by Rebecca McLaughlin
A few months ago, I saw a car bumper sticker that read, “My God is too big for any one religion.” When people put stickers like that on their cars, their message is that it’s okay to believe in God, but that it’s arrogant and ignorant to say that one religion is true and that others are not. Sometimes people tell a story about an elephant to explain this view.
In the story, an elephant walked into a village where everyone was blind. The villagers were fascinated by the strange creature. One villager touched the elephant’s leg and said the elephant was like a tree. Another touched its ear and said the elephant was like a fan. A third touched its trunk and said the elephant was like a snake, and so on. Soon arguments began to break out. All the villagers had felt different parts of the elephant and discovered a piece of the truth about this amazing animal. But because they were blind, they couldn’t see the whole elephant, so they didn’t see how all these different truths could fit together. In the same way, people claim that different religions hold pieces of the truth about God, but no one religion holds it all. For this reason, people say we shouldn’t argue about which religion is right. We should just learn from each religion, because between all of us, we might just get the whole truth about God.
But there are several problems with the elephant story and with the argument it represents.
First, the villagers are blind, but the person telling the story can see. It might sound respectful to Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews to say that if they saw the big picture, they’d all realize they each held a piece of the truth. But it’s actually not respectful at all. If you say this, what you’re really saying is that Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews are all blind and you alone can see!
Second, the elephant story has no place or explanation for people who change their religious beliefs, like my friend Praveen Sethupathy, who grew up Hindu, but started following Jesus when he was a student at Cornell University (where he is now a professor). Or my friend Mark Shepard, who was raised Jewish, became an atheist as a teenager, and then started following Jesus when he was a student at Harvard University (where he is now a professor). Both Praveen and Mark would now say that the religions they were raised with were wrong on some extremely important points and that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
This doesn’t mean that Christians believe all other religions are wrong on every point. Because Christianity springs out of Judaism and Jews and Christians share the Old Testament scriptures, Mark is able to agree with many of the Jewish beliefs he was raised with, while also believing that Jesus is the only way to God. Hinduism has far less in common with Christianity, so Praveen would now say that many Hindu beliefs about God are wrong. But this doesn’t mean Praveen has stopped loving the Indian culture with which he was raised. He loves the culture he comes from and wants to pass as much of that cultural heritage on to his kids as possible.
People from all different cultures can be followers of Jesus. Christians can eat different food, wear different clothes, speak different languages, and enjoy different music depending on their cultural background. But like Praveen and Mark, Christians from all different cultures believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one can come to God except through him (John 14:6).
The third problem with the idea that all religions are equally true is that different religions contradict each other—not just in small ways that don’t matter too much, but in really big ways. Here’s one important example.
At the center of the Christian faith is the claim that Jesus Christ died on a cross and was physically raised from the dead three days later. If this is not true, then Christianity is not true. As Paul puts it, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). In other words, without the resurrection, Christianity is useless. But if we look at the two other major religions that have most in common with Christianity—Judaism and Islam—we find that Jews and Muslims disagree with this central claim of Christianity. Jews believe that Jesus died and stayed dead. Muslims believe that Jesus didn’t die but just appeared to die, and that he was taken up to heaven. Christians believe that Jesus died and rose to life again (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 15:3–4).
As a Christian, I believe that Jesus was physically raised from the dead. I think there is good evidence to support that belief, though we can’t prove it beyond reasonable doubt. But there’s one thing we can all know for sure: Jesus was either physically raised from the dead or he wasn’t. If we took a video camera back two thousand years and set it up outside his tomb, we’d either see him coming out or not. What we can’t say is that Christians, Muslims, and Jews are all right about Jesus. He is either the resurrected King of the universe, who defeated sin and death, or he is not.
Content taken from 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin, ©2021. Used by permission of Crossway.
Rebecca McLaughlin holds a PhD in renaissance literature from Cambridge University and a theology degree from Oak Hill College in London. She is the co-founder of Vocable Communications and the author of Confronting Christianity, named Christianity Today's 2020 Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year. She is also the author of 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity. Learn more at rebeccamclaughlin.org.
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