Answering Syncretism and "I believe all religions are true"

How are we to go about this?

I have recently spoken to a colleague of mine who claims to both be Catholic and believe that all religions are true (and that he has a crow as is “spirit animal.” Because, yeah, THAT’S TOTALLY SOMETHING CATHOLICS CAN HAVE). Any attemp to correct him on this was met with “You’re just a Bible-thumper” along with loaded statements like “You’re basically saying [off-base interpretation],” “Don’t judge” and “I know more than you do about being Catholic.”

We also have a mutual friend who has shown interest in the Catholic faith. But any time the topic comes up between us 3, I get lambasted as a “Bible-thumper” that “Catholics can have/do [intrinsically un-Catholic thing] and [Catholic practice] is the same as [slightly-similar practice that isn’t Catholic].”

For starters, the mutual friend says she is currently [religion] in the same way one would say “I’m Polish” or “I’m Thai,” and while I tell her that no, religion is not genetic, the colleague chides me for “not understanding her faith.”

How do I answer this nonsense and other gems from the "Catholic in Name Only* colleague?

Usually, thoughtful responses to this are fruitless, because people with that mindset are unwilling to see the truth, often because it would prevent them from justifying whatever lifestyle they happen to fancy. And some people are just so far gone, either from years of dogmatic or moral error or from lying to themselves or both, that reason is totally lost on them. Your best bet is to love them, set an example, and pray for them.

As far as defending your own faith against attacks, turn it back on them. Whatever they say or object, say something like, “That’s *your *truth.” Or “I thought you believed in pluralism and affirmation of everyone. But you don’t accept my beliefs?”

Remind him that Jesus said that he was the only way to the Father. Ask him if all religions believe that. If they don’t, then they believe Jesus is mistaken or a liar and are not the same as christianity. People that say they believe all religions are true have done zero thinking on the issue.

If two people are selling widgets, and both claim that their widgets are better than any others (in every objective way), are they both right? Is it even possible for them to both be correct?

If one person says that Jesus is divine, and another says he’s merely human, is it possible for them to both be correct?

In philosophy, such situations are termed “mutually exclusive.”

Here’s a neat story from Ravi Zacharias you might find helpful (taken from blog garriblog.wordpress.com/tag/ravi-zacharias/)–. See later post for rest of article.

One of the main illustrations that made the law of non-contradiction clear to me was a story told my one of the heroes from my college years, Ravi Zacharias. It is often repeated in churches, Bible studies, and Sunday school classes; and is one that I have used frequently.

After Zacharias had finished a lecture, a professor of philosophy challenged him on a significant point. Zacharias had pressed the law of non-contradiction. Putting it in simpler terms for his audience, he said that the law might be called an either…or system. Christian theology uses this system. For example,

Either Paul is an Apostle or he is not.
Either Jesus is the Son of God or he is not.
Either Christianity is true or it is not.

You see the rule here:

A cannot be B and not B at the same time.
Paul cannot be an apostle and not an apostle.
Etc.

The irritated professor went to dinner with Zacharias and one other school administrator to talk things over. The philosophy professor insisted that the either…or system is exclusively a western philosophical idea while eastern philosophy uses more of an both…and system of logic. So…

A can be both B and not B at the same time.

Thus…

Paul can be both an apostle and not an apostle.
Jesus can be both the Son of God and not the Son of God.

Zacharias opposed this view with a simple statement: “So you are telling me that it’s either the both…and system or nothing else, is that right?”

The philosopher puzzled over this: “The either…or does seem to emerge, doesn’t it?”

Zacharias added, “You know, even those in India look both ways before we cross the street, because they know ‘It’s either me or the bus, not both of us!’”

The main point is that the either…or system–the law of non-contradiction–is something that even Easterners use in their thinking. This is a very important distinction and has helped me a great deal over the years. It also tended to lock me in a modernist way of thinking, and I think it has done the same to several of my contemporaries.

Did you mean to say that using the either/or system has locked you into a modernist way of thinking, and if so, what do you mean by modernist?

I like Peter Kreeft’s response to this, he’s addressing specifically the image of all religions being just different roads up the mountain to God that syncretists commonly use:

The unproved assumption of this very common mountain analogy is that the roads go up, not down; that man makes the roads, not God; that religion is man’s search for God, not God’s search for man. C. S. Lewis says this sounds like “the mouse’s search for the cat”.

