Posts

Why Do Some People Believe All Religions Lead to the Same God?

Written By Jose Philip, Singapore

Jose is currently serving as an Evangelist and Apologist with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (Asia-Pacific). He also lectures on Apologetics, Christian Ethics, and Gospel & Culture at Singapore Bible College, Baptist Theological Seminary and Bible College Malaysia.

The idea that truth is exclusive does not sit well with many people today, does it?

In fact, it is deeply upsetting to some. We cherish the liberty to decide for ourselves what is true and what is not; at the same time, we demand that others be truthful to us. Now that presents us with a conundrum. How could we expect anyone to be truthful when, as my 12-year-old—who has quite the imagination—recently declared, “making things up” is so much more interesting!

Making things up or assuming them to be true is not what only children do. We tend to place more value on how we feel, or whether something works for us, than on whether it is actually true. Truth is relative, we are told, and this is an idea that those who hold strongly to their religious convictions will struggle with.

As an itinerant preacher, teacher, and Christian apologist, I am frequently asked to speak on a variety of topics to a wide variety of audiences. Once, I was asked to explore the question, “Do all paths lead to the same God?” As part of my preparation, I decided to do a quick survey. I wanted to know two things: Did people actually believe that all religions were the same? And, why?

So, every time I was sitting in a public area like a coffee shop or a library, I typed the words, “Why would anyone believe that all religions lead to the same God?”, in a font big enough for the person next to me to see.

It was a fascinating experiment, and I had some very interesting conversations. It showed that, contrary to what many might think, talking about religion is not a conversation stopper. Often, it did not take long before someone would see my words and ask, “Why not?”

It also confirmed my suspicion that many people, whether religious or not, believe that all religions are the same—even when they weren’t familiar with the claims or teaching of those religions. What also struck me was that most of the people I discussed the question with believed that they were entitled to their opinions. It showed me that for many, the right to be heard was more important than discovering the truth.

In a way, it wasn’t a surprise. Deciding for ourselves what is the truth is the logical next step following the belief that truth is relative. As a result, we find it rude—even arrogant—for someone to make exclusive claims about the truth. Now, if we pause long enough to think about this issue and ask, “Is this something new, or is this how humans have always thought?”, we might discover something very interesting.

 

Why Do We Believe What We Believe?

Having encountered several objections to exclusive truth claims about religion, I have found that they can be broadly grouped into three positions or “postures”: that of misplaced confidence, masked arrogance, and mistaken trust. The first two are effectively two sides of the same coin, so I will discuss them briefly before going on to focus on the third.

The three “postures” have to do with taking sides. When we maintain that truth is not exclusive, we are trying not to take one particular side against any other. However, we have different reasons for doing so.

 

1. Misplaced confidence

Many of the people who conclude that all religions lead to the same God appear to do so because they do not have exhaustive knowledge of every religion to conclude otherwise. It seems that those who adopt this posture tend to hold to the view that the great religions must surely be the same, for they all teach us to be good, to love, to serve others, to take care of the weak and vulnerable, not to harm, and to speak the truth. Therefore, they reason, none of these religions can be wrong, and all must surely be right.

This view, however, largely ignores the tenets and principles that are foundational to these religions. This is a posture of misplaced confidence.

 

2. Masked arrogance

Then there are those who get upset with anyone who claims exclusivity or who appeals to absolutes. They believe that it is wrong to claim that only one way is right. They feel that to claim that any one religion is right and the others are wrong is egocentric. Since we are mortal, they reason, who are we to say who is right and who is wrong?

However, when they profess that “all paths lead to the same ultimate truth”, are they not claiming to know more than all the founders of these diverse religions put together? Each of these founders, whether it is Buddha, Mohammed, or Jesus, has claimed one exclusive path to God. If we then say that all of their religions lead to the same God, are we not claiming that we know more than all these founders put together? Is that not a posture of masked arrogance?

 

3. Mistaken trust

Underlying the postures of misplaced confidence and masked arrogance is the posture of mistaken trust. Once, when I questioned a conversation partner’s belief that all religions are equally true, he became visibly distraught. “How could you, an Indian, even raise such a question?” he protested. “I am sure you are familiar with what Mahatma Gandhi said.”

(Gandhi, who led India to independence and is widely seen as the Father of India, made it plain that he believed that all religions were essentially the same.)

The man’s response appeared to be typical of how the vast majority of people are informed about the truth—through the voice of the popular. I could not help but wonder if it was because I am an Indian, that this obviously well-read gentleman appealed to the founding father of India to challenge my religious conclusions. Not wanting to second-guess him, I asked him if my nationality had prompted him to appeal to Gandhi’s name, to which he replied with a smile, “Yes”!

We are quick to denounce the “might is right” dictum because we know that sheer power is not a test for the truth. Why, then, do we not conclude the same when it comes to the “popular”? Why do we think that popularity makes something right? I am not suggesting that being a popular voice in and of itself is bad, or that Gandhi was being facetious. My question is simply this: “Does exemplary standing in one thing automatically grant someone infallibility in all things?”

