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Are All Religions Equal?

14

June 21, 2012 by mattfradd


On a recent flight from Philadelphia to San Diego I had the following conversation with a woman – we’ll call her Mary – who believed that all religions were equal. I wrote down the conversation a few days later. Here it is:

All Religions are Equal

“I suppose when it comes down to it,” Mary said, “the main thing is that people are sincere in what they believe. All religions are equal.”

“What do you mean by equal?” I asked.

“I believe all express the truth, just in different language.”

“If all religions are equally true, then does that mean you would accept everything that all religions teach?”

“Yes. I might express it differently, but I believe that deep down we are all speaking the same language.”

“So you agree with the Christian religion, which says that Christ is the only way to the Father?”

“No.” Mary was unaware of the logical contradiction she had just fallen into. She looked at me as if perhaps I wasn’t paying attention. After all, she had just stated that all religions were equally true. Why would I now ask her if she believed the exact opposite?

“I’m confused,” I said, gently. “You say you believe that all religions are equally true, but you don’t believe that the Christian religion is correct in saying that Jesus Christ is the only objective means of salvation. Doesn’t that mean that you don’t believe that all religions are equally true?”

Is it Arrogant to Believe that other religions are wrong?

Mary became uncomfortable when she saw that she had contradicted herself and dismissed what I had said by saying, “I guess I just think it’s arrogant to believe that your worldview is right and that everyone else’s is wrong.”

Not wanting to press too hard, I resisted the temptation to show Mary how her religious indifferentism was itself a worldview that alone claimed to be true while condemning as wrong all opposing beliefs.

“Do you believe in the law of non-contradiction? That something cannot be both true and untrue at the same time.”

“Give me an example.”

“God cannot be the creator of the universe and at the same time not be the creator of the universe.”

“Sure, that makes sense.”

“Okay, so theism—the belief that there is a God who created the universe—and pantheism—the view that God is the universe—cannot both be true. This is one example of why you can’t rationally affirm that all religions are equally true. The law of non-contradiction forbids it. This does not mean that there cannot be elements of truth in all religions but that all are not equally true. I believe that the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of the truth and other religions are wrong inasmuch as they disagree with that fullness.”

What The Church Teaches

I then mentioned the passage in the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate:

“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim, Christ ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to himself.”

How have you handled the claim that “all religions are equal”?

14 thoughts on “Are All Religions Equal?

  1. I usually give the example of Islam. Who was Jesus Christ?

    The Christians say that He was God.
    The Muslims say that He was just a man.

    These two groups can’t both be right.

    So although Christianity can affirm many things about Islam (prayer, fasting, monotheism, …) there are certain important points where the two belief systems simply cannot be reconciled.

    At a more basic level, I give the example of theism and atheism. A theist believes that there is a God. An atheist believes that there is not a God. Both may hold their beliefs sincerely, but both can’t be right.

    • Aaron Maurer says:

      yes they can, because even though a few contradictory beliefs cant be true, certain and most contradictory terms can and are equally true. When a contradictory term goes againest a Unversal concept of the Great Spriits might Like,(God cannot be the creator of the universe and at the same time not be the creator of the universe.”)

      then it is clearly false, The unversal oneness of the Great Spirit is limitless in all aspects except in the case of him being able to lift a rock and not being able too. Or existing and not existing, this is something all religons would definatly agree on. However when it comes down to all other lesser contradictions under this, the religious contradictions are and can only be true.
      Beacaue the Great Spirits power is ultimately ulimited and we all live within the great dreamtime of all things and all possiblites and truths.
      But to say a contradiction like God existing and not existing, is clearly a falsehood, because it in itself contradicts his divine might and power of all possiblities and forms.

  2. brettsalkeld says:

    “I guess I just think it’s arrogant to believe that your worldview is right and that everyone else’s is wrong.”

