xi]
I am convinced that the facts are not hard to find but are hard to accept!!!