Many of the people who believe that all religions lead to the same God are kind, intelligent, and sincere. But does that make it true? Sincerity, like popularity, is not a test for the truth; I can be sincere, but sincerely wrong.

It is true that Gandhi stood head and shoulders above the rest of his countrymen, and as an Indian, I owe my national freedom to his courage and selfless service. But does that mean that his belief in the equality of all religions is right?

It is no secret that the teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount, had a profound impact on Gandhi. Yet he could not accept Christianity on its own terms. He picked and chose aspects of Christianity that appealed to him, and reinterpreted them from his perspective as a Hindu. He did the same with the teachings of Gautama Buddha, whom he saw as a great reformer of Hinduism. In Gandhi’s opinion, Buddha’s immense sacrifice and immaculate purity in life had left an indelible impression on Hinduism.

In essence, Gandhi’s approach was to consider the truth claims of different religions from the vantage point of the follower, and not its founders. In believing him, however, might we be taking a posture of misplaced trust?

 

Founder or Follower—Whose Decision Is It Anyway? 

Our motivations to believe all religions are the same may be noble—peace and harmony, for example. This, however, does not license followers to amalgamate world religions into an amorphous mix. It is not up to us to promise indiscriminately for all what is exclusively offered by one religion. In as much as you cannot attain ‘Nirvana’ by upholding the authority of the Vedas or adhering to the caste system, you cannot have ‘Eternal Life’ without choosing to follow Jesus alone.

The truth claims of the different religions are exclusive, and we will do well to appreciate its distinctiveness. It is up to us to choose whether we will allow these differences to divide us or to live in peace no matter how deep the disagreements. It is not, however, up to us to redefine what different religions claim as ‘exclusive’ and offer as the ‘same thing’.

If all religions are fundamentally different and essentially exclusive, then it stands to reason that they all cannot be equally true. I believe acknowledging this will bring us to the door of enquiry. And, despite my Christian convictions, I find investigating Jesus’ truth claims to be a good place to begin. He not only claimed divinity, He also offered a tangible way to validate whether His claims are true—through His death and resurrection. As the apostle Paul wrote:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:14)

 

Click here to view “Editor’s Picks: Top 3 Articles | Apologetics

ODJ: Source of Truth

May 20, 2016 

READ: 1 Kings 13:4-24  

The Lord [commanded me]: “You must not eat or drink anything while you are there” (v.9).

Often, when I search for something on the internet, I’m not sure I can trust the information I find. If I type a topic into a well-known search engine, I may end up on a website that features unverified information. Disclaimers warn that experts haven’t reviewed the content and so there’s no way to guarantee that it’s accurate, complete or unbiased. No matter how authentic the material might seem, I know it’s unwise to trust it.

Trusting the wrong source of information was a key part of the downfall of the “man of God from Judah” (1 Kings 13:1). He set out to deliver a message from God with specific instructions: don’t eat or drink anything, and don’t go back the same way you came (vv.9-10). He prophesied and followed God’s rules until he met an old man who invited him to a meal (v.15). The younger man refused, but the old man said, “I am a prophet, too. . . . An angel gave me this command from the Lord: ‘Bring him home with you so he can have something to eat and drink’ ” (v.18).

That evident lie led the young man to go and satisfy his desires against God’s commands. The old man’s status as a prophet carried weight, but he wasn’t trustworthy. Sadly, however, the young prophet followed him and died soon afterward (v.24).

Like this young prophet, we can get into trouble if we turn away from God’s wisdom in favour of what other people tell us. Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “test everything” by what God has revealed to us. As we seek the instruction found in Scripture, the advice of godly counsellors and the counsel of the Holy Spirit, we can make decisions that will honour Him. God is the Source of Truth—may we choose His wisdom today!

—Jennifer Benson Schuldt

365-day plan: Proverbs 5:1-23

MORE
Read Psalm 33:4 and consider what it reveals about God’s trustworthiness. 
NEXT
What does Scripture reveal about the issues on your mind today? How can you test the words and advice you’re receiving from others? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)

ODJ: discerning truth

January 6, 2016 

READ: 1 Kings 2:13-25 

Be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16).

In the Shakespearean play Othello, the main bad guy is named Iago. He pretends to be Othello’s closest friend, offering counsel and advice, but all the while Othello, the main bad guy he’s plotting his friend’s downfall behind the scenes. The play is carefully constructed so that it’s impossible for even the audience to grasp the underhanded deceit of Iago until the very last scene. He’s plausible right up until the end, and if his part is acted well, the audience will often gasp when his true nature is finally revealed, for the character’s deception is convincingly hidden by his words and actions.

In 1 Kings 2:13-18, Bathsheba is thoroughly taken in by Adonijah. She suspects nothing dark in his request. What could possibly be wrong with his asking for the beautiful Shunammite woman with the not-so-lovely name Abishag? Abishag had comforted David, Adonijah’s father, in his last days (1 Kings 1:1-4), so surely it would be a service to her and a perfect match for him.

Solomon, however, saw the motivation behind the request. He discerned Adonijah’s ambition behind his desire for the woman who had spent time with the great King David (2:22). It was all about a political power play that would aid Adonijah in his desire to seize the throne. Solomon discerned the truth and saw the rebellion hidden in his heart.

