If there is only one true God, why are there so many different religions?
by Bob Siegel
The following is a brief excerpt from a larger book.
For a fuller treatment of this subject as well as a better context, see:
I’d Like To Believe In Jesus, But… (The harder, less frequently discussed questions) By Bob Siegel
Published by CSN Books Copyright © 2007 by Bob Siegel All Rights Reserved
Published by Campus Ambassador Press Copyright © 1999 by Bob Siegel All Rights Reserved
This article is not to be reproduced without written permission from the author.
“If God is willing to speak with everyone, why are there so many different religions? Do they each present the same truth in a different fashion? If so, Jesus would not be the only way.””
We are moving now into the question of consistency. It would help to start with a teaching of the ancient philosopher, Aristotle. I am referring to his Law of Non-Contradiction.1 This law (foundational to philosophy) states that two given truth claims must not contradict. If they do, at least one of them is wrong, and possibly they are both wrong. In other words, I can’t call my wife on the phone and say, “I’m coming home for dinner and yet, I am not coming home for dinner.” Sound simple? It should. We accept this idea without hesitation in every facet of life, every facet of life except religion, that is.
People are usually afraid to test religions out of fear that they will be showing intolerance. It should be noted that one can respect freedom of religion without assuming that all religions are equally valid, for such a conclusion is intellectually dishonest.
While lecturing at the University of Minnesota, the noted apologist, Cliffe Knechtle was confronted by a student who claimed that all religions were basically the same. Cliff responded with a piercing analogy:
“If I were to assume that all Chinese people were the same,” he said, “it would mean one of two things; either I’m a bigot, or I have not taken the time to get to know Chinese people. The same is true of religious assumptions.” 2
Even when admitting that religions do in fact teach opposite theologies, many stubbornly grasp the idea that somehow every one of them came from the same God. Why is it so easy to envision a creator who unveils contradictory information? Why must a belief in God be divorced from our God given ability to think?
Paradoxically, people are not afraid to put Christianity through the ringer. Its claims are confronted all the time. Once, while doing an open forum at Fresno City College, I was asked about Mormonism. I mentioned that Mormonism claimed to go by the Bible, yet taught polytheism, 3 which completely contradicts the Bible (Isa. 43:10).
A young lady raised her hand and said, “What right do you have to stand here and scrutinize somebody else’s religion?”
“Hold on,” I replied. “For the last two hours you and your friends have been doing nothing but scrutinizing my religion. ‘Doesn’t the Bible contradict itself ?’ ‘How do we know Jesus rose from the dead?’ ‘Why would a loving God send people to Hell?’ etc. And this has not bothered me. It has been very appropriate. You should challenge anyone who makes a truth claim, but it works both ways. I will ask these same questions of other religions.”
She nodded as her double standard became obvious. Her earlier skeptical questions confirmed an honest, inward conviction that all beliefs, even religious ones, must be examined. We must test whether they contradict themselves and we must test whether they contradict each other. There isn’t space right now to give every major religion its rightful day in court, but some brief examples will at least illustrate the process.
Some Hindu’s believe that God and creation are one and the same.4 The Bible, on the other hand, paints a major distinction between the creation and the creator. If one person says, “God made the tree,” while another says, “Actually, God is the tree,” we cannot possibly conclude that they are both correct, even though they each use a similar word, God. Of course this leads us to no conclusion at all about the accuracy of Hinduism or Christianity. It is instead a conclusion about the fallacy of Universalism (the belief that all religions are true). On the other hand, Hinduism makes no claims to historical verification, and this is a significant thing to note.
There are also contradictions between religions which accept the Bible. Islam claims that in addition to the Koran, both the Old and New Testament are the word of God.5 Jesus is described in the Koran as a holy prophet but not an incarnation of God Himself.6 The test for a prophet in the Old Testament is that he must be accurate in everything he teaches (Deut. 18:22). Jesus taught that He was God (John 14). If Jesus was lying, He was not a prophet, but Islam claims He was a prophet. If Jesus was telling the truth, then He is God. But Islam claims He wasn’t God. Either way, we have a rather serious contradiction.
Judaism teaches that the Old Covenant will be changed after the Messiah comes (Jer. 31:31-34). Daniel 9 actually computes that time by measuring the amount in Hebrew years with months of thirty days each. He starts with the return of the Jews from Persian exile when King Artaxerxes freed the Jewish slaves, and ends with Messiah’s arrival. This day occurred on Nisan 10 according to the Persian Calendar or March 30, 33AD according to the Julian calendar.7 Only one potential Messiah rode into Jerusalem that day, Jesus of Nazareth. If He was the Messiah, then Judaism’s New Covenant, (Christianity) is now in force. If He wasn’t the Messiah, then Daniel was a false prophet. But Judaism considers Daniel to be a true prophet. We have found a contradiction with Judaism as well.
I must be making myself very unpopular right now. Please understand, I do respect the many Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Mormons,Universalists and others I have met as honest and dedicated people. This does not keep me from examining their claims, however.
“If there is only one God who reveals Himself, how then, do we account for the differences in people’s beliefs?”
A loving God would be a gentleman. He would not force Himself upon those who don’t want Him but would instead speak to those who are seeking. Most people accept the religion they were brought up in without question. Others, when choosing a religion, choose the one that they like or the one that is convenient. Sometimes, like sheep, they are mesmerized by talented orators who speak with charisma and authority. We have only to recall the 900 unfortunate individuals who followed Jim Jones into the wilderness, to remember that most become religious simply to have their needs and feelings satiated. Seldom do they say, “I will examine the evidence to see which (if any) of these religions is actually true.”
1) Aristotle, Metaphysics 1.v3.100 5b8-34.
2) I witnessed this conversation myself.
3) See King Follet Discourse published in the Mormon newspaper, Times and Seasons (Aug. 15, 1844, pp. 613-14).
4) See the Bhagavad-Gita, The Vision of God, p. 75, translation by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, published by Barnes and Noble, 1995.
5) See Koran 2:174-77, 5:44-7, 65-70, 10:35-9.
6) See Koran, 5:70-74, 4:171-73.
7) For a full and scholarly treatment of this subject, see H.W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects in the Life of Christ (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids Michigan, 1977).