Aren’t All Religions Just Different Ways to the Same Place?
I have had the privilege of talking with many high school students across the nation about religion. Many of these well educated students have raised the question, “If any one religion is completely true, why are there so many other religions?” In other words, “Aren’t they all just different ways of getting to the same place?” In the next breath they might say, “If one religion works for you, great, but is that necessarily the only way?”
These are good questions to raise, and they reflect a culture that values tolerance of everyone and their beliefs.
These questions, however also raise questions that I would like to consider.
- Do all religions lead the same direction?
- Is it possible that only one religion is really true?
Five Major World Religions
Let’s consider five of the world’s major religions. The following shows us the basic beliefs about their views of God, man’s destiny, and how man reaches that destiny.
View of God: One God
Destiny of Man: No after-life or possibly with Messiah
How Man Gets There: Turn back to God and live a moral life
View of God: One God
Destiny of Man: To be with Allah; Sensual desires gratified
How Man Gets There: Five Pillars of Faith
View of God: One God (Three Persons)
Destiny of Man: Heaven with God
How Man Gets There: God’s Son Jesus Christ paid for man’s sin by dying on a cross; Gift of grace by faith
View of God: Many gods; Brahman
Destiny of Man: One with invisible, impersonal god in a state called Nirvana
How Man Gets There: Reincarnation
View of God: Irrelevant; Nirvana
Destiny of Man: State of total nothingness; annihilation of consciousness; Nirvana
How Man Gets There: Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path
Different Views of God
- Judaism and Islam affirms that there is one God in one person.
- Christians say that there is one God but He has three distinct persons; all equal and all God.
- The most popular sects of Hinduism believe that there are many gods or that god is in all or all is god.
- Many Buddhists say that God is irrelevant, Nirvana is what they seek.
As we can see these religions differ greatly on their views of God.
Different Claims to True Destiny of Man
Each of these religions also claims to know the truth about the destiny of man. What happens when we die?
- Hindu’s believe that they will eventually become one with an impersonal god in what they call Nirvana.
- Buddhist’s say that Nirvana is a state of total nothingness.
- Christians believe that they will spend eternity with God in heaven.
- There are many different understandings of our destiny in the Jewish community. Many say that there is no life after death, and others believe that they will spend eternity in the presence of their Messiah.
- Muslim’s believe that they will spend eternity with Allah and be given every sensual desire of their heart.
Different Ways to Reach Destinies
Each of these religions has its own way of getting to these different destinies:
- Christians enter heaven by grace through faith. Their faith is in the fact that Jesus, God’s only son, died on a cross to pay the penalty for man’s sins.
- The Jew must turn back to God and live a moral life. They cannot be sure that they will be with God since God will judge whether they were moral enough after they die.
- Hindus believe that they achieve Nirvana or oneness with Brahman through many reincarnations.
- The Buddhist can escape being reincarnated over and over by following the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
- Muslims must earn their way to Allah by performing the duties of the Five Pillars of Faith.
Notice that Christianity is the only religion that claims man cannot earn his way to God, but that it is a gift of God through faith.
Claims to Being the Only Way
As we can see there are many different claims that are made by these religions. They differ on their view of God, the destiny of man, and how man achieves that destiny. Four of these religions are very strong in their belief that their religion is the only way. In fact Muslims say, “Are they seeking a religion other than God’s? … He that chooses a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him and in the world to come he will be one of the lost” (Surah 3:83ff ).
Hindus are the most open to other faiths, but there is no doubt that they believe they have the right one. In the book, I’m Glad You Asked, Boa and Moody write, “… we might wonder if the Hindu would allow his children to be brought up as Christians. There is really only one path by which an outsider can enter the fold. He must live a pious life and then, after many transmigrations, his soul may be at last reborn into a Hindu family.”
After doing a similar survey of these same five religions Boa and Moody write, “The Hindu also assumes that all religions are different paths on a mountain, heading upward in the same direction, all worshiping the same God. If we have learned anything in our quick survey of these major religions, we have learned that they aren’t even on the same mountain.”
The Law of Non-Contradiction
How do we handle all of these different claims to truth? If one religion says that there is one God and only one and another says there are many gods, doesn’t somebody have to be wrong? Aristotle called this the Law of Non-Contradiction. This law has a great deal to say about the question, ‘Aren’t all religions just different ways of getting to the same place?”
Let’s look at a couple of the truth claims:
A: Man is reincarnated after death.
B: Man is not reincarnated after death.
A: Man must earn his way to God and heaven by doing the right things on earth.
B: Man can’t earn his way to God and heaven by doing the right things on earth.
In each of these cases, A and B cannot both be true. They break the Law of Non-Contradiction. If we look down through the lists of views of God, man’s destiny and how man achieves that destiny we have to conclude that these religions are not all leading in the same direction.