Christianity is not a system of man’s search for God but a story of God’s search for man. True religion is not like a cloud of incense wafting up from special spirits into the nostrils of a waiting God, but like a Father’s hand thrust downward to rescue the fallen. Throughout the Bible, man-made religion fails. There is no human way up the mountain, only a divine way down. “No man has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.”

If we made the roads, it would indeed be arrogant to claim that any one road is the only valid one, for all human things are equal, at least in all being human, finite, and mixtures of good and bad. If we made the roads, it would be as stupid to absolutize one of them as to absolutize one art form, one political system, or one way of skinning a cat. But if God made the road, we must find out whether he made many or one. If he made only one, then the shoe is on the other foot: it is humility, not arrogance, to accept this one road from God, and it is arrogance, not humility, to insist that our manmade roads are as good as God’s God-made one.

But which assumption is true? Even if the pluralistic one is true, not all religions are equal, *for then one religion is worse and more arrogant than all others, *for it centers on one who claimed, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man can come to the Father but by me.”

I especially think the point he makes about arrogance is spot on. It’s not arrogant to believe your religion is the only true one if it really was founded by God. What IS arrogant is saying my man-made way is just as good as God’s.

Wonder and Awe,
I know some people similar to this in their method of thinking (different beliefs), and I just try to have some short thought-provoking statements for them because longer conversations get nowhere, so i try not to linger on those types of topics with them.

Sorry, I was quoting a blog article. I should have put it in quotations. I’ll just post the rest of the article now to clarify that.

garriblog.wordpress.com/tag/ravi-zacharias/

What I erroneously took away from that illustration was that all legitimate ideas come from either…or thinking; the both…and system of thought is worthless and even deceptive. That worked for me for a while, but I started having some pretty big problems with it when I went to seminary. In my biblical and theological studies I found that you must employ the both…and system to make things work. Otherwise, those who champion the non-contradiction rule will actually contradict themselves!

Jesus is both God and man.
The church is both currently redeemed and not yet redeemed.
God is both a single person and not a single person.

A strict either…or approach would have to deny these principles, even though these concepts are central to historic church doctrines. To be sure, there are many who try to reconcile these doctrines with an either…or system; and it seems to me that the harder we try, the further we separate ourselves from the teachings of the text.

Ultimately, I think we need to learn to use both systems where appropriate (see what I did there?). It seems to me that the “either…or” system promotes a more mechanical and objective style of thinking while the “both…and” system is much more organic and subjective. There will always be a tension between the two of them, but they are both helpful.

I’m not sure I agree that the three examples he gave are truly examples of “both/and” thinking when you really analyze them.

How could “all religions be true”? No other religion has faith in a God who has taken a human nature, historically has been crucified and risen, with the testimony of many eye-witnesses.

The historian Eusebius in his Church history, 4.3, 1.2, tells us that writing about 123 A.D., apologist Quadratus cited those in his day who had been cured or raised from the dead by Jesus of Nazareth – prime witnesses – long after the miracles, crucifixion and death of the Son of God. No other religious founder claimed to be God and proved it – not Mohammed of Islam, not in Hinduism, not in Buddhism, not in Taoism, not in Confucianism.

The vast gulf between Catholicism and any other religion is that the Catholic Church has been founded by a Divine Person who lived with a human and divine nature and claimed to be God, proving that claim by His resurrection. When God leads us through His Church, others fashion their own beliefs and morals.

Even Adolf von Harnack, a rationalist historian of high repute among Rationalists and Protestants, wrote that the Synoptic Gospels were written before 70 A.D. – before the fall of Jerusalem, and accepted the tradition that St Luke derived his information on the infancy of Jesus from Mary His Mother. *Theologische Quartalsch, *Tubingen 1929, IV, p 443-4].
[See *Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, The Saint Austin Press, 2001, Sheehan/Joseph p 89, 93].

Not only are the facts of Jesus miracles recorded by His own Apostles who were present – Saints Matthew and John were companions of Christ, and Saints Mark and Luke lived in constant contact with His contemporaries.

His miracles “were so frequent, the eyewitnesses so numerous, and the evidence so stark, that not even Christ’s enemies disputed the fact of their occurrence. Instead they ascribed them to the power of the devil, or defied Him to perform another one in His own favour.” (See Mt 12:24; 27:39-42; Jn 11:47). Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, Sheehan/Joseph, Saint Austin Press, 2001, p 104].

It was this Jesus, the Son of God, who said to His apostles “he that hears you hears Me” (Lk 10:16) – that Jesus that founded His Catholic Church.

