Are all religions true? The idea that all religions are true often feels right to people who separate religious faith from objective truth/reality. Yet these religions themselves teach countless core truths that contradict other religions in irreconcilable ways. Some try to sidestep the problem of contradiction by emphasizing that religion is a matter of personal experience, not a matter of objective truth about what God is actually like. Yet do we have good reason to believe that we are sealed off from accessing true truth about God? The idea that all religions are true is often called “religious pluralism,” and even though it has struggled to root itself in rationality, the idea has taken root in many people’s apathy toward religious truth and their empathy toward others.
It’s easy to believe a lie when you haven’t heard the whole story. But have you ever wondered how people can believe things that are clearly not true?
I’d like to tell you a statement that is about as clearly false as any statement could ever be. Yet a lot of people believe it. I’ll tell you the statement, and then we’ll talk about why a lot of people can still believe it with complete sincerity.
Here’s the statement: All religions are basically true.
Do all religions teach the same basic truth?
Here’s why the statement is clearly false: Inside this statement are literally thousands of contradictions. For example, pick any two religions. Let’s say “Islam” and “Christianity.” If you say that they are both true, then you are saying that Jesus is the Son of God (Christianity) and that He is definitely not the Son of God (Islam). You are saying that God is a Trinity (Christianity) and that God is most certainly not a Trinity (Islam). You are saying that the New Testament is God’s authoritative message (Christianity) and that the New Testament is not God’s authoritative message, but that it’s a corrupted version of Jesus’ true teachings, which we find in the Koran (Islam).
That’s just scratching the surface of the many deep differences between Islam and Christianity. And those are just two religions. Islam and Christianity are a lot closer to each other than, say, Islam and Buddhism. So to say, “All religions are basically true” is to say that thousands of fundamental beliefs which cancel each other out are all somehow true at the same time.
“To say, ‘All religions are basically true’ is to say that thousands of fundamental beliefs which cancel each other out are all somehow true at the same time.”
It should be impossible to say that all religions are basically true with a straight face. But it’s not. Lots of people believe it very sincerely. In fact, some believe it so passionately that when they meet someone who believes Christianity is the only religion that accurately tells us the way of salvation, they get angry.
What if religion is all about personal experience?
Now there have been people who have tried to show that it’s not a contradiction to say that all religions are basically true. The most famous of these religious pluralists was the late John Hick. Hick started with the belief that we can’t really know anything about God. All that we can know about God are our experiences with God, not what God is really like.
Therefore, according to Hick, when someone talks about God, they’re really only talking about their experiences with God. And a Muslim’s experience with God may be different from a Sikh’s experience with God which will be different from a Christian’s experience with God which will differ from a Hindu’s experience with God. Even though their experiences will be different, you can’t really be wrong about what you experience. So, according to John Hick, all religions are basically true. But they’re only true because they’re talking about experiences with God and not about God Himself.
“According to John Hick, all religions are basically true. But they’re only true because they’re talking about experiences with God and not about God Himself.”
The problem is Hick’s attempt to show that all religions are basically true is built on another contradiction. You could only say, “I can’t know anything about God,” if you have some knowledge about God, namely, that God exists, and that He’s unknowable. And if you ask, “Why do you think God is unknowable?” you’ll get more answers. Like, well, God is unknowable because God is so transcendent and so ultimate and so boundless, and that’s why we can’t know anything about Him. Well then, it turns out we know at least five things about this completely unknowable God: God exists, He’s transcendent, He’s ultimate, He’s boundless, and (#5) He’s completely unknowable.
Again, to say, “I can’t know anything about God, and so, all religious teachings are really just teachings about our own experiences, and, therefore, all religions are basically true”—all of that is based on yet another contradiction. If God is completely unknowable, then how do I know that about God?
Is God fundamentally unknowable?
The truth is, if there’s a God, then there is absolutely no reason that we couldn’t know truth about God, especially if God revealed Himself to us, which is precisely what God did at creation. Romans 1:20 says, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” God has revealed Himself to us in creation.
And I believe that revealing Himself to us is precisely what God did by sending Jesus Christ. John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
Are all religions true? “The truth is, if there’s a God, then there is absolutely no reason that we couldn’t know truth about God.”
Do the world religions teach religious pluralism?
And Jesus was not a religious pluralist. Jesus claimed to be “the way, the truth, and the life.” He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And Jesus’ followers were not religious pluralists. When Jesus’ apostles were persecuted for preaching about Jesus, Peter responded in Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
It is not the teaching of the Bible that all religions are basically true. And I’ve studied numerous religions, and it is not the teaching of Islam that all religions are basically true. It’s not the teaching of Buddhism that all religions are basically true. Even a religion such as Baha’i which attempts to bring all religions together still makes truth claims about God which it teaches are truly true. The idea that all religions are basically true involves thousands of contradictions, plus it contradicts the teachings of the very religions which it claims are basically true.
Are all religions true? “The idea that all religions are basically true involves thousands of contradictions, plus it contradicts the teachings of the very religions which it claims are basically true.”
A major reason people believe all religions are true
So why might intelligent people believe that all religions are true when that involves believing thousands of contradictions? Here’s why: They may have come to assume that the point of religion is to help you get through this life. Want to be a kinder person? Religion can help. Want a better marriage? Religion can help. Want inspiration for your mundane moments? Religion can help. Want safety for an upcoming trip or good weather for an upcoming holiday? Religion can help.
It is true that, most days, people are just looking to make it through life. Life can be stressful, confusing, lonely, and dark. We can all use help making it through. And it is true that you can probably find facets of any religion that can help you cope in various ways. You’ll find ethical principles and stress-reducing techniques all over the religious map.
“Why might intelligent people believe that all religions are true when that involves believing thousands of contradictions? They may have come to assume that the point of religion is to help you get through this life.”
There is no question whether Christianity helps people get through life. It certainly helps me get through life, and I’m thankful it does. But that’s not all that Christianity is meant to do. Christianity also teaches about who God is, what lies beyond this life, and how to receive salvation.
A challenge to Christian ministers
Let’s say that there’s a church whose minister teaches only about the ways that Christianity helps us in this life. The preacher doesn’t really talk about heaven and hell or the need for salvation. Rather, it’s all about reducing stress, cultivating virtue, and achieving personal success. But, if the point of religion is all about helping us get through this life, then don’t all religions do that in some way?
When a church focuses only on living a better life today, that church is opening up its members to accepting one of the most glaring contradictions ever invented: that all religions are basically true. To think rightly and biblically, let us lift our eyes higher than this temporary and shadowy life. “If then you have been raised with Christ,” Paul writes in Colossians 3:1, “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”