Thoughts about our question in Nov - "If Chistianity is true the does this mean that all other religions are false?"

From: Dr. Norman R. W.
Sent on: Saturday, December 3, 2011 7:51 AM

If Christianity is true then does this mean that all other religions are false?

                This is one of the most critical questions of our modern times.   This question will mean different things to people depending from how they understand the idea of “truth” in relationship to religion.  Because of this then it can be very hard for people to even understand the answers that one gives unless we carefully define our terms. 

                One way of understanding this question when we define the terms more fully would sound more like this:

If Christianity helps people to deal with emotional stress and provides a psychological sense of the divine in their lives then does this mean that no other religion helps people deal with stress or gives to them a psychological sense of the divine?      

Now this is a totally subjective approach to religious truth with a focus on the psychological aspects of religious experience.   It would seem self-evident that if a person answered “Yes” then to this question that this would be some form of cultural prejudice and a denial of the testimonies of the practitioners of other faiths to such an extent that it would be irrational and very prejudice. 

 Now, if one says “No” to this question it merely admits that people in all faiths, especially in the mystical branches of those faiths have psychological and subjective experiences that are helpful to them in coping with life.  [1]   There have been studies done that indicate that even secular people who deny the existence of a spiritual realm can gain states of awareness through meditation which will give save them from stress and provide a sense of purpose to their lives.   So it is hard to reject the subjective benefits that religions may produce or to deny that such benefits can be gained in many different religious traditions. 

So the question is really just a call to recognize that regardless of how effective our subjective “religion” is in helping us we should not be so intolerant as to deny that other people are helped in other ways by other means.   We should just admit that there are different strokes for different folks and not demand that everyone cope with life the way we do.  The question would be just a means to expand our awareness and sensitivity so that we could learn to tolerate any faith that psychologically and practically helps people cope with life. 

The implications here is that no religion, including Christianity, has truth claims that are propositions that are true or false but rather Christianity can be “true” in the sense of providing a psychological and existential help to someone in their lives.  Religions do not have “TRUTH” in any absolute sense like the laws of science but only “truth” in a relative sense in the subjective experience of those who practice the faith. 

This type of thinking is what really makes a person either “modern” or “post-modern”.  With the acceptance of the ideas of Kant and Kierkegaard many began to define “faith” as a realm of thought that had escaped from reason and could not be proved “false.  ” This type of total subjectivism in dealing with matters of faith is normative to people who have accepted the “post-modern” approach to life. 

In this light then this question actually begs the answer to the question since it can be demonstrated that many people of many different viewpoints find ways to find psychological relief from stress and a sense or purposelessness by means of mental exercises which some people might term meditation and others prayer.   People might use a wide range of ways to experience this subjective state but no rational person would say that there is only one way to do find this type of inner harmony except the way they find it.   Such a view would be narrow, uninformed, and provincial but not defendable from a rational point of view. 

This does not address the question of if in reality these experiences are really an encounter with God or just a psychological experience inside the brain and body of each person.   Acceptance of a psychological state would not be to believe that there had been a divine encounter.  One could believe that people can find states of inner peace while believing falsely about God, the universe and life.  Inner peace does not validate the true state of the universe or even our interpretation of our experience. 

However the question can be understood in a very different way.  We could understand the question as stating.

If the propositional truth claims made by the Christian faith are “TRUE TRUTH” and represent the objective state of universe then does this mean that the propositional truth claims made by other religions where they contradict or deny what is presented by Christian faith are of necessity false. 

Now it is clear that in this form the question is really asking if we believe in fundamental logic.   Can both A and Not A both be true at the same time.  Can a true and real paradox exist in reality?   Can true and real contradictions exist in the universe? 

This is the logical rule of non-contradiction.   Aristotle would look upon this as an essential first principle for all logical thought.   If we grant that the truth claims made by the Christian faith are the absolute “TRUTH” then of necessity any statements that contradict the absolute “TRUTH” have to be false. 

                For instance Islam would teach that Jesus of Nazareth was not crucified. 

                Judaism teaches that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. 

                Christianity teaches that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified.

Both statements cannot be true.  If one for the sake of argument says that the Christian view is correct they have at the same time stated that the Islamic view of the crucifixion is wrong.   Affirming the one denies the other.   Now in this particular case there is no contradiction in what Judaism teaches and Christianity teaches about the fact of Jesus of Nazareth being crucified.   However there is disagreement about the reasons for Jesus’ crucifixion and its meaning. 

Another example would be:

                Islam teaches that the doctrine of the Trinity is false.

                Judaism teaches that the doctrine of the Trinity is false.

                Christianity teaches that the doctrine of the Trinity is true.

If we grant for the sake of this argument that Christianity’s position on the Trinity is true it also affirms at the same time that the Islamic and Jewish views on the Trinity are false.  

This is not a lack of tolerance for Islam or Judaism.  It is simply the logical rule of non-contradiction.   One can love and respect people who believe in Judaism and Islam but believe they are wrong in their rejection of the Trinity.   Tolerance means I do no harm to those that I think are wrong, it does not mean that I pretend all views are right even when they contradict each other. 

It is important to also note that tolerance does not demand that I believe that all ideas are equally logical or valid.  Tolerance accepts the fact that people do differ and refuses to abuse those who hold to different points of view but to treat everyone with fairness, dignity, and care.   It means we have learned to disagree in an agreeable manner.   It does not mean we have to believe that contradictory points of view are all equally and simultaneously true.   This is not tolerance but illogical thinking. 

So if we understand the meaning of the question in the first way then logic demands that we answer the question “No” and if we understand the meaning of the question in the second way then logic would demand we answer the question “Yes”.    If people do not clarify what they mean then based on our interpretation of the question we will be frustrated and mystified at how the other person could not see the clear truth.  However, logic would demand in the first case a “no” and in the second a “yes” because the questions being asked are different.

This points out how difficult it is for us to really be understood when we ask questions.  It is important for us to define our terms and make sure that the questions we are asking are well understood.   Vital to understanding is clear definition. 



[1] Mystical Traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam a course taught by Professor Luke Timothy Johnson, of Emory University and offered by the Teaching Company.  Also one can look into the course “Practicing Mindfulness:  An introduction to Meditation” by Professor Mark W. Muesse of Rhode College who examines a eastern and secular approach to such psychological experiences. 

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