The Exclusivity of Truth


On the Right Road - Ellen Posledni

On the Right Road – Ellen Posledni

Most people are not comfortable with atheism. They know there is something greater than us, a cosmic Being or some Divine Truth. They intuitively know that the universe did not form itself out of nothing. But many people are also not comfortable with the exclusivity of religious propositions, especially in this post modern, pluralistic world.

All religions are true is something no one can say who has studied religions. There are some similarities at the surface, but there are fundamental propositions that are mutually exclusive with each other. Each of them has principals that are exclusive of other principals of other religions. Most people do not attempt to say that all religions are true, because it simply is not tenable.

That tension creates a dilemma. In this pluralistic society, people want to be accepting, tolerant and to get along, and the exclusivity of religious propositions does not sit comfortably. Still, all people but the atheists acknowledge that God, something transcendent, must exist.

Further, all rational people recognize that some things are true and some things are not, and two mutually exclusive things cannot both be true at the same time.

Many people resolve this tension by taking the position that there is truth in all religions; all religions are attempting to get at some universal truth, and, therefore, some amalgam of all religions is true.  They would further say that every religion has part of the truth, but no one religion has the full truth.

The illustration used is that of the six blind men trying to figure out what an elephant looks like. One gets a hold of the leg and thinks an elephant is thick and round like a tree. Another gets a hold of the trunk and thinks an elephant is long and snakelike. One gets a hold of the tusk and thinks an elephant is hard and woody. Another feels an ear and thinks an elephant is flat and thin. They are all right about what they feel, but they are all wrong about what an elephant looks like.

Blind men with elephant - Hokusai Manga - Tokyo Day by Annie Mole

Blind men with elephant – Hokusai Manga – Tokyo Day by Annie Mole

The different perspectives lead to an argument about who is right and who is wrong. None of them can accept the descriptions of the others because each one felt the elephant for himself and is convinced that he knows what the elephant is like from his own limited experience. It turns out that every one of them is right about the limited knowledge each one has. And every one of them is also wrong about the elephant as a whole.

People will say that religions are the same way. All religious experience is true, but no religion has all of the truth. Everyone grasps part of the elephant and thinks they know the whole elephant, and that is why they argue and disagree. Everyone is right, and everyone is wrong. If this is the way it is, there is no one true religion. (The full story of the blind men and the elephant with its complete ending is slightly different and suggests a different conclusion.)

This seems plausible. It solves the hard questions about who is right and who is wrong. It fits the modern, pluralistic world view. It accommodates everyone, and it offends no one.

But does it make sense?

The weakness of this position is the assumption that we know what the elephant looks like. How do we know that everyone is right? What things are right, and what things are wrong? People might have opinions about that. In fact, the Baha’i faith is built on a platform of combined religious truths. Have they combined all the rights parts into the whole?

Elephant Toenails by Elliot Margolies

Elephant Toenails by Elliot Margolies

The most fundamental weakness of the proposition, though, is that it is self defeating. We can only say that all religious experience is true, and no religion is completely true, if we can see the whole elephant. There is no way we can hold this supposition to be true unless we know what the whole elephant looks like.

In the end, the position that all religions are true in part and the combined truisms (excluding the falsisms) is true religion is no different than saying, “our religion is the one true religion.” Both presume to know something that others do not know, both assume that our view is the right one. We cannot claim this without claiming to have superior knowledge of the truth.

We cannot claim that the truth of all religions (whatever that is) makes up the one truth unless we claim superior knowledge that all those religions, in themselves, do not have. We cannot take this position unless we claim the kind of superior knowledge that we say no one has a right to claim – and that is the self-defeating nature of the position.

Ironically, this all religions are partly true position, which is intended to be inclusive, is actually exclusive.  When we say this, we are saying that we have a spiritual view of ultimate reality that is right, and all the religions of the world (that claim exclusive truth) are wrong, and this claim is exclusive of all those religions.

The position that all religions contain some part of the truth, and none of them contain all truth, is a western, enlightenment, individualistic take on reality. It is a take on the reality that is believed to be superior to the exclusivity of each religion. In the west, that take on reality is particularly posited as antithetical to Christianity (while ironically leaving room for tolerance the exclusivity of other religions).

The truth is that everyone who cares about truth is exclusive because truth is exclusive. The Truth (capital T) is exclusive of what is untrue. That is the nature of Truth. There is no universal inclusivity when it comes to truth.

lightstock_131372_medium_user_7997290


Postscript:

The difference between the all-religions-are-partly-true view of spirituality and Christianity is that Christians acknowledge they are being exclusive. Christianity is, therefore, more honest and has more integrity. I should add that Christians do not claim that the knowledge they have accepted is their own or is available only to the intellectually or spiritually elite; Christians claim a revelation that is available to everyone regardless of intellect or spiritual capacities.

One question that is always relevant in all times is this: whose exclusive views most lead us to love, be humble and to serve those who oppose us. Which set of exclusive beliefs will lead to peace on the earth?

We can always find examples of people of all faiths who are bad models of that faith. We can’t trust in the example of people because people are flawed. We need to examine the truth propositions themselves.

At the heart of the Christian proposition is a man dying for His enemies, a man loving people who do not love Him. At the heart of the belief system for the person who claims to be a Christian is the truth that I am a sinner saved by grace. At the heart of this worldview is a truth that humbles me before others. I know that other people can be morally superior to me.

If I believe my exclusive propositions, rather than other exclusive truth propositions, I should want to serve others as Christ did, even to the point of dying for my enemies. If I take my belief seriously, I will turn the other cheek, pray for those who persecute me and love my enemies.

Jesus Suffering lightstock_115938_xsmall_user_7997290


Post postscript:

That people have not lived as if those things are true is often highlighted as a reason not to believe those things. That Christians throughout history have often been judgmental, hypocritical, even violent, is seen as reason not to believe those things. In actuality, however, the failures of Christians underscore the truth (that we are all sinners in need of grace).

Christians are not alone in their failure to love and serve others, but the tenets of Christianity require Christians to recognize that failure, to ask forgiveness for it and to yield to God for the purpose of being conformed to the example of Christ who demonstrated what that love and service looks like. If we fail to do that, it is to our own detriment.

As Paul says in Romans, “let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.” (Rom. 3:4)

Truth is not dependent on people. We did not create the world, set the stars in their places or establish the law of gravity. The universe, stars and gravity do not depend on us and do not even require our understanding to be true. The Truth simply is.

God simply is. (Jesus said, “I am”) God is exclusive because God is what God is. God is not what God is not. Nothing we say, do or believe in changes the character of truth or the character of God.

I am a Christian because I believe I have found the Truth, and the Truth has set me free in ways for which I am eternally grateful.

I am not haughty about it because the Truth is that I am a sinner. I have failed, and my failure leaves me utterly dependent on forgiveness and grace.

I am instructed by my belief to love God above all and love others as myself, including my neighbors and even my enemies.

That this Truth (as all Truth must be) is exclusive, leads me to desire to let other people know this Truth as well. That I believe I have found the Truth causes me to ache for those who do not have what I have found.

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2 Comments on “The Exclusivity of Truth”


  1. […] tend to think in terms of all or nothing. We may be right about that. After all, truth is exclusive of things that are not true. Reality and truth, however, don’t fit into our understandings. We […]

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