“All Religions are Basically the Same” or “All Religions Lead to God”

“Statements teachers make you wish you had an answer for” series

John 14:6; Deuteronomy 4:32-40

This morning I use the term “religion” in a positive sense, meaning belief in God that genuinely changes how we live and what we do.  For Christianity that means a personal relationship with God which is based on forgiveness from Jesus’ death on the cross, given by God’s grace to those who humble themselves, admit their wrongs, have faith in Jesus’ death & resurrection and commit themselves to Jesus as their Savior and Lord.  We dealt with this positive use of the word “religion” in the NT for the first 10 minutes of last week’s sermon.

There is a famous story from India that is used by some to describe the relationship between different religions.  The story describes a group of men who have all been blind since birth.  They come upon an elephant standing still, and each man goes to a different part.  The first feels the large, thin ears and says, “An elephant is like a banana leaf.”  The second blind man grabs on to a leg and says, “You are wrong, and elephant is like a tree trunk.”  The third blind man is up front and holds on to the elephant’s trunk.  “You are both very mistaken, an elephant is like a thick snake.”  The fourth blind man is way in the back and grabs that little, thin tail and says, “None of you know what you are talking about – an elephant is like a rope.”  So off they go arguing about what an elephant is like, each sincerely convinced that they are right and each certain that the others are totally wrong.  NOW the reason that this story is told is to say that people who believe their faith is correct and other religions are wrong are themselves mistaken - - because all religions are like the blind men describing the elephant - - they have a piece of truth, but not the whole truth.  So all religions are just describing the same God in different ways.  Thus they conclude that all religions are basically the same despite their differences.

There is another way people think that religions are all basically the same.  John Hick, a theologically liberal Christian, summarizes this position by quoting the Hindu Bhagavad Gita (4:11), “Howsoever men may approach me, even so do I accept them; for, on all sides, whatever path they may choose is mine.”  The illustration usually given for this is that there are many different paths to get to the top of a mountain.  Some are quick, some seem to wander endlessly around.  Some are easy and some are hard - - but eventually all the paths reach the top of the mountain.  The same is true, they say, of all the religions in the world.  While they seem to do different things, the end result is all of them will get to God.

Both of these positions are very attractive to many people today because people think this kind of perspective would solve many problems.  There is no basis for conflicts based on religions because we should all just say that all religions are right.  That way people won’t feel bad when someone’s faith disagrees with theirs - - they can just be comforted that all religions are basically the same.  Peace, harmony, tolerance, brotherhood – what more could anyone want.  Surely, it must be the case that all religions are basically the same or that all religions lead to the same God - - because that’s what the world needs.  Then we can all be one. 

We must also mention that there is currently a third way that people think of all religions being basically the same - - it is captured by the words to a song I found on the internet.

          All religions make me want to throw up
                   All religions make me sick
          They all claim that they have the truth
                   That’ll set you free
          Just give ‘em all your money and they’ll set you free
                   Free for a fee.
          They all claim that they have “the Answer”
                   When they don’t even know the Question
          They’re just a bunch of liars.

In this view all religions ARE equal - - equally bad.  More and more the secular mindset is moving away from a kind of tolerance of faith to a downright antagonism towards all faith, and any mention of God.

PROPOSITION: There is only one true way to the living God of the Universe and that is through Jesus Christ, His Only Son. 

I.  The Biblical Claims                                                               Deut 4:32-40

As usual, we don’t want to be people who simply follow what sounds attractive, what is easiest, what others want us to believe or what we feel - - but we are people dedicated to want to know and follow what God tells us through the Bible.

Deut 4 is a fascinating passage that speaks directly to our question today.  READ Deut 4:32.  Having just spoken about what may happen in the future in they disobey, Moses now wants them to look seriously at their history - - from creation to the place where they are now ready to cross into the Promised Land.  READ 4:33-34.  Many of us have read the OT events to many times we don’t realize how incredible and unusual they are.  What other people had God speak through a burning bush that didn’t burn up the bush - - or had a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud leading them during the day.  What other people who were slaves in one nation were made a free nation in a totally different place.  God made them a nation - - just like He makes us a people of God in the church - - through testings, miraculous signs & wonders, by wars (that is by needing to stand up for what is right in the face of those who want to force their ways on others), by great and awesome actions of God.  And we’ve experienced pieces of this in our church and in our lives as Christians.

