By L. Alfred James
We’ve just worked through a long series of blog posts designed to lead someone all the way from hardcore atheism to Christianity. We’ve seen several proofs for God’s existence and the truth of the Bible. We are finishing this series by dealing with some common questions and objections to Christianity. The first issue we will deal with is what is called religious pluralism. This is the idea that all religions are true for those who believe them. That is, a plurality of religions are true.
This is what I was indoctrinated in from my earliest years. I did not grow up in a Christian family. In fact, I never attended a church service one single time in my entire life until I was in high school. That’s right, not even for Easter or Christmas.
Not. One. Single. Time.
My parents taught me that God exists, but that all religions are equally true. That seemed kind of strange to me. After all, it was obvious that the various world religions teach radically different things. Many eastern religions don’t believe there is a God at all. Instead, they believe in powerful spiritual forces that control our world. And Islam flatly rejects the Christian teaching that Jesus is the Son of God and it also rejects the belief that God is a Trinity. Hinduism teaches a belief in many gods (more than 300 million) along with reincarnation. Indeed, one does not “die and go to heaven” on Hinduism, Buddhism, or other eastern religions. There is no heaven at all. Instead, one keeps getting reincarnated until one gets it right. Then you finally get the ultimate reward: you cease to exist.
Thus, the world religions teach very, very different things. It really puzzled me that my parents and teachers had no problem saying that these contradictory belief systems were all true. “How can all of the world religions be true?” I asked. Virtually everyone gave me the same answer. “A religious belief is true for the person who believes it. When it comes to religious beliefs, what’s true for you is true for you. And what’s true for me is true for me.” Because of the many adults in my life who kept telling me this, I finally accepted it as true. Since then, I have encountered many hundreds of people who zealously espouse this idea. Ask anyone who is not an atheist, but who is also not a Christian (that is, a non-Christian theist) about this issue. Nine times out of ten, they will tell you that they believe “all religions are true in their own way,” or, “True for those who believe them.”
However, years later I came to see some very serious problems with this claim. Allow me to share what I eventually learned. The problems with religious pluralism are so severe that it is intellectually impossible to believe it while adhering to the laws of logic. If you think I’m claiming too much here, just consider the following questions, and carefully (and honestly) answer them for yourself:
1. Do you believe that it is wrong to murder an innocent person in the name of religion?
If you answered yes to this question then you should know that you are saying that many sects of Islam hold to a religious belief that is wrong. For you have just said that the doctrine of Jihad is false. It isn’t merely “true for those who believe it.” No, it is flat out wrong.
2. Do you believe that God is personal?
If you answered yes, then you are also saying that those religions that believe only in an “ultimate force” are wrong. If you answered no, then you are saying that those religions that believe God is personal (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) are wrong.
3. Do you believe that segregation and discrimination, based on one’s social status, are wrong?
If you answered yes to this question then you should know that you are saying that most sects of Hinduism hold to a religious belief that is wrong. For you have just said that the doctrine of the caste system is false. In case you are unaware, the caste system is a religious version of discrimination based on one’s place in the socio-religious pecking order. It is like the old Jim Crow laws, only worse. It isn’t “true for those who believe it.” No, it is flat out wrong and evil.
I think you get the point. As long as you believe that the laws of logic are true then it is impossible to believe that all religions are true. And as long as you are willing to condemn immoral practices, you will condemn religious beliefs along with them. Thus, religious beliefs are often completely and totally false. They are not “true for those who believe them.”
To be sure, if one doesn’t care about logic at all, they can totally embrace religious pluralism. However, such a person is also abandoning any possibility of intellectual integrity. Without logic, anything goes. There is no way to evaluate any truth claims at all, no matter how bizarre they might be.
In the coming weeks we will be exploring religious pluralism in greater detail. As we do so, it will be important for you to hold tight to sound logic. For (as we will see) one of the main ways that religious pluralism sounds persuasive is by arguing with parables, imagery, and emotions.