Recently there was a gathering in Australia called The World Parliament of Religions. It was a meeting of thousands of people representing every conceivable religious group and idea that you can imagine. There were the standard Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish groups. But you also had Native American, Wiccan, Zoroastrian, (didn’t even know there were any of them left), Australian Aboriginal, Haitian Spiritualists and… well you get the picture. A friend who attended the event said that there were a couple of themes that every speaker, except for him, held to. First no one religion has the truth and can claim to know the truth. Second, no one from any religion should seek to convert people from another religion.
Those themes are not new. I have been hearing theme since before I started following Jesus. In fact I probably accepted those ideas for a time. You know the question, “How can you be so certain that your way is the right way and everyone else is wrong?” But that was before I was confronted with the person who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. John 14:6 Jesus spoke those words. They are very clear and definite words. He did not say as many want to believe, that he is “A way”, “A truth”, or “A life”. He was not putting himself forward as one possible option among many equally acceptable options. He was claiming a very exclusive place. He was claiming to be the one and only ultimate way, the one and only ultimate truth, and the one and only ultimate life.
What the folks at the Parliament of World Religions want people to believe is that there is not a single correct path to God and that any path will do. They are not even saying that there are a handful of paths. They are not limiting the paths to God to the major monotheistic religions. They are saying that any and all religious ideas and practices are valid and just as good for getting to the next level, whatever that is, and getting closer to God, whoever or whatever that may be, as any other religion. They believe that there is no “truth” that must be acknowledged by everyone and therefor no path to God that is “the correct” path. It is much like the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat when Alice asked which road to take. “Where do you want to go”, asked the cat. “I don’t know”, replied Alice. “Then any road will do”, said the cat. If you have no idea of truth, of who God really is, then you really don’t know who or what you are trying to get close to. You just don’t know where you are ultimately going. It doesn’t even matter where you are going. Thus, any road or religion will do.
What is fascinating is that in any other sphere of life one would never settle for such a response. Imagine two engineers talking about building a bridge and trying to decide on the load bearing capacity of the bridge and one of them says, “it doesn’t matter what formula we use to calculate this, any formula will do”. We had better hope that the engineers decide that there is a right formula and a wrong formula and that they use the right one. In fact we live everyday trusting that there is a true formula and that it is the one used. But some would say that the “hard sciences” like math and chemistry are different. Those are agreed upon facts proven over time. “Soft sciences” like psychology and religion are not based on facts and therefor they are just opinions and one is as good as another. Okay, let’s test that. You are raising children. Psychology offers some advice in that regard. Would you be willing to say that one method of child rearing is just as valid as any other? Of course not. Some ideas of raising children have clearly shown themselves to be harmful and destructive. In the common vernacular, they are just plain wrong. The premise they are built on is false. If we are unwilling to give up the idea of truth in the building of bridges and the raising of children, as important as those things may be, why are we willing to give up the existence of truth when it comes to our relationship with God, which is surely the most important aspect of life?
Just as it must be said of bridge building and child rearing, that there are right and wrong, true and false, so it must be said of religion. Some are just wrong. Some are built on false assumptions that do not fit reality. In numerous cases religions are in such logical conflict with one another that it is impossible for them to both be right. For instance, you can’t have a Hindu view of reincarnation and eventual release into non-existence AND a Muslim view of one life then you die and go to paradise, especially if you are a martyr for your faith. Either one or both must be wrong!
That gets me back to the words of Jesus. When he claimed to be THE WAY, and THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE, he set up a situation in which he placed himself over and against all other religious figures and ideas. There is no room for saying one idea is just as good as another in Jesus world. So, either one must follow Jesus only as being the truth, or one must say that all religions are equally valid with the exception of Christianity. Christianity would be the only false religion because it claims to be the only true religion. That in itself is a rather curious idea that our society seems on the verge of adopting, the only things that must not be true are those which claim to absolutely be true.
Claiming that following Jesus as the only true way does not open the door to be harsh, angry, and arrogant towards other people with different ideas. The command from Jesus to love ones enemies still stands. The words of Peter to always respond with gentleness and respect are still binding. The example of Paul in Athens, surrounded by idolatry, yet willing to engage in a respectful dialogue is still the example for all Christ followers.
We live in a world that wants to abandon the notion that there is one way to God. If followers of Jesus buy into that notion, then there will in effect be no one who knows the way to God. We will all be like Alice having fallen through the looking-glass. We will find ourselves in a world of absurdity where up is down and down is sideways, now is never, tomorrow is yesterday and the road you are on just simply doesn’t matter.