Why a Contradiction Seems Convincing

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It’s easy to believe a lie when you haven’t heard the whole story. But have you ever wondered how people can believe things that are clearly not true?

I’d like to tell you a statement that is about as clearly false as any statement could ever be. Yet a lot of people believe it. I’ll tell you the statement, and then we’ll talk about why a lot of people can still believe it with complete sincerity.

Here’s the statement: All religions are basically true.

Here’s why the statement is clearly false: Inside this statement are literally thousands of contradictions. For example, pick any two religions. Let’s say “Islam” and “Christianity.” If you say that they are both true, then you are saying that Jesus is the Son of God (Christianity) and that He is definitely not the Son of God (Islam). You are saying that God is a Trinity (Christianity) and that God is most certainly not a Trinity (Islam). You are saying that the New Testament is God’s authoritative message (Christianity) and that the New Testament is not God’s authoritative message, but that it’s a corrupted version of Jesus’ true teachings, which we find in the Koran (Islam).

That’s just scratching the surface of the many deep differences between Islam and Christianity. And those are just two religions. Islam and Christianity are a lot closer to each other than, say, Islam and Buddhism. So to say, “All religions are basically true” is to say that thousands of fundamental beliefs which cancel each other out are all somehow true at the same time.

It should be impossible to say that all religions are basically true with a straight face. But it’s not. Lots of people believe it very sincerely. In fact, some believe it so passionately that when they meet someone who believes Christianity is the only religion that accurately tells us the way of salvation, they get angry.

Now why do intelligent people believe that all religions are true when that involves believing thousands of contradictions? Here’s why: They have come to assume that the point of religion is to help you get through this life. Want a better marriage? Religion can help. Want to be a kinder person? Religion can help. Want inspiration for your mundane moments? Religion can help. Want safety for the upcoming trip or good weather for the upcoming holiday? Religion can help.

It is true that, most days, people are just looking to make it through life. Life can be stressful, confusing, lonely, and dark. We can all use help making it through. And it is true that you can probably find facets of any religion that can help you cope in various ways. You’ll find ethical principles and stress-reducing techniques all over the religious map.

There is no question whether Christianity helps people get through life. It certainly helps me get through life, and I’m thankful it does. But that’s not all that Christianity is meant to do. Christianity also teaches about who God is, what lies beyond this life, and how to receive salvation.

Even Bible-believing Christians can get so focused on what Christianity can do for them in this life that they forget about ultimate concerns. This is especially the case if their church doesn’t really talk much about heaven and hell or the need for salvation. If they begin to see Christianity as being all about reducing stress, cultivating virtue, and achieving personal success, then they can easily warm up to the idea that, “Well, aren’t other people’s religions doing the same for them? Perhaps we’re all ultimately drinking from the same well.”

When a church focuses only on living a better life today, that church is opening its members up to accepting one of the most glaring contradictions ever invented: that all religions are basically true. To think rightly and biblically, let us lift our eyes higher than this temporary and shadowy life. “If then you have been raised with Christ,” Paul writes in Colossians 3:1, “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

Daniel McCoy, PhD
Renew.org Editorial Director