In today’s society, the idea that one single religion being true while all others being false is appalling to some. This idea is known as religious exclusivism, and its most popular visual representation is the “Coexist” bumper stickers that are dawning millions of automobiles throughout the world insisting that all of the major world religions should accept the fact that they all essentially say the same thing and to stop arguing who is right and who is wrong. Christian religion claims that it is the only true religion in the world and that all other faiths are simply wrong or a misunderstanding of Christian truth, and I believe this, but this actually goes for most of the world’s major religions. Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity all believe that they alone hold the truth and that every other religion is out of line with the truth, as narrow-minded as that sounds.
As a Christian pastor who claims that Christianity is the one true religion, I must recognize that there are billions of people who disagree with me, religious or non-religious. It is my goal here to explain this objection to the Christian faith. I write this to both the Christian and the non-Christian, whether he or she be of another religion, multiple religions, or atheistic. I aim to respect and represent the skepticism as accurately as possible as I offer an explanation for its inaccuracies based on logic and reason.
I will offer my explanation in light of the following points:
- The Law of Non-Contradiction
- Ontological Example
- Psychological Example
- Logical Example
- The Parable of the Six Blind Men and the Elephant
- An Overview of the Major World Religions and Their Differing Beliefs
The Law of Non-Contradiction
The law of non-contradiction is a classical law in philosophy which says that contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time. The law denies that there are any gray areas or middle grounds where contradictory statements can agree. The law of non-contradiction is essentially an expression of the mutually exclusive dichotomy between statements which are opposite each other.
The classical proposition for the law is as follows: “A is B” and “A is not B” are mutually exclusive and contradictory; therefore, one may be true, but both cannot be true at the same time in the same sense. Substituting “A” and “B” for statements helps us see this more clearly, as we will do shortly.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle recognized the validity of the law of non-contradiction and developed three versions of the law which helped to make sense of the world around us. These three versions deal with possession, belief, and logic. I will now briefly explain these three versions and give examples.
The ontological version of the law of non-contradiction, according to Aristotle, says that it is impossible that the same thing belong and not belong to the same thing at the same time and in the same respect. Essentially, this means that one cannot claim to own something while also claiming to not own that very same thing. Take, for example, my dog Buster. I rescued Buster some five years ago from starvation and abandonment. Today, June 26, 2018, Buster belongs to me and my wife Krista. If I were to say that Buster belongs to me and that Buster does not belong to me, I have transgressed the law of non-contradiction by contradicting myself. Either Buster does belong to me or he doesn’t, but both cannot be true at the same time. Logically formulated, it would look like this:
Right now, (A) Buster (B) belongs to me. (A is B)
- Therefore, right now, it cannot also be true that (A) Buster (B) is not my dog. (A is not B)
The psychological version of the law of non-contradiction, according to Aristotle, says that no one can believe that the same thing can at the same time be and not be. Essentially, this means that something cannot exist while at the same time not exist. An example would be the Loch Ness Monster. It is true that either the Loch Ness Monster does exist or that the Loch Ness Monster does not exist, but not both simultaneously. Formulated, it looks like this:
(A) The Loch Ness Monster (B) does exist. (A is B)
Therefore; it cannot be true that (A) the Loch Ness Monster (B) does not exist. (A is not B)
The final version of the law is known as the logical version. This sums up the very law and all of its variations by saying that the most certain of all basic principles is that contradictory propositions are not true simultaneously. Again, this simply means that two statements that are opposite of each other cannot both be true at the same time. Logically formulated, it would look like this:
(A) I am (B) the biological son of Phillip and Sherri Ensley. (A is B)
Therefore, it cannot be true that (A) I am not (B) the biological son of Phillip and Sherri Ensley. (A is not B)
It is absolutely true that I am the biological son of Phillip and Sherri Ensley or that I am not, but not both. Going further, my perception of the truth does not determine the truth of one of these statements. Consider that I was actually adopted as an infant and Phillip and Sherri never informed me of such things. I would then wholeheartedly believe that I was their biological son, but that does not establish the truth that I am their biological son. The truth then would remain that I was not their biological son (A is not B), regardless if I believe that I was their biological son (A is B).
Another simple example could involve a triangle. A triangle, by definition, is a shape with three sides. If I were to show you a multiple-sided shape, it would either be a triangle or it would not be a triangle, but not both at the same time. If I showed you a picture of yellow triangle, regardless if you believed it was a triangle, square, pentagon, or anything else, the truth remains that it is a triangle and nothing else.
The law of non-contradiction helps us to maintain the validity of absolute truth by using logic and reason rather than determining truth based upon our own perceptions, which are subjective to each person. This law confirms a standard of truth above the human race to which we are either in line with or to which we are opposed. With an understanding of the law of non-contradiction, we can better understand the insufficiencies of the classical argument for religious pluralism – the belief that all religions are essentially true but relay that truth in different ways and in different claims.
The Parable of the Six Blind Men and the Elephant
There exists a parable which includes six blind men and an elephant. This parable is used by religious pluralists to give a visual proof as to how all the major world religions all have part of the truth and that none of them are more true than the rest. The parable goes like this:
There were six blind men (which represent six of the world’s major religions) who stumbled upon an elephant (which represents the truth of the universe and/or divine). These six men had never come across an elephant before, so they all begin to use their sense, other than sight, to identify the elephant. One man walks up to the elephant and grabs hold of the elephant’s tail. The man takes in what he feels and says that an elephant is like a rope, flexible and stranded. At the same time, another man walks up to the elephant and grabs hold of its side and says that an elephant is like a wall, sturdy and broad. Another man walks up to the elephant and grabs the elephant’s tusk and determines that an elephant is like a spear, sharp and dangerous. Another man walks up and grabs the elephant’s ear and says that an elephant is like a fan, thin and flexible. Another man walks up to the elephant and grabs the elephant’s trunk and says that an elephant is like a snake, cylindrical and moving. The final man walks up to the elephant and grabs the elephant’s leg and says that an elephant is like a tree, strong and sturdy. Therefore, the blind men, who are limited by their lack of vision to see the entire elephant (truth), only see a portion of the elephant (truth) and therefore relay what they perceive to the world, meaning that no one man (religion) is any truer than the rest.