Why did God say all this?  READ Deut 4:35.  To prove to us that in the midst of the claims of many different gods and many different religions there is only one true God.  This is repeated again in Deut 4:39.  READ.  There is only one God and that God is distinct from they many other claims of gods.  So the scripture does not believe all religions are just different ways of looking at the same God.  In fact v. 40 clearly tells us that the right religious beliefs & actions must be chosen carefully.  READ v 40.  So the scripture also rejects the idea that all religions, all beliefs, all actions lead to the same place.  Only right faith brings blessing.

A. There is only ONE God -  Ex 20:3(Deut 32:39; II Sam 7:22; Ps 83:18; Isa 43:10, 45:18; Mark 12:29; I Cor 8:4)

B. We are to worship and serve ONLY that true God - Ex 20:4

C. There are many FALSE gods -  I Chron 16:26(Jer 2:11, 16:20; I Cor 8:4-8; Gal16:20; I Cor 8:4-8; Gal 4:8)
Turn to John 14:6.  I Chronicles 16:26 says, “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord (YHWH) made the heavens.”  There are a multitude of different gods believed in by the people – but only one is true and all the rest are false – they are just idols, just images.

D. There is only one WAY to the true God - John 14:6 (John 3:16-18, 8:24; Acts 4:12; I Tim 2:5)
What about the way to God?  Jesus makes it clear there are not many ways to God, but only one.  READ John 14:6.  So clearly the scripture also denies completely the idea that all religions lead to the true God.  No one comes to the true God except through Jesus Christ.

So how do we answer this question?  We can tell them what the Bible says - - but if they don’t yet believe the Bible, we want to do more.  We can show them the evidences of God in our life and in the life of the church like in the Deut 4 passage - - our testimony and evidences of God’s work in history.  This also is good - - but can be ignored by one who thinks every faith is the same.  So are there any other ways we can answer?  Yes - - according to John 14:6 – Jesus is not only the way - - THE ONLY WAY; but Jesus is also the truth – THE ONLY TRUTH.  That means that statements like “all religions are basically the same” will have build in “untruths” in them – they will have contradictions, illogicalness or deception in them since they disagree with God’s word.  So let’s consider some of these.

First let’s summarize our society’s claims.

II.  The Societal Claims

A. “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.”
When I was at the University – which was just shy of the dark ages for any of you younger people here – one of the common perspectives from the “enlightened ones” was that “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.”  Now they were NOT consistent in this thought since Biblical Christianity was considered the belief of just those who were un-educated, easily deceived & naïve.  But still, many Americans in the 1960’s and 1970’s accepted the idea: “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.”

B. “All religions are basically the same.”
That has progressed in our culture to the point where today people say that “all religions are basically the same.”  Sometimes they say all have similar moral thoughts.  Be kind to one another.  Tell the truth.  Help the weak & needy.  Respect others.  THOSE MORAL PLATITUDES MAKE IT THE SAME IN THEIR MINDS.  Other times they point out all religions have a holy book, they speak of the future, they believe in some sort of God and they give rules for living better thus making them the same.  “Interfaith ecumenicalists”, which is just a fancy word for people who wish for worldwide religious unity, say that all religions are equally good.  While the secularist claim that they are equally bad and we need to eliminate them except in the privacy of one’s own home.

C. “All religions lead to the same God, but by different paths.
We also have many in society believing that all religions lead to the same God.  Either they are just using different names for the same God or they have different paths to God but eventually all will get there.

