How should we respond to the claim that all religions are basically the same?
It’s common today to hear people say that all religious ideas are equally valid. You probably see the statement maybe once a week when you are sitting in your car and at a stoplight and you look forward and you see the car in front of you has a “coexist” bumper sticker. That person is making a statement that “all religious views are pretty much the same, they are all equally valid. None is better than another. They are all just ideas about God and we should treat them all the same way.”
Well this idea is also what’s at play in the recent controversy about the Evangelical, Wheaton University trying to remove a professor for saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. This offended a lot of people and I think this offense is rooted in the idea that all ideas about God are equally valid. We can’t say someone else idea about God is wrong.
Well let’s analyze this claim. It seems that you don’t have to be very knowledgeable about religions to say that all ideas about God are not equally valid. There are some wrong ideas about God or at the very least everyone cannot be right. Everyone could be wrong but everyone cannot be right. If I say that Florida is south of Washington DC and you say it’s north of Washington DC. Well we have a problem. We both can’t be right. There is a correct answer because the location of Florida relative to Washington DC is a feature of reality. It’s something that can be verified and so the true idea about the location of Florida is the one that corresponds with reality. Namely, that it’s south of Washington DC.
What about religions? Well they make competing claims. Some religions say that God is everything, or that God is in everything. Some other religions like Islam would say that God is one: One being; one person. Christianity says that God is one being but 3 persons. Instantly you just have a conflict within the theistic religions, between Islam and Christianity. We say different things about God. Christianity says he is 3 persons and Islam says no, he is only one person.
Well that’s irreconcilable. We both can’t be right. Either God is 3 persons or he is one person. When Muslims say that Jesus is not God and Christian say that he is God, that’s an irreconcilable difference. Either Jesus is God or he is not but we are both not right. That’s incredibly important to understand. There is a wrong answer here and we should actually care enough about the idea of knowing God to say that something is wrong and say that something else is right. Today, it seems like the tolerance is still the big buzz word, especially in terms of religions and religious tolerance and this causes us to say things we would not say in other areas.
There is no other area of life, practically speaking, where we consider the similarities more important than the distinctives when it comes to treating things as if they are the same or not and I’ll give you some examples. You often hear that humans and monkeys share a remarkably high percentage of their DNA but no one is saying that a human is a monkey. Now some people might say we are really close and we evolve from them but nonetheless we are not the same. We are not marrying monkeys (yet) or that sort of thing. The fact that we are remarkably similar on a molecular and DNA level, doesn’t mean we are the same. We have, perhaps, less than 1% of difference but it’s that “less than 1% of difference” that makes all the difference in the world because it is really the distinctives and the differences that make things what they are.
We are all made out of the same types of stuff. Electrons and neutrons and protons and how those things come together is remarkably important. It doesn’t matter that we are made out of the same stuff or that we are making the same sorts of claims about God. See, saying God exists is nice but that doesn’t say nearly enough and when the Muslims says God exist and the Christian says God exist, neither of us have said enough but when we say Jesus is God and died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins and the Muslims says Jesus isn’t God and he didn’t die on the cross. Well one of us is right and one of us is wrong and the reason that you can put Christianity and religious claims in the same type of category as the location of Florida relative to Washington DC is because they are both statements about reality and the history and things in the real world.
You see, Jesus either died on the cross and rose again or he didn’t – that’s a historical claim. That’s just like saying “I was born or I wasn’t.” It either happened or it didn’t. It happened and it’s true for everyone, or it didn’t happen and it’s true for no one but I can’t just say it’s not true for me. “It’s not true for me that Jesus died on the cross.” What would that even mean? How could you say such a statement if you substituted something like “it’s not true for me that George Washington lived.” That doesn’t make sense because historical events are true for everyone or they are true for no one but my personal opinions have nothing to do with the truthfulness of the location of Florida relative to DC or George Washington or Jesus dying on the cross. There is a right answer and there are many wrong answers.
I could be mistaken about my Christian convictions but what cannot be true is that everyone is right. That’s important to understand. We talked about people being similar to monkeys, well people are remarkably similar to other people but I wouldn’t say that I am married to any woman. No, I’m married to my wife and the fact that she is remarkably similar (when we look at DNA) to some other woman doesn’t mean I am just married to another woman. No, I am married to a unique woman. It’s truly the differences that are important. It’s the same with pets. Cat and dog lovers are not going to say that they like the same animal. Just because they are furry, have 4 legs, a tongue, and a tail. They are not the same.
What about politics? Political statements are similar to religious statements. For example: We all think that we need to treat people well (by and large). We all think that we need to help people. We all think that the nation needs to be safe. We all think that people need to get educated. We all think that people are worthy of respect.
Now we quickly diverged on the specifics of those things, right? Are we suppose to just respect the woman or what about the unborn? Does keeping people safe mean providing for them here at home or fighting a war across the world? We disagree on the specifics but to say that all political views are equally valid – none is better than another – runs roughshod over the differences between them. It’s actually disrespectful to the people holding both views. When we say that Christians and Muslims say the same sorts of things about God: “we are worshiping the same God or our ideas are just equally valid,” I think that’s disrespectful to both sides because what it fails to do is take into account the unique claims each is making. Remember they can’t all be right.
Having different ideas about God is one thing, but the differences really comes to a head when we talk about how salvation occurs. Jesus said that He is the only way, the only truth, the only life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him. In Acts, it says that there is only one name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved – the name of Jesus.
Jesus is central to Christianity and salvation. What we see is that this issue extends far beyond how we think of God and what our conception is of Him. It goes to the very details and the heart of what it means to be a Christian, which is the Gospel. Where is salvation found? Religions do not agree on that, and they all can’t be right.
This is just a very quick way to think about the fact that some people say that all religions are basically the same. If they make competing claims and they make contradictory claims, they both can’t be right. The God of the Koran is not the God of the Bible because the God of the Bible is Jesus and God the Father and God the Spirit. He is a trinity and the Koran even says, “Do not say 3.” Do not say trinity. “God is one.” It tries to reference the Christian teaching of the trinity and kind of fails, it doesn’t do a very good job but the attempt is made to say, ” No, Christians you are wrong. God is not 3.” Who is right? The very idea that we can even ask the right and wrong question says that there is a better way and a less good way. There is a right way and a wrong way. All views are not equally valid.
I hope this equips you to ask these types of questions in your context. When this idea comes up about all religions being equally valid, ask someone: “Based on what standard should we think that it’s the similarities that are more important than the differences, When we don’t act that way in other areas of life.” “How should we reconcile the fact that Islam and Christianity and Hinduism and Buddhism all make a competing and contradictory claims? We wouldn’t say that contradictory things are all true in any other area of life. Why should we do it with religions?”
Well until next week. I look forward to talking with you on Unapologetic.