Believers in Jesus should seek to bless and think the best of others, and yet God gives us discernment by His Spirit. Jesus told His disciples to “be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Being as innocent as a dove and as wise as a serpent is not achieved by imitating an Iago character. May God through His Word and Spirit help us to see what’s truly true.

—Russell Fralick

365-day-plan: Genesis 8:1-22

MORE
Look at Peter’s confession of Christ in Matthew 16:13-20 and see what the Holy Spirit revealed to him. 
NEXT
Do you seek God’s wisdom in every situation, or are you content to form judgments based merely on what you see and feel? How can you discern the truth about a difficult issue you’re facing today? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)

How do we know for sure that Christianity is the Truth?

Written By Joshua Woo

Formerly a pastoral staff of a Presbyterian church in Singapore, Joshua Woo is now a political secretary to a Member of Parliament in Malaysia serving in a multi-religious constituency.

I recently attended a religious ceremony at a Siamese Buddhist temple as part of an official visit by my MP. Several Muslims and Christians were also at the ceremony, as they had been invited after having helped the temple to solve some issues.

With the different religious groups not only living peacefully together but also helping to improve lives in one another’s community, some people might be led to think that aside from their beliefs and rituals, there is no fundamental difference between the different religions.

We might then ask: How do we know that Christianity is the truth?

This question prompted me to think about my own faith journey.

Personal Salvation

I was born into a family that followed traditional Chinese religious customs. My parents burned joss sticks and hell-money as offerings to our ancestors, and offered food on an altar in our home on certain religious occasions.

When I was about 12 years old, my parents started to practise Mahayana Buddhism, and I followed their lead and became a devout Buddhist. I was taught to follow Buddha’s teaching to attain “enlightenment”, which was supposed to free me from the cycle of reincarnation know as samsara. This meant doing good deeds and avoiding bad deeds, which would affect what happened at the next reincarnation.

In trying to attain “enlightenment”, I even became a novice monk, which involved shaving my head, going on a strict vegetarian diet, staying in a temple, and observing over 200 rules. I wanted to be freed from samsara, so I thought I would be a Buddhist my whole life.

When I was 17 years old, however, I started to struggle over the possibility that I would not be able to attain enlightenment because of the many bad things I had done. Perhaps, I thought, there was no way I could be freed from samsara, and would be stuck in the perpetual cycle of reincarnation. This created much uncertainty about my eternal destiny—until I accompanied a friend to his church.

That day, I learned that God came into our world through Jesus Christ to liberate us from the consequences of our bad deeds. It was a message that resonated deeply with my need for liberation. The same evening, I accepted Christ as my Savior.

That was how I became a Christian. It started with the realization that I couldn’t do anything to save myself, and ended with the experience of being loved, forgiven, and accepted by God, despite all that I had done. In a way, Buddhism had helped me to realize my need for divine grace, which led me to Christ.

Making Sense of Life

For a long time, I was also constantly feeling restless. Regardless of what I did, I felt that something significant was missing in my life. Initially, I thought it was companionship, so I got into a relationship. But the restlessness remained. Then I thought it was the lack of achievement, so I went to do certain things that I had always wanted to do. Yet I still felt restless. And I just couldn’t make sense of it.

After I became a Christian, I started to read up more about my newfound faith. Several books helped me to make sense of life and see it from a Christian perspective. In Mere Christianity, for example, C. S. Lewis wrote about his own sense of restlessness: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

That statement completely resonated with me. Finally, it all made sense. I realized that we are always restless in this world because God has created us for another world.

Christianity speaks to my innermost sentiments and helps me make sense of them. As Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen: Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Jesus’ Reality

However, religious experience and making sense of one’s own feelings are not enough for one to be certain of the truthfulness of Christianity. Our faith, after all, is built on the claims and actions of one person, Jesus. So, in order to be certain, we have to be convinced that Jesus really existed.

There is a big debate about this: some people believe that He is real, while others think otherwise. There are also some who accept He existed, but don’t believe what He said or did—including dying on the cross and rising to life.

There is sufficient scholarly persuasion, however, that provides a strong case that Jesus was real and that all He said and did were true. For example, we have the Gospel accounts—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—which testify about the life of Jesus. While some scholars have cast doubt on the Gospels’ reliability as they are based on the authors’ memories, others have argued otherwise, saying that the Gospels should be read as ancient biographies, and are essentially eyewitness accounts. A study of church history show that the four Gospels in the New Testament were accepted very early on as authoritative records of Jesus’ life.

Conclusion

In summary, these are the three reasons that show me that Christianity is indeed the truth:

(1) My experience of God’s love through the liberating message of the gospel.
(2) The realization that Christianity helps me make sense of my life.
(3) The confirmation that Jesus’ life and actions are true.

Of course, knowing all this does not mean that we put down other religions. In my own faith transition, I have learned that there are elements in other religions that God can use to lead people to Him. While we remain convicted of our own faith, we can learn to appreciate and be open to learning from others. At the same time, we can remain steadfast in our faith, knowing that Christianity is the truth.