You may be thinking, “Wait a minute, do you mean that really good people that are sincerely seeking ‘God’ in their religion might be wrong?” We are taught to be tolerant of other’s beliefs and life styles and embrace them as truth just like we embrace what we believe to be true. However, we have lost sight of the fact that there is truth to be found outside of what we believe.
For example, if I told you that you would not fall while walking off the edge of the Empire State Building, whether I believed it hard enough or had enough faith, you would still fall. Why? Was I sincere? Didn’t I believe? The truth is, gravity is a law. It is true whether or not we believe in it. Just as there are laws that we can see with our eyes, like gravity, there are also laws that we can’t see, such as the Law of Non-Contradiction, which is a matter of the mind, will and emotion.
A Matter of the Will
We may feel very strongly about something (emotions), and in our minds we gather information and evidence, but with our will we decide what to do with the evidence. This problem of feeling our way to what is true is exactly why a Navy Fighter cockpit is filled with instruments. Pilots, when flying in combat, can literally be flying upside down and not realize it. Their gut says they are flying right, but with their will they decide to trust their instruments and do what they say to bring the plane in safely. There is truth apart from our sincerity of belief both in the physical realm and in the realm of mind, will and emotion.
Let me recap where we are in our look at the world’s religions. We can see that there are different truth claims by each of the five major religions that we surveyed. They cannot all be right based on the Law of Non-Contradiction. We have also seen that truth can exist apart from believing it. There are two possibilities to consider:
- Option 1: One of these religions is true.
- Option 2: Parts of these religions are true.
Problems with Option 2
If parts of these religions are true then we are forced to make up our own religion based on whatever feels like it might be true. There are a couple of major problems with this line of reasoning.
1. First, as I discussed before, truth is outside and independent of what we believe.
The example I used before was gravity. Believe it or not, gravity exists. Therefore what feels like it might be true isn’t necessarily true.
2. Second, any truth plus a lie is a complete lie. Only truth plus truth equals truth.
What if we are even partially wrong? Would an eternal being create man giving him a desire to know truth and then abandon him to play a guessing game where the loser ceases to exist for all eternity? It is more likely that this eternal being would clearly reveal to us the truth about Him, man’s destiny and how to achieve that destiny. I think that it is very possible that there is only one right religion.
Ways to Examine Truth
This leaves us with the question, “How can we know what is true?” You may be surprised to know that there are some ways that we can determine what claims are true. Ask:
1. Is it logically consistent? Does it make logical sense?
2. Is it consistent with other fields of knowledge?
3. Is there adequate factual support?
4. Does it make sense in light of human experience?
5. Are we able to live it or does it conflict with life? Is it really useable in real life?
6. Is it fruitful? Does it produce what it claims?
We can use this filter to examine truth in any area of life. Gathering the information and evidence is only the first part of what must be done. As I discussed earlier we must make a decision on what we find. It is quite clear that because of their differing truth claims, that all religions cannot be headed the same direction. In fact it is quite possible that only one of them is right. It is our responsibility to look at all of the evidence we can in order to make good decisions about what is true.
Responding to the Evidence
Where do I begin my search for what is true? Among the religions that were surveyed in this article, Christianity has made some astounding claims to truth. Christians believe that Jesus from Nazareth is God and that He died on a Roman cross to pay the penalty for man’s sin, was buried and then raised from the grave three days later and appeared to many of His early followers.
Paul, an early Christian, said in a letter: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those who died believing in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
Christianity revolves around this risen Jesus. You would think that after those kind of truth claims it would be easy to eliminate Christianity as a possibility.
Many people have begun writing material to disprove these notions of a God-man raising from the dead, but in the course of their research they found the evidence overwhelming and became Christians, believing in a living God.
A few years ago, Attorney Frank Morison planned to disprove the resurrection of Jesus but the evidence and research for his book , Who Moved the Stone?, led him to become a Christian. General Lew Wallace’s book, Ben Hur, is a similar story.
Several years ago Josh McDowell had also set out to destroy Christianity but his conclusion is written in his book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict:
“After more than 700 hours of studying this subject, and thoroughly investigating its foundation, I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, or it is the most fantastic fact of history.”
Josh became a Christian as a result of his findings.
These truth claims are huge and must be dealt with when searching for the truth. Consider beginning your search for the truth by examining the claims about this person Jesus.
1. Boa, Ken and Larry Moody. I’m Glad you Asked Colorado Springs: Victor Books/SP Publications, 1994, 159.
The flow of my argument as well as much of the data on the five major religions comes largely from this book. Ibid., 160
2. McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, rev. ed. San Bernadino: Here’s Life, 1979, 179. This is a great source of information about the evidence for many Christian beliefs.