Friday, September 9, 2011

The Myth of Religious Harmony

"There is in fact no subject upon which so much difference of opinion exists, not only among the unlearned but also among educated men; and the views entertained are so various and so discrepant, that, while it is no doubt a possible alternative that none of them is true, it is certainly impossible that more than one should be so" -Cicer0 (De natura deorum).
Unwittingly (and unintentionally as well), Cicero has given Christians a reasonable, sound way of debunking a popular, yet doggedly old myth: all religions lead to the same god. I hear this a lot with students I talk to on college campuses and people around town I meet. You know them by their catch phrases: "I'm not religious; I'm spiritual." Whatever that means. After all, I can be religious about watching Detroit Red Wing's hockey and going to Joe Louis Arena may indeed feel like a spiritual experience. But that's just the problem; their are as many (contradictory) definitions of "religious" and "spiritual"  as there are people who offer them up. That's right, contradictory. That's the truth behind the fantastic lie that goes around masked by the worldly superficial beauty of ecumenical relations (read: interfaith and syncretistic). Just take one example: contrary to popular opinion (yes, the majority of popular opinion can be wrong even when it sounds appealing), Muslim, Jews and Christians do not believe in the same God, not even close, not by a mile. And for all the seemingly harmonious similarities in the world's religions (and there are myriads of myriads) these similarities are superficial, barely skin deep. A mere facade of truth and commonality. The myth that all religions lead to the same god is not a harmony at all; it's a religious cacophony and it's an inadequate, not to mention illogical, way of thinking about religious truth claims. Of which all religious people (or spiritual, if you prefer) and world religions make. They could all be false, logically speaking. But it is impossible for them all to be true.
And so, with gratitude and immense appreciation, I bring you the following post from a good friend, Ed Killian, host of Mad Gnesio, an online group for the defense of the Christian faith. He is also the proprietor of the Iowa Christian Apologetics Society. He summarizes the argument well and succinctly outlines the absolute absurdity of this common myth as an objection to the Christian faith so that we can get on with the the good stuff: the central event in all human history, namely, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As we encounter the unbelieving world, we are called to proclaim the Gospel of Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins. As we have said, this is the only way a heart lost in unbelief can be converted to a believing Christian heart.

To the world, however, your Christian faith is one possible option of many. Two common ways the world often views religion. First that all religions are the same: untrue. Second that all religions are the same: all equally true.

Since Christianity is a faith that rests on exclusive claims (e.g. "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" etc.), we must make efforts to move people away from the belief that all religions are the same so that we can proclaim God's exclusive truth, and they might be saved.

We do not refute the "all religions are the same" argument by an appeal to emotions or personal experience. We will instead appeal to simple logic. If that scares you, don't let it. Listen carefully: it is true that the Bible says that natural man cannot understand godly things; God never said he cannot understand simple facts.

"The characteristic most fully shared by the religions of the world is their incompatibility with each other"
(John Warwick Montgomery, Tractatus Logico Theologicus, 13).

Saying that all religions are the same is a nonsensical statement. By definition, each one of them is different. Each says different things about who God is. Each says different things about how the earth was created. Each says different things about who man is, how he is supposed live, and what happens to him when he dies. Each says different things about the meaning of life. All of the world's religions make conflicting claims and statements. Thus they are not all the same, and cannot all be true. Simple logic: something cannot be simultaneously A and not A.

If I told you that a square and a triangle were identical, you would think I was nuts. Why? By definition they aren't One is defined by four equal sides, and one by three sides. I can say they are both shapes, but I cannot say they are both the same.

And so it is for engaging the unbelieving mind in regards to all religions being the same. We display in a simple way that it is nonsensical to say so. This will usually move them to the next question: "How do we know which one of them is true?"
We'll address that in the next post. (Posted with permission by Ed Killian of Mad Gnesio).
Notice that nothing has been said about Christianity up to this point. At times this is a fine place to start an argument (i.e. reasoned discussion). Now of course there are many, who for a variety of reasons, will claim to be logical and prove the opposite by their words and deeds. Yet, humanly speaking, logic is a useful tool and something we all (at least ought to) have in common with the unbelieving world. 
This is the goal of Christian apologetics. Clearing off one obstacle at a time so the real scandal of the cross can be heard and seen for what it is: foolishness in the eyes of men, wisdom in the eyes of God and salvation for all who believe.


