I’ve had questions about and been presented with the idea that “all religions ultimately lead to God, and so it doesn’t matter what you believe – all religions get you to heaven” rather often, so let’s take a look at that concept.
On this topic, rather than just write an analysis of it, I’d like to try presenting an imaginary (based on many actual) conversation between what I’ll call Mr. Pluralist and Mr. Christian. Let’s say they’re having coffee at a local coffee shop. We’ll pick up a few minutes into the conversation, which started with Mr. P asking Mr. C what good books he’s read lately.
Mr. C. is wrapping up a summary of a biography he’d just finished.
“…and so he served as a missionary there for over 40 years.”
“Well, that’s interesting, C., but it seems a waste. I mean, why spend all that effort to ‘convert the pagan’ when all religions lead to heaven anyway. One’s no better or worse than another.”
“That’s a rather sweeping statement, P. How do you know that?”
“What do you mean ‘how do I know that’? Anyone who’s thought about it can see that it’s true. You are always talking about how we are finite creatures, and God is infinite. All I’m saying is of course he would tailor different spiritual truth systems for different people.”
“So what you are saying is that all religions show us how to relate to the same God because God is infinite and we’re not?”
“I want to be sure I understand you correctly. Are you saying that there is one God, and all religions present the same truth, but in different ways?”
“Exactly. It’s like the story of the blind men and the elephant. All religions present a part of God’s truth, and describe him in a different way.”
“What if the elephant talks?”
“Excuse me? Mr. C., I don’t get the question.”
“Well, in your illustration, the elephant represents God, right?”
“So your illustration assumes that God has left it up to mankind to discover what He is like. What if, as at least three of the major world religions assert, the elephant speaks? Wouldn’t that give you more information than just blind groping about?”
“Well, yes… but I still don’t get your point.”
“If God has given clear information about who He is and what he wants from us, then any religion that contradicts that is false. If He has NOT done so, then any religion that says He has is false. Therefore, all religions cannot be true, Mr. P.”
“I didn’t say that all religions were true. I said that all religions have SOME truth.”
“Even so, you DID say that ‘all religions lead to heaven’. But truth is like water; if it has SOME poison in it, it is still deadly to drink.” If you take the time to do even a cursory investigation of the core claims of the major religions – Hinduism, Judahism, Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam to start – you will find that they have not only disagreement but direct contradiction about the nature (or even existence) of God and how to get to heaven. In the case of the contradictions, one can be true, but not both. So, you see, all religions do NOT lead to heaven.”
“Ahh, C. – That’s your problem. You see the issue in the traditional Western mindset of “either/or”. I see it as a “both/and”. When two views on God contradict each other, both can be correct.”
“Now I’m a bit confused here, P. Are you saying that Hinduism, which says that there are many gods, Christianity, which says that there is only one God, and Bhuddism, which says that there is no God, are ALL correct? That’s like saying that black, red, and green are all the same color. Look, even Eastern religions use the either/or paradigm. If they didn’t, Hindus wouldn’t be killing Muslims and Christians, and Bhuddism, Hinduism, Shinto and a myriad of other religions would have long since merged.”
“Look at the time. Gotta go. See you tomorrow for lunch? Maybe we can talk about how to evaluate the truth claims of religions.”
“Sure. See you then.”
An article about Christianity and religious pluralism by Alistair E. McGrath. It’s in pdf format, and a rather hard read, but worth the effort.
Worldviews: A Christian Response to Religious Pluralism by Anthony J. Steinbronn. This book examines Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Tribalism and Modernity as opposed to a Christian worldview and each other in detail.
Rick Wade of Probe Ministries has a well-written article about why pluralism doesn’t hold up and how it cannot be compatible with Christianity.