Michael Horner's Blog

    Is it Arrogant to Make Exclusive Claims to Truth?

    Written by Michael Horner

    Photo by Svadilfari

    In my search for truth about God and religion it has become clear to me that there is some confusion with respect to exclusive claims to truth. There is a widespread view today that it is arrogant and intolerant to make exclusive religious claims to truth because the implication is that anyone who disagrees with one’s own religion is then wrong.  Religious inclusivists who think that all religions lead to God, will often accuse Christians of arrogance without realizing that given their own criteria, they too are ‘guilty’ of this same ‘arrogance’.

    You see, everyone is exclusivistic. Everyone thinks their religious view is true, otherwise why would they hold it? Honestly now, don’t you think that what you believe about religion is true? You might say, “No, I hold a much more tolerant and inclusive view – I think all religions are true or lead to God.”

    But notice what follows from that. It follows that anyone who disagrees with that view is wrong. But that is exactly why the inclusivist accuses the exclusivist of arrogance, the implication that those who disagree with them are wrong. So on his own criteria the inclusivist is arrogant to hold to his view.

    Religious inclusivism is just as exclusive as Christianity. Religious inclusivists think their claims are true and exclusivists’ claims are false and anyone who disagrees is mistaken. Moreover, inclusivism hides its exclusivity behind a deceptive façade of alleged openness and tolerance. But religious inclusivism is just another absolute position in sheep’s clothing, and is therefore no more open or tolerant than any other exclusive claim to truth. Only inclusivists can see the ‘real truth’ about religion.

    Religious inclusivism is not only deceptive and arrogant; it is also incoherent because it espouses religious relativism. Relativists claim that “all religious claims are relative” but notice that statement itself is a religious claim that is not relative. It fails its own test and is thus self-contradictory, and self-contradictory statements are necessarily false.

    Religious pluralists often impose their relativistic framework on religions and do not let them speak for themselves about what they believe. This is a clear example of arrogance. Ironically, they require the conclusion that all other religious views are not equally true, but equally flawed and that relativism is the larger, grander truth!

    The philosopher W.L. Craig captures the key point here well when he writes, “the pluralist also believes that his view is right and that all those adherents to particularistic religious traditions are wrong.  Therefore, if holding to a view which many others disagree with means you’re arrogant and immoral, then the pluralist himself would be convicted of arrogance and immorality.”

    But what about the atheist or agnostic?  I find it humorous and a little sad when those whom I debate from this camp try to portray themselves as more open and tolerant than the “arrogant Christian.” But again notice that atheists think that their view about religion, that there is no God, is true and that anyone who disagrees is wrong. Atheists think all religions are wrong! Clearly they think their view is exclusively true just like the “arrogant Christian.”

    But surely the agnostic is not exclusivistic, is he? I have found that most people who use this label do so in what many call “a hard agnostic” way. That is, they think that no one knows the truth about God and religion and no one can know the truth because it is impossible to do so. Well, this may be the most exclusive claim of all! The hard agnostic is claiming to know that no one can know the truth about God and religion. This is an incredibly strong claim. Moreover, they think that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. So clearly this is another arrogant, exclusivist view.

    The only way out of this dilemma would be to hold “a soft agnostic” position where one says “I don’t know the truth about God and religion but I am open to finding out what it might be.”

    The point I am ultimately trying to make here is that no one is actually arrogant for holding to a particular religious view or an inclusivist view or an atheist or hard agnostic view.

    • Christians are not being narrow minded, but acting rationally with what they think they know.
    • Religious inclusivists are just acting on what they think they know – that all views are right.
    • Atheists are merely acting on what they think they know, that there is no God and all religions are false.
    • Hard Agnostics are just acting on what they think they know – that no one can know.


    Everyone is exclusivistic, but it doesn’t mean you are arrogant! How one communicates what they believe could make one arrogant. That is why the apostle Peter told fellow Christians that when they told others about the reasons they had for what they believed, they were to do it with gentleness and respect and with a clear conscience. Good advice for everyone it seems to me.

    Question: What have you noticed about the way people state their religious views? Do you think tolerance requires that we avoid making exclusive claims to truth?

    8 Responses to “Is it Arrogant to Make Exclusive Claims to Truth?”

    • Hey Zach – Thanks for your comment. It has taken me a little while to get to it, but here goes.
      You wrote: “For those who take things literally, you are right. People who take their religious beliefs as metaphorical don’t think others’ views are false en toto. They take them as different avenues to the same spiritual truths, and aren’t uptight about which fables people cling to to get there.”