III.  Clear Answers

A.   Sincerity is a poor substitute for the truth
The first things answer we must give is that “sincerity is a poor substitute for truth”.  Hitler was sincere in his desire for the perfect race based in Germanic genes and elimination of all Jews.  The result of his “sincerity” was the murder of 6 million and another 6 million people whom he didn’t agree with.  Hitler was sincere, but wrong.  For centuries people sincerely believed that thunder came from the gods being at war.  There were sincere, but we know the cause of thunder and they were wrong.  You can sincerely believe that chocolate and whipped cream are the best things for a diet, but you will be wrong.  NOW NONE OF US WANT TO BE HYPOCRITES, which is the opposite of sincerity - - but just because you sincerely believe something doesn’t make it true.  Sincerity is a poor substitute for truth.  Jesus is the truth.

B.    Everyone is BOTH tolerant and intolerant (Everyone tolerates some things and is intolerant of others)
A second challenge we need to give more often is that EVERYONE is both tolerant and intolerant.  A major attraction for this idea is that all religions are basically the same, is that it will help us be more tolerant.  It is simply false to think that Americans have moved from an age of intolerance to an age of tolerance.  The truth is EVERY human makes judgments that one thing is better than another.  And EVERY human tolerates some thing and is intolerant of others.

Carl Sagan, a clear secularist, urged people to make such decisions in areas of his love - - preserving endangered species, curtailing pollution & funding scientific research.  These were not just personal preferences for him - - like whether he wanted to eat chicken or pizza at a given meal.  He genuinely felt, in fact JUDGED, that all informed, reasonable human beings should agree with him on these matters.  And if you did not, there was something wrong with you - - a form of intolerance came out.  Equally, if you agreed with Mr. Sagan on a given point, you would probably admire his passion.  But if you disagreed, feeling he wasn’t putting enough emphasis in other areas, then you could easily think of him as intolerant.  All humans tolerate certain things & are intolerant of others - - we simply tolerate different things.

C.   Content VERY different
A third reason why we can not honestly say that all religions are the same is because even a surface investigation shows the content of those religions is very different.  In Hinduism the divine is impersonal, but can be approached through an endless number of gods and idols.  In Zoroastianism there is a good god and an evil god.  In Buddhism there is no god.  In Islam there is one God, but no Son of God.  Christianity insists there is just one God, but in three persons: Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

Christianity teaches that God both forgives a person and offers supernatural help.  In Buddhism & Hinduism, there is no forgiveness, only the ruthless KARMA and no supernatural aid.  The goal of Buddhism is nirvana “complete cessation of both desire and personality.”  We Christians look forward to a new resurrection body and eternity with God in heaven.  Islam denies that Allah ever reveals himself to humanity - - he reveals only his will and the proper response is “islam” which means “submission”.  In Christianity, God not only reveals His will, but also His person - - He even came to earth in the person of Jesus.  We can go on and on, because at the core of the many religions of the world are major differences that are mutually exclusive.  They simply can not all be right (they contradict each other).  In fact, if you were to ask the DEDICATED believers of any religion (except possibly some in Hinduism) “Do you believe all religions are basically the same” they would strongly answer “of course not” – because the content is so very different.

D.   Inconsistent or muddled way of thinking
The fourth reason we want to point out is that the thinking used to get to this statement is muddled and inconsistent.  We simply do not use this kind of thinking in other places of life.  For example, if you wanted to spend $20,000 on a car - - you would never agree with my statement, “Here, take my blue Neon for $20,000.  All cars are basically the same.  They all have 4 tires, an engine, seats for passengers, and get you from one place to another.”  If we don’t accept that kind of logic for something as temporal as a car which is of little value in 20 years, why do we accept this kind of logic for religion which determines what will happen to us for eternity?  (If you do accept this kind of logic, I’ll be glad to take your $20,000 for my car after the service.)

When we shop for cars, we don’t look at the surface similarities, we look at the differences - - and there is a huge difference between a Neon and a Mercedes even though they are both cars with 4 wheels, an engine, lights, seats, and a radio.  The same is true for our beliefs.  Christianity does have a moral code, a notable leader, a holy book, prayer, worship ceremonies, a God, and a way to future life like other religions - - but it is very different from the nature of God, to process of spiritual growth, to the nature of revealed truth, to how we are made right with God.  Only by an unusual form of reasoning which we wouldn’t tolerate anywhere else could one say all religions are the same.  That’s crazy.

