My thoughts are strong on this point. Listen with caution. Excuse the blurriness.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have seen several people reposting an article from the blog, Diversity Chronicle, entitled POPE FRANCIS CONDEMNS RACISM AND DECLARES THAT “ALL RELIGIONS ARE TRUE” AT HISTORIC THIRD VATICAN COUNCIL. My first thoughts when I saw this article were “when was there a third Vatican Council?”, “this can’t be real” and “if this is real, the Pope better get some extra thick bullet proof glass on the Popemobile because somebody from one of those religions is about to go off.” At first I was going to ignore the posts, because I wanted to make sure it was real before I commented, but when I read other people’s strong comments on either side of the spectrum I chimed in with:
Has anyone heard the story about the six blind people touching different parts of an elephant and describing what they felt? Each person thought they grasped the whole and with confidence proclaimed as such and argued their points to the others. This is the way of relative “truth”. Everyone is “right” according to their own method of reasoning. We call it a matter of perspective. But what about the perspective of the All Seeing One looking at six blind people groping an elephant without knowing it. Is the Truth relative to this One? Or is it Absolute? If this One tells the six that they are touching an elephant they will very likely protest if they build their identity on being “right”. They may even kill this One if they built their lives on what they believed they knew. The best thing then for this One to do is to teach the blind to work together so they can get closer to the full knowledge of what they are groping at. Even then, they will never “see” the whole picture. But they will see a lot more than they would by arguing with each other over partial knowledge.
Later I checked snopes.com and found out the article was definitely a fake and reported back to the group that it wasn’t real. But no sooner had I gone back to post my findings then more friends were spreading the article. Some people were filled with joy at the thought their beliefs were supported by the Pope. Some said things like, “It makes me want to go back to my Catholic roots” and “this truly is a man of God”. Others were not so happy. They said things like, “The Pope needs to be excommunicated” and “next thing you know he will say we don’t need the Bible”. Some stuff was uglier. I think the hardest part for some people was the part in the article where the Pope supposedly said there is no literal hell. That really pissed people off and their anger came out. And all I could do was shake my head.
Even after I posted the snopes.com article saying that the Pope never said this, some people were so caught up in their joy or fury that many of them didn’t even notice. What is about people that we want to be right so such that we can’t admit that there are things we just don’t know? So what if the Pope really said all religions are true? If you already believe it, the Pope saying it doesn’t make it more true for you and if he says otherwise does he make it less true for you? And for those who are so sure that their religion is the one and only true religion, if you know you are so right, why do you need to refute the Pope so adamantly and condemn him even if he did say it? And now that you found out the article is false, will you go back and recant your previous statements? Will you say “Oops, my bad Pope, you are not really a pawn of Satan. I thought that article was true when I said that.”?
I have to admit that it is so frustrating trying to communicate to people who have an agenda of being right rather than having an agenda of learning something. The fact is that it is impossible to know with certainty whether or not all religions are true, because ultimately religions are practices of faith not of certainty. We believe them even though they cannot be proven objectively. The only way a person could really know the full breadth of what all religions offer in order to truly compare them without bias would be to be born in every single religion independently in the culture out of which those religions emerged, dedicate themselves to those different religions over multiple lifetimes and every time they died they would have to record their findings. Then when they successfully lived lives in every religion they could compare them all by using the data to determine which religion yielded the result they were looking for. If every religion led them to heaven only then could they make the comment that so many people love to say, “All religions are different roads to the same destination (which I suspect is a way of saying, “all religions agree with my religion or non religion”).”
The fact is that no one can prove in any verifiable way that all religions “go to the same place” or anywhere for that matter. IT IS A MATTER OF PERSONAL FAITH. Only this made up time traveling religious reincarnate would be able to say that for certain if that was his or her experience. But if that wasn’t the case then the person might say something like, “Three religions sent me to hell, four sent me to heaven, one sent me to limbo, there is no purgatory, and after living out this other one I came back as a daffodil.” Or maybe they will find that each life just ran right into another and at the end of them all God was laughing and saying, “You’ve been Punk’d!” Or maybe they will go on and on never find the answer because after trying to live through every different denomination and sect, offshoot, and new religion that pops up they would get tired and just pick one and take their chances.
I know some people may think I am making light of religion with my comments above but I don’t know any other way to express how ridiculous we sound sometimes trying to prove the “rightness” of our beliefs over the beliefs of others. I imagine that there are also some people who might think that the fact that I have chosen to call myself a Christian automatically means that I think I have the best religion or the “right” religion and all of the others are good or bad as they compare to my religion. But I don’t. Christianity is the religion I chose because it offers me the best tools to become the person I hope to be in the world and because as far as I know, I am not a time traveling religious reincarnate, I felt like I only have the time and energy to try and understand one religion in a lifetime and since I already had a background in this one I decided to go with it as far as I can before I die and find out what I can’t see from here. I will willingly tell people why I chose Christianity and if they tell me they are dealing with certain things I will share my understanding of Christianity, and try to explain what I get out of a relationship with Christ. But I am not going to condemn their path, because only God knows where God is leading us.
I’ve had arguments in the past with other Christians who believe that condemning other people is a part of our religious practice. But the fact is I do not have the information required to judge other people’s faiths. Back in the day when I used to hand out tracts with cartoons telling everyone they were going to hell for not believing what my grandmother told me to believe, I thought I was doing the right thing. But the more I read the Bible the more I realized how little I knew about my own religion. As I read and studied, I decided that I didn’t want to waste my time condemning others for not believing a faith I couldn’t fully grasp myself. I thought it made more sense to try to learn it better myself and then I’d be better equipped to really share it (getting the beam out of my eye). Once I started doing that the more I noticed how uncomfortable many people were with the very beliefs they were trying to push on others. Why would we be doing that? I also realized how much time in church was spent celebrating that we weren’t another religion instead of getting better at practicing our own. I thought it funny that we could feel comfortable handing out tracts to people about our faith, but if they tried to do the same thing to us we’d run off or see them as somehow violating us. Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?
As I said in the video, we really have no way to substantiate our claims of rightness. All we can do is live into our religions the best we can and hope for the best. Some of will be blessed with experiences that prove our faith to us, but other people can make the same claims. As far as I can tell, the only thing we can prove is that most of the major religions have a version of the golden rule. I wonder what the world would be like if we concentrated on practicing that rather than trying to prove we are right.