      Isn’t it still the case though that those who do hold the view that all religious beliefs are just different avenues to the same spiritual truths are at least implicitly also holding the view that those who do not agree with them, but rather hold that maybe only one view gets you to spiritual truth, are mistaken about that? Doesn’t your statement just amount to ‘people who think religious beliefs are metaphorical think that those who think religious beliefs are literal are mistaken? They ought to hold that religious beliefs are metaphorical.’
      Btw I agree that there can be some spiritual truth in a religion without it meaning that the religion actually has enough spiritual truth to get you to God.

    • Jamie Jamie says:

      So where have you found similarities in the different avenues that people follow Zach? What are the spiritual truths that are central to your life?

    • Zach says:

      For those who take things literally, you are right. People who take their religious beliefs as metaphorical don’t think others’ views are false en toto. They take them as different avenues to the same spiritual truths, and aren’t uptight about which fables people cling to to get there.

    • Your words are sad because they are very true. Recently I heard Francis Chan sharing how in the early church the greatest arguement for the existance of God and the divinity of Jesus was the supernatural Christians had for each other and also for the world. Today the Christian Church is one of the greatest arguements against the existance of God and the divinity of Jesus. Outsiders look at so called Christians and conclude God cannot be real and Jesus cannot truly be divine because we act and live just like them.

      Its a reality that Christianity at large has failed to represent Christ. I pray that we would be the change and allow God’s supernatural love to flow through us and touch everyone in our sphere of influence.

      Jesus said “I am the ONLY way”. As Josh attested to truth, freedom and hope in life can only be found in the person of Jesus Christ. Though it is essential to communicate Jesus is the only way, it is imperitive to do this with utmost humility and love. I think this is where the majority of us miss it. I have been writing an article about Effective Evangelism and God has been showing me that without a sincere love for others evangelism is not possible.

      People were drawn and transformed by Jesus because he loved every individual regardless of their past, circumstances or nationality. The ministry of Jesus was a revolution of love. The word Christian in the greek literally means “little Christs”. As we seek to become more like Jesus and embrace revolutionary lifestyle of love, lives will be changed.

      I think you touched on the absolute key Kahu. When God’s Spirit is present in our lives, his supernatural love will flow through us and touch every person we come into contact with. Just this week I have had some incredible divine appointments where God has been able to express his love and speak to others through me. I pray each of us will become more open to this and allow the love of our heavenly Father to freely flow through us.

    • kahu says:

      Thanks for responding Josh. My journey in seeking the truth through Jesus Christ has tried my spirit on several unspeakable levels. However, I do enjoy the journey,I believe that life circumstances is the best teacher in stengthening the spirit and gaining wisdom. I also believe that no matter what, our Heavenly Father is in control. For there is only one God creator of all things and there is no other before,the Alpha and the Omega. We read so much news about molestation in the church, monies being used to pay for political propaganda and so on. I feel ashamed to sit in a pew at a church while listening to the pastor speak so eloquently about the scriptures while the ushers kick out a homeless person because they smell, or not try to help a crying woman who pleads becuase she can’t feed her babies. Yes, I have experience this in the church building, so my conclusion these acts are not of God only out of the heart of man. One day I hope to see and hear true salvation, Love and Mercy. It seems the church building is falling apart maybe because God’s spirit isn’t there.

    • Josh W Josh W says:

      Hi kahu,

      Thanks for your comment. You mention that “There are some of us who hope that maybe in all this twisted religion of man to use for political gain, will see the truth as it is.” How would you describe your journey to seek truth?

      I personally believe that Jesus is the truth and have found his teaching “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” to be real in my life. Have you considered the teachings of Jesus? If you have, what do you think of them? Just trying to understand where you are coming from. Thanks!

    • kahu says:

      Everyone has a right to what they believe regardless of who thinks one is right or wrong. However I believe we are all somewhat arrogant to what we believe when we are all really ignorant of how we believe. Realistically how do we know that what we believe is based on sound solid facts. There are many historic finds that are being made today that would question the validity of what we believe.There are some of us who hope that maybe in all this twisted religion of man to use for political gain, will see the truth as it is. Until then I pray for understanding of it all. Just saying.

    • john says:

      “Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness,
      faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” display these to people and hopefully they see how you walk as a Christian rather than what you say. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father expect through me.” Is pretty exclusive and if your talking to a Buddhist, a new ager or heaven forbid, a satanist it won’t be the adamant bible quotes you state but the way you display the fruits of the spirit that will have a marked effect on your friend.

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