For years, this parable stumped the religious exclusivist and seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for anyone who believed that their religion, or any one religion in particular, could be true while all others were false. However, Lesslie Newbigin, a British missionary to India finally came to realize a shocking truth about the parable. In his book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Newbigin explains that he was presented with this parable numerous times while serving as a missionary and always had trouble defending the faith, but one day it finally hit him. He realized that the only way for someone to tell the parable and “prove” that everyone else only has a portion of the truth (the elephant) is to assume that the teller can see the whole truth (the elephant). The whole point of the parable is to show that no one can know the whole truth, but in order to prove that, one must assume that he or she has the whole truth. The argument then becomes self-defeating.
What seems like a humble explaining away of narrow-mindness of religion on the outside is actually a pedestal on which one man can stand and assert that he has the whole truth while everyone else does not. The teller of the parable assumes the very thing he aims to destroy. This argument is then a parable of exclusivity rather than pluralism.
An Overview of the Major World Religions and Their Differing Beliefs
Now that we are aware that no two contradictory statements can both be true at the same time and that there is not a logical way to argue religious pluralism without assuming exclusivity, let’s take a look at some of the beliefs of the world’s major religions and see if they make contradictory truth claims. For the purpose of this article, we will be looking at traditional Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestant Christianity.
Existence of God
- Hinduism – There are millions of gods in the world, some more powerful than others, but Lord Krishna is the chief god of them all.
- Buddhism – There is no god or gods.
- Islam – Allah is the one true god and no other god exists apart from him.
- Judaism – Yahweh is the one true God, who exists unitarily, and no other god exists apart from him.
- Catholicism – Yahweh is the one true God, who exists triune, and no other god exists apart from him.
- Protestant Christianity – Yahweh is the one true God, who exists triune, and no other god exists apart from him.
- Hinduism – The Vedas are considered divinely inspired and authoritative.
- Buddhism – The Sutras are believed to be the actual words of the first Buddha. There also exists some non-canonical scriptures: Tripitaka, Mahayana Sutras, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
- Islam – The Qur’an is considered to be divinely inspired and authoritative. The Hadith is second to the Qur’an and is a collection of Islamic traditional sayings of Muhammad and later Islamic sages.
- Judaism – The Tanakh (Protestant Christian Old Testament) is believed to be divinely inspired and authoritative. The Talmud is a collection of commentary and illustrations on the Torah.
- Catholicism – The Catholic Bible (73 books total; including the Apocrypha) are believed to be divinely inspired and authoritative.
- Protestant Christianity – The Protestant Bible is a collection of 66 books. It contains the 39 books of the Tanakh and 27 books written after the coming of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah.
- Hinduism – Salvation for Hindus is called Moksha. Moksha is when an enlightened human being is freed from the cycle of life-and death (reincarnation) and becomes one with God.
- Buddhism – Salvation for Buddhists is called Nirvana (a transcendental, blissful, spiritual state of nothingness) and is obtained through the eightfold path.
- Islam – Salvation grants access to paradise and comes by one of two things:
- Your good outweighs your bad.
- You die as a martyr defending Islam.
- Judaism – Those who trust in God for salvation and die will sleep in the Earth (known as Sheol) and await the coming of the Messiah to restore the soul to the body in resurrection.
- Catholicism – Salvation in Catholicism is a process with many steps: Actual Grace, Faith, Good Works, Baptism, Sacraments, Penance, Indulgences, and Keeping Commandments. Salvation can be obtained and lost multiple times.
- Protestant Christianity – Salvation comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ. By believing in him and following his example, Protestants believe that Christ’s righteousness is imputed upon the believer and will be admitted to heaven after post-death judgment.
As we can see from these facts, these various world religions all make very different truth claims about deities, sacred texts, and how to attain salvation. Logically speaking, only one or none of these religions can be true because they all comprise of contradictory statements. At the same time, Allah cannot exist as the one and only god (as per Islam) while no gods exists (per Buddhism). Likewise, at the same time, salvation cannot be attainted exclusively by Moksha (per Hinduism) while salvation is exclusively attained through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ (per Protestant Christianity).
Religious pluralism is a self-defeating religious belief system that aims to prove that contradictory religious systems are, in fact, equal in truth and spiritual perception of the divine. Whether we believe it or not, there is an absolute truth that exists; a god, multiple gods, or no gods exist; the scriptures of one or none of the major world religions are divinely inspired; salvation comes through one or none of the processes preached by these major world religions. To say that every world religion is no more true than the others is either a lack of understanding or sheer defiance in the face of logic and reason. Whether you are a Christian, Buddhist, Jew, atheist, agnostic, whatever, we must all agree that either one or none of our beliefs are correct and that no matter how wholeheartedly we believe we are right, the truth transcends us all.
As a confessing Christian pastor, I believe that Jesus Christ taught us the truth of the universe – that Yahweh is the one true God, that Yahweh inspired and has preserved his sacred word to his people, and that salvation comes only through the atoning substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus himself – God in the form of a man. So when asked why I am so narrow-minded and how I could possibly claim that I have the truth while billions of other people are just ignorant of the truth, I simply respond that it would be more narrow-minded, arrogant, and simply illogical to believe that we can all be right at the same time.