Archive for September, 2011

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Will The Real God Please Stand Up! (Part 1)

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

“All religions are equally true.”

No religion is the ‘right’ one or the ‘only’ one.”

“It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.

It’s not uncommon these days to hear such catchphrases whenever the topic of religion or God is being discussed.  In fact, our culture today places such a premium on tolerance and diversity that if someone even suggests that all religions are not true, that person is going to be labeled as everything from “naïve” to “hateful”.  It certainly seems to be the case that over time, more and more people have come to accept the idea that all religions are true.  But is that really the case?  Is it possible for all religions to be equally true?  If not, then why have so many people bought into the idea that all religions are true?

The more I encounter this question, the more convinced I am that one of the biggest reasons that there’s so much confusion and disagreement on this is the failure of most people to understand the difference between belief and truth.  In conversation, I have found that it’s quite common for people to use those two words interchangeably as if they were the same thing, but they are not the same thing.  As we are about to see, there is a significant difference between belief and truth.

To illustrate, suppose that I asked those of you who never met my dad to write down what you sincerely believe to be an accurate description of my dad.  Write down what you believe about his physical appearance, as well as a description of his character and his personality.  Suppose that I asked all of you to submit your descriptions to me, and then imagine all of your papers spread out on a table in front of me for review.  What we now have represented on that table are various beliefs that people have about my dad.  Obviously, there will be a great deal of diversity among those beliefs because they are contradicting one another in their descriptions of my dad’s eye color, hair color, weight, height, personality, etc.

Even though this is a simple illustration, it contrasts the stark differences between belief and truth.  It tells us that:

1)  All beliefs cannot be true because they are oftentimes making contradictory claims. (My dad cannot be five feet, ten inches tall AND six feet, two inches tall!)

2)  No matter how sincere a belief may be, if it doesn’t agree with the truth, it is a false belief.

3)  The truth is not going to change in order to conform to one’s beliefs. His beliefs must change in order to conform to the truth.

Since it is reasonable to think that these unchanging, fundamental principles regarding the nature of truth apply to other truth claims as well, we have every reason to think that these same principles apply to truth claims about God.  Even though we recognize and respect the fact that there is a diversity of different cultural beliefs about God, that is a very different thing from saying that all of those beliefs are equally true!  In fact, as we’ve just seen, it is impossible for all of them to be true because in most cases they are making contradictory claims.  The atheist believes that there is no God.  Most religions believe that there is a God-  both claims cannot be true. Some religions believe that God is a vague, impersonal force whereas others believe that God is a specific, personal, moral, intelligent Being-  it cannot be the case that they are both correct.  Just as with the illustration about my dad, all beliefs about God cannot be true, and any belief about God that does not correspond to the truth about God is a false belief.

I’m not sure why we are so shocked or offended by that.  After all, entire cultures have been shown to hold false beliefs about much simpler truths.  For example, throughout history there has been a diversity of cultural beliefs about the earth with regard to its shape, its composition, and the means by which it travels.  But regardless how long or how sincerely those cultural traditions were held, their beliefs turned out to be false.  The point is, if entire cultures have been wrong in their beliefs about something that is much more accessible to them, it should come as no surprise to us that they may also be wrong when it comes to something that is much more difficult to grasp- that is, the truth about who God is and what He is like.

So, where does this leave us?  Is there any way to verify which beliefs about God correspond to the truth about God?  Can we know the truth about God?  If so, what is it?  In my next post, we will examine these questions and more.

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  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.