E.    Arrogant, patronizing attitude (The members of major religions don’t agree with statement)
But the thinking behind this statement is more than crazy or inconsistent or muddled - - it is actually quite arrogant and patronizing.   That’s our fifth challenge.  Since the dedicated leaders and followers of each faith do not say they are the same, people who do claim it are saying they know far more than anyone else - - that is arrogant.  Then they insist everyone in those religions is saying the same thing - - that is dishonest & patronizing - - they are treating others in a condescending way.  That is the problem with the beginning illustration of the blind men and the elephant.  What people are saying is that religious people are like blind men and they are like the wise Indian prince who can see the elephant and understands that none of the blind men know what they are really believing or talking about.  Do you see the arrogance in this statement?

F.    Different TYPES of religion
The sixth reason you can point out is that people who say this ignore how many different TYPES of religion there are.

  • The occult religions such as animism, witchcraft, magic & some of the New Age.  These deal with the influencing, appeasing, or manipulating the spirits of ancestors or nature.
  • The imperial religions are about the highest political authority and the need to worship them.  From the divine kinds of Egypt to the Czars of Rome, to the Shinto emperors of Japan to the Mao & Stalin of Communism to the leader of North Korea today, humans are the focus of religion.
  • The ascetic religions like Jainism, Buddhism, some parts of Hinduism, and the “do-it-yourself” versions of Christianity make self-renunciation the center – deny oneself.
  • The genital religions or fertility cults worship sex.  From the Caananites in the OT to Amsterdam & the pornographic empire of our country it is the religion of many.
  • The bourgeois religions which feed the religious instincts of the privileged, costing them nothing except some money – Christian Science, Spiritualism, Scientology, Theosophy & self-improvement cults are just a few.
  • The prophetic religions arise from dynamic leadership and moral challenge by a great leader like Islam or Marxism which is atheistic.
  • Finally there are the revelatory religions.  Judaism tells of God’s revelation of Himself through the deliverance of the nation of Israel and Christianity tells of God’s revelation through Jesus Christ. 

When one thinks about all these different TYPES of religion it is ludicrous, outrageous, and absurd to believe they are all the same or all lead to the same God.  Most didn’t concern the pursuit of God at all.  Another reason is summarized by the cartoon on the back from Canada – a picture is worth 1,000 words.

G.   Many roads do go to the same place – the wrong place!
The final reason we can give to the falseness of the idea that all religions lead to God is to answer the illustration of the paths up a mountain.  What road can we get on in Barre that goes to Hawaii or Singapore or London in England or Jerusalem in Israel?  There is no such road.  All roads don’t lead everywhere.  Our roads only lead to North and South America.  If we want to go to those other places, we must get on a plane or a ship.  Yes the many roads of different religions can ultimately lead to the same place, but unfortunately that place is not to a right relationship with the true God if the Universe - - Jesus Christ is the only way to God.

H.   The GOOD NEWS!!!
And the more we dig into all these statements, differences in religions and challenges, the more we understand why our Christian message is called the gospel or the Good News.  It is good news that we can know God personally.  It is good news that God has revealed Himself clearly through Jesus Christ.  It is good news that we have unique proof through the bodily resurrection of Jesus to know our religion is uniquely true.  It is good news that Jesus has opened up the way to forgiveness, a right relationship with God and eternity in the perfection of heaven through His death on the cross for us.  It is good news that God puts His Spirit in our lives when come to saving faith so we can have greater power to live a godly and moral life.  It is good news that all of this is offered to us as a free gift if we will but turn in faith to Jesus alone as our Savior and Lord.

All true religions are not the same and all religions do not lead to God - - but thank the Lord, we can clearly know Biblical Christianity does.

And if some should challenge you that it is arrogant to be so sure Jesus is the only way, just challenge back, it is just as arrogant to be so sure He isn’t. 

Jesus is both the way and the truth.  All the excuses will eventually fall apart.