Editor’s note: I am significantly revising this page, which has not gotten meaningful updates in many years. If you’re seeing this note, know that it is a work in progress, and feel free to contact me with any questions or thoughts in the meantime.
I am often asked for my “opinion” – and occasionally, even my convictions – regarding religions and religious or philosophical movements which do not hold the same tenets as evangelical Christianity. I have made every effort to learn about other religions – I majored in Religious Studies – and hope I can offer some insights on this question. You, my reader, will have to form your own conclusions, of course.
The first issue we have to address is exclusivity: is it possible or impossible for two or more religions with fundamental differences to all be “true,” or at least offer valids “paths to God?” I don’t mean “true” in the sense in which it is often used: something which contains truth; conveys a mostly accurate, general idea; or appeals to something in our nature which compels us to agree. I mean true: not at all false, 100% correct and reliable. To be clear, I will refer to this kind of truth with a capital “T”, as “Truth.” I am not addressing here whether or not any religion can be True; see the other pages on this site for more on that topic. I am simply going to handle the question, “Can more than one religion be True?”
Modern, Western culture inundates us with the message that something can be “True for you, but not for me.” This is partly a result of the post-modern push for “tolerance,” which is really a movement for nihilism, or belief in nonexistence and the impossibility of knowledge, and it is partly a result of the influence of eastern philosophies, poorly understood, on western thinking.
All that said, there are points at which no individual can actually hold to such thinking and survive. There are absolutes in this world, ideas and statements which hold for all people a given set of circumstances. As an example, consider the absolute statement that being hit directly by an eighteen-wheeler at highway speeds will cause bodily injury or death to an unprotected human being. A proof that this is not an absolute is a proof that it is relative; the only possible such proof is a counter-example. A counter-example, in this case, would require a human being to be hit by an eighteen-wheeler, at highway speeds, without the benefit of any special padding or other aids, without sustaining bodily injury or death. No such example has ever been offered, and none ever will. Anyone who truly believes such statements can be relative would be willing to put that belief to the test – perhaps by offering to be hit by a truck at high speed. I have yet to meet anyone that profoundly “open-minded,” or should I say, “foolish.”
So, there are absolutes. There are plenty of others. Take the statement 2+2=4, where “2”, “+”, “=”, and “4” all have their standard mathematical interpretations (base 10, etc.). This cannot be falsified without violating some rule of mathematics; in other words, in the standard mathematical system, 2+2 will always be 4. Let’s keep this example for a minute. Consider the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All proclaim a single divine being (the Trinity is a single God in Christian theology, so we will take Christians at their words that this is what Christianity claims). Other religions, such as Hinduism and Shinto, claim that many divine beings exist, whether they be manifestations of Brahman or the Kami. These cannot both be true, because all five systems claim to use standard counting numbers (0,1,2,…). There cannot simultaneously be millions of divine, powerful beings, and only one. If we deny this logic, the Law of Non-Contradiction, this page is meaningless and I, the author, may not actually exist! Sanity’s sake demands the acceptance of this principle.
The above logic breaks religions into several broad categories: atheistic, monotheistic, polytheistic, pantheistic, and a few more obscure, smaller groupings. Only one of these categories can include a True religion, because the existence of a True religion in one excludes the existence of a True religion in another.
This logic can be continued using the idea of Scripture. Consider Christianity and Islam. Christians claim that the Bible – consisting of both the Old Testament (Jewish Scriptures often called the Torah, or more accurately, Tanakh) and the New Testament (distinctly Christian writings, all by people who knew the earthly Jesus in some way) – contains the final, perfect, and True written record of the words of God, while Muslims claim that the Qur’an is the only such record and that the Bible has been corrupted. One of these claims must be false; the Bible cannot simultaneously be perfectly preserved and fundamentally corrupted.
