Three Tough Questions and How to Answer Them
Aren’t all religions the same?
Apart from some common moral principles, all religions aren’t the same. In fact, many of the ideas that Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Hindus have about God, reality, truth, the basic human dilemma and the nature of salvation are contrary to each other.
For example, there is no question that in Islam, Allah is the religious ultimate. But that’s not the case with Buddhism. In fact, there are several strains of Buddhism and only one thinks of God in terms even close to a personal being. And the rest have differing impersonal concepts of the religious ultimate. In Hinduism, there is also a variety of god concepts. Some consider Vishnu or Krishna as personal deities. Yet other Hindus consider the entire cosmic process as an impersonal ultimate. When religions differ about God any similarities they may have in ethical teachings is merely incidental.
Not only do most religions not make the same claims, they don’t even address the same issues.
Some people assume that since religions function in roughly the same way in people’s lives that there must be a common reality behind them. But even if this assumption is true, the conclusion does not follow.
Imagine two men, Fred and Barney, who are married to two women, Wilma and Betty. Just because Wilma functions in Fred’s life roughly the same way Betty functions in Barney’s life, is no reason to believe that Wilma and Betty are just different names for the same entity.1a
Isn’t this disastrous to unity?
There is a kernel of truth here but it is actually a trick question. It is true that if everyone believed all roads lead to God, then there would likely be more peace and unity. But this is like saying if everyone wore red hats, all heads would be covered. The obvious question would be “why red hats?” Likewise, if everyone believed one thing about religion, of course there would be more peace and unity but which one thing should everyone believe?
Just as any color hat will cover our heads, so too any common belief, by definition, would produce more unity. But why should that common belief be religious relativism? Why not Islam, Buddhism, atheism, wicca or Christianity? The real question is: “Which one view is true?”
The even greater danger hidden within this question is the implication that people should not be permitted to publicly claim exclusive religious truth (see CRTC and Vision TV policies). This amounts to the imposition of religious relativism via the censorship of religious exclusivism .
Isn’t this intolerant and narrow-minded?
It’s Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me.” We didn’t make that up; Jesus did. That may seem intolerant to someone who thinks that it is intolerant to make exclusive claims to truth. But there is nothing intolerant about making exclusive claims to truth (see The Truth Behind Tolerance) and there is ample historical evidence to verify that Jesus claimed He was God and rose from the dead to validate that claim. If Jesus is God then what He said is true.[1b]
Some people think God is being narrow-minded if Jesus is the only way. But the issue is: “Why is there any way to God?” God has been gracious and merciful to provide us with a way back to a personal relationship with Him even though we have rebelled against Him. If humankind could have reached God by any other way, God would never have sacrificed His only Son. Instead of wondering why there aren’t more ways to God, the appropriate response would be to marvel that there is a way, and accept it with humility and gratitude.
[1a] This is based on a similar response in Winfried Corduan’s book, “Reasonable Faith: Basic Christian Apologetics,” Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993, pp 258, 259.
[1b] See Michael Horner’s articles “Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?” and “Who Did Jesus Think He Was Anyway?,” available from Power to Change Ministries. See also W.L. Craig’s “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics,” Crossway Books, 1994, chapters 6-8.