In 1990 a friend of mine traveled to the United States from Russia. It was his first exposure to the free-enterprise system. I remember him explaining his first visit to Baskin Robbins for ice cream. He was simply overwhelmed with the notion of making a single selection. You, like Vadim, are bombarded with choices.
Maybe the most difficult decision you had to make today was which class you could afford to skip or which party to attend this weekend. Obviously, there are some very important decisions we need to make – where to go to college, which career to pursue, who to marry. We consider it a great privilege to have a variety of options. Vadim recognized that our nation thrives on the ideal that the more choices we have the better!
The same value is common in how we view religion. The popular thought is that it is too limiting to suggest there is just one true religious belief system. It would be like suggesting that everyone was allowed to buy only vanilla ice cream, or that the only car you could buy is a Ford. We demand freedom of choice and expression. Nike has probably identified what we really value in making choices. Their latest sales motto is, “Just do it.”
But is religion just a matter of personal preference of what feels good? Is the choice of any religious belief a good choice? Is there any way to identify one true religion? I want to suggest that there is! Religion doesn’t fall into the category of preference, but in that of truth. From this it may be possible to compare and consider if there is a choice that seems best based on truth and not simply what we like. If that is possible, we should seek to discover what that one true religion is.
To go about this, let us consider three things that help us distinguish truth. From there we can look at the different belief systems and arrive at some conclusions.
How to Distinguish Truth
1. There is a difference between matters of taste and matters of truth.
Philosopher Mortimer Adler in Truth in Religion has made a distinction between taste and truth.
One might say:
- My favorite ice cream is peppermint bon bon.’
- The Minnesota Vikings are the best team to watch on TV.
- Summer is the best season.
These are all examples of matters of taste. They are choices where individuality and personal preference are encouraged and desired. It is fantastic to have such variety to choose what we like.
However, this is greatly different than matters of truth. Let me share a few:
- St. Paul is the Capitol of Minnesota.
- There are 24 hours in a day.
- George Washington was the first president of the United States.
These are not issues of taste or preference, but are definite statements of truth. Whether you like them or not, they remain true. If I said there are only 23 hours in a day it would be a false statement. We don’t have any problem with the fact that there is just one option here. When we consider the different world religions it must be noted that they each make distinctive truth claims. We are not asked to choose one of these because we like it, but rather, because its true.
2. There is a difference between tolerance and truth.
To suggest there could be one true religion is not an intolerant or politically incorrect thing to say. If we evaluate the different options, as we will, you will see that each belief system is making some very specific and contradictory claims when matched up with each other. Truth, by definition, is narrow. 2+2=4 is very narrow, but completely true. So, to present the possibility of one true religion is not intolerant as long as there is evidence to support the claims of that religion.
3. Sincerity doesn’t determine truth.
Is it really of concern to us that we have correct beliefs provided we believe something sincerely? When it comes to religion many say, “all religious beliefs are valid as long as you are sincere in your faith. We don’t want to limit people’s freedom to choose. We don’t want to be too narrow.” The problem with this line of thinking is that it is possible to be sincerely wrong.
For example, let’s say a friend of yours is going to jump off a 10-story building. She sincerely believes the concrete below is a large pillow. It would be ridiculous for you to say, “go ahead, your sincerity will protect you.” No, you would say she’s wrong and you would prevent her from harming herself. Is it unkind of you to limit her freedom? Hardly! The truth will protect her, where her sincerity may kill her.
Now all we have determined is that there are times when one truth exists rather than there being a choice based on preference. We still need to address how we determine which, if any, religious belief system is true.
The Law of Non-Contradiction
Before we look at the different religions it is important to note that they make very distinctive and differing claims. This forces us to look at the law of non-contradiction. This law identifies that two contradictory statements cannot both be true. For example, to say 2+2=4 and 2+2 does not=4 creates a contradiction. They can’t both be right. As we look at the religions we will see this same pattern. We are left with the irrefutable conclusion that all religions can’t be right. When you look at the chart on comparative religions, look for some of these contradictions.
- Hinduism and Buddhism (many gods) vs. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (one God).
- Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam (Jesus is not God) vs. Christianity (Jesus is God).
All five would say we have some sort of problem that inhibits our spiritual condition … But, all have very different solutions to the problem, and only Christianity states that the solution is a gift to man from God. The other four call on man to do some type of good works to fix the problem.
How is it possible to have one god and many gods? How can Jesus not be God and be God? How can a solution be based completely apart from God and completely dependent upon God. Contradictions exist! Everything cannot be right.
Let’s reconsider the example of my friend Vadim. Any flavor at Baskin Robbins is a good choice as long as he is content with it. But let’s change the scenario a bit. What if every ice cream was laced with a deadly poison … except for one. Now there is only one true ice cream Vadim could eat if he wanted to remain living. If, for the sake of this example, Vadim was required to eat one ice cream cone, he would definitely want to find out which ice cream was safe to eat. Consider this as you look at the chart.
- Founder: NA (3000 BC)
- Who is God: Brahman/ Many gods
- Who is Jesus: Man
- Problem: Samsara/Ignorance
- Solution: Works, Knowledge, Devotion
- Founder: Sidhartha Guatama (583 BC)
- Who is God: Irrelevant/Nirvana
- Who is Jesus: Man
- Problem: Samsara/Ego-centered
- Solution: 8-fold path to Nirvana
- Founder: Abraham/Moses (2000 BC)
- Who is God: Monotheistic
- Who is Jesus: False Prophet
- Problem: Impurity/Alienation
- Solution: Repentance/Observe Law
- Founder: Jesus Christ
- Who is God: Monotheistic
- Who is Jesus: God-Man
- Problem: Rebellion/Sin/Separation
- Solution: Death of Jesus Christ/Free Gift
- Founder: Muhammad (570 AD)
- Who is God: Monotheistic
- Who is Jesus: Prophet
- Problem: Disobedience
- Solution: Submission/Five Pillars
I’ve stated that each religion asserts truth claims, but the big question is how do we know which one to chose? Either one is right or all are wrong, but two or more cannot all be true!
Evidence for Christianity
When I weighed the evidence I found strong support for the Christian faith. Because the claims are very strong, may I suggest that you begin your search for the one truth with Christianity?
Claims to Consider
Here are some of the claims that are particularly strong:
1. Jesus claimed to be God.
This is very unique. The other religions have leaders that only presented ideas of how to get to “God” or “gods.” These leaders didn’t claim to be divine. They simply created a belief system for people to follow!
2. Jesus claimed to forgive sins and died to provide forgiveness.
No other leader could forgive us for the poor deeds of humanity. They simply provided a system of works that attempts to appease God through human effort. One can never know that these efforts will be sufficient to remove the guilt of our deeds.
3. Jesus rose from death to prove both His divinity and ability to forgive.
This statement is open to investigation. Jesus’ resurrection is the most researched event of history. This miracle has strong testimony in history. All other religious leaders are in their graves. Jesus’ grave is empty!
4. Jesus was seen by more than 500 people after He rose from the dead.
The witness of those that saw Him has changed the world. Ten of His 12 closest followers died for His cause as martyrs. They believed in Jesus’ divinity and resurrection. Would they die for a lie?
Perhaps this is just the beginning of your search to understanding the claims of different belief systems. You may be unsure at this point what to believe, but I hope you are stimulated to investigate with discernment what is true and what is not. This is not an issue of choosing the popular preference, but in looking at evidence and making a choice -objectively. I believe that evidence points to Jesus!
Adler, Mortimer J. “Truth in Religion: The Plurality of Religions and the Unity of Truth” (New York: MacMillan, 1990), 2-5.
Boa. Kenneth and Larry Moody. “I’m Glad You Asked” (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1982), 126-144.
Johnson, Keith E. (Article) “Comparative Religions: Do All Paths Lead to the Same Destination?”
McGrath, Alister E. “Intellectuals Don’t Need God and Other Modern Myths: (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 108-119.
Netland, Harold A. “Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth” (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1991), 1-35.
Chart developed by Keith E. Johnson