Note: All bible verses are from the ESV unless specified otherwise. Emphasis in all quotes has been added.
Some listening music while we talk again.
One of the reasons people conclude that “all religions are true” or that all paths lead to God is the assertion that all religions teach basically the same thing. Be nice to each other, don’t steal or murder, etc. While there is some truth to the idea that all religions tend to instruct people to live in ways that are generally conducive to a peaceful life (though there are exceptions), this is an extremely naïve approach to the teachings and requirements laid down by each faith system.
We’ll start with Islam. In Islam, it is expected that the faithful Muslim will follow what are called the Five Pillars of Islam. These Five Pillars are speaking the Muslim confession of faith (“There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”), paying alms (charities), reciting your five daily prayers, observing the fast during the month of Ramadan, and making – at least once in your lifetime – a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Here we already have problems. The first pillar is a confession and acknowledgement of Muhammad as a true prophet of God. This creates problems for the Jew and the Christian who believe that Muhammad taught false doctrine and therefore cannot be a true prophet according to the test of a prophet as laid out in Deuteronomy 18. I will not attempt to settle the issue of true or false prophets now, it is enough for the moment to say simply that already we have tension and disagreement between these faith systems which are supposed to somehow all be true.
Most, if not all of us, have at one point or another heard the old story about the blind men and the elephant. The tale varies in the telling, but the general idea is always the same. A handful of blind men are investigating an elephant with their hands and each one feels a different part. The one feeling the elephant’s leg says that the object is a tree, the one feeling the elephant’s trunk says it is a snake, the one feeling the elephant’s side says it is a wall, etc. The point is that each of the men is getting only a part of the truth and that they’re all right in their own way. This is often then analogized toward how different faith systems all teach different aspects of the same god – that we’re all looking at a different part of the elephant.
I do feel that there is a grain of truth or two to the story. For instance, I agree that a certain level of intellectual humility is always in order when discussing points we disagree on and that we should try to respect the opinions of others (so long as they are grounded in appropriate reasoning or evidence). However, that does not mean we should all just agree to disagree, particularly when the subject is one of eternal importance. Spending your life making a case for why Strawberry is the best flavor of ice cream would be silly, but spending that same life making a case for believing in the correct God is incredibly important.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.