“There Can’t Be Just One True Religion”

Last time, we took at look at the Introduction of Keller’s “Reason For God.”  (Remember, our overall goal is to understand why people around us have problems with Christianity, and how to respond to them with intelligence and love).  Now, we’ll start delving into his examination of the most common objections to Christianity.  Chapter 1 looks at the common belief that “there can’t be just one true religion.”

This popular belief states that one of the main barriers to world peace is religion, and especially major religions’ exclusive claims to superiority. (4)

There is a certain truth to this – religion tells its followers that they have “the truth”, which leads to feeling superior to those who disagree. It also tells them that they are right with God by living out that truth. This creates a separation between them and others, which in turn leads to harmful stereotypes and forms of marginalization or active oppression.

Once we see how religion can remove peace on earth, what can we do about it, though?  There are three options that don’t work:

Outlaw religion altogether –

  • Unfortunately, some of the worst oppression in the 20th century came from those who believed religion caused intolerance and aggression (e.g., Soviet Russia). (5)
  • Alongside this was a belief that technology would supplant the need for religion, which was seen as a useful, but temporary, crutch to deal with a frightening, confusing world. Once technology helped us gain greater control and understanding, the need for religion would lessen.(6)
  • This has not happened, though, and countries where religious oppression has been strong are experiencing rapid and deep religious growth (e.g., China). Religion is a permanent part of what it means to be human.

Condemn religion –

  • If we can’t ban religion, this view says, perhaps we can expose as dangerous those who say they have a corner on the truth. Instead, we should recognize that all religions are equally valid. (7)
  • The various incarnations of this view have one fatal flaw. Skeptics say that “any exclusive claims to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality cannot be true.” But, this itself is an exclusive belief – it states that the world would be a better place if traditional religious viewpoints were excluded and this one universally adopted. So, “it is no more narrow to claim that one religion is right than to claim that one way to think about all religions (namely that all are equal) is right. We are all exclusive in our beliefs… but in different ways (12-13).

Keep religion completely private

  • This view allows that it’s fine to privately believe your religion, but insists that it should be kept out of the public sphere where it is divisive. Instead, we should work on our common problems in ways that “work” the best for the most people.
  • But when we understand that “religion” is essentially an explanation for the meaning of life, along with recommendations for how to live based on that explanation, we understand that even thoroughly secular viewpoints are religious. Everyone has convictions at this level.
  • Views on divorce laws are a good case study. Religions that think marriage is mainly for child-rearing that will then benefit society-at-large (Christianity, Judaism, Confucianism) will make divorce harder, whereas viewpoints (secularism) that think marriage is mainly for the happiness of the adult partners will make divorce easier.  Moral beliefs inform our public policy. (18)
  • So, calls to exclude religion from the public square are themselves religious.

So far, we’ve looked at three ways that don’t work.  Next time, we’ll take a look at some ways the Christian faith provides a way ahead.

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About Bryan Stoudt

On my personal website (bryanstoudt.com), I help Christians follow Jesus in a noisy, broken world. I also have the privilege of helping Philadelphia's healthcare students and professionals do this as Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA). More information at cmdaphiladelphia.org. On a personal note, I'm fortunate to be married to my wonderful wife, Sharon. Together, we have four fantastic children. In my spare time, I enjoy roasting coffee, running, reading and learning foreign languages.
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