Can all religions be true?
- ‘Religion’ is defined as “the belief in a God or a group of gods; an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods,” and also as what humans “regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence.”
- The world’s most popular religions are Christianity (at an estimated 2.38 billion people), Islam (at an estimated 1.91 billion), and Hinduism (at an estimated 1.16 billion).
- In 2020, Gallup revealed 37% of Americans reported to be Protestant, 22% Catholic, 9% Christian (nonspecific), 2% Jewish, 1% Mormon, 6% other, and 20% no religion. Respondents reported their religion was 48% very important, 25% fairly important, and 27% not important to them.
- Author Ravi Zacharias argued there are several big life questions every worldview should be able to answer—1. Origin: Where did humanity come from? 2. Ethics: How should humans live? 3. Meaning: What is the purpose of life? 4. Destiny: Where is humanity headed?
The Blind Men and the Elephant parable help describe the difference between a person's own subjective truth and ultimate truth. The story details several blind men feeling different parts of an elephant and declaring their portion to be what an elephant truly is. In reality, the beast is much larger than they can see. This parable shows us that truth is relative to an individual as we are unable to see the whole picture.
Truth itself can be defined as 'a fact or belief that is true or accepted as true.' Therefore, subjective truth is still a form of truth, even if not absolute. Even science agrees with this statement; science claims only to be the process of learning, not the one absolute discovery of the things we study. Permanence, even in science, does not exist.
Religions do not have the power to know the absolute truth for certain, so therefore we rely on subjective truth. This includes visions, religious texts, and personal faith. Every major and minor religion relates in this way, as it is the basis of belief. Every religious person believes their faith is true, so therefore, it is true, just in regards to their own perspectives, ideas, and personal evidence.
Just as the blind men could not see that what the others were touching was also part of one elephant (which here represents ultimate truth), we cannot know that one religion (one area of the elephant) is the only true part—they each could be many parts of one whole. We are applying our own limited logic and knowledge to a question whose answer we don't have. All religions are subjectively true to different individuals, and there is a possibility that all religions are absolutely true in the end.
Most major religions hold as a central tenet of their faith that they are the one true religion. Judaism will argue that Christianity and Islam are not true, while Catholics and Muslims believe they are the one true religion. They can't all be correct. If truth accords with reality, then one can't hold two contradictory things as true simultaneously. For example, one can't say a table is both red and not red at the same time. Similarly, one can't believe that multiple religions offer the only true way to live when each differs fundamentally.
If religions are wrong in that they are exclusive (believe they are the only way) but equally true in their other beliefs, that is a contradiction. Likewise, each understands God differently if the religion includes the concept of a god at all (Buddhism does not). You can't say that all religions are paths to the same end if they don't all believe in the same God. Most Christians believe that there is one trinitarian God and that Jesus is the Son of God. Muslims and Jews deny that God has three persons and say that Jesus was either a prophet or a fraud. Hindus believe there are multiple gods.
There also are wide differences and contradictions in religious practices and the set of rules you should live by according to each religion. One religion says you should be circumcised or baptized to get to heaven, and another says you don't. Again, not all of these positions can be true at the same time. It's possible that all religions are at least partially true; however, where there is a contradiction, one of them must be true (or closest to the truth and reality) while the others are false.