    To me this is a key issue. Of course, the real fact is that everyone believes that their worldview is right and that everyone else’s is wrong. There’s no way around that. Who on earth believes in a worldview that they think is wrong or doesn’t believe in one that they think is right? It’s not arrogant, it’s logically unavoidable.

    On the other hand, there is a truth buried inside that rather naive statement which is important, namely that we don’t know everything. We can be wrong, about big things and little things. We can assume that there are no differences when there are rather important difference; or we can assume that there is nothing we have in common with others’ worldviews and religions when in fact there is an awful lot in common. We can think we understand Church teaching when we don’t, and proclaim material heresy as the gospel of life. This kind of thing happens all the time simply because we’re not omniscient.

    The answer is not relativism, but humility. That is why we must always propose and never impose.

    • mattfradd says:

      Thank you Brett, If you mean, we cannot know the teachings of the Church because we are not omniscient, then I disagree with you. I would also argue that the answer to relativism is not humility but objective truth – shared with humility, and this may have been what you meant. Appreciate your messages.

    • I think I understand what you are saying Brett as far as sometimes we can be too hasty or not have all the details before we speak, as I feel that I myself have done this and regret not making more of a proposition than an assertion. Maybe I am saying I need to be careful with my words. Also I like the way Matt put it, “objective truth – shared with humility.” God bless and enjoying these posts!

  3. I imagine…and I could be wrong…that when people like Mary say things like this, they don’t mean ‘everything that every religion says is true’. I think they’re referring to what they view as ‘the ultimate message’ of the religions.

    Of course, people disagree quite a bit about what ‘the ultimate message’ of religions are. But people like Mary (again, I could be wrong), are generally more liberal, and view the ‘ultimate message’ as “be good to people, help others, etc.” And most (if not all religions) teach a version of that message, so from a certain perspective she’s correct.

    That being said, I believe that all religions are equally wrong…so take what I say with a grain of salt.

    • mattfradd says:

      Hey there, I suspect you may be right. She may have meant, “most religions teach that we should be good to people and help others,” and if that is what she meant, then I might agree with her. If she were to then say, “and that’s the most important thing.” I would ask what she meant by “good to people,” part of what it means to be good to people is telling them the truth, in love. Allowing a person to remain in error, for fear that if you were to correct them you would be seen as judgmental, is not good.

  4. Stefano says:

    Well this was certainly an interesting article.

    what about the concept we Christians believe:

    Jesus is our God, and yet at the sametime, the son of God.
    This itself is a contradiction, but through our faith,
    we believe that this is true through the diivine mystery of the Holy Trinity.

    Part of being a Christian is to love one another, regardless of creed.
    So while it is important to evangelize and show the world the beauty of
    Christianity, its also just as important to not sow messages of hatred or
    condescendence of other religions

    • mattfradd says:

      Thank you Stefano,

      The hypostatic union – The teaching that in Christ one person subsists in two natures – is not a contradiction, it is a mystery. Something we could not deduce from reason alone, but it is not contrary to reason.

      No one is arguing that a Christian should not love others of different creeds or be condescending towards them.

  5. […] the 21st of June I posted the blog, “Are All Religions Equal” which described part of a conversation I had with a young woman on an airplane flight. In this blog […]

  6. […] the 21st of June I posted the blog, “Are All Religions Equal?” which described part of a conversation I had with a young woman on an airplane flight. In this blog […]

  7. SavedByFaith says:

    Hey Matt,

    I strongly agree that all religions are are not equal and at the same time have tried to convince my catholic friends about the same.As a catholic by birth, I started trying to find the truth that I may truly stand for what I believe in when I was about 15 years old. 10 years down the line I still shy away from getting into an argument with a non-believer because my knowledge on the subject has never been good enough. Your article has drawn me again to find answers to the questions people pose upfront. Reading your blog has been enlightening.

  8. […] recently wrote two blogs: “Are All Religions Equal?” and “Why do Bad Things Happen to Good […]

  9. Shawn says:

    Yea it got me a understanding but i believe there are still more questions

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