By this logic, any two religions, each affirming a statement which contradicts the corresponding statement of the other, cannot both be 100% correct. Therefore, any differences on a fundamental level – a level at which 100% compliance is demanded by the definition of the religion – are sufficient to say that one religion or the other is completely flawed. A fundamental flaw is a complete flaw, just as failure to stay out of the way of eighteen-wheelers is a failure to survive.
In other words, no two distinct religion systems – religions separated by fundamental differences – can be correct. There can only be one True religion, at most.
I could now issue a blanket statement that I reject all non-Christian religions on this ground, alone. I do, in fact, reject all non-Christian religions, but for many more reasons.
You see, the second concern we have is this: “If no two religions can be True, which one, if any, is?” The burden of proof is on a religion to prove its own Truth based on the Truth of each and every one of that religion’s fundamentals, not on anyone else to show that it is false, because most religions are false. Atheists take this to the extreme and conclude that no religion has proven itself to be an accurate portrayal of reality, so all religions are false. One thing we can all agree on, however, is that no more than one religion can be True.
[Note: some systems, such as the American legal system, assume “innocent until proven guilty,” because most people are innocent of most crimes. Additionally, criminal guilt can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by showing that no plausible alternative explanations exist. Religions, however, are abstractions, and so infinitely many plausible explanations exist. We don’t ask, “Who dunnit?”, but, “Did anyone do it, or are we all just here? If somebody did do it, who? How many somebodies?”, etc. If each religion is required to show that all opposed religions are false, the process is infinite. This is the element of “faith” – once one has considered all possible explanations – or at least as many as one can realistically look at in a lifetime, using categories like “naturalistic,” “monotheistic,” or “polytheistic” to simplify things – and ruled out all those known to be false, such that one, at most, is left, if that one cannot be reasonably doubted, it must be accepted. Doubt based on the potential existence of other, equally satisfying explanations is not “doubt,” but denial.]
So, any religion which falls short of 100% accuracy in its fundamentals, or which can be shown to be false through contradiction of a True fundamental of another religion, must be rejected entirely. We cannot pick and choose beliefs from a smorgasbord of religions to assemble our own system of belief for this reason: if the system of belief which gives rise to a specific belief is falsified, then the veracity – truthfulness – of that belief cannot be known. In other words, “build your own” religions are merely lists of guesses. After all, every one of the source religions but one must be false, so any religion built on the basis of two others is at least 50% guesswork. A religion built from the five major religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism), must be 80% guesswork and at least 40% false (which would be the minimal case, if there is one God and the religion built this way were kept very simple). It may be 100% false! This is not a good way to organize a life.
So, let’s consider some major contenders for the Truth. Take the five main religions listed above. [This is another very brief and hardly comprehensive passage; please do not assume that this is the full extent of the arguments which can be made.] Based on the evidence for the existence of God or at least a sentient, divine being, Buddhism, which recognizes no deity, should be rejected. The frequent failure rate of the rituals prescribed by Hinduism for obtaining divine favor disqualifies Hinduism from claiming 100% Truth. Islam, through the Qur’an, makes radical claims about the corrupted text of the Bible, claims which simply cannot be sustained on logical, textual, or historical grounds; not a shred of evidence exists which supports any of the claims in question. For this reason, Islam fails the 100% accuracy test and should be discarded. Judaism denies the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (as do each of the three above), despite a wealth of non-repeatable events prophesied in Hebrew Scripture and fulfilled by Christ. Though accurate in the pre-Christian era, Judaism must be defined today as an acceptance of the Hebrew Scriptures and a rejection of the New Testament; this is a fundamental, if we are to distinguish Judaism from Christianity, including Messianic Judaism. Given the overwhelming evidence for the resurrection, Judaism – as it exists today – cannot be 100% accurate.
This could go on, but I hope the idea is becoming clear. I have said that the burden of proof lies on a religion; I will not try here to address all of the evidence for Christianity, because it is immense. I will claim, however, that no fundamentals of biblical Christianity can be proven false. For arguments to this effect, see other pages on this site or see McDowell’s The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict.
If you have questions or comments, please let me know! I would love to talk with you.