  1. emphasize that while all other religions are wrong, they are not fully wrong because they all stem from our divinely-given religious impulse (remember the verse in which we are told that God has revealed Himself to all people throughout all time) and from distorted for forgotten revelations of Christian truth. I hate that I always go back to C.S. Lewis on these things (which I think comes mainly from the fact that I haven't read enough other good theologians), but in his autobiography he wrote that one of the driving forces of his apostacy was the idea that religion is normally a kind of delusion that men fall into while ours is quite fortunately true. He also wrote that one of the driving factors in his re-conversion was the idea, as presented by G.K. Chesterton, that Christianity was not simply one out of many religions but instead that it was the fulfillment of all religions. Pantheism fails not because Brahman is a lie, but because Brahman is only the Kingdom and not the King who made it. Paganism gives us the hints of the Messiah (ever read Norse mythology?) and teaches us something of awe so that before the coming of the Gospel the pagan gods are a blessing, even if they are to be discarded the moment the Good News is made known. When we stop talking about a multitude of equal religions or of warring religions out of which only one can be worth even looking at (the former view leading to a watering-down of spirituality and the second leading to a suspicious and dismissive approach) we can see a fairly clear path (though when someone's soul and total allegiance is on the line I'm sure each step will be ten miles long) to the creed of the Apostles. First we must throw out paganism for it's failure to unite divinity and morality. After that any cults and small religions are to be passed by since if God takes any interest in us at all (which is the only way a true religion could come to us in the first place, except in the case of pantheism which I'll get to in a second) then we can expect whatever He tells us to rank among the major religions of the world. Zoroastrianism could be dismissed with that last step but since it is on the edge I will point out that it's dualistic teachings go entirely against the nature of evil as we see it every day; that is, as a warped version of goodness rather than a self-existent thing. Buddhism is only the greatest of the Hindu heresies, as C.S. Lewis put it, and even aside from that it's ultimate desire to escape into Nothingness and thus it fails to acknowledge to that there is genuine goodness in the world. Moreover, it also fails to "fulfill" many of the genuinely sacred elements of other religions. Hinduism is actually a pretty good option except that by including all things as part of God it also includes evil things. In addition to this, the fulfillment it gives is divided so that the philosophic aspects of religion and the more emotional never really seem to meet. Then, looking at the Abrahamic religions, we find Christianity and Islam each claiming to succeed Judaism, but out of them only Christianity actually fits (not to mention that Islam claims to succeed Christianity, which is quite clear about being entirely complete until the End of Times). Finally, we compare Judaism and Christianity and find that only one is meant for all the world to hear. Not only that, but when we put Christianity to the test we find in it doctrines that we can reasonably believe would not have been thought up by men on their own, a strong historical claim, a Man who preached without any concern for what is and is not practical but instead caring only about what was true, and a place for every natural aspect of life. In fact, we find a doctrine which has divided history in half and has been at the center of endless conflicts of such a kind that the thing about must be either radically wicked or else radically good. Even going back to Judaism we see that the Buddha was confronted by Brahman and Confucious, but Moses was met by Baal and Moloch.


  2. Brett,

    Thanks for reading. And thanks for the addition to the post. Your observation is quite right and Lewis's comments even more to the point. The plurality of religions - while not logically capable of being true - does lend credence to the fact that mankind was created to be in relationship with God and we have since the fall, distorted this by worshiping the creature rather than the creator (Romans 1 and 2). The chief difficulty is that, functionally speaking, there are really only two world religions: free and not free. Christianity is free - what Christ has done for you in his death on the cross to win salvation, achieve heaven and give this life to men. Every other world religion in some way makes man the achiever, the doer, the accomplisher of salvation and the one who must earn, merit and achieve the spiritual blessing. It is best to go where the evidence lies most clearly, namely, in favor of the orthodox Christian faith.

    And furthermore, even in their error they demonstrate man's need for the basic problems in life: suffering, pain and death (the big one).

    The reason this tact was not mentioned is that it would have taken much longer to explain, unpack and go through in a clear fashion in order to coincide with the line of argument I was trying to make.

    Chesterton also has a great deal about this in Orthodoxy, talking about bread kings and Lewis talks about this in Miracles as well with Dionysius and wine. It is never a problem to go back to Lewis. I do frequently. And yes, I have read many of the Norse myths. That is something to tackle another day.