I agree with you about the writer’s examples–the issue of the unity and trinity of God is, I think, is matter of natures as well as persons, etc, but I see what he’s saying.

The main thing is that some questions are either/or questions and others are both/and. The trick is to know the difference and thus apply the correct mode :slight_smile:

It seems the first hurdle is getting your colleague to be “tolerant” of what you have to say. You might point out that it is disrespectful to not allow you to present your side.

My favorite response to “Don’t judge” is, “Why do you get to judge me, but I can’t?”

Oh, and I love this meme, too:

This is simple logic that does a very nice job on this post.

catholic.com/blog/matt-fradd/are-all-religions-equal

May God be kind to you and give you peace.

, The Saint Austin Press, 2001, Sheehan/Joseph p 89, 93].

Not only are the facts of Jesus miracles recorded by His own Apostles who were present – Saints Matthew and John were companions of Christ, and Saints Mark and Luke lived in constant contact with His contemporaries.

His miracles “were so frequent, the eyewitnesses so numerous, and the evidence so stark, that not even Christ’s enemies disputed the fact of their occurrence. Instead they ascribed them to the power of the devil, or defied Him to perform another one in His own favour.” (See Mt 12:24; 27:39-42; Jn 11:47). Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, Sheehan/Joseph, Saint Austin Press, 2001, p 104].

It was this Jesus, the Son of God, who said to His apostles “he that hears you hears Me” (Lk 10:16) – that Jesus that founded His Catholic Church.

This is all true. And even more in that, hypothetically if any other religion were true then you’d run into the same comparative problem. If Bhuddism were true, then one couldn’t say all faiths are true because the Catholic Church teaches against the “look inward for truth” philosophy of the Bhudda. If Hinduism was the truth, then one couldn’t say all faiths are true because the Jews obey God’s Commandment that He is their God and Him alone shall they serve.

There are many faiths, but only one can be absolutely true when stacked up against all others. I believe the Catholic Church to be that absolutely true truth. That fullness of truth. The truth told by the God who is the Great I AM.

“Don’t judge” directly contradicts Jesus and His Apostles in the Gospels which mandate:
“Stop judging by appearances, but judge justly.” (Jn 7:24).

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them” (Mt 7:15, 16).

“Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.” (Mt 7:19-20).

“Test everything: retain what is good.” (1Thess 5:21).

“The spiritual person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgement by anyone.” (1 Cor 2:15).

“I, for my part, although absent in body but present in spirit, have already, as if present, pronounced judgement on the one who has committed this deed…” (1 Cor 5:3; read 1-13).

“I am speaking as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I am saying.” (1 Cor 10:15).

“Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 Jn 4:1).

“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16).

We can’t judge according to truth by being mesmerized by others and giving them adulation, but according to the teaching of Christ’s Church, Her Tradition and Her Scriptures. It is very important not to judge a person’s guilt before God as commanded (Mt 7:1-5). We are commanded not to judge others regarding their motives, intentions, and guilt before God (a judgment reserved to God).

But it is vital to follow the command to judge all actions, speech, writing against truth and in this way we can help others by offering truth.

The answers on this thread are so fantastic that for the first time, I rated a thread. And I’m going to bookmark it. If I could clap and hold a light source up, I would do that too!

Thanks all :slight_smile:

Per the OP:

The idea that “all religions are true” is a result of conceiving of religions as just abstract ideas or conceptions of unknowable realities. They’re seen as different metaphors for the same reality.

Christianity is different, because it claims God entered into history–at that point we’ve left the realm of the abstract and entered that of the concrete. Historical events either happened or they did not happen. Your friend wouldn’t claim that the assertions “Neil Armstrong actually walked on the moon” and “Neil Armstrong actually did not walk on the moon” are both true (or use any other statement of fact).

Jesus Christ either rose from the dead or He did not. If He did not, Christianity is not true. If He did, those religions that deny this are not true.

'zactly.

Another way some people may look at it is akin to joining a country club. You join the one that matches your palate.

That way, religion makes no demands on you. It’s just a social club where like can be with like.

And if that’s the way religion is viewed, why wouldn’t you believe that any religion is fine? Who’s to say that Sunset Parc Country Club is better than Mountain View Country Club, right?

However, if religion is a path that was established by God, a means of forming a more intimate union with the Numinous, then, clearly, all the paths that deviate from this One Path cannot all be true.

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