At the root of this question is a confusion between the admirable quality of tolerance for different views and the absurd position of the equal validity of all views. One can be tolerant by respecting the rights of others to hold alternate views without threat of violence, yet still be firmly committed to one point of view as true. The great value of tolerance in no way absolves us from resolving conflicting claims to truth.
Certainly sincerity of belief does not guarantee truth. One can be sincerely wrong. I may believe sincerely that a glass of liquid is water and drink it. If in fact it is hydrochloric acid, my sincere belief would have devastating consequenses!
Second, the assumption by many that all religions are basically the same just doesn’t square with the facts. Although there are similarities, the differences are very significant. Eastern religions teach that each person is a part of everything (including “God” and that ultimately one needs to lose oneself in “the all” like a drop of water losing itself in th ocean. Christianity, however, affirms that each person is a unique individual and will remaiin such after death. Christianity teaches that God loves us; an impersonal, eastern god cannot love us. Obviously all religions are not the same; they contradict one another. Therefore they cannot all be true.
Third, there is a moral gap between each of us and God which we cannot bridge in our own power. It is like trying to swim from the West Coast of North America to Hawaii. Some of us may get farther than others, but all of us will drown far short of Hawaii.
Let’s say, though, someone in a boat comes along and says he has good news — claims he can help us. “No real problem; evil is illusion,” he says, “mind over matter — if you don’t mind it won’t matter. Just meditate and you’ll experience peace and tranquillity and oneness with the water.” You would probably say, “Are you crazy? I don’t want to experience oneness with the water. I’m drowning! I need help!”
Or maybe he remembers he has some pamphlets on board entitled, “Ten Easy Steps on How to Swim.” Tossing them to us he tells us to merely read the pamphlet and do what it says. That’s not going to get us to Hawaii either, is it?
Perhaps he decides on the more personal touch and jumps in the water to show us how to swim. “Just cup your hands, kick your feet and breathe like this,” he says. That still won’t get us to Hawaii.
Maybe then, getting smart, he tells us to get into the boat! But part way there he throws us back into the ocean to do the rest ourselves.
In none of these four situations would the person in the boat truly be a messenger of good news! And it is exactly the same with religion if all that it offers us is:
1. A denial that there is any moral gap between us and God — telling us to just turn inward and meditate and we will become one with the universe. When we are honest with ourselves, we know we fall short of our Creator’s standards.
2. A book of rules to follow (even if that book is the Bible). Our problem is not that we don’t know what we ought to do; our problem is we don’t do what we know we ought to do. We need both forgiveness and help.
3. An example, a model of some religious person’s life for us to emulate (even if that person is Jesus). Again, we know what we ought to do, but we just can’t seem to do it. A religion must offer us more than an example to follow if it is going to be real good news.
4. Help part of the way but insists it is our responsibility to work for and earn the majority of the merit on our own.
The only good news he could bring us is “Come on board. I’ll take you all the way to Hawaii.” Now this is exactly the uniqueness of the Christian message. All other religions say “Do, Do, Do.” Christianity says, “Done!”
Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross as a substitute for you and me, has paid the penalty for our moral failure which is a result of our attitude of independance towards God. He has cleared away what was separating us from God. “For Christ died for your sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God” (I Peter 3:18a).
Some think God is being “narrow-minded” if Jesus is the only way. But the issue is: “Why is there any way to God?” God has been gracious and merciful to provide us with a way back to a personal with Him even though we have rebelled against Him. If human-kind could have reached God by any other way, God would not have sacrificed His only Son.
Rather than complain that there aren’t more ways to God, the proper resonse should be to marvel that there is a way and accept it with a heart of gratitude.
Copyright © 2000-2003 Michael Horner. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
Philosopher Michael Horner promotes and defends Christianity on university and college campuses. His lectures and debates provide convincing arguments for the Christian faith.
Visit Michael’s site at michaelhorner.com