Can All Religions Be True?

by Ethan Mack


Inclusivist: Thomas, thank you so much for meeting me here after class.


Exclusivist: It’s my pleasure.



Inclusivist: Well, I had a quick question for you about your thoughts on what our professor discussed yesterday. If you remember, he distinguished between three separate ways to view the world’s religious, either inclusively, exclusively or pluralistically.

Exclusivist: Yes, I certainly remember that.

Inclusivist: You may also remember that he gave a definition for each. Inclusivism is the view that all of the world’s religions, at their core, are essentially the same. Exclusivism is the view that there is one religion which completely conforms to objective Truth and all others fail to do so. Finally, pluralism is the view that we can never truly know which religion is true or whether or not many or all of them are true. From how you responded to our professor's questions it seemed that you fall closest in line with the view of exclusivism. Is this correct or have I presumed falsely?

Exclusivist: No, you are indeed correct.

Inclusivist: If I may ask, how are you able to justify holding this position? It seems that in our modern, enlightened age there is no longer need to elevate one faith in labeling it superior to another.

Exclusivist: I justify my position today the same way I would have in the middle ages or the first century AD. Truth does not shift with the ticking of the clock.

Inclusivist: Yes, of course. We need not go into a discussion about arguing from “the clock”. C.S. Lewis have already made that point clear enough. However, I think it goes without saying that inclusivism is more in line with the tolerance that prevails in western society today.

Exclusivist: Well, that maybe so, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what’s true and that should certainly be our primary concern. For if the truth is found in one religion and that religion makes an exclusive claim, then it follows that all other religions are to some degree false. If this is the case, then tolerance (as it applies to ideas) would be a false tolerance which should be rejected regardless of whether or not it prevails in society. However, before this discussion continues answer me this, do you believe in objective truth?

Inclusivist: I certainly do. As you may know, I was raised in the west and brought up Christian. Over time I have drifted closer to the eastern beliefs, most notably Hinduism, however, the concept of objective truth is one part of the western creed that I have held on to.  I suppose that when you made reference to a religion that makes an exclusive claim, you were speaking about Christianity.

Exclusivist: Certainly.

Inclusivist: Well, then, please explain why you think Christianity has an exclusive claim to the truth.

Exclusivist: Very well, to arrive at this conclusion, I need to first prove two more basic propositions. The first is that Christianity is objectively true. The second is that Christianity has some aspect of its creed that is exclusive to it alone. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I need only prove the second since, as an Inclusivist, you will certainly agree to the truth of Christianity, correct?

Inclusivist: Indeed.

Exclusivist: Excellent. Then the question we should look to answer is whether or not part of Christianity’s creed is exclusive. For any religion’s creed to be exclusive, it must either make a claim that no other religion in the world makes or fail to make a claim that every other religion in the world makes. The exclusive claim that Christianity makes is that Jesus Christ, a man born over two thousand years ago in Judea, is in fact the Son of the living God. This claim was made by Christ himself when he walked the earth.  You can go through all the wise sages in history: Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Socrates and you will find that not one of them ever made a claim to divinity. This makes Jesus unique among every other historical figure. Since we have agreed to the first premise and proven the second, it seems we are left with the inevitable conclusion that Christianity is the only religion that has the Truth in its entirety.

Inclusivist: Now I must bring up the point I was silent about earlier. However, before I make it, I must quickly discuss the difference between the exoteric and esoteric aspects of religion. Exoteric religion is religion at its surface. Any outsider can learn about the exoteric portion of a religion without believing in it. It requires simply observing external facts. On the other hand, esoteric religion relates to the experience of mystics and as such is not observable by anyone except those who have had the experience themselves.  For example, I can observe and take note of a series of koans written by a Zen Buddhist, however, I cannot observe the experience of satori (enlightenment) the Buddhist had after contemplating them. Have I made the difference between exoteric and esoteric religion clear enough?

Exclusivist: Certainly.


To be continued...

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Inclusivist supporter (Monday, 02 November 2015 22:55)

    I have trouble with your defense, dear exclusivist, of the second of your two further basic propositions. The "exclusive claim" that Jesus was the only historical figure in history to claim divinity is patently false. The tradition from which he sprung plainly shows this phenomenon well before the man Jesus the Nazarene was even an idea in the mind of his parents. Kings of Israel claimed sonship to YHWH since the monarchy was eastablished (e.g. Ps 2). The Israelite Kings' counterparts in Mesopotamia claimed similar relationships to their deities (but cf. Gilgamesh, the nearly divinized man). Meanwhile, the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt were worshiped as divinely elected leaders, who, indeed, in death received full deification and association with the god Osiris.

    Closer to Jesus' own time, we have evidence of other claimants to divine sonship. Both Honi "the circle-drawer" and Hanina ben Dosa were Galilean miracle-workers who were revered as having close relationships to God and who called themselves "son of God." We should also make at least an allusion to the messianic writings among the Dead Sea Scrolls (see also the Tescher of Righteousness figure within the Scrolls). Outside the Jewish faith (Jesus was a Jew, after all), we find a plethora of claimants to divinity in the time of Jesus. Take as a most prominent example the Roman emperor, who was worshiped as a living deity, deserving even of sacrifices in his honor (to his self, his divinity) in the temples of foreign subjects. This notion of living divinity or at least relationship to the divine does not stop here in the history of religions. But I think these are the most applicable data.

    Thus we see Jesus is far from unique in his claim to sonship of God or to divinity writ large. Your second proposition, my good exclusivit, fails, and your (at least preliminary) conclusion that "Christianity is the only religion that has truth in its entirety" necessarily fails as well, by your own logic. Although, I must say, I would argue that even should your proposition stand, this conclusion is a post hoc fallacy, drawing a line from a single exclusive claim to a generalization about the absoluteness of Christianity's claim to the (capital-T) Truth. But we can leave that hypothetical for now.

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